Heading into the 2021 Southeastern Conference football season there is no question that the league has the potential to again feature a lot of good teams, but how strong the league as a whole will be is a question. Each of the 14 programs will go into its opener with concerns about some aspect of the team.
In Auburn’s case, the lack of proven wide receivers is something to keep an eye on this season. On defense, a potential issue is how good the Tigers will be inside on the defensive front.
Looking around Auburn’s division, the SEC West, Texas A&M is a trendy pick to challenge defending champion Alabama for the league title. However, the Aggies don’t have a proven quarterback and have to replace four starters on the offensive line. Both of those factors could be a problem for Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team.
Alabama, the favorite to win the West, lost its quarterback, its top receivers, its offensive coordinator and key offensive linemen. It will be interesting to see how the Tide looks early with the opener vs. Miami and game three at Florida.
Expectations are higher than normal for Ole Miss because the Rebels feature preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback Matt Corral, plus a pair of talented running backs in Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner. However, the defense is likely to struggle again after giving up 38 points per outing in 2020. The Rebels were horrible defending the pass and not much better against the run, so plenty of questions remain.
Two seasons removed from a national championship won during an undefeated season, LSU will try to rebound from a five-win performance. Potential starting quarterback Myles Brennan is out for a second-straight season due to injury and LSU lost its top receivers. The defense returns a lot of its best players, but in 2020 among SEC teams only Ole Miss allowed more yards per game.
Mississippi State should be better in season two with Mike Leach as head coach, but last year the Bulldogs won just three times and ranked 13th in the league in points scored, so there is a long way to go. A big question for the Bulldogs is how effective will their Air Raid system be against SEC defenses?
Arkansas, which also won three games last season, must improve a defense that allowed 34.9 points per outing in addition to replacing one-and-done graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks, who was the star of the offense.
Georgia is the favorite to win the SEC East, but the Bulldogs have rebuilding to do in the secondary and not a lot of depth at those spots. Florida has to replace star QB Kyle Trask and first-round draft picks Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney on offense. The Gators weren’t very good defensively last season and the secondary is a major concern for 2021.
Elsewhere in the division Missouri must fix what was a very weak defense in 2020 while Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt have new head coaches with each having multiple issues that needed to be addressed. Kentucky looks to be in better shape across the board than some other teams in the division, but the Wildcats are changing offenses to improve what was by far the worst passing attack in the league. Also, Coach Mark Stoops only returns four starters on defense.
Back to a regular schedule this year, Auburn will play just two opponents from the SEC West. Georgia will visit Jordan-Hare Stadium on Oct. 9th and the Tigers will play at South Carolina in their final road game on Nov. 20th.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.