2015 SEC football preview (part IV)

Last updated on August 21st, 2015 at 10:22 am

Time for the top five, but here is the list so far from 14-6: Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri.

With expectations not this highly realistic in quite some time, Tennessee has once again emerged a contender under third-year coach Butch Jones. UT is building toughness, brotherhood, belief, and talent as the Vols are on their way to regaining their rightful place near the top of the SEC.

How far Tennessee goes is simple really. It depends on how well junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs has grasped the offense, the leadership skills, and the pressure of being the starting quarterback for a contending team. UT is loaded everywhere else on offense. Jalen Hurd returns at running back, hopefully with no more concussion problems. The announced return of Von Pearson, to go with the returning Alton ‘Pig’ Howard, Josh Malone and Marquez North, gives the Volunteers the deepest corps of receivers in the league. Strength is building upfront, with center Mack Crowder and LT Kyler Kerbyson.

Defense is coming along also with Derek Barnett on the line, Curt Maggitt at linebacker, and Cameron Sutton at corner all-conference each. Jones wants grit throughout and speed on the edges. He now has that.

Oklahoma visits in week two. We will learn about Dobbs then. Tennessee is a contender to win the East, and if Dobbs turns into what they hope, possibly more than that. There is reason to be excited about this team.

Their chief competitor in the division, figures to be Georgia. The ‘Dawgs are breaking in a new quarterback. It is the biggest question about this team. Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert is the favorite, but Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta are also competing for the job. The QB in this offense will be a game manager, and the games will be won from the running back position where UGA has the nation’s deepest group led by Nick Chubb. Keith Marshall, Sony Michel and Brendan Douglas will also factor in the offense. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley headline the receiving options. On defense, six starters return led by DE Jordan Jenkins.

The schedule has Tennessee and Auburn on the road, not to mention Georgia Tech, to go with a rare home game against Alabama—so the signal caller had better be ready. Like UT, if Georgia gets what they hope from the quarterback position, the sky is the limit.

At #3 in the countdown is a team accustomed to higher than that, but it will not automatically be the usual reload and contend for a national championship for Alabama. Only three starters return on offense, and once again Coach Nick Saban has to find a quarterback. Jacob Coker would figure to be the choice, but we thought that last season. He just does not seem to fit in very well here. Talk centers around freshman Blake Barnett being the guy, soon if not right away.

The Tide is deep at running back with the return of Derrick Henry, and Kenyan Drake is fine after his ugly leg injury last season. But the offensive line is not up to usual standard, at least not yet. Saban’s forte is defense, and that will be the strength of this squad. A’Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland are an imposing duo up the middle.

If Alabama finds a manager at QB, and the offensive line gels and matures, they can get to where they are used to. But there are more questions for this Alabama team than any recently. It will be another momentous Iron Bowl in Auburn.