Doug Amos & Charlie Trotman It’s that time of year again, when most of us get energized and excited about the prospects of the upcoming college football season. Recently, Doug Amos and Charlie Trotman, co-hosts of The Bama Budweiser Tailgate Show on ESPN’s “The Ticket” in the River Region, sat down and gave their thoughts on 2015, which included predictions for the Southeastern Conference and the second College Football Playoff. DOUG: Charlie, let’s first just give an overview of the league. A lot of teams in the SEC this year have new quarterbacks, and some of the new ones already have high expectations placed on their shoulders. With others, however, we have no idea what to expect.
CHARLIE: There are a lot of new quarterbacks and, in addition, there are seven new defensive coordinators. So there are a lot of SEC teams depending on defense this year that were not able to stop teams last year. It’s going to be fun this year to see if some of these teams can have their defenses match up with their offenses. Last year, the SEC was more of an offensive league, and that’s differentthan it has been over the last decade or so.
DOUG: As a former player in this league, I’m curious about something that I think you’re as qualified to address as anyone. Every team has question marks – areas of their team that we’re unsure of. If you were coaching in this league, would you prefer that question mark to be on the offensive side of the ball or on the defensive side?
CHARLIE: The offensive side. If you can stop teams and keep their point production down, you’re pretty much going to be in every game.
DOUG: Before we get into specifics in each division of the SEC, let’s talk a little about the prospects for Alabama and Auburn and their question marks. For Alabama, it would seem to be at quarterback. They’re going to have either a senior in Jake Coker, who hasn’t played much, or a redshirt freshman inDavid Cornwell, who hasn’t played at all.
CHARLIE: Considering what Lane Kiffin has always been able to get out of quarterbacks, I like where Alabama is, and I think the “X factor” is Kenyan Drake. If he’s completely healthy, I think Alabama will move him all over the field like they did with Amari Cooper last year, and I believe he could be a very special player for the Crimson Tide.
DOUG: After talking to people since practice has started this fall, I’m changing my tune on who will be the Alabama starting quarterback. I believe it’s going to be Jake Coker.
CHARLIE: I do think Coker will start against Wisconsin, but ultimately it will all be based on performance. I have a feeling both will play, and I don’t think Coker is so far ahead that Cornwell couldn’t push him for the starting job down the road.
DOUG: Defensively, I think the secondary is the key, and I believe the hiring of former NFL defensive coordinator Mel Tucker could play great dividends. Talent in the secondary has not been the problem; production has been. If Alabama gets good play in the defensive backfield, coupled with what might be their best front seven in the Saban Era, they’ll be really strong on defense.
CHARLIE: Having new blood in Mel Tucker is great for Alabama. I understand the players really like him and that he’s very smart. He wants to be complex defensively, just like Saban, and a coach can’t do that just anywhere. You can do that at Alabama. You have to have the talent, and Alabama has that.
DOUG: As for Auburn, do you think we as media – not specifically us but nationally as well – have placed an unfair amount of pressure on the shoulders of Montgomery’s own Jeremy Johnson as the Tigers’ quarterback. People are already saying he could be the best quarterback in the league, and he’s on Heisman Trophy watch lists already.
CHARLIE: I think that’s the case, although I do think he has the talent. Everybody needs to step back and let Jeremy grow into the position and not feel like he has to go out there and win games by himself. He’s got enough talent around him to be successful, especially when you consider how well Gus Malzahn’s offenses have played over the years, regardless of who has been at quarterback. I do feel like he’s going to have a great year, but I am concerned about the Duke Williams situation. It’s troubling that thingskeep popping up with him. He’s obviously a high-maintenance kind of guy. His situation could be key toAuburn’s success offensively. I’m concerned for him and for Auburn. If he’s not out there, that would be a huge loss.
DOUG: The defensive side of the ball has to be the biggest question mark for Auburn, Charlie, but I believe the arrival of Will Muschamp and a new, aggressive approach will provide a lot of answers. We’re hearing great things from Auburn practices about Carl Lawson and how well the defense is playing.
