2021-2022 SEC West preview
It's difficult to argue against the fact that the SEC West is the best division in college football.
Which team won the national championship? Alabama from the SEC West. The year before? LSU from SEC West. The team with the most championships from the last decade? You know the drill.
Alabama is the biggest powerhouse in college football right now and its dominance within the division is far from surprising. But that doesn't stop with the Crimson Tide alone: between the last 12 SEC Championships, a team from the West division has won the conference in 11 of them.
When people complain about any kind of SEC bias in rankings, it's impossible not to recognize that a positive record in the SEC is a testament to the quality of any team. It's the strongest conference in the entire FBS, and its West division is the home of a number of historic powerhouses.
Seven teams are members of the SEC West Division:
- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Arkansas Razorbacks
- Auburn Tigers
- LSU Tigers
- Mississippi State Bulldogs
- Ole Miss Rebels
- Texas A&M Aggies
After another national championship for Alabama, the sixth since Nick Saban joined the university in 2007, Texas A&M was also a great team last year, but the Aggies couldn't enter the Playoff race as their only loss was to the Crimson Tide and, they subsequently couldn't play in the SEC Championship Game, as the committee decided Notre Dame was the better team for the fourth spot.
Other teams deserve mention as well. LSU, the 2019 champion, lost a huge amount of talent to the pro level and to opt-outs before the season, and the fact that they even finished the season .500 was impressive. Auburn and Ole Miss also had a ton of positives during the season, while Mississippi State was a huge disappointment in Mike Leach's first year.
Arkansas had a bad season, but it was totally expected, as they had a new coaching staff, not a lot of talent in place and not too much time to practice with all the COVID-19 implications.
While not as big as in the Big Ten, the gap between the West and East divisions is sizeable. But since Kirby Smart, a former Alabama defensive coordinator, was hired as head coach in Georgia, the Bulldogs have become a big threat to the West hegemony, even playing in the 2018 Playoff final... only to lose to Alabama, of course.
Now that you know which teams are members of the SEC West Division, let's take a deeper dive.
Alabama Crimson Tide: SEC West
The reigning SEC West and national champions return with a huge roster turnover and, as they always seem to do, have enough talent to replace the players who have gone to the NFL. As long as Nick Saban is still the head coach at Alabama, the Crimson Tide will contend for the biggest prizes every year.
Saban is one of the best coaches ever and his ability to teach, develop and win is second to none. Six championships in 14 seasons with Alabama is more than enough to name him as one of the best college football coaches ever.
Here's a look at the Alabama Crimson Tide's strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC West Conference preview: Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama's strengths: There's so much talent on the roster that it'd be unfair to appoint a single part, so we're going with the master: Nick Saban is one of the best coaches of all time and you always have a chance to get a ring with him on the sideline. He brings a lot of talent to the university every year and does a fantastic job coaching them to the next level.
Alabama's weaknesses: On a team that has almost none, we have a small question mark: how much will the changes in the offense affect overall production? Many stars have gone to the pros now, and Bryce Young, even though he's a five-star prospect, is still an inexperienced sophomore. Can the Crimson Tide still win the SEC West with so many changes?
Alabama key player: Offense
WR John Metchie: In an offense dominated by Devonta Smith, Metchie had stable production, reaching almost 1,000 receiving yards as a sophomore in 13 games. He should see his workload increase a lot now that both Smith and Jaylen Waddle have gone to the NFL and, perhaps, Metchie may join them as a first-round pick in 2022.
Alabama key player: Defense
LB Christian Harris: 140 tackles in two years are Harris' main credentials. Take a look at the Crimson Tide's defense last year and he's everywhere. Even though they weren't a match to LSU in 2019, Harris still managed to start on Bama's defense as a freshman. He can rush the passer, cover any receiver and read the gaps in the running game.
If he declares for the 2022 NFL draft, he'll be a first-round pick.
2021-2022 Alabama Crimson Tide schedule:
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. Miami Hurricanes
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 vs Mercer Bears
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 at Florida Gators
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 vs. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 vs. Ole Miss Rebels
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 at Texas A&M Aggies
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 at Mississippi State Bulldogs
Week 8: Saturday, October 23 vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Week 9: Bye week
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 vs. LSU Tigers
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 vs. New Mexico State Aggies
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 at Auburn Tigers
2021-2022 Alabama Crimson Tide prediction (11-1 overall, 7-1 SEC)
It's almost impossible to predict anything other than another SEC West title for Alabama. It's worth noting that the roster turnover was huge this year and the Crimson Tide will see a lot of freshmen and inexperienced players taking the field, such as quarterback Bryce Young.
Even with so many changes and considering the fact that they're playing in the SEC West, they should be fine. We're talking about Alabama. They always find a way.
