Alabama heads into the 2016 season once again as the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference and one of the top picks to take the national championship. That would be Nick Saban's fifth with the Tide and sixth overall, potentially tying legendary coach Bear Bryant.

But there are plenty of legitimate competitors -- LSU and Tennessee chiefly among them -- looking to stand in Bama's way. Can Les Miles finally get his Tigers back to the SEC Championship Game? Are the Vols really back? Can Florida or Georgia keep Tennessee down and put together the most competitive SEC East in years?

With the season approaching, our college football team takes a closer look at those that make up the SEC both on the field and watching from the sideline.


Best offensive player

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: There is no more difficult player in the country to prepare for than Fournette, assuming his ankle is healthy. He'll initiate contact by swatting away defenders, or he'll run away from them with tremendous speed. Fournette will get his yards and touchdowns and then some. -- Jon Solomon (In agreement: Everyone, unanimous pick)


Best defensive player

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: Science hasn't proven yet that Garrett is actually human. At 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, the junior has an explosive first step that's contributed to his 24 sacks over the last two seasons. What is turning Garrett into a complete player, though, is that he's developing other moves, rather than simply relying on his freakish speed. The SEC -- and the rest of the country -- is on notice. -- Ben Kercheval (In agreement: Dennis Dodd, Jon Solomon, Tom Fornelli, Chip Patterson, Robby Kalland)

Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama: Allen is listed as a defensive end, but he is versatile enough to play inside as well. He's not just a pass-rushing specialist, but he did lead the team in tackles for loss a year ago and was second in the SEC in sacks. That versatility could be key as Alabama replaces stud defensive tackles A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed. -- Jerry Palm


Top newcomer

Jonah Williams, five-star freshman OT, Alabama: The Crimson Tide are built on mauling people at the line of scrimmage, and they look very comfortable doing it this year with Williams. That's quite a testament to Williams, the No. 17 player in the nation from the Class of 2016 who enrolled early out of California. He won the starting job in the spring and he looks equipped to hang onto it into the fall even with Alabama's bench full of grown men. -- Barton Simmons, 247Sports director of recruiting



Best coach

Nick Saban, Alabama: This was not a particularly difficult choice. There's not a better recruiter in college football, and on the field Saban turns those top-tier prospects into dominant football players for the most successful program in the nation. Four national titles in seven years is a pretty decent little run of success, and the Tide are loaded again in 2016 to go for Saban's fifth natty in Tuscaloosa. -- Robby Kalland (In agreement: Dennis Dodd, Jon Solomon, Jerry Palm, Tom Fornelli)

Les Miles, LSU: To go from all-but-fired to SEC champion would be the most impressive coaching turnaround in the last two decades of college football. Miles beat Texas A&M, saved his job, won the bowl game, signed a top-five recruiting class and -- especially if he can finally get past Alabama after a handful of heartbreaks -- you won't find anyone more loved in Louisiana than Les. -- Chip Patterson

Jim McElwain, Florida: McElwain worked some miracles in 2015 just getting Florida to 10 wins. The Gators lost their quarterback and ran out of steam at year's end, but they surpassed expectations. Florida's defense will be excellent again, but if this team gets in the neighborhood of nine wins, it's because McElwain has waved his magic wand. Is he the best coach in the league? Maybe not just yet, but he did the best coaching job a year ago and can hold this title until he proves otherwise. -- Ben Kercheval


Best assistant

Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator, Alabama: It's a lot of fun to laugh at Kiffin getting left behind after the title game or locked out of the stadium before a scrimmage, but what he's done with the Alabama offense has been tremendous. The Tide has reached the College Football Playoff the past two years with Blake Sims and Jake Coker at quarterback, winning it all with Coker. Kiffin does a masterful job tailoring his system to the team's strengths, and he showed in the title game last year that he can cook up an incredible game plan with how Alabama picked apart Clemson's defense through the air. -- Robby Kalland (In agreement: Jon Solomon, Jerry Palm, Ben Kercheval)

Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, LSU: The Tigers have shifted seamlessly from the loss of Kevin Steele. Aranda is an up and coming defensive mind whose Wisconsin unit led the country in scoring defense. The Badgers were in the top seven nationally in five major categories. Now Aranda has access to better players, which is another reason why this might be Miles' best LSU team. -- Dennis Dodd (In agreement: Chip Patterson)

John Chavis, defensive coordinator, Texas A&M: The longtime LSU defensive coordinator showed up at Texas A&M last season and had a major impact right away. After allowing over 36.6 points per game in SEC play in 2014, that number dropped to 21.9 in 2015. The Aggies have plenty of talent on defense, and now with Chavis' acumen, they have the potential to be a special team in the SEC this season. -- Tom Fornelli


Most entertaining

Bret Bielema, coach, Arkansas: Goodbye, Steve Spurrier. Hello, Bret Bielema. Arkansas' coach is the new Spurrier by running away with the title of best SEC talker. The beauty of Bielema is what he says is usually ingrained in truth and something most coaches avoid saying publicly. -- Jon Solomon (In agreement: Tom Fornelli, Chip Patterson, Ben Kercheval)

Les Miles, coach, LSU: They don't call Miles the Mad Hatter for nothing. Whether it's eating grass on the sidelines or a well-timed fake kick or punt, Miles always seems to have something up his sleeve. He's had a history of clock management issues also. Good or bad, Miles is never boring. -- Jerry Palm

Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Kirk is magic with the ball in his hands. Any time he has the rock with a little bit of space there's the potential for something special. Whether it's in the return game or as a receiver, Kirk emerged as one of the SEC's most dynamic playmakers as a freshman, and I expect him to burst on the scene nationally as a sophomore. -- Robby Kalland