Here are 7 SEC football observations after release of the preseason Top 25 poll

Blake Toppmeyer
USA TODAY NETWORK

Defending college football national champion Alabama is No. 1 in the preseason USA Today Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. No surprise there.

Here are a few SEC-themed observations from the top 25.

Pressure is on Ed Orgeron

In so much as any SEC coach enters the 2021 season on the hot seat, it is LSU’s Ed Orgeron.

Just a year and a half ago, he was celebrating a national championship. But after a 5-5 encore and an offseason full of the wrong type of headlines, Orgeron’s Tigers must rebound if he wants to remain on steady footing.

And while a preseason No. 13 ranking does nothing to ease the pressure, it does reflect the Tigers are well stocked with talent, albeit with questions to answer at linebacker and offensive line, in particular. And given the injury to Myles Brennan, Max Johnson better be ready to seize his moment.

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Will Auburn fans be OK if preseason ranking holds true?

Auburn is unranked in the preseason coaches’ poll for the first time since 2016.

Combine that with a brutal schedule, and you get an idea of the challenge that awaits first-year coach Bryan Harsin. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine Auburn fans accepting a stumble out of the gate. After all, expectations on the Plains are always high, evidenced by Auburn firing Gus Malzahn despite eight straight winning seasons.

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On the flipside, the bar set by outsiders is low enough that Harsin can claim a successful debut with a top-25 finish.

There’s hesitancy toward Georgia

Probably no team received more offseason lip service than Georgia, and yet the preseason top four – Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State – features the quartet with the most College Football Playoff appearances. Is that just a nod to history or a sign that, despite all of the hype, few prognosticators really trust the Bulldogs?

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Georgia returned more starters than Alabama. And quarterback JT Daniels is positioned for a big season after going 4-0 as a starter to close last year. Plus, Georgia raided the transfer portal as well as any SEC team. So, why the hesitancy? Perhaps it is a market correction after Georgia failed to finish as high as its preseason ranking the past three seasons.

Florida lurks in the shadows

As strange as it is to see the reigning SEC East winner rank behind Iowa State, North Carolina and Cincinnati in a preseason poll, a No. 11 ranking seems appropriate for the Gators. They must replace quarterback Kyle Trask, along with top receiving targets, and their defense needs to play up to its potential after last year’s rubbish showing.

But don’t rule out Florida threatening Georgia if dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones proves ready for his star turn.

Voters believe in Texas A&M's throwback approach

Texas A&M will endure a quarterback transition and feature a rebuilt offensive line, but that didn’t scare off voters. The Aggies reflect old-school SEC football. They have a stout defense and a talented backfield, led by Isaiah Spiller, along with the conference’s best tight end in Jalen Wydermyer.

Lane Train gathers momentum quickly

What does a Heisman dark horse quarterback, a high-octane offense and a headline-grabbing coach get you? A preseason No. 25 ranking. 

That’s where Ole Miss lands after going 5-5 last year in Lane Kiffin’s first season.

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Rebels quarterback Matt Corral was the media’s preseason All-SEC first-team pick, and Ole Miss took momentum into the offseason after upsetting Indiana in the Outback Bowl. Can the Rebels' defense stop anyone? That remains to be seen.

SEC West laps the East

Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU and Ole Miss give the SEC West four teams in the top 25, while the East has two: Georgia and Florida. Dip further into the poll, and you see additional disparity between the divisions.

Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State were among teams receiving votes. Kentucky and Missouri from the East received votes, but Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt were shut out. The East’s three worst teams profile as the three worst teams in the entire conference.

And although Kentucky and Missouri are expected to battle for third place in the East, each would be unlikely to finish higher than about fifth or sixth in the West.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.