14 Lofty Expectations for SEC Football in 2012
Two newcomers enter the strongest conference in college football. The SEC has won six consecutive national titles by four different programs.
The 14 schools know that if they win the SEC, they will wind up playing for the national title. Because of the success of their colleagues, SEC schools have expectations far superior than other conferences.
National title kinds of expectations.
Let's face it: Anything short of a national championship at Alabama is considered a disappointment.
With head coach Nick Saban already owning two BCS titles in the past three years, those expectations have actually been met.
Now, the Alabama faithful are going to expect a national championship every year for the next decade or as long as Saban coaches.
However, this year's outlook is comparable to 2010, when Alabama was coming off a national championship season. The Tide lost a ton of talent after both titles.
Heisman trophy finalist Trent Richardson, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, safety Mark Barron, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, and linebacker Dont'a Hightower are among the significant losses Alabama has to replace in the upcoming year.
Arkansas: Hire an Elite Coach
Bobby Petrino took Arkansas to places they haven't been in quite some time. Petrino won 11 games last year and 10 the prior, all the while competing in a division with the last three national champions.
Now, with the Jessica Dorrell scandal, Petrino was fired and Arkansas is left searching for a new man to run their program
They need to hire an elite, experienced coach if they want to compete in the ultra-competitive SEC West. Whether the Razorbacks can do that or not after the hiring/firing season will be a challenge.
The Arkansas football head coaching gig is one of the better ones available on the market. The Razorbacks won 10 games in back-to-back seasons, and the program seemed to turn the corner.
Auburn: Beat Alabama
In the most heated rivalry in sports, Auburn threw their punch. The problem is Alabama swings even harder. The Tigers beat Alabama in 2010 and subsequently won the national title. They got their Heisman trophy winner in Cam Newton
But right now Alabama struck the last blow, evidenced by their national championship rings and their victory over Auburn.
Auburn may not be national title contenders in the years to come, but they want more than ever to beat their in-state rival.
It's the type of rivalry fought every day of the year, but just once on the football field.
Florida: Return to Prominence
The Florida Gators used to own the college football landscape. They won two national championships under coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Tim Tebow. Everything went their way.
Until Urban Meyer chose to resign.
But the last two years, Florida looked mediocre. Quarterback John Brantley didn't pan out. A number of recruits haven't lived up to their five-star billing.
Now, the Gators lose speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey.
Second year coach Will Muschamp has a long ways to go to turn around the program, but the folks in Gainesville can't wait much longer.
Georgia: Win the SEC
In 2011, Mark Richt cooled off his hot seat and silenced most of his critics.
The Georgia Bulldogs finally beat Florida. They also blew out Georgia Tech and Auburn, the other two rivals. They made it to the SEC title game.
Now it's time to make the next step - win the SEC.
Richt knows that an SEC Championship in this age means a berth into the BCS title game. Richt has done everything in his 11-year tenure as Bulldogs coach except reach that title game.
The Georgia fans have watched Auburn, LSU, Florida, and Alabama all capture national championships. The Bulldog faithful wants a piece of the pie.
Kentucky: National Relevance in Football
Kentucky basketball just won the national title. Too bad that at just about every school, football earns more revenue than basketball, despite playing fewer games.
The football program at Kentucky is overshadowed. Kentucky isn't a major player in the SEC.
Here's a quick test: name three Kentucky football players off the top of your head.
You probably failed that test, and I did too. And I even watched one of their games last season. The only player I knew was linebacker Danny Trevathan, who led the SEC in tackles with 143.
Too bad last year was his senior year, and now I know no one outside of head coach Joker Philips currently associated with the program.
Kentucky needs to improve it's brand image in football. Most people associate Kentucky with basketball, but it's football that drives college athletics.
LSU: Win the Game That Counts
LSU was on their way to holding the strongest resume of any team in college football history. They beat Oregon in the season opener, Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Georgia in the SEC title game.
But in the game that counted, LSU couldn't muster even a single point, losing 21-0 to Alabama in the BCS title game.