Arkansas Razorbacks: SEC West
Sam Pittman's first year was much different than everybody expected, as the head coach had the difficult task of training a team to play in the SEC West without the necessary amount of practice and meetings to be competitive in college football's toughest division.
Now returning the majority of the starting lineup for 2021, Arkansas has a modest but necessary goal: win at least four games this season. Can Pittman lead the Razorbacks on that quest?
Here's a look at the Arkansas Razorbacks' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC West Conference preview: Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas' strengths: While they have to show a better level from last year, as they allowed 34 sacks during 10 games, Arkansas' offensive line returns all five of their starting linemen. Consistency and cohesion are both key at the line, especially with so many quality pass rushers in the SEC West, so that's a strength for this team.
Arkansas' weaknesses: The Razorbacks defense only amassed 14 sacks last year, the same as Vanderbilt and South Carolina and the worst mark in the SEC West. In comparison, apart from Ole Miss, no other team from the division had less than 24. Arkansas needs to find a more effective way to rush the passer.
Arkansas key player: Offense
WR Treylon Burks: Seven touchdowns in 2020 represented a great number for Burks, who'll be the main target for KJ Jefferson when the season starts. He's a big, strong receiver who excels at the point of attack. He has the potential to be drafted in the first round if he has another good season.
Arkansas key player: Defense
LB Bumper Pool: The senior will be instrumental for Arkansas if they want to surprise and play in the bowl season. You probably heard of Pool when he got 20 tackles during a SEC West contest last year against Mississippi State, and his 100+ tackles in 2020 were a great mark. He has a good understanding of the position as he does a great job reading the gap fits.
2021-2022 Arkansas Razorbacks schedule:
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. Rice Owls
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 vs. Texas Longhorns
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. Georgia Southern Eagles
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 vs. Texas A&M Aggies
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 at Georgia Bulldogs
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 at Ole Miss Rebels
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 vs. Auburn Tigers
Week 8: Saturday, October 23 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions
Week 9: Bye week
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 at LSU Tigers
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 at Alabama Crimson Tide
Week 13: Friday, November 26 vs. Missouri Tigers
2021-2022 Arkansas Razorbacks prediction (4-8 overall, 1-7 SEC)
The good news is that the Razorbacks will be more competitive in 2021 than they were last season. The bad news is that it's not enough to compete in such a strong SEC West. It's unrealistic to expect Sam Pittman to take Arkansas to the same heights as Alabama and Texas A&M after just one recruiting class.
Four wins seems to be a realistic season for the Razorbacks in 2021, and they'll need a couple of breaks to reach the bowl season.
Auburn Tigers: SEC West
Now in the SEC West, can Harsin produce outside his comfort zone? The former Boise State coach was hired this season to replace Gus Malzahn, whose expectations after his first year with the Tigers never materialized, even though he managed to win the SEC West in 2017 with a win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Harsin comes with a great record at Boise and has an undefeated conference record the last two seasons, but managing it in the SEC will be tough.
Here's a look at the Auburn Tigers' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC West Conference preview: Auburn Tigers
Auburn's strengths: The front seven could again be a powerhouse at Auburn, as the defense has a lot of pass rush juice and can pressure not only from the edge but also from the inside. Colby Wooden amassed 3.5 sacks as a freshman and stood out with 41 tackles during 11 games last year.
Auburn's weaknesses: Who is Bo Nix going to throw to? Anthony Schwartz was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and Seth Williams is now a member of the Denver Broncos. The receiving group is inexperienced, which will be a problem for Helsin if his aim is to produce a strong offense just like he did at Boise.
Auburn key player: Offense
RB Tank Bigsby: It's easy to put Nix here, so we're going with Bigsby, who had a fantastic year with six yards per carry as a freshman and can do even better if the offensive line helps him. With so many uncertainties in the receiving group, the ground game will be vital to Auburn's aspirations in the SEC West.
Auburn key player: Defense
LB Owen Pappoe: Pappoe is a fantastic player who can do basically anything, from covering both sidelines to defending gaps in the running game to rushing the passer. Last year, his 93 tackles and four sacks were both great numbers, but he can do even better and lock himself in as a first-round pick in the 2022 draft.
2021-2022 Auburn Tigers schedule:
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. Akron Zips
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 vs. Alabama State Hornets
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 at Penn State Nittany Lions
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 vs. Georgia State Panthers
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 at LSU Tigers
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 at Arkansas Razorbacks
Week 8: Bye week
Week 9: Saturday, October 30 vs. Ole Miss Rebels
Week 10: Saturday, November 06 at Texas A&M Aggies
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 at South Carolina Gamecocks
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
2021-2022 Auburn Tigers prediction (2-10 overall, 0-9 SEC)
As this team gets used to Harsin's methods, this will look more like a transition year for the Tigers than a year where they can compete for the Playoff. There are stronger teams in the SEC West, but Auburn will still get a bowl berth with a seven-win season.
