7) Auburn (4-8, 0-8) - I keep hearing 7-5, 8-4 from Auburn folks. That’s possible with taking three or four from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Tennessee. The Tigers should be underdogs to the Black Bears and State, but could possibly snatch wins from the Hogs and Vols.
6) Arkansas (5-7, 1-7) – The Hogs could give Auburn a run for the SEC West cellar. They should play better ball under Bret Bielema, the problem is, there schedule contains Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and LSU. Non-conference foe Rutgers is no gimme, though I think the Hogs will win. The Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State games will determine just how ugly this season is.
5) Ole Miss (7-5, 4-4) – Success should continue in Oxford this year in Hugh Freeze’s second season. A visit to Austin, TX in September should keep the Black Bears from eight wins, though. This season will swing on the opener against Vanderbilt, a visit to Auburn and Arkansas, Troy, Missouri and Mississippi State.
4) Mississippi State (7-5, 4-4) – We haven’t heard much out of Starkville this off season after Ole Miss whipped that tail in the Egg Bowl last year. The Bullies ran off seven easy wins to start 2012 before laying an egg in three of the last four and stinking up the bowl game. This year’s schedule isn’t so soft with an opener against Oklahoma State and a slate that includes LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama.
3) Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2) - The Aggies have a legitimate national title shot this year if Johnny Manziel stays eligible. It’s a two-game season for the Aggies: Alabama on September 14 and LSU on November 23. Some have compared A&M’s handling of Manziel’s situation to Cam Newton’s. A better comparison may be A&M’s defense and the 2010 Auburn unit.
2) LSU (10-2, 6-2) - The Tigers have a much tougher schedule than either A&M or Alabama. An opener against TCU, a road trip to Athens, plus the annual visit from the Florida Gators will eventually cost LSU a title shot. The Tigers are almost as talented as ‘Bama, but lost a ton of experience from last year’s team.
1) Alabama (12-0, 8-0) - I don’t like playing the 12 year old homer, but I see no way around this pick. The schedule sets up favorably – no Georgia, Florida or South Carolina, LSU has to visit Title Town and payback comes early for Manziel and his Aggie buddies. An opener against Virginia Tech isn’t a gimme, but the Hokies won’t be at full speed. Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Tennessee should all be better than last year.