The Biggest Question for Every SEC Team in 2009
For college football fans its one of the best times of the year. Expectations are high and every team has a chance a winning season and a trip to a bowl game.
In the football crazed SEC country every team has begun to prepare for the start of their season. Just about every team in the SEC has hopes of playing in the postseason.
As the heat of August forges the teams we will see in September and beyond there are still questions that must be answered for each team in the SEC.
So let’s break down the top burning question for each team in the SEC. In alphabetical order, we will look at each team’s question mark and predict the potential win/loss record for each team.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Can they find replacements for the offensive starters lost?
Alabama fan’s had plenty to cheer about for 12 games of the season. Then came the SEC Championship game and the Sugar Bowl. The 12-2 record last year for the tide was seen as a return to the SEC elite.
Will they return to the top of the SEC West be short lived? The 2009 Tide only return four offensive starters.
They will have to replace most of the offensive line with the losses of Antoine Caldwell-C, Marlon Davis-OG, and Andre Smith-OT to the NFL.
The losses on the line maybe the biggest on most teams but the Tide also lost three year starter John Parker Wilson at quarterback and Glen Coffee at running back as well.
The Tide does return Mark Ingram who rushed for 728 yards last season and superstar Julio Jones at wide receiver who caught 58 balls for 924 yards.
One problem is that the line will have to jell quickly to open holes for Ingram since as the running game goes so does the Tide. As seen in the loss to Utah showed Alabama cannot run their offense stalls.
The Tide will also have to find a quarterback to get the ball to Jones as well. Looks like the Tide will turn to Greg McElroy to take the snaps under center. Problem is in two years McElroy has only thrown 20 passes. Upside he has completed 16 of the 20 passes he threw.
The bright spot for Alabama early will the Tide’s defense which returns nine starters. If the offense takes time to get on the same page the defense could win some games for the Tide.
Along with superstar return man/ corner back Javier Arenas who can be a game breaker on kickoffs and put returns.
The Tide offense will have to come together quickly since the first game will be in Blacksburg, Virginia against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Just as Lee Corso about going against the Hokies at home.
That being said the Tide should finish with at least nine wins. Alabama could lose games against LSU, Ole Miss, and Virginia Tech.
With all the departures on offense a nine-win season should be good for Nick Saban the Tide and 2010 will be bright.
Arkansas Razorbacks: Can the defense step up to make year two under Bobby Petrino bowl worthy?
Hopes are high in Fayetteville this year about year two under Bobby Petrino. The offense returns running back Michael Smith who rushed for 1,072 yards on 207 carries.
Highly anticipated quarterback Matt Mullett will get the chance to start after transferring from Michigan and Casey Dick’s graduation. The receivers and tight ends should be good for the Razorbacks as well.
The burning question is can the defense which returns all 11 starters stop the others teams offense.
This is a defense that did not hold any team they played under-21 points. The defense gave up an average of 31.2 points a game in 2008.
Any easy non-conference schedule should give the Razorbacks some easy wins. Only problem is if the defense cannot make some stops.
A killer six-game stretch starting on Sept. 19 with Georgia (includes Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, and Florida) and ending on Oct. 24 with Ole Miss could kill the Arkansas bowl chances.
If the defense can step up things in Fayetteville could be very bright.
That being said seven wins looks possible for the Razorbacks. It all depends on how badly Georgia falls and how much Texas A&M rises. Eight wins could be possible if Arkansas can get past Georgia, A&M, and South Carolina.
The Razorbacks more than likely will come up short to Florida, Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss.
Auburn Tigers: Can Gene Chizik survive one season on the cut throat plains?
The Tigers have to be known as a tough place to coach. Do not believe me? Look at the last two coaches at Auburn.
First Terry Bowen racked up a 47-17-1 record in six seasons on the plains. Bowen even had an undefeated season in 1993 while the Tigers were on NCAA probation. After a 10-3 season in 1997 and a slow start to the 1998 season at 1-5 Bowen was run out of town.
Next Tommy Tuberville jumped ship from Ole Miss to take over the Tigers. In 10 seasons all he did was win. Going 85-40 while at Auburn with an undefeated season in 2004 but was shut out of the National Championship game.
Tuberville even beat Alabama for six straight years. The end came in 2008 when he tried to switch to the spread offense and the Tigers struggled to score he was shown the door.
Now enter Chizik who left Iowa State to take over at Auburn. In his two years at Iowa State Chizik only won five games. Hopefully he has followed Auburn football to know that will not cut it with the high expectations.
With most of the offensive line returning to go along with quarterback Kodi Burns and running back Ben Tate the Tigers should be able to move the ball.
Although the offense was the weak spot of last year’s team an experienced line can always make things easier.
Burns and Tate will have to carry to the offensive load since all the wide receivers are first year starters.
If the offensive struggles again the defense returns eight starters. That could help if they can force turnovers after only having 19 last year.
Now looking at the possibilities for 2009 at Auburn things look bleak for Chizik. If the offense can find its way six to seven wins could be possible.
