SEC Football 2012: 50 Bold Predictions for College Football's Power Conference
The SEC championship is still the top goal for all of these teams, but it has now been six straight national champions from this soon-to-be loaded conference.
Alabama proved that you can lose a game and still win it all if you are capable of obliterating teams in the process.
There are now 14 teams that are ready to go, but which ones will shine brightly and which will fold?
I have never been known to pick the chalk or favorites, so don’t expect your classic boring predictions that anybody could tell you.
Previewing the 2012 season in the SEC, here are your 50 bold predictions that may shock you.
SEC Will Split Opening Games at Georgia Dome
The SEC may very well sweep the two games, but I like Clemson (top 15 team) to sneak by Auburn in an entertaining shootout. However, I do like the Vols to take out the Wolfpack of North Carolina State.
That game as well should be an intriguing shootout where Tyler Bray and his arsenal around him should find a way to start off the season on the right foot for Derek Dooley.
If Auburn were to find a way to beat Clemson in a payback game from last season, watch out for those Tigers to climb back up the rankings albeit the schedule is deadly once again.
The Defensive Side Will Be Owned by the SEC Again
What a shocker, right?!
In the 2011 First Team All-American teams, the SEC featured nine members and it just goes to show how dominant the conference really is.
The SEC is the best in the business for a reason because they tee off on the opposition with future NFL athletes.
So expect even more NFL superstars and even more All-Americans on your HD televisions in 2012.
SEC West Heats Up More Than Ever Before
Alabama could win the West, and so could LSU or Arkansas. Most label the Bayou Bengals as the preseason favorites to win the whole ball of wax, but Alabama has a winnable schedule and so do the Razorbacks.
These three teams gave us a nice finish in 2011, why would things change in 2012?
SEC Has at Least One Team in BCS Title
We can book it right now because it would be a shock if at least one team will not play for the BCS National Championship.
After all, it has been six straight consecutive years in which a team from the SEC has won it all.
Alabama and LSU made the entire nation hate the SEC even more and though it might be tough to witness that again, don’t be shocked if an SEC team ranks first and second in the polls throughout a decent chunk of the season (LSU, 'Bama, UGA or Ark strong candidates).
Vanderbilt Goes Bowling, Again
James Franklin took Vandy bowling last season and despite the loss of All-SEC performer defensive end Tim Fugger, look for Vandy to reach the postseason again.
Kentucky Says Bye-Bye to Joker Sooner Than Later
The Wildcats were abysmal on offense last season and there was nothing they could accomplish to change for the better.
Kentucky was third to last in the nation in total offense (118th) averaging only 259 yards per game. If that doesn't change, it won’t matter how great the defense plays.
Joker could be a goner if another last-place finish in the East becomes imminent.
Dorial Green-Beckham Becomes Real Deal
The 6’6”, 220-pound prized recruit may not become the best receiver in the SEC for at least a season or two, but there is nothing that is holding him back from becoming a sensational freshman.
Everybody talks about how he will be unstoppable in EA Sports NCAA Football for the next few seasons, but on the real gridiron he will be constantly doubled and or bracketed.
Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida are extremely talented back fours that can lay the wood with the best of them. Everybody cannot wait to see the best freshman compete in the best conference, but he will post solid numbers and should not disappoint.
Alabama-Arkansas Will Be SEC Game of Year
It might only be a simple game in September when these two teams face off, but I am banking on Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis to give the Crimson Tide defense all that they can handle.
Alabama and Saban will attempt to dominate the line of scrimmage like always, but this is where we may find out if A.J. McCarron can become a near All-American signal-caller.
The team proved he doesn’t have to play at that level, but he also proved in the BCS title what this team is capable of when playing at a high level.
LSU Defensive Line Is Nastiest in Nation
Ki-Ki Mingo and Sam Montgomery are two of the baddest men on the planet to begin with, but the interior of the line has a few bruisers as well.
Anthony Johnson, Josh Downs and Bennie Logan should make this the best front four in America.
Aggies Fail to Reach Bowl
Nothing against A&M, but a brutal schedule on top of their history and returning starters may equal an awful first season in the SEC.
