Head coach: Jim McElwain (32-20 in four seasons; 10-4 in one season at Florida).
2015 record: 10-4, 7-1 SEC.
Players to watch: Martez Ivey (Soph., OL); Luke Del Rio (Soph., QB); Antonio Callaway (Soph., WR); Jalen Tabor (Jr., CB); Bryan Cox (Sr., DE); Jarrad Davis (Sr., LB).
Outlook: Florida’s defense will once again be tough to score on, especially with Tabor in the secondary — although he will be suspended for the first game of the season against Massachusetts. On offense, the Gators have a ton of questions still, all of which begin with whether Del Rio is up to the challenge of being able to efficiently run the show.
Head coach: Mark Stoops (12-24 in three seasons overall and at Kentucky).
2015 record: 5-7, 2-6.
Players to watch: Stanley “Boom” Williams (Jr., RB); Drew Barker (Soph., QB); Jon Toth (Sr., C); Courtney Love (Jr., LB); Matt Elam (Jr., NT); Austin MacGinnis (Jr., P)
Outlook: Kentucky’s in a position where it needs to start winning bigger games if Stoops is to stick around. The Wildcats have been competitive at times but haven’t done enough in the past three years. Barker is a promising young quarterback and Williams is explosive in the open field. But the defense is replacing a ton of production, which could make this another tough season.
Head coach: Barry Odom (first season as a head coach).
2015 record: 5-7, 1-7.
Players to watch: Drew Lock (Soph., QB); J’Mon Moore (Jr., WR); Chris Black (Sr., WR); Charles Harris (Jr., DL); Michael Scherer (Sr., ILB); Donavin Newsom (Sr., ILB)
Outlook: While the Tigers finished the 2015 season below .500, the defense kept them in almost every game. The front seven should be stacked and give SEC offenses fits once again. Missouri’s offense, however, still looks lackluster, although there are some playmakers at wideout. Black’s transfer from Alabama helps, but Lock has to make strides in year two.
Head coach: Will Muschamp (28-21 in four seasons overall; first season at South Carolina).
2015 record: 3-9, 1-7.
Players to watch: Deebo Samuel (Soph., WR); Mason Zandi (Sr., OT); David Williams (Jr., RB); Marquavius Lewis (Sr., DE); Boosie Whitlow (Soph., LB); Elliot Fry (Sr., PK)
Outlook: South Carolina endured one of its worst seasons in a long time, with former head coach Steve Spurrier retiring in the middle of year. Muschamp accepted the job and has quite the rebuilding job ahead of him. Quarterback questions remain, although Samuel flashed potential late last season. Lewis will lead the Gamecocks’ defense, which has to replace injured linebacker and team leader Skai Moore (neck injury).
Head coach: Butch Jones (71-44 in nine seasons overall; 21-17 in three seasons at Tennessee).
2015 record: 9-4, 5-3.
Players to watch: Joshua Dobbs (Sr., QB); Jalen Hurd (Jr., RB); Alvin Kamara (Jr., RB); Derek Barnett (Jr., DL); Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Sr., LB); Evan Berry (Jr., S)
Outlook: Tennessee is considered the favorite to win the SEC East with 18 total starters returning to its program. Then again, the Volunteers have been trendy picks in recent years but have fallen short of expectations. Dobbs is one of the top two quarterbacks in the conference and should be in for a big season, especially with two talented running backs in Hurd and Kamara balancing the offense out.
Head coach: Derek Mason (7-17 in two seasons overall and at Vanderbilt).
2015 record: 4-8, 2-6.
Players to watch: Ralph Webb (Jr., RB); Trent Sherfield (Jr., WR); Kyle Shurmur (Soph., QB); Zach Cunningham (Jr., ILB); Nigel Bowden (Jr., ILB); Oren Burks (Jr., OLB).
Outlook: Vanderbilt’s defense made a ton of strides with Mason calling plays a year ago, which should give the Commodores a lot of hope entering this season. With a big veteran presence back, Vanderbilt’s defense could surprise a lot of teams. On offense, losing offensive tackle Andrew Jelks for the second consecutive season is huge, although Webb is a great running back who can make plenty of plays on his own.
Head coach: Nick Saban (196-60-1 in 20 seasons overall; 105-18 in nine seasons at Alabama).
2015 record: 14-1, 7-1.
Players to watch: Calvin Ridley (Soph., WR); O.J. Howard (Sr., TE); Cam Robinson (Jr., OT); Jonathan Allen (Sr., DL); Reuben Foster (Sr., LB); Eddie Jackson (Sr., S).