The Tigers will get both West Virginia and Georgia in a down year but will lose to one or the other. If the offense cannot score then it’s likely only four or five wins.
Chizik could be done in by a five game stretch that includes Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU and Ole Miss.
If the Tigers can go 2-3 in that part of the schedule a six win season is possible and Chizik gets a year two. Anything worse than that means Chizik will wish he was back at Iowa State.
Florida Gators: Can the Gators live up to National Champions or bust expectations?
The hype and hopes in Gainesville have never been higher not even the 1996 season that featured Danny Wuerffel. After last season’s example of Georgia not living up to what could have been a championship season. The Gators cannot afford anything less than a repeat.
The Gators are in better shape than most teams trying to repeat with the whole two deep on defensive back with Brandon Spikes leading the way.
Teams should find it hard to find points against the Gators.
On offense Florida has their superman back for his final season in the form of Tim Tebow. Tebow heads the offense that has eight starters returning. The only thing to scare the Gators on offense is breaking in two new starters on the line.
Head coach Urban Meyer will have to keep his team from having a letdown in a season that looks to only have one trap game being LSU on October 10th in Baton Rouge.
The Gators cannot over look a Tennessee team looking to beat Florida for the first time in four years or a Georgia team that will be breaking in new starters.
Plus Florida will have to go to Starkville and win in a game that cost Ron Zook his job with the Gators.
Florida should win every game this season and be 12-0 heading in to the SEC Championship game that could be a rematch against the Ole Miss Rebels. Nothing should stop the Gators until the National Championship Game.
If they do stumble and do not make it to the BCS title game the 2009 season will be seen as a failure.
Georgia Bulldogs: How hard will the fall back to earth be?
The 2008 season for the Bulldogs was supposed to be special and lead to a national championship shot. With a host of talent on offense lead by Mathew Stafford at quarterback, Mohamed Massaqoui at wide receiver, and Knowshon Moreno at running back.
With all three leaving, after a disappointing 10-3 season, big holes are left on the offensive side of the ball that returns seven starters. The Bulldogs will have to fill holes for all the skill positions but have a very experienced offensive line after breaking them in last year.
The defensive side of the ball has seven starters returning as well led by linebacker Rennie Curran. The defense will have to show up and jell quickly with the first game of the season being against the offensively loaded Oklahoma State.
The schedule does not look kind for the Bulldogs even though they do not have Alabama but what could be an improved Arkansas instead. The good thing is that with lower expectations Georgia could sneak up on a team or two this season.
The Bulldogs could be headed for as many as nine wins or as low as six wins. Georgia does get two weeks to prepare for Florida which could help them upset the Gators.
Georgia has several games that could go against them and they have a rough road games at Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech. The losses could come from OSU, Georgia Tech, Arkansas, Florida, and LSU.
The Bulldogs will have to make it though, by my opinion, the toughest overall schedule in the SEC. Do not be surprised if the fall to earth is harder than expected.
Kentucky Wildcats: Can the Wildcats make it four winning seasons and four bowls in a row?
Rich Brooks has led Kentucky to impressive heights in football for a school better known for its basketball program. Since 2006 the Wildcats have had three winning seasons and three bowl wins.
While Kentucky might not be able to win the SEC East year in and year out they can be a bowl team year in and year out. Brooks has made football relevant after the hoops team has not dominated as in years past.
The strength of this Kentucky team will be the offense which returns nine starters led by quarterback Mike Hartline and superstar wide receiver Randall Cobb. The Wildcats should be able to score points in bunches especially if Hartline becomes a consistent passer.
The offense better carry this team since the NCAA suspended Jeremy Jarmon who came back for his senior season. That leaves linebacker Micah Johnson to lead the front line of the defense and cornerback Trevard Lindley to shut down the best receiver for opponents.
A winning season is possible for the Wildcats if they win the games they should win. Kentucky should get wins over Miami-OH, Louisville, Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State, and Eastern Kentucky.
The Wildcats have several swing games that could go either way. Those swing games being South Carolina, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Tennessee with the possibility of Georgia if the Bulldogs play poorly.
If Kentucky can win at least two of the swing games a seven win season and a fourth bowl game could happen. If they stray even the slightest a three or four win season could happen too.
LSU Tigers: Can LSU make a run at the SEC West title and a BSC game?
After LSU won the 2007 National Championship the Tigers fell back to earth in 2008. With no quarterback returning to start the Tigers finished with an 8-5 record in 2008.
The Tigers got a lot of experience for both returning quarterbacks last season. Both Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson saw plenty of action on the field last season and LSU needs one of them to step up and be the man for this season to be successful.
Jefferson should be the starter but if he struggles early Lee and freshman Russell Shepard will be waiting to take over an offense that has few holes to replace. The offense should do well and be able to score enough to win if LSU gets good quarterback play.