LSU Tigers: SEC West
LSU made waves in 2019 when Joe Brady's fantastic offense went on to conquer the SEC West, the conference and the championship. After an uninspiring year with less talent, a pandemic and many opt-outs, Ed Orgeron has made a lot of changes to his coaching staff and will hope to get the division crown back.
Here's a look at the LSU Tigers' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC West Conference preview: LSU Tigers
LSU's strengths: While there's no Joe Burrow or Ja'Marr Chase to recapture LSU's magic from the 2019 season, the offense could once again be one of the best in the SEC West with a lot of starters from last year returning for 2021. Kayshon Boutee deserves a special mention after his 308 receiving yards in last season's finale against Ole Miss.
LSU's weaknesses: Last year's secondary was a complete mess. The whole defense was awful under Bo Pelini, the former Nebraska coach, but while there are some talented players, it's tough to trust the new unit until they prove themselves on the field.
LSU key player: Offense
G Ed Ingram: Ingram was sure to be a draft pick in 2021 had he chosen to declare himself, but he decided that 2020 wasn't a good enough year for the team - and, in fact, it wasn't. He's the Tigers' starting left guard with incredible athletic tools and high upside that could land him an early day-two selection next year.
LSU key player: Defense
CB Derek Stingley Jr.: Stingley couldn't exactly make waves last year as the entire Tigers defense was held up by Pelini, but his incredible play in 2019 isn't forgotten and, now in his junior year, he has a strong chance of becoming a top-10 pick in the draft if he gets back to his 2019 level. His ball skills are amazing: 20 passes defended over 22 games during his college career.
2021-2022 LSU Tigers schedule:
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 at UCLA Bruins
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 vs. McNeese Cowboys
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. Central Michigan Chippewas
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 at Mississippi State Bulldogs
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 vs. Auburn Tigers
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 at Kentucky Wildcats
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 vs. Florida Gators
Week 8: Saturday, October 23 at Ole Miss Rebels
Week 9: Bye week
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 at Alabama Crimson Tide
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. UL Monroe Warhawks
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 vs. Texas A&M Aggies
2021-2022 LSU Tigers prediction (9-3 overall, 5-3 SEC)
Last year, LSU self-imposed a bowl year ban because of ongoing NCAA investigations against the university. The Tigers are now contenders in the SEC West and, if they can't surpass Alabama this year, they are a strong contender for a New Year's Six Bowl.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: SEC West
It was an uninspiring first year for Mike Leach in the SEC West as Mississippi State won only four games and finished second-to-last in the division. After a challenging year for the team with a completely new offensive scheme, can the Bulldogs be a surprise contender in the conference?
Here's a look at the Mississippi State Bulldogs' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC West Conference preview: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State's strengths: The secondary is one of the best in the country with two above-average cornerbacks and solid safeties, a good thing to have in a conference that's trending more and more into passing game dominance. Emmanuel Forbes made a strong impression as a freshman last year, but Martin Emerson is a strong draft prospect following his 11 passes defended in 2020.
Mississippi State's weaknesses: Last year, the offense's inconsistency was a major plague in the Bulldogs' season, a weird fact considering Leach's resumè. There's reason to believe it will be the same this year as they try to stabilize the quarterback position.
Mississippi State key player: Offense
WR Jaden Walley: There wasn't much to be proud of about Miss St's offense last year, but Walley's surge was a rare positive for Mike Leach. As a freshman, he had 718 receiving yards, top 10 within the SEC and the most by any Bulldogs receiver.
Mississippi State key player: Defense
LB Aaron Brule: No player was more active on the Bulldogs' defense last year than Brule, who led the team with 74 tackles. He's entering his senior year and, if Mississippi State wants to field a solid defense, Brule is a huge part of it.
2021-2022 Mississippi State schedule:
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 vs. NC State Wolfpack
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 at Memphis Tigers
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 vs. LSU Tigers
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 at Texas A&M Aggies
Week 6: Bye week
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
Week 8: Saturday, October 23 at Vanderbilt Commodores
Week 9: Saturday, October 30 vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 at Arkansas Razorbacks
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 at Auburn Tigers
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. Tennessee State Tigers
Week 13: Thursday, November 25 vs. Ole Miss Rebels
2021-2022 Mississippi State prediction (8-4 overall, 4-4 SEC)
It honestly feels like Mississippi State could be a surprise package in the SEC West. While they won't be good enough to challenge the likes of Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU, they showed positive signs towards the end of last year and should see Leach's air raid get better results with a year of experience towards football's most challenging conference.
