If you do not yet know the name Leonard Fournette, it’s time to learn. The sophomore running back is going to be the heart and soul of an LSU Tiger team that is poised to not only have a double digit win season, but have a great shot at making the playoff. But as great as Fournette is, the key to the Tigers success will be their defense. They are dominant on all three levels and may have the best secondary in the last decade. The only real question mark, which is basically a given with LSU, is their quarterback. Brandon Harris has been named the starter. If he plays up to his potential, this is the best team in the SEC and maybe in the country. Last year they allowed 20 or more points six times, it would be surprising if they do more than twice this year.
Penn St. Nittany Lions
Penn State’s success starts and ends with their NFL hopeful QB Christian Hackenberg. If he plays the way he should, the lack of an established running game will not hinder the Nittany Lions. When it comes to defense, this team is stacked. Their D-Line is ridiculously talented, and their linebackers and DB’s are top 25 units as well. The biggest reason Penn State will impress this year though is that the Big 10 is terrible outside of their top three teams. Ohio State is unbelievable and Michigan State is very good, everyone else kind of stinks. There’s not a team on the schedule, outside of the two great teams that Penn State shouldn’t beat. 10 wins is very possible, and if the ball falls the right way, they could unseat OSU or MSU.
Last year was a rare off year for the Cardinal as they racked up just eight wins after reaching 11 four straight. 11 will be tough in 2015 because of the strength of the Pac 12, but this team has what it takes to play with any one in the conference. Kevin Hogan will be much better than he was last year, and the offensive line will eat opposing teams up. There’s a slight concern about the lack of experience in the secondary against a strong passing conference, but the front seven should be disruptive enough to overshadow that issue. If Stanford played in any conference outside of the Pac 12 or SEC, they’d be a double digit win team easily, in this conference, they’ll have to win some tough ones, but they are certainly good enough to do it.
North Carolina Tar Heels
We must be a little careful about my love for North Carolina because it mostly has to do with their schedule. The Tar Heels miss Florida State, Clemson, AND Louisville in 2015 and the only even remotely difficult road challenge is at Georgia Tech. Marquise Williams is a solid QB and their RB tandem is very good. Add in a solid offensive line and the Tar Heels will put up some points. They are a bit suspect on defense, but again, no one on the schedule is good enough to challenge them. They’ll win a lot of games, get to a bowl game well over their head, and then get smashed in said game.
This is kind of the trendy surprise pick in 2015, but for good reason. They are sound all over the field and have standouts both at the WR and defensive back positions. Josh Dobbs has the talent to help take this team to another level, but he has to work on his inconsistency issues. The Volunteer offensive line is a big shaky, and that could easily keep them from winning the SEC East, but if they put it all together, this team has a great shot to be that next team that ruins Georgia’s trip to the SEC Championship game. I’m not as high on the Vols as many people in the national media, but it would not be surprising in the least to me if they win the East.