How will LSU respond to its prolific draft losses?
LSU lost eight defensive starters to the draft last season. Regardless of the talent remaining on the roster, it's difficult to bounce back from that. The offense was iffy last season, and defensive struggles would be damning to the Tigers. Obviously Les Miles will go for it on fourth down a billion times and convert most of them, but the draft definitely hurt LSU. The question then is how much did it hurt them?
So what's the deal with Johnny Manziel?
Will the offseason media circus surrounding Johnny Manziel and his shenanigans* be a distraction for the Aggies? Is the criticism and questioning of Manziel's eligibility as an amateur athlete enough to cause him to lose focus? Although it seems very, very unlikely at this point, does the possible threat of him being declared ineligible to compete weigh all that heavily on him, his coaches, his teammates, or the Texas A&M admnistration?
Or is he going to put up something like 50 total touchdowns en route to another Heisman-worthy campaign as if this Summer never even happened?
Can Jadeveon Clowney actually win the Heisman Trophy?
Johnny Manziel is the most prolific and valuable offensive player in college football. Jadeveon Clowney is convincingly so for the defensive side of things, but can a defensive lineman win the Heisman Trophy? He is favored by many to do it this year, and preseason hype can go a long way in the terribly flawed Heisman voting, but it is still tough to imagine him winning it in favor of Braxton Miller or Johnny Manziel - again.
Can Bret Bielema's "normal American football" succeed?
Bret Bielema doesn't like adjectives that can't describe the way he moves about his house. Offenses that are "quick" and "hurry-up" aren't man enough for him, or at least aren't red-blooded and freedom loving enough for him. He wants to do with Arkansas what he did at Wisconsin, and that is namely crush opposing defensive lines with a mammoth offensive line, run a lumbering ball of sinew downhill, and set up a play action passing game predicated entirely on mismatches established by an opponent's run defense. With the talent that Arkansas graduated from last year's team - and make no mistake about it; that team was way more talented than their record indicated - it is tough to imagine the Hogs establishing themselves as this type of program in year one. Secondly, how will this style of coaching impact Bielema's recruiting, especially out of Texas where Arkansas has recruited a lot of talent over the past several years? The Lone Star State is known for producing prolific spread quarterbacks and receivers, as Texas high school ball has trended in that direction for a decade or so now.
I don't want this to seem like a "Y'ALL KNOW A B1G COACH CAIN'T CUT IT IN THE SEC Y'ALL" type of argument, because with former Michigan State head coach Nick Saban doing what he does that whole line of thinking is rendered patently ridiculous. Still, Bielema has to rebuild the Arkansas program and establish some sort of identity that will allow him to successfully recruit against the rest of the SEC West. That's a really, really tough gig.
Does Auburn have the talent it needs for Gus Malzahn to make them a factor?
Kiehl Frazier, who started several games last season at quarterback, opted to move to safety when it became obvious that he wouldn't be starting for Malzahn. JUCO transfer Nick Marshall won the starting job and has apparently looked pretty good. Hopefully for other SEC fans Marshall won't be as good as the last JUCO QB Malzahn worked with at Auburn. The questions don't stop at quarterback though. Auburn is unknown at many positions. They could certainly turn out to be good with a quick bounce back due to their solid recruiting over the past few years. It's also possible though that last season wasn't simply a result of Gene Chizik's dumpster fire of a coaching job. If the talent at Auburn really is down, Malzahn has a tough task ahead of him.
Will the conference produce a team that plays for the national championship?
The SEC has produced seven consecutive national champions. If anyone wonders why the SEC is recruiting even better lately, that's why. High school seniors haven't seen a team from any other conference with the national championship since they were in ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
With all that being said, Alabama is certainly the prohibitive favorite to win a championship, their third straight. The question becomes... what if they don't? And that's a legitimate question to ask considering that "the field" is probably a better bet to win it all than Alabama (but no one school is above the Tide, obviously - Roll Tide forever and ever amen, Pawlllll).
Let's say for a moment that Alabama loses two games in the regular season. I there another team out there who has what it takes to build an impressive enough résumé for the computers? If Louisville doesn't go undefeated it will be surprising. Ohio State, as much as I hate them, could very well do the same. If that happens, is there an SEC team who can jump one of those undefeated teams for the opportunity to play in the championship game?
I don't really see a complete team in the conference other than Alabama. I tend to believe that voters would vote in the championship game winner nearly regardless of resume simply because the SEC losing their championship streak simply because they didnt play for it an eighth time would weigh on some people. Not me, but I anticipate that would happen. If it does, which team is that?
*I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing, and I too am fond of engaging in shenanigans.