<
>

The championship pressure is on the SEC West in 2015

During the latter part of the SEC’s improbable seven-year national championship run, the most common point of discussion revolved around when the SEC would finally fall.

Two years after that run ended, some are wondering when the league is going to get back up.

With the SEC failing to bring home a national championship since Alabama won it all in 2013, the conference’s reputation has taken a hit. Perception is everything, and the SEC’s two-year championship drought has some wondering if the league is really that big and bad anymore.

Ohio State and TCU are currently dominating the preseason prognostications for national title favorite, so the pressure is on the SEC Western Division to deliver the conference back to greatness.

Although it’s probably (definitely) premature to discuss the demise of the SEC, there’s no question that there’s some anxiety within the league. Why else has there been so much push back against satellite camps and adopting an early signing period?

Alabama coach Nick Saban even hinted that the evolution of offenses and increased tempo, along with the rabid nature of satellite camps collecting on the SEC's fertile recruiting grounds, has taken a toll on the SEC.

Times they are a-changin', and if the SEC wants to get back to the top, it has to evolve in certain areas, but more importantly it has to win outside of its borders when it really counts. Hello, SEC West falling flat during bowl season last season.

This year, the SEC West is yet again stacked. If you thought last year was gruesome for the division, just wait this season. After everyone had a winning record in 2014, all seven should be bowl eligible again, but every team also has legitimate reasons for why it could take the division -- and the conference.

The East might have gone a surprising 5-0 in bowl games last year, but outside of Georgia -- which still needs a quarterback and some defensive linemen -- the East is still in the West’s shadow from top to bottom. And Georgia hasn't exactly succeeded with the favorite card of late.

The cannibalization we saw from the West in 2014 will follow it into 2015, but the SEC has to be careful. A one-loss SEC champion will have no problem getting into the College Football Playoff, but two losses? This might sound crazy, but the SEC’s recent history could play against it if the conference champ has two losses -- unless it gets help from the outside. This division is going to tear itself apart, but one team will have to come out of the fire with only minor marks ... again.

Remember, perception.

Auburn appears on paper to be the favorite with what should be a deadly, more balanced offense and Will Muschamp taking over the defense. But the Tigers still have to get that defense in real game shape. This is a team that allowed 21 or more points in seven of its eight SEC games last year and only won three of them.

Alabama is searching for a quarterback, some offensive linemen and a much better secondary. It still has one of the league’s best running backs in Derrick Henry, and might have the league’s best defensive front seven. Plus, there’s a chip on Saban’s shoulder so beware.

Arkansas is deeper in the trenches and has the best running back duo in the country (Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins). But the Razorbacks need to find a game-changing receiver, and we need to see if quarterback Brandon Allen is really going to take the next step. The Hogs also play four road games in the West. Arkansas hasn’t won a true SEC road game since October 2012.

Mississippi State returns the league’s best quarterback (Dak Prescott) and a wealth of athleticism on both sides of the ball. But the Bulldogs lost three starting offensive linemen as well as their best running back, defensive lineman and linebacker. They have road trips to Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Missouri.

Ole Miss and LSU could both be a consistent quarterback away from being at the top of the division, but consistency wasn't exactly a strong suit under center in Oxford or Baton Rouge this spring.

Then there’s Texas A&M, which is hoping to find some sort of pulse on defense with new defensive coordinator John Chavis in town, but might continue to be spectacular on offense with either Kyle Allen or Kyler Murray under center. Still, can Chavis really turn around overnight the SEC’s worst defense the last two years?

All seven of these teams have enough strengths for a title run, but they all have glaring flaws that could upend their seasons. The question now becomes which teams are the true favorites to carry the banner for the league.

So far Auburn is the trendy favorite, but is anyone really confident saying the Tigers will dethrone Ohio State or knock TCU down a peg or two? Right now, I can’t, but that’s the beauty of the summer. Auburn has ample time to change that, and so does the rest of the division.