Outlook: Alabama is once again one of the favorites to get back to Atlanta and ultimately win the conference. The Crimson Tide are deep on defense and will make it difficult on most teams it faces. Allen and Foster both could have tested the NFL but decided to return for a final season. While Alabama has to break in a new starting quarterback, Ridley and Howard will make it easy on the passing game, with Robinson being one of the nation’s best offensive linemen.
Head coach: Bret Bielema (86-44 in 10 seasons overall; 18-20 in three seasons at Arkansas).
2015 record: 8-5, 5-3.
Players to watch: Dan Skipper (Sr., OL); Drew Morgan (Sr., WR); Jeremy Sprinkle (Jr., TE); Deatrich Wise Jr. (Sr., DE); Brooks Ellis (Sr., ILB); Jared Collins (Sr., CB).
Outlook: The Razorbacks could wind up being a surprise in the West with how good their defense can be. They return almost everyone and will look to improve at getting after the quarterback in pass-rush situations. On offense, a lot needs to be replaced. Quarterback Austin Allen, Brandon Allen’s little brother, takes over and will hope to make it a seamless transition at the position.
Head coach: Gus Malzahn (36-16 in five seasons overall; 27-13 in four seasons at Auburn).
2015 record: 7-6, 2-6.
Players to watch: Alex Kozan (Sr., OT); Braden Smith (Jr., G); John Franklin III (Jr., QB); Carl Lawson (Jr., DE); Montravius Adams (Sr., DT); Johnathan Ford (Sr. S).
Outlook: Auburn’s offense took a turn for the worse last year, which was quite the surprise given Malzahn’s ability to score points in previous years. In all likelihood, Franklin will take the starting quarterback job and hope to do what Jeremy Johnson and Sean White were unable to do a year ago. Defensively, Auburn’s front line is stacked with Lawson and Adams. That side of the ball might be what carries the Tigers this year.
Head coach: Les Miles (140-53 in 15 seasons overall; 112-32 in 11 seasons at LSU).
2015 record: 9-3, 5-3.
Players to watch: Leonard Fournette (Jr., RB); Ethan Pocic (Sr., C); Malachi Dupre (Jr., WR); Kendell Beckwith (Sr., LB); Tre’Davious White (Sr., CB); Jamal Adams (Jr., S)
Outlook: It looked like Miles was close to being ousted last year before a change of heart from the LSU athletics administration. Part of that may have to do with the fact the Tigers look to be the lone team that can challenge Alabama for the SEC West title this year. LSU has a lot returning, including a Heisman Trophy front-runner in Fournette. If quarterback Brandon Adams can become more consistent, LSU should be in the College Football Playoff mix.
Head coach: Hugh Freeze (44-21 in five seasons overall; 34-18 in four seasons at Mississippi).
2015 record: 10-3, 6-2.
Players to watch: Chad Kelly (Sr., QB); Evan Engram (Sr., TE); Javon Patterson (Soph., OL); Tony Conner (Sr., DB); Marquis Haynes (Jr., DE); Fadol Brown (Sr., DE)
Outlook: The Rebels have been pegged to finish with a consistent top-15 team nationally, even with the massive losses they’ve taken on both sides of the ball. While Kelly is back, Mississippi will be without LaQuon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil on offense, and without Robert Nkemdiche on defense. Haynes had 10 sacks a year ago and will be relied upon plenty this season.
Head coach: Dan Mullen (55-35 in seven seasons overall and at Mississippi State).
2015 record: 9-4, 4-4.
Players to watch: Fred Ross (Sr., WR); Donald Gray (Jr., WR); Nick Fitzgerald (Soph., QB); A.J. Jefferson (Sr., DE); Richie Brown (Sr., ILB); Tolando Cleveland (Sr., CB)
Outlook: Mississippi State’s offense could endure a setback this season now that Dak Prescott is gone to the NFL. Fitzgerald is the presumptive starter and will be asked to do a lot with a group that doesn’t return a big-time cast of players. Defense figures to be the Bulldogs’ strength in 2016, with Jefferson anchoring the defensive line. Brown and Cleveland are both back-seven defenders who have a knack for making plays.
Head coach: Kevin Sumlin (71-33 in eight seasons overall; 36-16 in four seasons at Texas A&M).
2015 record: 8-5, 4-4.
Players to watch: Christian Kirk (Soph., WR); Ricky Seals-Jones (Jr., WR); Trevor Knight (Sr., QB); Myles Garrett (Jr., DE); Daeshon Hall (Sr., DE); Armani Watts (Jr., S)
Outlook: Sumlin has found himself on the hot seat after a couple of mediocre seasons following the departure of Johnny Manziel. He’ll hope the defense can once again set a tone, especially with Garrett and Hall wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. The duo combined for 19 1/2 sacks a season ago. Knight transferred in from Oklahoma and will hope to guide the Aggies to a better path offensively. He has some dangerous wide receivers who should help him.