Game week is finally right around the corner for Texas A&M football, so with fall camp almost done for each team in the division, it’s time to take stock of where every team is at. This will be a weekly feature beginning after week 1’s games and continuing throughout the season. Since this is an A&M site, of course, I’ll be making particular comments as to how each team stacks up relative to Texas A&M football
It is important to remember that this is not how I might vote on an AP ballot or who I think is most deserving of a CFP spot, if it gets to that point. This is merely my opinion of each team in the division’s overall quality; in other words, an upset might happen and I might still not rank the winning team over the losing team, for example.
With all that out of the way, let’s get right into the rankings.
In 7th, I have the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Though they return veteran QB Will Rogers, they will be running an entirely different system. The Bulldogs tragically lost Mike Leach this past year, and DC Zach Arnett was the one to take up his mantle as the head man in Starkville. Arnett has displayed his quality as a defensive coordinator, but the offensive shift to Kevin Barbay’s scheme may not suit the personnel that the Bulldogs currently possess. I don’t think they’ll be a bad team, but it takes more than “not being bad” to compete in the SEC West.
In 6th, I have the Auburn Tigers. Auburn is, without a doubt, the biggest mystery on this list. How far can Hugh Freeze take the Tigers in his first year? His Ole Miss teams didn’t break through for a couple of years after he was promoted, and I think there was simply too much attrition of talent (principally Tank Bigsby, who was basically their whole offense last year) for the Tigers to make a run at the West crown this year. I won’t be surprised if they jump up and bite a few teams ahead of them this year, but for now, I think this is a fair ranking.
Ole Miss finished out the year with quite the resounding thud in 2022. After starting 7-0, they only won a single game down the stretch (that, of course, being a close call against Texas A&M football) to finish 8-5 with a bowl loss to Texas Tech. They lost defensive leader AJ Finley to the draft, and his departure—among others—portends a downturn for the Rebel defense this fall, even under former Alabama DC Pete Golding. I’m not sure even Lane Kiffin’s offense and whoever they have at QB will be able to outstrip the dip in quality there.
KJ Jefferson’s swan song as a Hog has a murky outlook at the moment. He’s one of the most experienced QBs in the conference, but he’ll be dealing with a new playcaller on the offensive side, after losing one who was perhaps the perfect complement to Jefferson’s skillset. The Razorbacks also lost their best defensive player to the portal and several key pieces (notably at DL and LB) to the draft. This will easily be Pittman’s toughest coaching job since his first year at the helm.
I’ve spilled digital ink all summer about why the Aggies have a chance to really bounce back in 2023. This is an attitude shared by the majority of fans, if not by the media at large—though, to be fair, the AP did put Texas A&M football at 23 in their preseason rankings. That said, there are too many “ifs” to put the Aggies any higher. I see a world where Weigman does put it all together, Petrino kills it as a playcaller, the defense is stout, and the Aggies soar to double-digit wins. I also can see a 7-5 or 8-4 mark for Jimbo’s team if the injury bug bites again, or if some of these “ifs” fall flat. Only time will tell.
This is as good of a time as any to put this out there: I in no way am buying the top-5 national ranking for LSU. There are simply too many concerns, and they are riding what in my opinion is completely unwarranted hype based off of last year’s team (which, per SP+, isn’t even as good as the team Jimbo had in 2018). There are a lot of things to like, but still a lot of questions: has Jayden Daniels hit his ceiling? Is moving Perkins from an edge rusher to a sideline-to-sideline LB the right move? What about depth at corner? A week one matchup against FSU could tell us a whole lot about this year’s Tigers. For now, the margin between them and Texas A&M football at 3 is razor-thin, in my opinion.
The Tide are simply too talented to not start this season, as most seasons, at the top of this ranking. Even with the questions at QB (questions that Nick Saban seemed to not have a whole lot of answers for at a recent press conference), the Tide should have a stellar defense. This may look a lot more like the Saban teams of old than the ones we’ve seen in recent years, as I mentioned in our game preview a couple of weeks ago. It helps that they’ll get LSU and Tennessee at home this year to possibly avenge both losses from 2022. A midseason trip to Kyle Field looms large for the Tide, however.