SEC dominance took a nap in 2015 after the league looked awfully groggy last year, too. The East was a complete mess all season long and in the West we're still dealing with the Era of Alabama. Let's review the Southeastern Conference.
Florida (10-3, 7-1)
There may be no more 'meh' 10-win season in Florida history. The Gators won 5 one possession games, lost their quarterback to suspension, and watched their offense fall apart down the stretch with 2 straight losses to close out the regular season. There was no denying their defense was legit, though.
That suspended QB Will Greer has now decided to transfer keeping the position in turmoil. The schedule is really manageable for Florida standards, though. Tennessee and Arkansas are the tough road games in league play, and they miss Alabama of course. The East is such a mess that I can see Florida going 9-3 and being the division winner.
Georgia (9-3, 5-3)
The Dawgs won 4 straight on two separate occasions in 2015 and still fired their coach. Yes, they got tired of Mark Richt and sent him packing after getting beaten soundly by the only ranked teams (Bama & Florida) they faced all season. A lack of a proven quarterback looked like a huge issue heading into this fall and it turned out that was a major factor in Georgia really struggling. Their 9 wins really hide the fact that this was a poor campaign for them.
I'd imagine the defense will love playing for new head coach Kirby Smart and having a couple of stud running backs on offense is a big advantage over most of the division. If they can get something serviceable at the quarterback position the East is well within their grasp. Still, a first-time head coach presents some questions about their ceiling in 2016.
Tennessee (8-4, 5-3)
In early-to-mid October things were about to blow up in Knoxville. The Vols sat at 3-4 with some absolutely excruciating losses and blown leads. The schedule got super friendly down the stretch, Tennessee finished 5-0, and things have kind of cooled down ever since. Still, a frustrating season because the division was right there for the taking and the Vols were arguably the most well-rounded team in the East.
Yet another neutral stock, sorry I'm not ready to proclaim the Volunteers are going to step up next year. The schedule is front-loaded again featuring Virginia Tech, Florida, Georgia, A&M, and Alabama all within the first 7 weeks. If they can get through that with only 2 losses they might be the East champions.
Vanderbilt (4-8, 2-6)
A fourth place finish in the division is a huge win for Derek Mason. Okay, the bottom of the division was horrendous but this is progress for the Commodores. They played 3 ranked teams (WKU, Ole Miss, Florida) tough which is more progress. Taking care of Kentucky and Missouri resulted in this 4th place finish.
Mason has done a great job with the 'Dores defense (13th FEI) but the offense (119th FEI) has been among the worst in the country. They only scored more than 20 against FBS teams in 2 games this year. With Georgia Tech and WKU on the schedule it's going to be tough to get bowl eligible without significant gains on offense.
Kentucky (5-7, 2-6)
Mark Stoops came over from Florida State for 2013 and immediately set out winning on the recruiting trail. Three years later it's not paying off on the field. Kentucky is 0-10 against ranked teams under Stoops, and worse still, they only faced one ranked team in 2015 (boy was the East division down) and still lost 7 games. Early in this year the Cats beat Missouri and South Carolina only to finish 1-6 down the stretch.
Kentucky is losing 6 seniors from the defense and quarterback Patrick Towles has decided to transfer to Boston College--an indictment if I've ever seen one. Sneaky good Southern Miss and Louisville are challenges outside of the SEC. They may not be favored in more than 3 games in 2016.
Missouri (5-7, 1-7)
Missouri went through a lot in 2015 and now moves on without long-time coach Gary Pinkel. New coach Barry Odom takes over but is a defensive guy with a massive offensive problem on his hands. The Tigers scored 61 points in their first 2 games then everything broke on offense finishing with 11.5 PPG over their last 10 games. They were held under 10 points in 6 games!
Many are expecting big things from quarterback Drew Lock who was a Top 100 recruit thrown to the wolves in 2015 as a true freshman. If he progresses over the off-season there are signs of hope. They also miss most of the best teams in the West and beyond an opener against West Virginia have 3 winnable non-league games.
South Carolina (3-9, 1-7)
Thanks to some timely turnovers the Gamecocks were able to slip past North Carolina in the opener. It wasn't a pretty game for South Carolina but I'm sure no one saw Steve Spurrier quitting just a few weeks later. Their lone SEC win came against Vanderbilt and they also beat 0-12 UCF. The Gamecocks finished 2015 losing their final 5 games.
