It's true, the SEC got knocked down a peg in 2016. And for good reason. All but one team in the conference lost at least four games for the first time in history, and Alabama lost to a better team in the College Football Playoff National Championship. But the 2017 season presents a new opportunity for the SEC to get back on top of the college football world and regain the pedestal it held for more than a decade.
With a renewed focus on offense, the best stable of quarterbacks its had in quite some time and a bunch of recruiting success, the SEC is looking forward to proving its worth once again. Keep on reading to see the CBS Sports college football team's unique takes on the SEC entering the 2017 season.
Most overrated team
LSU: Ed Orgeron's honeymoon will last until the final whistle of the first game LSU loses that it's not supposed to. And that will happen at some point. We know Orgeron was a popular -- but second -- choice. There are significant quarterback issues in a league that is getting at that position. Arden Key is a monster but has undergone at least one surgery in the offseason. There's a hiccup for the Tigers out there somewhere. How ugly will it get when it happens? -- Dennis Dodd (and Tom Fornelli, Ben Kercheval, Barrett Sallee)
Tennessee: The thought of Tennessee being overrated could become a trend. Last year, the Vols started the season ninth the the AP Top 25 and were out of the top 25 at the end of the regular season, although a bowl win pushed them to No. 22. This year, the expectations are a little lower, but there are still a lot of questions. Tennessee has to replace quarterback Josh Dobbs and leading receiver Josh Malone; it has already replaced the offensive coordinator. The defense was a huge disappointment a year ago, especially against the run. Not only do the Vols have to fix that, but they have to replace Derek Barnett, their all-time leader in sacks. Throw in a schedule that has Alabama and LSU as cross-division games, and the thought of finishing in the top 25 seems pretty optimistic. -- Jerry Palm
Florida: When will the Gators' bubble burst? Jim McElwain has backed into a pair of SEC East titles, and the door is open for him to go get his third, but I think this is the year that the Gators fall back to the middle of the pack. As I write this, Florida still doesn't have a starting quarterback. That's a problem that should have been solved by now, and it's a problem that will continue to govern the Gators' offense. That offense will be under pressure to produce with the defense losing seven players to the NFL Draft, its coordinator (Geoff Collins) to a head coaching gig and a last year's leading tackler (Marcell Harris) to season-ending injury. Despite a schedule loaded with home games, I just don't see Florida improving at the same rate as the rest of the SEC East. -- Barton Simmons
Texas A&M: How much faith do you have in the quarterback trio of Jake Hubenak, Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond? Hubenak is the only player that has any college experience; yet Starkel, a redshirt freshman, could end up being the player that takes the field against UCLA. There are reasons to be concerned about the Aggies' run defense and ability to close out games later in the season when the trend has been cooling off after fast starts, but to me the quarterback is still a major concern. Without consistent play under center, it will be impossible for Christian Kirk to reach his stated goal of 200 catches and harder to expect the Aggies to win toss-up games late in the season. -- Chip Patterson
Most underrated team
Mississippi State: I'm ready to be wrong about this, but I just don't see any way Mississippi State spends the holiday season at home. I loved Nick Fitzgerald's debut as a starter in 2016, progressing as a passer later in the season and utilizing his running ability to burn teams for chunk plays and touchdowns. Todd Grantham has his hands full leading a defense that fell off in a big way later in the year, but the explosiveness of the offense has me thinking the Bulldogs can go on the road and beat Texas A&M and/or Arkansas to pair with five or six games they should be favored to win and will end up bowling, going over their 5.5 win total set by the oddsmakers. -- Chip Patterson (and Barton Simmons)
Texas A&M: Yes, this is a risk because I'm well aware of what Texas A&M has done the last four years. Confidence in the Aggies has come back to bite me personally. While I don't think they'll contend for the SEC West, I do think they're a potential eight- or nine-win team based on a defense that's going to attack even more than normal, a veteran secondary and a bigger commitment to running the football with Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford. Sure, they're going to need something out of the eventual winner of the quarterback battle, but receiver Christian Kirk and newcomer Jhamon Ausbon will be able to help him out. The Aggies will make at least a little noise in 2017. -- Barrett Sallee