I wouldn’t consider a non-postseason trip a failure of a season unless your expectations are for them to make a bowl game every single season.
The defense is in a rude awakening when compared against the likes of the Big 12, and losing Ryan Tannehill at quarterback might crush this team.
Alabama’s Defense Reloads with Ease
Barron, Chapman, Upshaw, Kirkpatrick and Hightower are all gone. Most programs would accept some sort of a moderate drop-off, but not the Crimson Tide. Alabama is on top of the mountain right now and Nick Saban is already pushing the right buttons.
They are not defending their title per se as Saban alludes to, but the entire SEC will be out for blood against them. Can Saban find a way to get it done once again?
Look for Robert Lester, Dee Milliner, Nico Johnson and CJ Mosley to be the next All-SEC performers to have a jump in their production.
No Trent, No Big Deal
Trent Richardson was one of the more productive Alabama running backs in the history of their storied program, so most think some sort of letdown will occur, right?
The offensive line is the best out there and A.J. McCarron is only improving. Plus, Eddie Lacy has a boatload of capable backups such as Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart.
This magnificent trio of backs might lead the Crimson Tide back to the promise land.
South Carolina Has Toughest SEC Slate
Go ahead rank me the toughest slates in the SEC (not overall) and convince me a team has it tougher than South Carolina.
Auburn , LSU and poor Ole Miss would give legit arguments but the Gamecocks are coming off consecutive stellar seasons (Best two-year run ever).
If hosting Missouri, Georgia and Arkansas wasn’t tough enough, wait until you check out the road dates. Baton Rouge and Gainesville will bring a ton of hurting on Spurrier and the boys if this offense does not improve in 2012.
SEC East Decided on October 27th, Not 6th
When South Carolina hosts Georgia, most would expect the division title to be on the line.
However, not in my books because I believe the Florida Gators have the schedule and the better defense between the two.
The annual battle in Jacksonville was a thriller last season and despite the Gators finishing just 7-6, Florida cannot get any worse on offense, right?
Vanderbilt Will Possess Most Underrated Receivers
Tennessee, Georgia and Arkansas will all have explosive wideouts, but the Commodores might just possess the most productive.
Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd are both stars on the rise that will catch the nation by surprise if you don’t understand how talented the duo is.
Zach Mettenberger Brings Ton of Production
The Bayou Bengals cannot get any worse with their passing offense as the 2011 season was disastrous at the worst time possible.
LSU averaged just 152 passing yards per game (106th), and yet they still went 13-0 before they ran into a buzzsaw against the Tide.
I will not go over those numbers against Alabama, but it wasn't as if the team was clicking on all cylinders on every drive offensively during the regular season. The offense was horrid in the first half against Georgia, but the defense and special teams (Honey Badgers) bailed them out.
Mettenberger should provide a ton of improvement this season as he has all the tools to make the former LSU quarterbacks look like high-school players.
The only question remains as to how he will play in those hostile night game environments?
Nick Saban Remains the Best
Nick Saban is the best coach in college football and it really is not that close at the moment.
Already winning two titles for the Crimson Tide, Saban will need to reload a defense that loses three All-American worthy players (Kirkpatrick, Hightower, Upshaw).
Also, the loss of Trent Richardson could hurt Alabama in crunch time even though their offense line ranks as arguably the best out there.
Regardless if Alabama returns to the BCS title let alone a BCS bowl, Alabama should be right there at the end of the day because of Nick Saban.
Aaron Murray Will Get Invited to New York
Aaron Murray is destined to have a sensational season Georgia thanks to the plethora of talent he is surrounded by.
In fact, out of Murray’s 35 passing TDs, 12 were to different receivers (all but four return). Malcolm Mitchell will be an interesting target since he has since moved to defensive back due to depth concerns (Commings suspended two games, Smith game or two).
Still, Mitchell will play some receiver and the bevy of talent outside of him is scary good with guys like Michael Bennett, Chris Conley, Marlon Brown and a slew of youngsters (Jay Rome).
