Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin to help define 2021 season
Here are eight scenarios that will define the SEC 2021 football season.
Will the Alabama offensive regress?
Nick saban forged his Alabama dynasty with dominant defenses.
Alabama’s first five National Championships under Saban featured the nation’s No.1 or No.2 defense.
Then last season the Crimson Tide won their sixth title under Saban with one of the biggest infractions in college football history. Alabama’s defense was no slouch either. But the 2020 Crimson Tide was highlighted by an offense that averaged 48.5 points, marking Alabama’s third straight season averaging at least 45 points after never averaging more. of 39 under Saban.
Gone, however, is Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith, as well as quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris.
Alabama regularly avoids regression despite his annual talent departure from the NFL Draft.
Quarterback Bryce Young, running back Brian Robinson Jr., wide receiver John Metchie III and giant offensive tackle Evan Neal usher in the new guard.
But it’s fair to expect at least some drop off, right?
Will Kirby Smart, Georgia live up to expectations?
Georgia’s pre-season expectations have always been high since winning the SEC Championship in 2017 en route to a national runner-up.
But over the past three seasons, Georgia have failed to live up to the hype, with their end-of-season domestic ranking falling short of their preseason ranking.
The Bulldogs, ranked No.5 in the preseason poll, fired more starters than Alabama and refueled with an exemplary transfer portal raid.
Smart has one of their best teams ever, but will that be enough to rise alongside the sport’s elite?
Who is in the hot seat?
None of the SEC coaches start the 2021 season on a hot seat, but we were reminded last season how quickly that can change. Four coaches were made redundant in 2020 despite the pandemic which put sports departments in financial difficulty.
LSU Ed Orgeron is the SEC’s top candidate after the Tigers failed with a 5-5 record last season on the heels of their 2019 national championship season. That preceded an offseason lots of bad titles for LSU.
Orgeron has retooled with new coordinators, and he’s no shortage of talent, as evidenced by LSU’s No.13 preseason standings.
Thus, the stage is set for Orgeron to gain a foothold. If he doesn’t, he might find athletic director Scott Woodward running out of patience.
After all, Woodward didn’t hire Orgeron.
Jimbo Fisher eat his words?
Jimbo Fisher does not back down his May prediction during an appearance at the Houston Touchdown Club that Texas A&M “will beat (Saban’s) ass” when the teams meet on October 9 at College Station.
Good for Fisher. You shouldn’t be allowed to make $ 7.5 million a year, like Fisher does, and think it’s okay to lose to anyone.
But the forecast for May isn’t worth much, and if Fisher loses to Alabama – especially in an off-balance way – expect it to overshadow anything the Aggies might otherwise achieve this season.
Which SEC quarterback is the real Heisman Trophy contender?
Young, Georgia quarterback JT Daniels and Ole quarterback Miss Matt Corral are considered preseason favorites for the Heisman Trophy.
Yes, a wide receiver won the award last year, but quarterbacks have won it in 17 of the past 20 years.
It’s almost a safe bet that at least one member of this trio will be a Heisman finalist.
But who has the best chance of winning?
Corral will likely rack up the most passing yards in Lane Kiffin’s quick offense, but playoff-caliber quarterbacks have a Heisman advantage, making Young or Daniels the more likely choice.
Plus, are Heisman bettors overlooking a potential dark horse? Given Dan Mullen’s background in developing quarterbacks, don’t rule out Florida’s Emory Jones entering the conversation.
Did Lane Kiffin or Mike Leach win the Battle of the Mississippi?
The preseason hype is skyrocketing for Ole Miss and Kiffin, her sophomore coach. The Rebels are ranked in the preseason coaches poll for the first time since 2016.
Meanwhile, sophomore coach Mike Leach and Mississippi State are in the shadows, chosen to finish last in the SEC West.
But every program returned an abundance of starters, including their starting quarterback.
It’s not entirely fair to judge a manager’s success by juxtaposing him with his practicing counterpart, but the Egg Bowl rivalry extends beyond the game itself, and Kiffin and Leach can expect to have their record compared to each other.
Hope for the four new SEC coaches?
Questions abound for every one of the SEC’s freshman coaches.
Auburn Bryan Harsin has the most polished resume as a proven winner at Boise State and Arkansas State, but he’s never coached at the SEC, and he’s slowly starting to recruit.
Shane Beamer of South Carolina impresses as a recruiter, but he’s never been a coordinator, let alone a head coach.
And Clark Lea of Vanderbilt is a proven defensive coordinator, but he’s a first-time head coach who’s never worked in the SEC, and such a hire didn’t work out for the Commodores the last time around (Derek Mason).
Harsin is best positioned to be successful in the short term thanks to superior roster than his freshman peer coaches, but Auburn faces a busy schedule.
Can two SEC teams participate in the playoffs?
Picture this: Georgia beat Clemson in their first game of the season and remain undefeated until their loss to undefeated Alabama in the SEC Championship. Or, Texas A&M loses a close game against the unbeaten Alabama but otherwise runs the table.
You can imagine scenarios in which the SEC would claim two of the four CFP spots, although it would help if Oklahoma, Ohio State, or Clemson stumbled along the way.
Blake Toppmeyer is SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s cover, think a digital subscription which will allow you to access it all.