The Tigers weren't ready for the game. Alabama came out with a perfect game plan and caught LSU by surprise with an aggressive aerial assault, torching two All-American corners in Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu.
LSU did everything right up until that game, winning games with defense, special teams and power football.
Miles didn't adjust and kept struggling quarterback Jordan Jefferson in the game too long.
Miles has a BCS championship with LSU, but their rabid fans expect another win in the game that matters.
Mississippi State: Beat the Big 3
In the past three seasons, Mississippi State is 0-9 against the three "players" of the SEC West, Arkansas, Alabama and LSU.
The Bulldogs entered 2011 in the top-25, but never truly looked the part and finished a mediocre 7-6.
Mississippi State nearly pulled out a victory against South Carolina, but couldn't generate enough offense.
Quarterback Chris Relf has left. So has tailback Vic Ballard. Two key players in the Mississippi State option attack will no longer be part of the offense.
Relf had serious deficiencies in the passing game and was benched midseason, but his athleticism won games.
Now, Mississippi State wants to rise in the SEC West in the future. The only way they're going to do that is by knocking off one of the SEC West heavyweights.
Missouri: Not Getting Overwhelmed by the SEC
How will Missouri adjust to life in the SEC? Their meeting in Week 2 against Georgia likely will forecast the future. The Tigers also have a date with Alabama and tough games in Colombia, Gainesville and College Station.
Missouri is going to have to not be overwhelmed by playing quality competition week in and week out. That's life in the SEC.
The Tigers return their offensive playmakers in James Franklin and Henry Joseph.
But in the SEC, defense is king. Unlike the Big 12, the SEC actually plays it. Missouri is going to need more depth on the defense to not get pounded by the SEC heavyweights.
Ole Miss: Not Finishing in Last Place
Ole Miss fired their head coach last season. Clearly, the program does not expect anything to come out of the 2012 football season.
Last year, Mississippi did not even win a single game in the conference. The year before—one conference win.
Rebuilding mode is in full force for the Rebels if it hasn't already occurred.
In the best division in college football, finishing other than last place would be a significant accomplishment.
South Carolina: Capture the SEC East Crown
With a healthy Marcus Lattimore, the South Carolina Gamecocks are dangerous in the SEC. In 2010, the Gamecocks won their first ever SEC divisional crown behind the play of Lattimore.
South Carolina won 11 games last year. That still wasn't enough to win the division. Georgia won the east, despite Carolina beating them head-to-head.
In 2012, Lattimore returns from an ACL injury. When he was healthy, Lattimore was one of the most physical backs in the league. He is a Heisman Trophy sleeper heading into this year.
Steve Spurrier finally got over the hump in 2010 winning the division. Now, he's expected to win it all.
Tennessee: Win a Bowl Game
The last time Tennessee won a bowl game was in 2007. Last year the Volunteers didn't even qualify for a bowl game after an embarrassing loss to Kentucky to close the year dropped their record to 5-7.
Tyler Bray is the future of the Volunteer program, and he needs to lead this school to a bowl victory. A stadium with more than 100,000 people doesn't like losing seasons.
If Bray can't turn around Tennessee's program this year or next, Derek Dooley's hot seat starts to heat up.
Texas A&M: Play for Four Quarters
I think Oklahoma State just scored again. And Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Texas. The common thread in all of those games: Texas A&M blew double-digit leads.
Their goal for this year: play as well in the second half as the first half. The Aggies blew huge leads in most of their defeats.
The story repeated itself all season long, but now Texas A&M loses two of its best offensive weapons in Cyrus Gray and Ryan Tannehill.
That certainly won't help in their move to the SEC. They play Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Florida and South Carolina in a brutal schedule.
The teams they play have the depth to play for quarters, now the Aggies need to as well.
Vanderbilt: Lead the League in APR
Just kidding. They already lead the SEC in this statistic.
Vanderbilt was oh-so close to turning the corner in the SEC last year, losing games by the slimmest of margins. The Commodores lost five games by seven points or less, nearly pulling off upsets against Georgia and Arkansas.
He's been told you can't win at Vanderbilt. Clearly head coach James Franklin doesn't see it that way.