Murray could be on his way for 40 touchdowns and even less INTs (14 last year), and if he leads his Dawgs to another SEC title appearance there would be an excellent chance he will be on his way towards New York.
Honey Badger Remains National Worthy, New Names Surface
Will Tyrann Mathieu make another Heisman run?
He surely is capable but unless he steals the show again like Charles Woodson did back in the day (1997), Mathieu will come up short.
Still, the “Honey Badger” is capable of going bonkers on defense and on special teams. Should we just punt it in the stands or allow him to break our ankles?
The kid has swag for days and his team just feeds off his skills.
Bank on Mathieu remaining relevant, but look for defensive backs Eric Reid (safety) and Tharold Simon to play like All-Americans.
SEC Will Have 11 Bowl Teams
The SEC is loaded with legit teams, but next season the underrated part of the conference may be the improvement from teams like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
Bank on LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, South Carolina, Vanderbilt (yes, Vandy) and Missouri to all appear in bowl games.
A&M may fall short of a bowl game, but I love the three teams I originally listed above to exceed expectations.
Plus, Mississippi State will be playing in a bowl game more than likely which will give the SEC more hatred than ever before. If my math serves me right, the final count for bowl eligible teams would be at 11 (most ever).
Breakthrough Star, Jeff Driskel
Jacoby Brissett will be battling with Driskel for the entire spring to decide who is the next Gators starting quarterback.
However, Driskel will prove that he has the poise, awareness and drive to become the next great in Gainesville.
Talk about being thrown under the fire, Driskel saw action last season against the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide defense when John Brantley went down with his ankle injury. Though he didn’t throw or complete many (any) passes, he was able to bust off a 31-yard run to get his feet wet.
The expectations will be much higher this season as the likely starter, even though Brissett may see some playing time (even if he is the backup).
If Driskel can take over and produce like his high-school touting status, UF will have a successful nine or 10-win season.
Da’Rick Rogers Will Make First Team All-SEC
This kid is an athletic freak and he will go absolutely bonkers regardless of the array of coverages he may see every weekend. Tyler Bray has an NFL-caliber arm as he can make nearly every throw in the book.
Rogers is in the perfect system to go along with the right quarterback chucking it deep to him, but with 10 starters returning look for Tennessee’s offense to be significantly better.
Next Freak in SEC Is Jadeveon Clowney
This soon-to-be superstar will have to carry the Gamecocks defense alongside Devin Taylor up front. Clowney might need a new nickname since “Doo Doo” isn’t exactly the most intimidating one that college football has seen.
Still, his play will do all the talking next season and it might not be much longer he stays around in college football.
Clowney has Julius Peppers-like skills and despite being just a young sophomore, he will rank among the top defensive lineman in all of college football.
Razorbacks Defense Shocks Nation
The defense will have a talented secondary led by Darius Winston and Tevin Mitchel, but the linebackers must fill in with their recent losses (Jerico Nelson, Jerry Franklin).
Plus, losing Jake Bequette will not be an easy task though the depth is getting a lot better. DeQuinta Jones and Byran Jones are stout up front and Tenarius Wright will look to have a healthy and productive season.
If they can come away with an extra stop or two per game, the Razorbacks should be a lock to stay in the top five for the entire season.
The Less Touted and Underdogs Will Come Through
I love the Gators schedule in the East (UGA’s too), but Arkansas gets both powerhouses (LSU, 'Bama) at home.
Plus, who is honestly going to take the Razorbacks over Saban and Miles!?
Call me insane but give me the Razorbacks to upset one of the two as they will at the very worst play a factor in the SEC title race via the tiebreaker.
Tyler Bray Goes Bonkers
Before his thumb went right into a helmet and was fractured, Tyler Bray was a stud quarterback for the Volunteers. Bray had 17 TDs and only six INTs to go along with his 1,983 yards.
Heading into his junior season, Tennessee enters a vital year where they need to at least reach a bowl game before they officially carry the basement of the SEC.
If Bray can catch fire early against a talented secondary in North Carolina State right out of the gates, look for the Vols’ receivers to gain national recognition and the team results will follow.
