Last week we began with teams 14-12 Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida. We now continue with 11-9.
South Carolina began 2014 in the top-10 and one of the favorites to contend for the national championship. But oh that defense. Texas A&M embarrassed them on opening night with 52 points and nearly 700 yards. It scarcely got any better in route to an un-Spurrier like 7-6 season that had many questioning whether or not the ‘Head Ball Coach’ should retire.
The defense is more athletic but is still the biggest question mark, with an example of having eight starters returning maybe not being such a good thing. Only four starters return on offense, including an all-new backfield. All-purpose threat Pharoh Cooper, an elite talent, will be the focus of every opponent. Sophomore Connor Mitch is expected to step in at quarterback, but you know Spurrier will go through a few.
The road schedule will be too much to win the East with trips to Georgia, Missouri, A&M and UT. LSU returns to the schedule, and the non-conference slate is rugged. Much better than seven wins is unlikely this season.
At #10 is Texas A&M, a team that will capture the imagination on offense and also can only go as far as their defense takes them. Coach Kevin Sumlin was proactive in trying to do something about it bringing in John Chavis from LSU as ‘defensive coordinator,’ one of the very best in college football.
The Aggies will score a bunch of points with Kyle Allen returning at quarterback and the exciting trio of Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones at receiver. Always strong upfront, center Mike Matthews is one of the best in the country. On defense they do have Myles Garrett to build around. Capable of playing anywhere in the front seven, Garrett is a menace, and even last season was difficult to contain. Drew Kaser is a punter actually being mentioned as a first-round pick.
I may have the Aggies a bit low here, but the West is so rugged and toughness is a real question with this team. They wore down the second half of the season in 2014. Schedule wise, they do not play a true road game until October 24. Watch out for ‘fool’s gold’ with A&M this season.
Next on the countdown at #9 is the team so many have as a breakthrough national contender, the Arkansas Razorbacks. So many near misses turned into impressive shutout wins over LSU and Ole Miss, with a romp over Texas to finish 7-6 a season ago. Expectations are high in ‘year three’ under Bret Bielema, and they are justified.
This team starts with the outstanding backfield duo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Bielema loves old-time power football. Each back rushed for over 1,000 a year ago and figure to only get better. Can QB Brandon Allen take that next step from a game manager to a playmaker? The answer to that question will determine if the Hogs can make that next step to championship contender, because they are strong in the trenches and have a potentially elite defense.
Road wins will be so hard to come by for most everyone this year. Arkansas has A&M, UT, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU away from home. Arkansas and Texas A&M play every year in Arlington at the home of the Cowboys. But a strong running game and stout defense always pack well on the road. If Allen can improve, Arkansas can beat anyone. If not, they simply will not score enough points.