There is no more compelling or competitive conference in college football year after year than the SEC. Even without Texas and Oklahoma, it’s easily the best league in the country every year. The 2021 season should be no different in the conference that has produced four of the seven College Football Playoff champions.
As usual, there are more than a handful of teams in the SEC that believe they can reach the CFP if things go according to plan. That means it’s worth taking a good, long look at the SEC to see who can win the league, who’s being overlooked, and how things might play out in 2021.
**All betting lines via FanDuel Sportsbook as of Aug. 4
Favorite: Alabama Crimson Tide
Nick Saban’s team is almost always the favorite. This year, the Crimson Tide is -450 to win the West Division and -160 to repeat as SEC champs. The assumption with Alabama is that Bryce Young will hit the ground running as the starting quarterback after backing up Mac Jones last year. The Crimson Tide also has to restock along the offensive line and at wide receiver, as both positions saw high-end talent leave for the NFL after last season.
But even if it takes the Alabama offense a little time to gel, there’s more than enough talent on the defensive side of the ball. Bama may have lost key players at each level, but Saban always has players who are ready to step into bigger roles. There is NFL-caliber talent along the defensive line, which should make it easy for Alabama to dominate in the trenches and have one of the best defenses in the league while waiting for Young to get the offense rolling, which should happen sooner or later in 2021.
Top Competitor: Georgia Bulldogs
Kirby Smart has built Georgia into a program that expects to compete for the SEC title and a spot in the CFP every year. The Bulldogs are listed at -450 to win the SEC East, making them clear favorites to win that division. They also have a +190 moneyline to unseat Alabama and win the league outright.
The key is quarterback J.T. Daniels, who took over as the starter midway through the 2020 campaign and changed the look of the Georgia defense. With Daniels starting, the Bulldogs increased their point total by 8.3 points per game. He should be even more settled entering 2021, especially because the Bulldogs should have a strong running game behind seniors Zamir White and James Cook.
Meanwhile, the Georgia defense could be one of the best in the country. The front-seven is made up of all juniors and seniors, giving it both experience and high-end talent like lineman Jordan Davis and linebacker Adam Anderson. If there’s a problem for Georgia it could be in the secondary where there is a lack of experience among returning players. But Clemson transfer Derion Kendrick and West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith should help the secondary from becoming an obvious weakness for the Bulldogs.
Dark Horse: LSU Tigers
Does anybody remember the 2019 national champions? Given what they lost after that championship, the Tigers deserve a little slack for a rough 2020 season. The result is they have a +2500 moneyline to win the SEC, which is a little low given the amount of talent on the roster. After all, LSU isn’t a program that’s accustomed to having two subpar seasons in a row, which means the Tigers will bounce back in 2021.
Last year’s struggles mean that the Tigers will return a lot of experience on both sides of the ball. All five starters on the offensive line are back while both Max Johnson and Myles Brennan bring experience to the quarterback position. Defensively, LSU probably has the best cornerback tandem in the country with Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks. There is also a ton of talent in the trenches while Clemson transfer Mike Jones will help to solidify the linebacker position. If Stingley and Ricks are as good as advertised, this could turn into one of the best defenses in the country.
Plus, outside of a trip to Tuscaloosa, LSU has a favorable schedule that could allow the Tigers to make some noise this year.
Deep Sleeper: Ole Miss Rebels
Let’s be honest, the intrigue around Lane Kiffin in the SEC is undeniable. Whether you love him or hate him, it’ll be fascinating to see what he does with the Rebels in his second season.
Matt Corral has as much experience as any quarterback in the SEC. Even without Elijah Moore at wide receiver, Corral has plenty of help around him, and with Kiffin calling the shots, Ole Miss will score enough points to keep every game interesting.
On the other hand, giving up more than 38 points per game last season is why Ole Miss is +3000 to win the SEC. The Rebels are bringing back six starters on defense and will add a couple of transfers to the secondary. But there will need to be a massive improvement on that side of the ball to make the Rebels on par with the elite teams in the SEC.
That being said, as long as Kiffin’s team keeps scoring points, they’ll have a fighting chance against every team they play.
Overrated: Texas A&M Aggies
Jimbo Fisher deserves a lot of credit for making Texas A&M a serious competitor in the SEC West. The Aggies enter 2021 as the second-best team in the West at +550 to win the division and +1200 to win the SEC Championship Game. But oddsmakers could be overvaluing them after a 9-1 season that saw Texas A&M finish as a top-five team.
Keep in mind that the quarterback position is one of uncertainty with Kellen Mond graduating. They also have to replace most of the offensive line and will have half a dozen underclassmen on the two-deep. That might be a bigger problem than the uncertainty at quarterback. Even if the A&M defense has a chance to be one of the best in the conference, the Aggies look destined to take a step back offensively, which should prevent them from taking another step forward in 2021.
Basement Dweller: Vanderbilt
As usual, the poor Commodores are destined to be overmatched in the SEC. While there’s no room to go but up after a winless 2020 season, that doesn’t mean Vandy will be able to make much progress with Clark Lea taking over. Lea played at Vanderbilt, so he knows it’ll be tough and he’ll understand how to make up for Vandy’s shortcomings. But that doesn’t mean he’ll have success right away.
Even by Vandy’s standards, the offensive line is in rough shape. The defense has just as many concerns after giving up over 37 points per game last season. Non-conference games with East Tennessee State, Colorado State, Stanford, and UConn could be winnable. But a mid-October road trip to South Carolina could be Vandy’s only chance to win a league game this season, as the Commodores are +25000 to win the SEC, tying Arkansas for the longest odds.
Player to Watch: Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
In the end, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young will likely decide what team wins the SEC, but Stingley might be the most talented player in the conference to watch. He came to LSU two years ago as a hometown kid from Baton Rouge and one of the best high school players in the country. Since then, Stingley has more than lived up to the hype.
As a freshman, he helped LSU win a national championship and was even better last season. In 2021, Stingley has a chance to be an All-American and solidify his standing as a top-10 draft pick. Obviously, teams will do their best to stay away from him, but Stingley will still be going up against the best wide receivers in the SEC, which should give him plenty of opportunities to prove that he’s an elite cornerback who’s worthy of the hype he’s receiving.
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