What we know: Texas and Oklahoma are leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC.
What we don’t know: When exactly that will happen.
It may very well be all the way in 2025, as all three sides involved in this expansion whirlwind have said in every public statement throughout the process. It could end up being sooner, should the groups come to a buyout agreement freeing the two programs from the current Big 12 grants of media rights deal.
But let’s say Texas and OU were joining the SEC right away. Would the Longhorns and Sooners slot right in with the league’s established heavyweights? Here’s a glimpse at the SEC power rankings with the two newcomers included, weighing factors such as recent success, current program prestige and the odds of winning the conference championship in 2021.
The undisputed king of college football, Alabama has fended off a series of threats from teams inside and out of the SEC to remain the sport’s gold standard. This year’s team has a first-year starting quarterback in Bryce Young but the same expectations: to win every game from the first to the last.
Georgia has been knocking on the door of the national championship for nearly all of coach Kirby Smart’s tenure. The 2021 Bulldogs have the league’s best quarterback in JT Daniels and have accumulated multiple top-ranked recruiting classes in a row to form a roster that matches up with any in the Football Bowl Subdivision. All that stands in the way is the Crimson Tide.
The Sooners have won six straight Big 12 titles, the last four under coach Lincoln Riley, and reached the College Football Playoff in three of the past four years. With Heisman-winning quarterbacks under center and one of college football’s top offensive gurus at the controls, there’s little doubt the OU offense will step right into the SEC and rank with the best the league has to offer.
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LSU is only one full season removed from a dominant march to the national championship, though the taste of that success was at least partially soured by last year’s 5-5 finish. However, the Tigers are poised for a rebound should the offense rediscover its 2019 form under new offensive coordinator Jake Peetz.
5. Texas A&M
The Aggies are the next SEC team to crack the playoff code. Whether that happens in 2021 depends in significant part on the end result of a quarterback competition that will drift into fall camp. Expectations are high, but so is this team’s potential. (And take note: A&M is slotted higher than once-and-now-again conference rival Texas.)
Dan Mullen doesn’t have to look far to find Kyle Trask’s replacement: Emory Jones is ready for the opportunity and prepared to produce at an all-conference level. What’s separating the Gators from the top third of the SEC are questions about the health of a defense that under-performed in 2020 and could do so again in 2021.
Middle of the pack, just about, in the SEC. Sound fair? It seems more than fair given the Longhorns’ consistent mediocrity since the 2010 season. Case in point: UT has more losses to Kansas during that time than Big 12 championships. But there’s talent and, in new hire Steve Sarkisian, a coach able to maximize the Longhorns’ personnel.
The arrow is clearly pointing up under second-year coach Lane Kiffin. If nothing else, he’s made it abundantly clear the Rebels will be a tough out as long as he’s calling the shots on offense — and that may be selling this year’s team short, given the potential of a group led by quarterback Matt Corral.
Almost anything is possible should former Boise State coach Bryan Harsin fix an offense that hasn’t finished higher than sixth in the SEC in yards per play since 2014. (Well, almost anything: Auburn’s not winning the conference, regardless.) This is more likely a seven-win team capable of pulling off a random upset, which sounds familiar.
10. Mississippi State
Maybe a complete offseason will be what’s needed for Mike Leach’s Air Raid system to take flight. (His history as a head coach suggests the offense will take a big step forward.) There is also reason for optimism about the health of a defense that brings back eight starters but has a few gaps to fill in the front seven.
After outperforming expectations in his debut, coach Eli Drinkwitz and the Tigers won’t be taking the SEC by surprise in 2021. A fairly friendly schedule by SEC standards makes six wins and a bowl bid the baseline, but Missouri’s best years under Drinkwitz are further down the road.
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Like Auburn, the Wildcats need a serious boost on offense to challenge for third place in the East division. That may be coming in the form of two additions: quarterback Will Levis, a transfer from Penn State, and new offensive coordinator Liam Coen. There’s some key production to replace on defense but a reliable record of performance on that side of the ball.
This will be a multiple-year process for new coach Josh Heupel, who takes over a program with three losing seasons in the past four years and barely a sniff of national relevance in nearly a generation. There are issues across the board: personnel, system changes, confidence and more. But Heupel will provide an immediate boost on offense and make the Volunteers more interesting, which is a start.
Winning three games in 2020 made Arkansas the feel-good story of the SEC. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean a breakthrough is around the corner. This year’s team takes on Texas in non-conference play, draws Georgia from the East and has a difficult home stretch of games in November.
15. South Carolina
Shane Beamer is a great fit from the perspectives of culture, energy and recruiting, and there’s something even more to be said for a rookie coach with his list of mentors in the profession. But this is a team with issues at more position groups than not, most notably in a secondary that will go from a major strength to a major question mark.
One winning season in SEC play since 1983. Three winning seasons overall during the same span. New coach Clark Lea brings a healthy dose of energy, enthusiasm and experience to the table but will need time to make things happen, if they happen at all.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Where Oklahoma, Texas would fall in SEC football power rankings