Media members chose Auburn to win the Southeastern Conference this season, and Alabama to secure the SEC West Division. It sounds foolish at first glance, however, there is a reason for everything. Auburn returns a roster littered with potential in 2015, headlined by junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson. He threw for 436 yards and three touchdowns in seven games.
Johnson, 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, is a dynamic passer.
He saw action in six games as a true freshman in 2013, totaling 201 passing yards with four touchdowns. He enrolled at Auburn in 2013, as one of the most talented signal callers nationally from Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala. Johnson accounted for more than 8,200 career passing yards, including 3,193 yards with 31 touchdowns in 2013.
The Tigers lost a lot in its run game with Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant gone, but it returns Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson.
Depth at wide receiver is an issue for Auburn. It lost Sammie Coates and Quan Bray to the National Football League. D’haquille Williams returns as Johnson’s primary target.
The 6-foot-2, 216-pound senior caught 45 balls for 730 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games last season. Ricardo Louis, a senior, is a versatile player, yet Auburn needs a second physical wide out. It wants former quarterback Jonathan Wallace to be an impact player at receiver.
Defensively, Auburn returns Montravius Adams, DaVonte Lambert and Carl Lawson to its front line. Adams, a junior, totaled 43 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three sacks last year.
Seniors Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy will anchor Auburn at linebacker.
McKinzy collected 91 tackles in 2014, while Frost finished third on the team with 87.
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has his work cut out for him with Auburn’s secondary. Seniors Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones both return, but the Tigers must be consistent.
For Alabama, adequate play at quarterback is a must.
Jake Coker, a senior, has been working privately with quarterback coach David Morris all offseason in Mobile, Ala. Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban addressed how pleased he was with Coker’s progress at SEC Media Days, but said he still needs to work on consistency.
Redshirt freshman David Cornwell has been bonding with the team.
He’s been seen in numerous videos through social media (Twitter, Instagram, etc…) playing basketball and working on timing routes with receivers. Cornwell’s name is usually mentioned when Saban is asked a question about Coker. Auburn is set on its signal-caller, but it may Alabama until fall camp to decide who will reside under center in 2015.
“Too many running backs.” This was a statement that many Crimson Tide fans and others made since 2008, when Alabama would constantly stockpile ball carriers. This year will be different story, as it lacks depth at the running back position for the first time under Saban.
It has a valuable one, two punch in Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, but the cupboard is bare after that. Freshman Bo Scarbrough had a productive spring, yet a knee injury will keep him out until September. True freshman Desherrius Flowers split reps with Scarbrough in spring ball, but he is now academically ineligible and will not suit this season.
Damien Harris and Ronnie Clark have to pick up the slack.
Harris, a five-star recruit, logged 6,717 career rushing yards with 111 touchdowns at Madison Southern HS in Berea, Ky. Clark, a redshirt freshman, was switched from safety to running back. He has a lot of potential, and can be a major contributor if he stays healthy.
Sophomores Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart both stepped up during spring practice. Both guys, along with redshirt junior wide out Chris Black have to be dependable this season. Junior tight end O.J. Howard wants to be more involved, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knows it.
Ryan Kelly and Cam Robinson return as leaders on Alabama’s offensive line.
Kelly, a fifth-year senior, is one of the best pass blockers nationally, however he must improve on run blocking. Robinson, a sophomore, looks to build off a success performance last season.
Defensively, Alabama returns the nation’s leading punter in sophomore JK Scott and a deep defensive line. A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen are all upperclassmen.
Senior inside linebacker Reggie Ragland was superb last season, totaling 95 tackles and 10.5 stops for loss. The Crimson Tide now has depth at inside linebacker with Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Keith Holcombe.
Alabama fans are anticipating the breakout of sophomore outside linebacker Rashaan Evans. Along with him, Alabama returns Dillon Lee, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams and Denzel Devall.
The hire of Mel Tucker has proved well for Alabama thus far. He’s trained the Crimson Tide’s secondary on fundamentals and physicality. Seniors Cyrus Jones and Geno Smith will lead the group, but Tony Brown, Marlon Humphrey, Laurence Jones and others will play.
The kicking game has been Alabama’s kryptonite in the last two seasons.
Adam Griffith, a junior, appears to finally be healthy, according to coach Saban.
He suffered a stress fracture in his back last season in Alabama’s 20-13 overtime win against LSU. The injury resulted from too much weight training. A kicker’s priority is flexibility.
Easy wins don’t happen in the SEC anymore.
The SEC East is starting to improve with Tennessee and Kentucky recruiting well. Georgia is consistently a 10-win program, and South Carolina looks to return to being a 10-win team. Missouri has gone to the SEC title game in back-to-back seasons, and wants to win.
Cannibalism has taken place in the SEC West. Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have all recruited well and are starting to produce solid teams. Texas A&M’s head coach Kevin Sumlin is an offensive mind, but he has helped its defense by bringing in former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis. The Aggies return playmakers on both sides in 2015.
LSU isn’t set on a quarterback yet, but it has a sound run game, talented receivers and a solid defense. Eight wins wasn’t good enough for head coach Les Miles last season.
As for Alabama and Auburn, a conference title and a national championship could once again come down to the Iron Bowl. Jordan-Hare Stadium will host the event this season.
Much pressure lies on Alabama and the SEC as a whole to win it all this year.
College football is supply and demand. An arena in which people appreciate what is done, but also keep tabs on what’s been done lately. A short attention span has caused the nation to forget how the SEC won seven straight national championships (2006-12), prior to 2013 and 2014.
Shots have been fired at the SEC because it’s expected to dominate each year, yet very few know how difficult it is to win a national title and consistently have success annually.
Coach Saban and Alabama have been attacked for two straight seasons. Its chance to speak and compete for a 16th national championship starts on Sept. 5, 2015 against Wisconsin.