Spring football is in the books.
The 2015 college football season is just four months away, and for the first time since the 2006 Rose Bowl, the national championship did not feature a team from the Southeastern Conference. But fear not SEC fans, as several teams look to be serious contenders for the College Football Playoff and bring the league back to the title game.
We have the usual suspects. Alabama is once again a serious threat to win the SEC and make another appearance in the playoff. Auburn has improved its defensive woes by bringing in former coordinator Will Muschamp. Georgia may have the best player in the conference in Nick Chubb, as well as a fearsome front seven, and Ole Miss’ program changing 2013 recruiting class is in its third season.
Then there’s the dark horse teams. Several programs enter the upcoming season with less fanfare but could be a surprise contenders for the SEC Championship. Here’s a look at the four teams with the best chance to make a surprise trip to Atlanta this December:
The Vols are a program on the rise. Head coach Butch Jones brought positive change to the program’s culture and mentality with his “brick by brick” rebuilding promise. Tennessee made steady progress in Jones’ second season by ending it’s three-year bowl drought, and he has signed back-to-back top-5 recruiting classes. The Vols relied on true freshman throughout 2014 and should have more experience this fall. The big question is whether the team is ready to win. Tennessee must prove it can win games against the SEC’s top-tier programs, which will be answered with matchups against Alabama and Georgia.
Like Tennessee, LSU returns a team full of young talent. The Tigers have a potential Heisman candidate in Leonard Fournette and one of the conference’s best receiving corps. LSU just needs to find its starting quarterback in a continuing battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Both players spent time under center, but neither provided enough production to enter as a favorite to start in 2015. Les Miles will need to address his quarterback situation early in order to compete in a tough SEC West.
Once again, Missouri is receiving little fanfare despite winning the SEC East. While many predict Georgia as a favorite, its the Tigers who are coming off back-to-back division wins. Somehow Gary Pinkel manages to put the right pieces into his scheme and edge out SEC competition. Missouri doesn’t have the four and five-star prospects like Tennessee or LSU but has proven itself worthy of a dark horse nod based on consistency.
Like LSU, the Aggies are a quarterback away from fielding one of the conference’s most explosive offenses. Kenny Hill seemed to be the second coming of Johnny Manziel for several weeks but flamed out midway through the season. Kyle Allen showed promise down the stretch and should open his sophomore campaign as the starter. The Aggies are also expected to see improvement on defense with the addition of former LSU coordinator John Chavis. Despite its flaws, the Aggies defense should improve with experience and the tutelage of the Chief.