Thursday, September 01, 2011

College Football Preview: SEC*

The SEC West is once again the most formidable division in all of college football. And what makes the SEC so strong is that almost every team is at least solid. Put Kentucky in the Big East and they'd contend for the title. Predicting the SEC winner is about the same as prediction one of the two teams in the National Championship Game...

1. Arkansas Razorbacks
The Hogs are strong at WR and RB, but Ryan Mallett is simply irreplaceable. But while the offense will take a step back due to this loss, the defense will take a huge step forward thanks to a flock of talented veterans.

Key Games:
9/24 @ Alabama
10/1 vs. Texas A&M (in Arlington, TX)
11/5 vs. South Carolina
11/19 vs. Mississippi State (in Little Rock, AR)
11/25 @ LSU

Prediction: 12-1, SEC West winner, SEC Champion, National Championship contender

2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Bama will reload in the backfield with RB Trent Richardson, who ran for 700 yards last year. However, the QB position is still up in the air. A strong defensive line needs to emerge, as well. The defense was the strength of this team last year, and they still have excellent LBs and amazing DBs. Their schedule is as forgiving as it can get in the SEC West. They'll be great, just not good enough to beat Arkansas in September. It's far too early in the year for the offense to take shape and the defensive line to gel.

Key Games:
9/29 vs. Arkansas
11/5 vs. LSU
11/12 @ Mississippi State

Prediction: 10-2, 2nd in SEC West, BCS berth

3. South Carolina Gamecocks
SC brings back talent like RB Marcus Lattimore, who ran for 1,197 yards and 17 TDs as a freshman. There's also WR Alshon Jeffery, who had 1,517 receiving yards and 9 TDs as a sophomore. If the Cocks get consistent QB play, they'll be good to go on offense. The defense also needs consistency. They're in the "weaker" SEC East, and I think they'll be good enough to repeat as divisional winners.

Key Games
9/10 @ Georgia
10/15 @ Mississippi State
11/5 @ Arkansas

Prediction: 10-3, SEC East winner, SEC title game loser

4. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia is slightly overrated, as usual. But they do have an excellent young QB in Aaron Murray, who's entering his sophomore season after 3,000+ yards and 24 TDs as a freshman. He'll need the help of an untested WR cast, and the rushing offense needs to improve from being 10th in the SEC last year. Defensively, they've gotten more girth in the middle of the D-line, which should help them play their 3-4.

UGA is just good now, they'll be a powerhouse in 2012.

Key Games:
9/3 vs. Boise State (in Atlanta, GA)
9/10 vs. South Carolina
10/1 vs. Mississippi State

Prediction: 9-3, 2nd SEC East

5. LSU Tigers
Will QB Jordan Jefferson finish the season as the starter? That's up in the air. The Tigers' intermittent offense was why they lost to Auburn and Arkansas last year. And things don't get much better in the backfield as RB Stevan Ridley needs to be replaced. Defense will be the key to LSU's success, but defense can take you only so far. We'll get to see how good LSU's defense is this weekend.

Key Games:
9/3 vs. Oregon (in Arlington, TX)
9/15 @ Mississippi State
9/24 @ West Virginia
11/5 @ Alabama
11/25 vs. Arkansas

Prediction: 9-3

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
The Bulldogs should have a balanced offense thanks to a rush game that's proved itself strong and an improved passing game. The defensive line will be the key to improving performance on the other side of the ball, and the LBs need to learn how to make plays fast. If the defense can stop the run, the Bulldogs can play ball with the big boys in the SEC West. This will not be an easy team to beat.

Key Games:
9/15 vs. LSU
10/1 @ Georgia
10/15 vs. South Carolina
11/12 @ Alabama
10/19 @ Arkansas (in Little Rock, AR)

Prediction: 9-3

7. Auburn Tigers
How good is the SEC? The defending National Champs are the 7th best team. Anyway, the Tigers only return 2 starters on offense, 3 on defense. RB Michael Dyer will be the workhorse of the offense. He ran for over 1,000 as a freshman. But questions surrounding the QB, WR, and line positions means it'll be a long year in Auburn.

There's only one senior starting on defense. In any other division in any other conference, Auburn would have a chance. But not with trips to Columbia, SC; Fayeteville, AR; Baton Rouge, LA; and Athens, GA.

Prediction: 7-5

8. Florida Gators
What a surprise, people are overrating Florida. But not me. Their offense is neither talented nor tested. Their defense returns only 3 starters and most players will need a full season to properly mature. They'll be tough to play, but they are quite beatable.

Prediction: 7-5

9. Kentucky Wildcats
UK lost its skill position talent. Defensively, they do have a star in LB Danny Trevathan, who made 144 tackles last year. Their defense is OK, and they'll perhaps be part of an upset that alters the outcome of the SEC.

Prediction: 6-6

10. Tennessee Volunteers
This is a year for the Vols' offense to improve after being 11th in the SEC. They have talented pieces, like sophomore QB Tyler Bray, who did well down the stretch in 2010. However, their defensive situation is utterly disorganized. They could make a bowl game in 2011, and they could do much more in 2012.

Prediction: 5-7

11. Ole Miss Rebels
One player sums up Ole Miss' football program. And that one player is RB Brandon Bolden who is the leading returning passer (1/1 for 7 yards), rusher (163 carries, 976 yards, 14 TDs), and receiver (34 catches, 344 yards, 3 TDs). He's the only talent at the skill-positions. He'll at least have a decent line to run behind. Defensively, the Rebels will be toyed with by their 5 bigger brothers in the SEC West.

12. Vanderbilt Commodores
The Commodores return 10 offensive starters... unfortunately. Because they were 112th in scoring last year and 110th in total yardage. On the plus side, they were 80th in rushing yards. The quality they have on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield will keep teams from blowing them out too badly, but that'll only affect the spread, and not much more.

Prediction: 2-10

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