Isaiah Crowell Will Get His Swoll on
Whatever that means, Mr. Crowell will find a way to become a touchdown machine with Aaron Murray under center.
Or perhaps he will get in trouble like many are predicting. I refuse to project a young collegiate star to fall apart, so I pray that Crowell can behave in Athens and perform as well as his talents suggest.
The UGA receivers should be over their serious case of the dropsies that they had against LSU and I would look for the opposing defense to get gashed more often than not against the Dawgs.
Murray may get all the praise, but Crowell will have a 20 total TD-type of season and will find a way to make First Team All-SEC in a conference that has a pair of superstars (Lattimore, Davis).
Marcus Lattimore Won’t Disappoint, Team Will
Expect Lattimore to carry the load on offense with Connor Shaw, but this Gamecocks schedule keeps on getting more brutal by the year. South Carolina keeps winning games and yet their slate becomes mission impossible.
We will really find out if they can stretch the field now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, so look for Lattimore to face nine-man fronts. While Lattimore is a lock for over 1,500 yards and 12 TDs, SC is far from a lock in terms of winning double-digit games again.
Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones Will Be Freaks
The linebackers at Georgia are beyond loaded right now. Jarvis Jones will be First Team All-SEC Preseason and perhaps even All-American.
Alec Ogletree will get some honorable mention in the SEC and the likes of Michael Gilliard, Amarlo Herrera, Cornelius Washington, Christian Robinson, Chase Vasser and Kosta Vavlas only helps the depth.
Many prognosticators will rank UGA atop the SEC and America at the linebacker position and having a few freaks has to rank them near the best out there.
Alabama Will Escape Iron Bowl Victorious
The key word is “escape” because Alabama will likely be battling for a SEC West division title. I look for the Tide to pull a victory at home and while most will be expecting them to just roll over Auburn, rivalry games often come down to the wire.
We are due for another close one in Tuscaloosa, though I like Alabama to prevail.
Tyler Wilson Goes off Thanks to Knile Davis
Tyler Wilson should be pumped if Knile Davis comes back to his 2010 production because he was one of the top backs in the entire nation.
Wilson can spin it with the best of them, so if the ground game steps it up then this could finally be the year where the Razorbacks beat Alabama, get into the BCS and win that elite game (SEC title, Sugar or perhaps BCS title).
Saban Will Get to Miles, Again
Les Miles was severely outcoached as his players were badly outperformed. When the third of November rolls along, the Bayou Bengals and the Crimson Tide will get it on once again.
Arguably the nation’s most competitive rivalry at the moment (Auburn-Alabama among few others), LSU has actually won the last two regular-season meetings and before Miles was ripped apart in the BCS title most would argue Saban was owned by Miles.
Now, the “Mad Hatter” best be ready or else LSU may not get another opportunity to play for the SEC title.
Gators Will Win Nine, Perhaps 10
They need to decide if Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett is the guy to lead them, but the defense will be there all season long.
The Gators will struggle offensively if the running game does not improve much, but they have some players primed to break loose.
If that occurs on top of lady luck taking a visit towards Gainesville, UF will be on their way towards a 9-4 or 10-3 type of season (bowl game included).
Alabama Features Best Offensive Line in Nation
If I could choose five body guards, I might as well just choose the five that play for Nick Saban.
Barrett Jones is the likely Outland Trophy heavy favorite (and eventual winner), but D.J. Fluker is probably going to be drafted in the first round.
Throw in guys like Anthony Steen and Chance Warmack, and you are arguably looking at the best offensive line in America.
Derek Dooley Survives the Season
Some are forecasting the Volunteers to miss another postseason trip and that Dooley will be out the door.
However, I really like this team compared to last year’s and it starts with a season-opening victory over North Carolina State in the Atlanta Georgia Dome.
Tyler Bray has a talented crew of receivers and the defense will only get better. Not only will the Volts make a bowl game but they will get at least eight victories and Knoxville will be excited about college football once again.
Alabama Loses West in September
There are always haters out there just to make sure you understand their point, but there is nothing more enjoyable than water cooler talk in regards to college football.