CHARLIE: Auburn doesn’t have to have a great defense to be really successful this year. If they’re just good on that side of the ball, I think Auburn has a chance to do some special things, and I do believethey will be much improved on that side of the ball.
DOUG: In the East Division, Charlie, you and I both have Georgia and Tennessee as the top two teams. Georgia has who I think could be the player of the year in the league carrying the load in Nick Chubb and Tennessee has continued to make strides and has a dynamic guy at quarterback in Josh Dobbs. Tennessee is up-and-coming, but Georgia has more depth.
CHARLIE: Tennessee was so young last year and has a lot of players returning, and I think they will challenge Georgia, but I agree that the Bulldogs will win the East.
DOUG: Charlie, this is where we go in different directions. I’ve got South Carolina third. I think Spurrier really does feel his Gamecocks can sneak up on some teams this year and can win enough games to get into the top half of the division.
CHARLIE: I’ve got Missouri third with Maty Mauk back at quarterback. I don’t think they’ll be as good as they have been, having won the division the past two years, but I do think they’ll still be good enough for a third-place finish.
DOUG: To be honest, I think you could throw a hat over the four teams behind Georgia - Tennessee, Florida, Missouri and South Carolina - and anything could happen with them.
CHARLIE: I agree. With Jim McElwain at Florida, we really don’t know what to expect, and I think those four could end up in any order and it wouldn’t surprise me.
DOUG: We both have Kentucky sixth and Vanderbilt seventh. I think Mark Stoops has taken baby steps with the Wildcats, but I believe there’s only so much you can do in Lexington. As for Vandy, they’ve obviously taken a step backward since the departure of James Franklin.
CHARLIE: I think Kentucky could be pretty good this year, just not good enough to finish any higher than sixth, and it will be interesting to see if Derek Mason can make some improvements in his Commodore team.
DOUG: You and I both have Alabama and Auburn first and second in the West, with Alabama just a razor-thin advantage.
CHARLIE: Yes, I agree that it could all come down to the Iron Bowl in Auburn, but I just think Alabama’s defense could be the difference this year.
DOUG: We both have Texas A&M third with their strong offense and a new look on defense.
CHARLIE: Yes, new defensive coordinator John Chavis should improve that side of the ball for the Aggies, and potentially this could be Kevin Sumlin’s most balanced team since he’s been the head coach.
DOUG: Again, just like in the East, after Alabama and Auburn we believe you could really throw a hat over the other five teams.
CHARLIE: Yes, I have Arkansas fourth and you have them seventh.
DOUG: That’s right. They did finish the season well, but I think we placed them too high on a pedestal, considering they beat a team with horrible quarterback play in LSU and a team that was depleted and crest-fallen in Ole Miss before taking care of an average Texas team in a bowl game. I’ve got LSU fourth, Ole Miss fifth and Mississippi State sixth before Arkansas.
CHARLIE: After Arkansas in fourth, I’ve got LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. I think Florida in the East is my wild card and LSU is that team in the West. If LSU gets really good quarterback play, they couldchallenge Alabama and Auburn.
DOUG: Isn’t it crazy that we have, near the bottom of the division, a team that is quarterbacked by one of the most special players in this league – Dak Prescott at Mississippi State.
CHARLIE: It does seem weird, but we had to put them somewhere. It speaks to the strength of this division and the parity that’s there.
THE POST SEASON
DOUG: I’ve got Alabama beating Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and joining Ohio State, TCU and a surprise team in the College Football Playoff. I know I’ll be in the minority, but I don’t think a Pac 12 team will make it this year. I believe a team with a much easier path, somewhat like Ohio State’s, will be the fourth team and that’s Clemson out of the ACC. And I have Ohio State repeating as the national champion.
CHARLIE: I’ve also got Alabama beating Georgia and making it to the four-team playoff with Ohio State, TCU and Oregon. I just think offense at Oregon will be great again, and I don’t see how you can leave them out. As far as the national champion, I think Alabama’s defense will be the deciding factor. I’m going with the Crimson Tide. DOUG: This we know, it’s going to be a fun year, especially with the expectations at Alabama and Auburn.
CHARLIE: I totally agree. I think the excitement, when you consider what could happen with our in-state teams, is at an all-time high.