As we head into the 2016 college football season, it’s understandable that you might be having a tough time remembering all of the crazy things that happened in last year’s, which ended with Alabama holding off Clemson 45-40 in the College Football Playoff championship. So with camp opening this week, and our in-depth conference previews hitting FoxSports.com the week after that, we’ve decided to give you a recap of everything you may have forgotten from last year for all five power conferences in 2015. Here are 25 things you may have forgotten from the SEC last season.
Alabama was last year’s national champion. Ok, you probably didn’t forget that, but what you might not remember is that the road to the title wasn’t easy. ‘Bama lost to Ole Miss for the second straight year, while flip-flopping between Jacob Coker and Cooper Bateman at quarterback. Eventually they settled on Coker, and got hot, reeling off 12 straight wins to end the season. It resulted in Nick Saban’s fourth national championship at Alabama, and fifth overall.
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Alabama’s Derrick Henry went on to win the Heisman. Again you probably didn’t forget that, but what you might have forgotten was how good some of the other pieces around him were. Calvin Ridley broke Amari Cooper’s freshman record with 1,089 yards receiving (to go along with 89 catches) and O.J. Howard had a monster national title game with five catches for 208 yards and two TDs against Clemson. So yeah, even without Coker or Henry, Alabama’s offense will be fine.
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So too will their defense. Remember, for all the players that went pro -- including Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Robinson -- there is plenty of talent remaining in Tuscaloosa. That includes Jonathan Allen, who could have been a first round pick at defensive end last season, after leading Alabama with 14 TFLs and 12 sacks in 2015. Yikes!
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It hasn’t been all rosy since winning the title for ‘Bama though, as All-SEC offensive tackle Cam Robinson and defensive back Hootie Jones were arrested on a number of charges, including felony possession of a firearm. Eventually the DA decided against prosecuting the two (for the strangest reason possible), and Nick Saban decided against disciplining them as well. That led to one of the best moments of the offseason at SEC Media Days.
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While Henry won the Heisman last season, LSU’s Leonard Fournette was probably college football’s single most dynamic player. He returns to Baton Rouge after rushing for 1,953 yards in just 12 games, which included 10 games of 100 yards rushing or more, and three games with 200 yards or more. So yeah, good luck SEC defenses. You’re going to need it.
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Speaking of LSU, as easy as it is to forget, they actually won seven straight games to start the season and got all the way up to No. 2 in the country in the first college football playoff poll. Unfortunately, they then lost to Alabama for a fifth straight time, and lost three straight overall. As we later found out, if LSU hadn’t beaten Texas A&M to end the regular season, Les Miles would have been out of a job.
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Of course LSU beat Texas A&M, leading his players to carry him off the field (yes, that really happened), and ultimately setting up ‘The Offseason of Les.’ Miles kept his job, the Tigers crushed Texas Tech in their bowl game, and ended up with one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Add in a bunch of star players returning to campus and the Tigers have the making of an SEC-title winning team in 2016. It also means that everyone knows what's at stake in 2016: If the Tigers don’t win big, it will likely cost Miles his job.
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A lot of people think that Ole Miss can win the SEC after a 10-win season in 2015, which included the Rebels' first trip to the Sugar Bowl since the Archie Manning era in 1970. What many people forget also is that the Rebels actually could’ve won the SEC last year as well; had the Rebels not lost a wild, double-overtime game to Arkansas (which included a 4th and 25 conversion on a lateral) they would have won the SEC West and played Florida for the conference title.
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This year the Rebels’ hopes rest on the big shoulders of quarterback Chad Kelly, who threw for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2015. Ole Miss will need Kelly to be even better in 2016, after the team lost three first round picks (Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche) off last year’s squad.
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Tennessee lost virtually no one off last year’s squad and with 19 starters back, enter 2016 as the SEC East favorites. The Vols won nine games last year, the first time they’ve hit the nine-win plateau since 2007. For those counting at home, that was four coaches ago in Knoxville.
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That doesn’t mean that Tennessee didn’t struggle at times last year. They blew double-digit fourth quarter leads to Oklahoma and Florida, before finally turning things around against Georgia in Week 6. In one of the great, forgotten games of the season, the Vols trailed 24-3 in the second quarter, before coming back to win 38-31. They then won seven of eight to close the season.
That loss for Georgia may have been the beginning of the end for Mark Richt in Athens as well. After 15 seasons at the school, but no SEC titles in the last decade, he and the school ‘mutually agreed’ to part ways. It led to an emotional reaction from his current players, and led to a former player in Kirby Smart taking over as the school’s new head coach.