Ole Miss Rebels: SEC West
The first year of Lane Kiffin's tenure with the Rebels saw the team head in an interesting direction, even though the record was .500 and Ole Miss finished fifth in the SEC West. There's a lot to like in this team for the upcoming season.
Here's a look at the Ole Miss Rebels' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC West Conference preview: Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss' strengths: The offense could be really good with the amount of talent available. Depending on which game you watched last season, you might have a good or a bad impression of Matt Corral, the Rebels quarterback. Corral will have an interesting receiving group with Jonathan Mingo, Braylon Sanders and Dontario Drummond.
Ole Miss' weaknesses: The defense last year was truly awful. Every single team scored at least 20 points against the Rebels in 2020 and there's not much incoming talent to boost the group. Some development may be expected, of course, but few expect the unit to become a force.
Ole Miss key player: Offense
QB Matt Corral: Basically the whole offense goes through Corral. He threw 14 interceptions last year, but 11 of them were against Arkansas (six INTs, L 21-353) and LSU (five INTs, L 48-53).
He got way better last season as the year went on, but he can't keep having those games where he goes berserk and forces a lot of passes. The most important thing for Ole Miss is: can Corral become better mentally?
Ole Miss key player: Defense
DE Sam Williams: Williams gets an extra year as the NCAA has granted one more year of eligibility because of the pandemic during the 2020 season. He amassed 10 sacks in two years with the Rebels and, in a defense that was way below-average last year, he's one of the rare bright spots.
2021-2022 Ole Miss Rebels schedule:
Week 1: Monday, September 6 vs. Louisville Cardinals
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 vs. Austin Peay Governors
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. Tulane Green Wave
Week 4: Bye week
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 at Alabama Crimson Tide
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 at Tennessee Volunteers
Week 8: Saturday, October 23 vs. LSU Tigers
Week 9: Saturday, October 30 at Auburn Tigers
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 vs. Liberty Flames
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 vs. Texas A&M Aggies
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
Week 13: Thursday, November 25 at Mississippi State Bulldogs
2021-2022 Ole Miss Rebels prediction (7-5 overall, 3-5 SEC)
As much as there's belief that the Rebels will progress this season with Corral diminishing his mistakes and another year with Kiffin, it's still difficult to trust Ole Miss' defense. They are up for a tough time in the SEC West against so many good offenses, but they'll still be in contention for a bowl game.
Texas A&M Aggies: SEC West
Texas A&M is one of the strongest teams in the country, but they face a monumental task to conquer the SEC West for the first time: beating Alabama. The Aggies have gotten better and better each year since they hired Jimbo Fisher, but joining the playoffs will still be a tough mission as they have the Crimson Tide in the same division.
Here's a look at the Texas A&M Aggies' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC West Conference preview: Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M's strengths: Along with Georgia and Alabama, Texas A&M had one of the SEC's best defenses last year, allowing only 21.7 points per game in 2020 and the lowest number of total yards with 317.3 per game. Most defensive starters are returning, so you can expect an even stronger 2021 from the unit.
Texas A&M's weaknesses: There aren't a lot of weaknesses on the roster since it's deep and very talented. The main question mark is who'll succeed Kellen Mond, who's now a member of the Minnesota Vikings, at quarterback. The answer will be the difference between a good or a great year.
Texas A&M key player: Offense
RB Isaiah Spiller: If we don't know who's going to start at quarterback for the Aggies, Spiller will be the offense's most important player in the first few weeks. He amassed 1,036 yards and nine touchdowns in ten games in 2020 and is primed for an even better year, even though the offensive line lost the majority of its starters.
Texas A&M key player: Defense
DT DeMarvin Leal: The Aggies defensive front is scary and Leal is the headliner, with 12.5 tackles for loss during his first two seasons. He's got a little bit of everything, as he also registered 2.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and three passes defended. There's nothing he can't do.
2021-2022 Texas A&M schedule:
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. Kent State Golden Flashes
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 at Colorado Buffaloes
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. New Mexico Lobos
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 at Missouri Tigers
Week 8: Saturday, October 23 vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
Week 9: Bye week
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 vs. Auburn Tigers
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 at Ole Miss Rebels
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. Prairie View A&M Panthers
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 at LSU Tigers
2021-2022 Texas A&M Aggies prediction (10-2 overall, 6-2 SEC)
While the Aggies present themselves as the biggest threat to Alabama's dominance, they'll still have to contend against the Crimson Tide with uncertainty in the most important position of the game, and that may be the difference during their matchup in Week 6. Look for the Aggies to contend for a New Year's Six Bowl.