Alabama won the SEC in 2015 before going on to win its fourth national title in the last seven seasons. The Crimson Tide enter this fall as the preseason No. 1 team, but they won't end the season that way. Here are Bruce Feldman's predicted standings for the SEC in 2016.
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SEC West No. 7: Auburn (5-7, 2-6 SEC)
They open at home with a non-conference opponent, but it’s Clemson, which I think triggers a brutal start that I see as 1-3 to begin the year. The Tigers have eight-win talent, but the schedule is brutal for a team trying to find some stability. Last year: 7-6, 2-6, beat Memphis in Birmingham bowl.
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SEC West No. 6: Mississippi State (6-6, 2-6 SEC)
Replacing the best player in program history -- Dak Prescott -- is a tall order. The good news: The non-conference slate’s pretty manageable, but the rest of the division is still loaded. Last year: 9-4, 4-4, beat NC State in Belk Bowl.
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SEC West No. 5: Arkansas (7-5, 4-4 SEC)
The Hogs are physical and good, but they’re inexperienced in some key spots (at QB and on the O-line). At least they get some of their roughest SEC opponents at home (Alabama, Ole Miss, UF and LSU). Last year: 8-5, 5-3, beat Kansas State in Liberty Bowl.
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SEC West No. 4: Ole Miss (8-4, 5-3 SEC)
Opening against FSU in Orlando will be interesting for a team that lost a ton of talent from last year. The Rebels still have some studs, though, especially in QB Chad Kelly, a big, athletic group of receivers and a fast D. Last year: 10-3, 6-2, beat Oklahoma State in Sugar Bowl.
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SEC West No. 3: Texas A&M (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
OU grad transfer Trevor Knight is a very good fit here, and he inherits one of the nation’s best groups of wideouts. The D also has a lot of talent. Word is, the O-line is much improved, and it needs to be. Last year: 8-5, 4-4, lost to Louisville in Music City Bowl.
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SEC West No. 2: Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC)
For the third straight year, Bama looks to make a College Football Playoff run breaking in a new QB. At least the new guy will throw to a superb crop of receivers led by Calvin Ridley and tight end O.J. Howard. The D will still be nasty, but I think they stumble en route to Atlanta with road trips to Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU. Last year: 14-1, 7-1, beat Clemson in national championship.
SEC West No. 1: LSU (11-1, 7-1 SEC)
New DC Dave Aranda is a big upgrade, and Year 3 for QB Brandon Harris should bring more improvement from an offense that will still lean heavily on a punishing run game but also has downfield playmakers outside to burn defenses. My hunch is this year the Tigers, bigger up front on D and on the O-line, beat Bama and win the SEC title. Last year: 9-3, 5-3, beat Texas Tech in Texas Bowl.
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SEC East No. 7: South Carolina (4-8, 1-7 SEC)
Steve Spurrier left behind a mess for Will Muschamp, who I think will eventually get the Gamecocks going again but probably not till 2018. Carolina opens with three road games in the SEC -- not ideal for a young team trying to rebuild. Last year: 3-9, 1-7, no bowl game.
SEC East No. 6: Missouri (5-7, 2-6 SEC)
Young QB Drew Lock has some talent, but the Tigers don’t have much firepower right now for him to rely on. Defensively, DE Charles Harris has All-American talent and the rest of the DL is strong (as usual), but there’s probably still too much pressure on the defense here. Last year: 5-7, 1-7, no bowl game.
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SEC East No. 5: Vanderbilt (5-7, 2-6 SEC)
Derek Mason has one of the best collections of linebackers in college football. The offense, though, is still much too shaky for this program to turn the corner. Last year: 4-8, 2-6, no bowl game.
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SEC East No. 4: Kentucky (6-6, 3-5 SEC)
Drew Barker can play and so can the UK running backs. Mark Stoops doesn’t have enough in his front seven yet, but his tall, rangy corners are studs and I think the Cats will surprise a few folks. Last year: 5-7, 2-6, no bowl.
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SEC East No. 3: Florida (8-4, 5-3 SEC)
The Gators will still be tough on defense, and I suspect Luke Del Rio will be solid enough running the offense, but I do expect this to be the year the Vols finally defeat the Gators. Last year: 10-4, 7-1, lost to Michigan in Citrus Bowl.
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SEC East No. 2: Georgia (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
Kirby Smart’s debut season will be marked with likely a new starting QB as well as almost an entirely rebuilt front seven. My hunch is the Dawgs will still win a tricky opener against UNC, but if they don’t, they could be staring at a 2-3 start. Last year: 10-3, 5-3, beat Penn State in TaxSlayer Bowl.
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SEC East No. 1: Tennessee (10-2, 6-2 SEC)
T has playmakers at all three levels and the most talent in the SEC East. The Vols have a nasty 1-2 punch in the backfield in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara that’ll play well off QB Josh Dobbs’ own running skills, although I’m still skeptical about UT’s passing game being consistent enough to become a playoff team. Last year: 9-4, 5-3, beat Northwestern in Outback Bowl.
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SEC title game: LSU over Tennessee
Both teams ride revamped defenses to Atlanta and each have potent running games and a lot to prove when it comes to their passing attacks. I’ll stick with the Tigers, who I think have more team speed and a better O-line.