The SEC East has been a bit of a doormat compared to the SEC West, but there is a great chance that the SEC West only gets one team in the BCS this season.
Wait that makes zero sense!
Well, Georgia has the schedule to steal a BCS bid if they were to go 11-2 or 12-1 (maybe better), and the West Division literally is the best conference in the nation by itself. They will destroy each other in the process.
Auburn could compete in a few BCS conference this season (arguably Big East, Big 12 or ACC), and we know Arkansas is going to get their points and play respectable defense.
About that underrated, the Razorbacks have the talent, schedule and poise to finally breakthrough with all of their star talents.
I am making the bold prediction that Alabama loses one game for the whole season. It will be to Arkansas in September as the Razorbacks will do just enough to squeak by and survive.
Missouri Gets Close but No Cigar
James Franklin is hoping to be fully healthy by the start of the season, but he won’t be a one-man wrecking crew in the SEC. Franklin needs a ton of help by his backfield and wide receivers.
Oh yeah, the defense of Mizzou needs to take it up a full notch or two. If not, that home opener against Georgia could balloon into a disappointing inaugural season depending on your expectations (anything more than eight or nine wins is dreaming).
Missed Kicks Ruin Perfect Seasons
Georgia is losing both their kicker (Blair Walsh) and punter (Drew Butler), but some top-10 team is going to lose a game off a simple kick that is pushed off to the side.
It will send shockwaves across the nation and it will cost a team a spot either in the SEC Championship and/or BCS National Championship. My instincts say it will be from a darn kicker as well.
Drew Alleman very well may make me eat crow and send LSU back in the title, but with road games against Arkansas, Florida and Auburn, I would not guarantee another perfect season.
Auburn Has Toughest Schedule in America
Cam Newton and Nick Fairley didn’t walk through that door last season and they certainly won’t be coming for the 2012 season.
However, the entire defense returns and the anticipation of starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier is building by the week.
The schedule was a bit daunting last year for Gene Chizik, but he miraculously became bowl eligible with a young squad.
What in the world does he have in store for us in 2012?
The schedule from an overall breakdown is beyond a buzzsaw and is, in my opinion, the toughest in America.
Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Alabama will all be locks for top-10 squads (most likely) and the Clemson Tigers in the opener should be offensively explosive as any team on the planet (possible top-10 team).
Those five squads could hang with Auburn on every drive and wreak havoc on a very talented Tigers team that should be ranked to start off the season.
If they get by Clemson in the Georgia Dome, they then must be prepared for Mississippi State in Starkville.
Good luck finishing with a better record than last year unless of course Chizik is a miracle worker in disguise.
Gators Defense Will Bite You
The pool of youth that the Gators have is relentless and yet many experts are not throwing Florida out there for possible SEC East contenders.
The quarterback and running back position need to step up, but the cupboard is not bare. Will Muschamp is a tremendous defensive coach and has quite the explosive bunch.
Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray are a vastly underrated group of linebackers and the two pass-rushers up front (Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd) will blow up opponents’ running games.
Missouri’s Home Opener Will Decide Their Fate
Some are expecting the Tigers of Mizzou to win eight or perhaps nine ballgames. For any chance of a season like that, Mizzou better win at home in the SEC opener against Georgia.
The Dawgs will likely be in the top 10 and I can guarantee Missouri would skyrocket up the ranking if they find a way to pull off the upset (TD underdogs).
A tough loss to UGA may put them in a bit of tailspin, though the early part of the slate is fairly easy.
It picks up a bunch when November rolls along, though. Florida, Tennessee and A&M all on the road could spell disaster for this brand new SEC team.
Vols Will Show Up on D
The defense doesn't have many, if any, world beaters, but look for this team to shoot way up in the rankings.
They were slashed, dashed and gashed against the run last year. Allowing 162 yards per game (69th) is never a good thing in the gauntlet known as the SEC, but the young players will rise to the occasion (nine starters returning).
LSU and Alabama Are the Best on Paper, Neither Make BCS
I will have the huge stones to say it right now. As much as I love Alabama and LSU on paper (I have them as top teams in nation on paper), I foresee both teams failing to run the table and I believe both teams will lose two games when it is all said and done.