Ole Miss: Before he was pushed out the door, Hugh Freeze said he'd be going for it a lot on fourth down with nothing to play for this season. I suspect that philosophy hasn't changed. Ole Miss is going to get somebody this season. Whether that's Alabama, Auburn, LSU, I can't tell you. But there is enough talent and enough desperation here for a 7-5 finish and for Matt Luke to get the permanent gig. -- Dennis Dodd
Tennessee: Can somebody explain to me how South Carolina received more first-place votes in the preseason SEC media poll than Tennessee? I understand the Vols didn't meet the hype last year, but they got off to an excellent start before injuries began piling up. I also understand that there are plenty of questions surrounding this team entering 2017, but which team in the SEC East can we not say that about? The Vols have just as good a shot at winning the East as everyone else, and they have a better shot than South Carolina. -- Tom Fornelli
South Carolina: It's poetic in a way. Here was Will Muschamp, fired from Florida in 2014 for failing as the guy after "the guy" (Urban Meyer), then hired the following year to replace another Florida legend (Steve Spurrier) at South Carolina. Spurrier was a coach who took the Gamecocks to previously unknown heights but also completely tanked on his way out. And though the Muschamp hire at South Carolina was generally lampooned, he led the team left in a bad spot to a surprising bowl appearance right away. South Carolina enters 2017 with a good, young quarterback in Jake Bentley, a proven defender in linebacker Skai Moore and a winnable division. It'll be a longshot for South Carolina to take the SEC East, but don't be surprised if they're in the running. -- Ben Kercheval
Arkansas: If Arkansas is going to be the surprise team of the SEC, especially in the difficult West division, it is going to have to do what it does best -- pound the football on the ground. The return of four offensive linemen, led by All-American candidate Frank Ragnow at center, will help. The Razorbacks are one of the top teams in the nation in time of possession in part because of their ability to control the clock with the running game. Also, quarterback Austin Allen needs to get back to the form he showed in the first half of last season. The other thing that has to happen is that new defensive coordinator Paul Rhodes must get his inexperienced front seven up to speed quickly. If that all goes down, this team could push toward a double-digit win total. -- Jerry Palm
- Dennis Dodd: Butch Jones will make it through the season. Seriously, that's bold since almost everyone has him an early casualty.
- Barton Simmons: South Carolina will enter November with a legitimate shot at an SEC East title.
- Jerry Palm: For Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin to keep his job, he's going to have to win at least two of the games against Auburn (home), Arkansas (neutral) and LSU (road).
- Chip Patterson: Florida will go 1-3 in November (it plays at Missouri, at South Carolina, vs. UAB and vs. Florida State).
- Tom Fornelli: Alabama will lose a conference game!
- Ben Kercheval: After developing a reputation as a defensive conference, the SEC finishes with four top-25 offenses.
- Barrett Sallee: Auburn, Alabama and Georgia will all be playoff-worthy and have one regular season conference loss each. There will be a legitimate debate about whether the conference deserves two teams in the CFP.
SEC predicted order of finish
Alabama: I mean, honestly, how can you pick anybody else to win the SEC this season? Alabama was the best team in the SEC when the conference was at its peak, and while it's fellow conference members have regressed in recent years, the Tide have remained strong. This is a team that came within a few plays of winning a national championship last year -- with a freshman at quarterback. This year I expect more of the same. -- Tom Fornelli (and Dennis Dodd, Barton Simmons, Jerry Palm, Chip Patterson, Ben Kercheval)
Georgia: This all hinges on coach Kirby Smart becoming more comfortable with what's asked of head coaches in major college football because, aside from that, Georgia is as set roster-wise as anybody in the SEC. With 10 starters returning defensively, the offense shouldn't be asked to do too much against an SEC East that, at least among primary contenders, is a bit offensively-challenged at the moment. Does Georgia have offensive questions? Sure ... but they're a big overstated. The staff seems content with where the offensive line is at this point in fall camp, and while there isn't a true No. 1 receiver, the Bulldogs have about 10 No. 2 receivers -- all of whom specialize in something a little different. Because of that, there will be a No. 1 every week based on matchup. All it takes is a little offensive diversity to take pressure off quarterback Jacob Eason and running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. A one-loss Georgia team will top a one-loss Auburn team in the SEC Championship Game and make the College Football Playoff. -- Barrett Sallee