This is the stunning preview to end all stunning previews, and it can be wrapped up in two statements - the computer says 1) no division title for Alabama, and 2) no Final Four appearance.
While us humans can argue all day that Alabama reloads every year and Nick Saban is the greatest college football coach on the planet, the numbers say this can be an usually difficult season for the Tide.
But don't despair, 'Bama fans. It's not like the computer is dismissing the Crimson & White altogether. It only has your team as the underdog twice - vs. Miami by 1.30 points on opening weekend in Atlanta, and at Texas A&M by 3.99 points on October 9. It even has Alabama tying for first with LSU and the Aggies. In the end, it's LSU that survives a deep tie-breaking scenario that goes to each teams' performance against cross-divisional foes with the best conference record.
This could be a year of greater parity across the FBS landscape, and especially in the SEC. Practically everyone has a roster that's enhanced by players who didn't lose a year of eligibility under the "Covid rules". Thus, the 130 FBS schools return an averaqe of 74.8% of last year's starters, and 76.4% of letter winners. Fifty-three teams have welcomed back at least 80% of their starters and seventeen of those are returning upwards of 90%.
Last season's Final Four teams in the FBS playoff don't have that luxury. Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame all rank in the bottom 16 of returning productivity.
Five players who contributed heavily to Alabama's success in 2020 were take in the first round of the NFL Draft - CB Patrick Surtain II, WR DeVonta Smith, QB Mac Jones, OT Alex Leatherwood, and RB Najee Harris. A sixth player, Jalen Waddle, was the first 'Bama player taken in the draft despite missing the last 9 games of the season after breaking his ankle on the opening kickoff versus Tennessee.
Smith's awards haul included the Heisman and Biletnikoff after setting numerous school records. Jones joined Smith in New York for the Heisman presentation and finished 3rd in the voting. Harris was 5th in the Heisman tally.
Overall, 'Bama returns just 3 starters on offense. But the defense should be solid with 8 of the top 9 tacklers back in the fold.
Meanwhile, Texas A M has to replace Kellen Mond at QB, the second player taken in the 3rd round of the draft. Redshirt freshmen Hank Calzada and Haynes King are the favorites to go behind center.
Ole Miss and LSU rank highest on the list of returning talent and the Tigers return 9 starters on both sides of the ball.
Georgia seems to be a runaway favorite in the eastern half of the conference with JT Daniels back at QB after starting the final four games of last season. The computer likes Missouri as the biggest challenger to the 'Dawgs in Eliah Drinkwitz' second season. With just 5 starters back on each size of the line of scrimmage, Florida gets handed a 3rd-place prediction.
In Columbia, the South Carolina Gamecocks went out and bought a Beamer - Shane Beamer, son of the legendary Frank Beamer. Shane got his first head coaching gig on December 6 when he was announced as Will Muschamp's replacement. The 43-year old protege has been at Oklahoma since 2018 and last season served as assistant head coach for offense, tight ends and halfbacks, according to Soonerports.com. He also "played a role in overseeing special teams". Beamer was an assistant and recruiting coordinator at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier from 2007-2010, coaching cornerbacks, linebackers and special teams.
Muschamp was fired on November 15, the day after a 59-42 loss to Ole Miss dropped South Carolina to 2-5 on the season. The Muschamp tenure wasn't much to write home about as he was 28-30 over-all, 17-22 in the SEC and had a 1-2 bowl record.
Auburn and Tennessee also have new head coaches. Bryan Harsin left Boise State to take the head coaching job with the Tigers after Gus Malzahn was fired on December 13. Harsin was 69-19 at Boise State where his teams won Mountain West conference championships in three of his seven seasons,
Malzahn was 68-35 overall at Auburn, and 39-27 in SEC play. In his first season in 2013, he took a 3-9 team from the previous year and went 12-2 with a division title, an SEC title, and a 34-31 loss to Florida State in the final BCS Championship game. Since then, the Tigers have won a single division title (2017) while Alabama has dominated the division and the conference. However, Malzahn was 3-5 against the Tide while everyone else in the SEC went 3-60 against Nick Saban.
Malzahn wound up as the new head coach at UCF after Josh Heupel departed Orlando for Knoxville to take over a Tennessee program that was a wildly disappointing 16-19 under Jeremy Pruitt. Heupel spent 3 seasons at UCF, leading the Golden Knights to a 28-8 record over-all, a 19-5 record in the American Conference, and a 1-2 mark in bowl games.
|6||Texas A & M||11||1||7||1||89.50||48|
|** - LSU over Georgia by 8.86 (LSU wins tie-breaker vs. A&M, Alabama)|