Alabama took home another SEC football title in 2016, as predicted, with a 54-16 disposal of Florida. It was the 8th straight conference crown for a representative from the Western Division, with 5 of those earned by the Tide. Another national title, however, was not to be, as Nick Saban's squad was defeated 35-31 by Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship game in Tampa.
SEC teams claimed 7 national titles in-a-row from 2006 to 2012, but only one in the last 4 seasons. The ACC (2) and Big Ten (1) have bagged the other 3.
2017 looks like it will swing the way of the ACC again with the Congrove Computer Rankings at collegefootballpoll.com forecasting a Florida State win over Ohio State in the championship after the Buckeyes eliminate 'Bama in the semifinals. Alabama would be the No. 3 seed after taking home another SEC championship trophy as 5.87-point favorites over Florida.
If the Tide and Gators each make it to Atlanta for the SEC title game, as predicted, it would be their 3rd consecutive pairing and the 10th such meeting overall.
The SEC made news before the 2017 season even opened when Hugh Freeze was forced out on July 20, just 44 days before Ole Miss opens at home versus South Alabama. The resignation continued a messy trail of public relations issues and NCAA violations dating back to the Houston Nutt era. Ole Miss self-imposed a 2017 bowl ban and other restrictions. Freeze was 39-25 in five seasons, but 5-7 in 2016. His teams were 19-21 in the SEC and finished 5th or worse in the SEC western division in 3 of his 5 seasons. Matt Luke was tagged as the interim head coach. Luke has served alongside Freeze as co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
The Rebels may have to endure an awful 2017 campaign as the computer tags them with a 3-9 finish overall, including an 0-8 SEC mark.
Ole Miss opens over 23 power points below the Western division-favored Tide who are picked to go 11-1 overall and 8-0 in the conference.
'Bama fans will learn early if their prospects for an unbeaten season are better than predicted as they face Florida State in Atlanta on September 2 as underdogs by a mere 2.66 points.
Alabama and FSU have met just 4 times previously with the Crimson Tide owning a 2-1-1 edge. The Seminoles picked up a 21-14 win in their last meeting in the 2007 regular season.
In conference, Alabama's closest forecasting outings are a 7.21-point win on October 21 in Tuscaloosa versus Tennessee, and a 0.88-point edge at predicted 2nd-place finisher Auburn (9-3, 6-2) in the traditional season-ending Iron Bowl rivalry game.
LSU (9-3, 5-3) is picked to finish 3rd in the Western half of the SEC, just ahead of Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4).
'Bama, Auburn and LSU are separated by no more than 6.80 points to begin the year.
The race is even tighter in the Eastern division, where Tennessee has a slightly higher power rating than Florida (81.76 to 81.10), but has to travel to The Swamp on September 13 where the Vols are a 1.34-point underdog for 1 of their 2 forecasted losses.
All 3 of Georgia's projected conference losses are by less than 6 points. The neutral site rivalry game in Jacksonville see the Gators favored by under a single point (0.96).
Vanderbilt and Kentucky each get forecasts that their fan bases can live with. The 'Dores and Wildcats are both projected to complete their campaigns with 8-4 marks overall, and 4-4 in the SEC.
Arkansas' 6-6 prediction would give the conference 10 bowl qualifiers which is 1 more than the ACC or Big Ten.
The computer has South Carolina, Missouri, Ole Miss and Mississippi State missing the postseason.
Other than Freeze, every SEC head coach who finished the 2016 season will begin the 2017 campaign with their job intact. Ed Orgeron, who took over at LSU when Les Miles was fired after a 2-2 start, had his interim tag removed on November 26. Miles had been on the cusp of dismissal at the end of the 2015 season before an outpouring of support from both fans and national media gave the school impetus to change course. Miles had a 114-34 mark in Baton Rouge, including the 2007 BCS National Championship. Miles' career mark is 141-55.
*-Tie-breakers: Vanderbilt beats Kentucky