Seemingly the entire country has zero faith that Will Muschamp is going to come in and do anything resembling a good job in Columbia. I completely share in that sentiment. Clemson and East Carolina await out of league play too. I'd be selling this stock but they can't go much lower than 3 wins.
Alabama (12-1, 7-1)
Where is the SEC without Alabama? The conference took a big dive in 2015 but the Tide are still among the country's elite. A copious amount of turnovers led to a stumble against Ole Miss. Since then, Alabama has looked like the best team in the country. This is now 8 straight seasons of at least 10 wins for the Tide.
A lack of a difference maker at quarterback may hamper Alabama in the playoffs but within the SEC it doesn't look to be a major issue. They'll have questions replacing several all-SEC caliber players yet an assembly line of terrific recruiting keeps them a step ahead of the rest of the league.
Ole Miss (9-3, 6-2)
The Rebels went 2-1 against ranked teams, including the aforementioned upset over Alabama. However, their 3 losses over a 6-week period really drained their cred as a top team nationally. They were handily defeated against Florida, slipped up at Memphis, and lost a bizarre ending to Arkansas. They did close the year strong with wins over LSU and Miss State.
Chad Kelly turned into a really good quarterback but Ole Miss is losing several key pieces (Tunsil, Treadwell, etc.) that it will be hard to score 40 per game again. The schedule is relentless, too. Florida State, Memphis, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, and Auburn all before November.
Arkansas (7-5, 6-3)
The Hogs started 2-4 with some embarrassing losses (Toledo) that now don't really look all that bad. Three of those losses were by 11 points or less and they played Alabama reasonably tough. As far as strong finishes go Arkansas left road games against LSU and Ole Miss with victories to spur a 5-1 finish on the season.
Quarterback Brandon Allen is gone after a really productive career. If Arkansas can overcome that they could improve next year. Louisiana Tech (9 wins this year) and TCU open up the schedule in 2016. There won't be much breathing room if they come out flat and lose a game or two before SEC play.
LSU (8-3, 5-3)
Les Miles survives. Les Miles always survives. LSU started 7-0, had a game cancelled, and then sent off Miles in their last game by carrying him off the field. Then, the admin did a 180 and kept him as the coach. Pretty typical college football season, all things considered. This season felt really bad at the end thanks to 3 straight late losses and the noose hanging around Miles' neck. Looking back, they beat 2 ranked teams and were one of a handful good but not great SEC teams.
The Bayou Bengals really don't lose much and most importantly bring back Leonard Fournette. Some solid improvement out of quarterback Brandon Harris could provide a challenge to Alabama in the division. LSU opens against Wisconsin at Lambeau. If they win the schedule could open up where another undefeated run into October brings them a lot of momentum.
Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4)
A&M started 5-0 and it was a deceptive beginning with a win over a mediocre Arizona State team to start things off. From there, the Aggies continued their quarterback turnstile and losses in big games. A&M went 0-3 against ranked teams, finished the season 3-4, and now Kevin Sumlin is feeling the heat.
Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray are both transferring leaving a massive hole at the QB position. There's still so much talent on the roster but how do they overcome that QB situation? They welcome UCLA in the opener and I suspect if they lose it's going to be hard to reverse all those hot seat rumors for Sumlin.
Miss State (8-4, 4-4)
The last ride of Dak Prescott didn't go as planned. An early loss to LSU took the Bulldogs off the map for a while and a modest 4-game winning streak against some poor teams didn't move the needle. Miss State lost the Egg Bowl for the 3rd time in 4 years.
It's tough to see Miss State keeping up without a generational quarterback like Prescott on the field. They pick up a road game at BYU instead of a usually cupcake-filled non-league schedule. Plus there are road games at LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss. They might miss a bowl for the first time since 2009.
Auburn (6-6, 2-6)
This was your 6th ranked pre-season team, everybody. Jeremy Johnson was a Heisman favorite and barely threw for 1,000 yards and ran for just over 100 yards. Not exactly how Auburn planned the season going. The Tigers slipped past Louisville in the opener and soon fell apart after really, really slipping past Jacksonville State.
Sean White is a poor fit for the Malzahn offense and Jeremy Johnson looked like a fraud in 2015. Coach Boom took a bunch of seniors on defense and it just didn't work out. Muschamp moved on but there are so many questions for next year. They host Clemson to begin the season with A&M and LSU filling out September. Malzahn's seat could be super hot by October.