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The Tennessee game also marked the end of star running back Nick Chubb’s season. After five-straight 100+ yard rushing games to start the year, Chubb suffered a season-ending ACL tear against the Vols. It’s unclear how healthy Chubb is entering the season, which is bad news for a team which will likely start a true freshman at quarterback.
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At South Carolina, Steve Spurrier stepped down as head coach after an 11-year run at the school, which included three-straight 11-win seasons. Will Muschamp is in to replace him, but has major work to do; the Gamecocks finished 11th in total offense last year and dead last in total defense. Even worse? South Carolina’s best player, linebacker Skai Moore, will miss the 2016 season with a neck injury. Yikes!
A third SEC East team -- Missouri -- is also breaking in a new coach, after long-time head man Gary Pinkel stepped down following last season. In the case of Mizzou, they gave the job to long-time assistant Barry Odom, who, like Muschamp, has major work to do. Missouri averaged just 13.6 points per game last season, which was not only worst in the SEC, but ranked 127th out of 128 teams in the country. Double yikes!
Staying in the East, it’s actually Florida who is the reigning SEC East champs. As easy as it is to forget -- and believe me, I certainly did before I started this article -- the Gators started out the season 10-1 last year, on the way to clinching a division title in Jim McElwain’s first year at the school.
The problem of course is that while the Gators started the year winning 10 of their first 11, they finished with three straight ugly losses. There was a 27-2 defeat at the hands of cross-state rival Florida State, and a 14-point loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game, before the Gators got absolutely embarrassed by Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Add in the transfer of quarterbacks Will Grier and Treon Harris (who converted to wide receiver in the spring), and there’s a reason that while the Gators may be the defending SEC East Champs, they’re far from favorites to repeat.
Speaking of transfer quarterbacks, nobody made more headlines in that department than Texas A&M in 2015. After Kevin Sumlin spent the season flip-flopping between Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray under center, both elected to leave College Station following a disappointing 8-5 season overall. It also puts Sumlin firmly on the hot seat entering 2016.
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Of course as hot as Sumlin’s seat is, it’s actually another transfer quarterback -- Trevor Knight -- who might just save him. Knight comes to A&M from Oklahoma where he lost the starting job to Baker Mayfield, but once did enough to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Add Knight to a talented core that includes Christian Kirk, Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall and others, and the Aggies have more than enough to surprise some folks in 2016, and help Sumlin keep his job for at least one more season.
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Another coach squarely on the hot seat is Gus Mazlahn, who saw his offense sputter in 2015. In the process Jeremy Johnson went from Heisman contender in the preseason to the bench by midseason, and true freshman Sean White could do little as his replacement. Overall, the Tigers finished just 10th in the SEC in total offense and may have hit rock-bottom with a near loss to Jacksonville State in Week 2 (the Tigers won in overtime).
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One team that had no concerns at quarterback last year was Mississippi State, who saw the Dak Prescott era end with a 9-4 season and Belk Bowl victory over NC State. Prescott left with over 30 school records, and Dan Mullen nearly left with him. Mullen had a heavy flirtation with Miami about their vacant coaching job, before the gig ultimately went to Mark Richt.
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The Arkansas Razorbacks enter 2016 off one of the wildest seasons in college football in 2015. Arkansas lost four of five to start the year, including a stunner to Toledo, and a second straight heartbreaking, overtime loss to Texas A&M at Jerry World. But for as bad as things started for the Razorbacks, they ended just as well. Arkansas won six of their final seven games, including two of the wildest wins of the season: The aforementioned Ole Miss game, and a four-overtime victory over Auburn.
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The only thing more entertaining than Razorbacks games were the press conferences that came after them. Kliff Kingsbury made national headlines for saying that Bret Bielema ‘got his a** kicked’ following a Texas Tech victory over Arkansas, and then Bielema one-upped him later in the year when he said he planned to celebrate that Ole Miss win by ‘hopping on my wife.’ Isn’t college football just the greatest?
In Kentucky it feels like a make-or-break year for Mark Stoops, after a second straight season marked by a hot start and disastrous finish. The Wildcats went 4-1 to begin 2015 -- including wins against South Carolina and Mizzou -- before finishing 1-6 (with their only win coming against Charlotte) to close the season. While no one has said that it’s ‘bowl game or bust’ for Stoops, it certainly feels that way in Lexington.
Things aren’t quite as dire for Derek Mason in year three at Vandy, but they aren’t great either. After the uber-successful James Franklin era ended with back-to-back nine win seasons, Mason has gone just 7-17 since. The good news for Vandy fans (and Mason) is the Commodores return a big chunk of one of the SEC’s most underrated defenses, which allowed just 22 points per game last season.
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