No disrespect to any of these teams since they are the best in my book (on paper), but the SEC is only going to improve in 2012. The new additions of Missouri and A&M makes things tougher, but Arkansas, Georgia and Florida are all on the rise.
Georgia Will Run the Table During Regular Season
The Bulldogs have one of the easier schedules in SEC history, so it seems. They should be a lock for the preseason Top 10 come August and they finally have the talent and veterans to lead them back to the top.
Opening the SEC season at Missouri will be no easy task, but outside of trips to South Carolina, Auburn and their annual showdown in Jacksonville against the Gators, UGA should be primed and ready for the national stage.
Expect the Unlikely in 2012
Maybe you had LSU as the team to kick teeth in during the regular season because I certainly did not. Last year I saw LSU losing three games and I ate some crow (until BCS title) after they obliterated the competition.
Can LSU do it again? Is Georgia capable of living up the lofty expectations and is Arkansas finally going to break through?
College football is the best and the SEC has a lot to do with it. The favorites suffer a crucial injury and disappoint their hometown faithfuls whereas the underdog story continues to fire up the nation.
Arkansas Reaches BCS
I just mentioned that the Razorbacks have a chance to do it, so why back off now?
Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis have to be considered one of your deadliest QB-RB combinations and that is just a fact (when healthy).
Their production is sensational and there is no doubting what Arkansas can accomplish when their defense rises to the occasion.
LSU Features Best Defensive Backs in SEC and in Nation
Florida State, Southern California, Ohio State and Oklahoma may have elite secondaries in 2012, but nobody offers more star power arguably than the Bayou Bengals.
Eric Reid has the talents to become the best safety on the planet thanks to Tharold Simon and Tyrann Mathieu (Craig Loston other safety).
September isn’t supposedly the best month of the season for college football, but it might as well be this season.
The prime-time SEC games we will witness in September may go down in history as thrilling finishes.
Missouri hosts Georgia to witness their first SEC home game and Alabama must tussle with an opposing top-10 squad in Arkansas on the road.
Throw in Auburn going against Clemson in the Georgia Dome, along with a home date against LSU, and you better not blink or else you may miss a few electrifying games.
Arkansas Runs Table in Regular Season, Georgia Too
Two of the easiest schedules in the entire country might be the slates that Georgia and Arkansas both have.
Seriously, have you taken a look?
The SEC is the toughest conference known to mankind so if you are struggling you will get smoked so bad your momma’s feelings will get hurt.
However, the quarterback play and overall explosiveness of these two offenses are glaring in my eyes.
Knile Davis seems poised to break out like he did two seasons ago, and I really have high hopes for their defense.
The defensive line is talented and their secondary might just be among the top 10 in the country. South Carolina and Auburn will be tough road games but both Alabama and LSU come to town.
Those four games could go either way, but I really liked what I saw from the Razorbacks in the Cotton Bowl and down the stretch of their season (save LSU game).
Georgia is a team that I have already hammered you on and there is one slide left for Dawg nation.
The Georgia Bulldogs Will Capture SEC Title
Georgia has all the tools on offense, they just need their young offensive line to not be a swinging gate for Aaron Murray.
Despite losing three starters on the line, expect Isaiah Crowell and a loaded backfield to gash the opponents on the Dawgs slate.
Throw in Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King (among bevy of others) out wide for Murray and you may be looking at the most explosive offense in the SEC. Did I mention they have nine starters back?
They were exposed and abused in the trenches against LSU in Atlanta, but UGA’s NFL-caliber linebackers and line are way too talented to let that occur again.
Mark Richt was on the hot seat and has since moved into the upper-echelon of the country for 2012. The expectations will be high, but this team has the perfect pieces to knock off whoever they play in the SEC title (Arkansas is the pick for now over heavy favorites LSU, 'Bama).
Call it bold, crazy or absurd, but give me the Georgia Bulldogs in terms of representing the Southeastern Conference in the BCS National Championship come 2013.