Football

SEC football preview

By Rick Bonnell

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com

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Alabama: This is a very close call over Auburn. The SEC West is so loaded that both these teams could lose a conference game before the Iron Bowl ever happens.

TOP CONTENDERS

Auburn: The issue last season was defense. So former Florida coach Will Muschamp was added as defensive coordinator, which should make a difference.

Mississippi: Hugh Freeze is a terrific coach. They were better defensively last season than anticipated and had a little less impact offensively than anticipated.

Georgia: Nick Chubb is quite a weapon at running back. The SEC West is clearly the stronger division, but the Bulldogs have the talent to compete with the other side of the conference.

FIVE TO WATCH

Dak Prescott, Mississipi State, QB, Jr. (6-2, 235): He produced over 4,400 total yards for the Bulldogs last season, throwing for 27 touchdowns and rushing for 14 more.

Nick Chubb, Georgia, RB, Sr. (5-10, 228): It’s not easy to replace Todd Gurley, but Chubb ran for over 1,500 yards last season, including a Belk Bowl record 266 yards in Charlotte.

Derrick Henry, Alabama, RB, Jr. (6-3, 242): He starred in the Sugar Bowl, rushing for 100 yards on eight carries and had a 61-yard reception for touchdown.

Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina, WR, Sr. (5-11, 208): He started out as a defensive back and was quickly shifted to wide receiver. He is an explosive athlete and playmaker.

Derek Barnett, Tennessee, DE, Soph. (6-3, 257): He had 20.5 tackles for loss last season.

DON’T MISS THIS GAME

Nov. 28: Alabama-Auburn. The Iron Bowl is hard to top, as far as a regular-season game full of stakes, drama and star power.

OUTLOOK

The depth in the SEC West is dramatically stronger than in the East. The fourth- or fifth-best team in the West might be as good as the runner-up in the East. Tennessee might be a good dark horse pick to win the East.

Rick Bonnell

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