After a disappointing 2015 season that nearly led to the firing of head coach Les Miles, the LSU Tigers reeled in one of the top recruiting classes in the country and returns 19 starters from a team that while talented was one of the youngest in the nation.
The offense begins and ends with All-American Leonard Fournette who was well on his way to a Heisman Trophy type season before a late season slide by the Tigers knocked him out of the running. Fournette still managed to run for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns on an offense that was plagued by inconsistency in the passing game. Junior QB Brandon Harris returns as well after an up and down year in 2015.
If the Tigers are truly to compete in the rugged SEC West, they will need Harris to be much improved and to keep teams from stacking the box against Fournette. On paper, LSU looks every bit of a contender for the conference title and possibly for the CFP.
For Tennessee it was a season of near misses that cost the Volunteers in 2015. All four of their losses were by a combined 17 points, keeping the Vols from meeting their lofty pre-season expectations. However, 2016 has the makings for a return to national relevancy for Tennessee.
Senior dual threat QB Joshua Dobbs totaled nearly 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns all while throwing just five interceptions the entire season. Top HB junior Jalen Hurd is back as well after rushing for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. In total, the Vols have 18 returning starters for a squad that has been deemed the favorite by most in the SEC East.
Ole Miss lost 13 starters from a year ago, including three 1st-round picks in Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche, and Laquan Treadwell. Despite all that, the Rebels are one of the contenders in the SEC as senior QB Chad Kelly returns after throwing for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first season as the starter.
Senior TE Evan Engram could be one Kelly’s top targets and will be relied upon to pick up some of the targets left by Treadwell. After defeating Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 2015, Ole Miss hosts the Crimson Tide this season in what will most likely be a season-defining game.