The SEC's national championship stranglehold came to an end two seasons ago, but as has been the case for most of the last decade, the conference will still have a number of strong contenders this year -- and that goes beyond preseason favorites Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.
Athlon Sports recently released its top 10 "dark horse playoff contenders" for 2015, and three SEC teams were included on the list.
Coming in at No. 3 is Ole Miss, which certainly isn't lacking for talent with as many as four players -- defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram -- on preseason All-America teams. And beyond that talented group, Athlon summarizes its playoff case for the Rebels in one word: "Defense." Ole Miss allowed just 16 points per game last season and might be even better this year. The question, of course, is on offense, which is expected to be centered around transfer and former Clemson backup Chad Kelly but also must establish a more consistent ground game this year.
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One spot behind Ole Miss, at No. 4, is LSU. Again, talent is not an issue -- sophomore running back and former No. 1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette is among the preseason Heisman favorites -- and given the schedule the Tigers have been presented with, they'll have plenty of opportunities for marquee wins. Additionally, the defense should be very good even without coordinator John Chavis, who left for the same position at Texas A&M. But the quarterback situation was a weak spot last season, and it could be again unless either Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings takes a significant step forward.
Finally, coming in at No. 7 is Texas A&M, which should be among the best offensive teams in the conference (if not the country). The Aggies have quarterback Kyle Allen returning, a loaded receiving corps led by sophomores Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones, and one of the best offensive minds in the country running the show in Kevin Sumlin. The defense also will feature standout sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett, a regular on preseason All-America teams, and will be coordinated by John Chavis, who was pried away from LSU. Athlon also provides one other persuasive nugget: "The schedule is also favorable for a run at the SEC West title. Texas A&M plays Vanderbilt and South Carolina in crossover games with the East Division and hosts Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama." The weaknesses will be on the inexperienced offensive line and in the secondary, which should improve under Chavis but perhaps not enough to push A&M into the national title picture.
(h/t Yahoo Sports)