The defense should be good enough to win games for the Tigers if they get a good pass rush, disrupt plays in the back field and get turnovers. LSU has the talent to do all three and make life hard for their opponent’s offense.
Looking at the Tigers schedule for 2009 they could suffer as few as two losses both to the same team. That being Florida once at home and the second time in the SEC Championship Game.
LSU could also drop games at Alabama and Ole Miss. They more than likely will not make it out of either game without a loss but it is possible.
If they do beat both the Tide and the Rebels and the Gators go undefeated the Tigers could make a BCS game.
Mississippi Rebels: Can the Rebels win the west for the first time?
There has not been this much expectations for an upcoming football season in Oxford since anyone named Manning took a snap under center. The Rebels have not seen a chance at an undefeated season since Jonny Vaught coached the school.
After upsetting the Florida Gators last season the Rebels went on to a nine-win season that included a win over a very good Texas Tech team in the Cotton Bowl.
If they can avoid losing games—like they did at South Carolina and Vanderbilt last season—the Rebels should win and make noise in the SEC West.
Ole Miss returns Heisman hopeful Jevan Snead at quarterback and a game breaker in the form of wide receiver Dexter McCluster. If they want to win the west for the first time they will have to not only win the games they should but beat Alabama and LSU.
The defense should be good enough to win every game on the schedule with most of the starters seeing action in 2009. If Coach Huston Nutt can get this group to play as well as they did against Florida and Texas Tech a BCS game could be in there future.
Anyone who follows the three Mississippi FBS football teams will tell you that if good things are expected from one of the school things will go downhill quickly.
Ole Miss hopes to reverse that trend and could win every game this season with home games against Alabama and LSU. Road games against South Carolina and Vanderbilt have to be negotiated if the Rebels want to live up to the hype.
The Rebels could go undefeated until the SEC Championship Game and get a second chance at Florida. Do not be surprised if the Rebels win the west in 2009. To win the west they will have to beat either Alabama or LSU and win the rest of the games on their SEC slate.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: Can Dan Mullen lead the Bulldogs back to winning ways?
This maybe more of a long-term question than an immediate one but one year under Mullen will answer several questions. Such as, can he over haul an offense that struggled to score and shore up a defense that could not get turnovers.
After an 8-5 season in 2007 under then head Coach Sylvester Croom the Bulldogs saw themselves not living up to the 2008 expectations going 4-8 instead.
Folks in Starkville thought too much of a team that over achieved in 2007 and it cost Croom his job.
Now enter Mullen who was the offensive coordinator for two national championships with the Florida Gators. Mullen will try to bring the spread offense to a team build for a west coast offense or a power running game.
The offense will have Tyson Lee the starting quarterback and if needed all star recruit Tyler Russell. The running game should get help from four returning linemen and running back Anthony Dixon. The wide receivers should be good if the quarterbacks can get them the ball.
The defense should not be bad with Pernell McPhee pass rushing on the defensive line and linebackers and secondary could be solid if not very good. The defense will have to come up with turnovers and get off the field since State is not deep on either side of the ball.
Whereas Huston Nutt inherited a load of talent from Ed Orgeron to win right away at Ole Miss. Mullen has inherited less talent and will have to rely more on playing perfect football with no turnovers on offence and forcing turnovers on defense to be successful.
While two to four wins are likely this season for the Bulldogs they could play spoiler if a team does not show up to play. Both Florida and Ole Miss have to travel to Starkville this season along with Georgia Tech and Alabama.
If Mullen can keep some games close or pull off an upset or two he could use it to help out recruiting and slowly build a solid bowl team year in and year out. That is if he is given the time to do so.
South Carolina Gamecocks: Can Steve Spurrier lead to Gamecocks to a second place finish in the east?
In the four previous years at South Carolina Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to a .500 record or better. With the departures at Georgia and winnable home games with Kentucky and Vanderbilt a second place finish in the SEC East could be possible.
The offense will have Stephen Garcia under center after Chris Smelley transferred to Alabama to play baseball. Garcia will have four returning linemen in front of him and senior wide receiver Moe Brown to throw to.
The Gamecocks will have to find a running game and true freshman Jarvis Giles could be the game breaker South Carolina has been looking for. If Garcia plays up to the talent level everyone thought he had and the running game can get going there might not be a limit to the offense.
The defense will have to replace some very good secondary players on a defense that finished second in the nation in pass defense. The good news in Columbia is that linebacker Eric Norwood decided to comeback for his senior season.
If the defense can be as good as it was at the beginning of 2008 all the way through 2009 the Gamecocks could surprise some teams in the SEC. If South Carolina can get wins over Kentucky and Vanderbilt and earn a spilt on the road against Tennessee or Georgia a second place in the east is possible.
If the east is nearly as good as it was last year and Tennessee improves the four year winning streak in Columbia could be over and Spurrier could be out of a job.
Tennessee Volunteers: Will Lane Kiffin have more wins or NCAA violations in his first year?
After leading the Volunteers since 1992 and compiling a 152-52 record with a national championship in 1998 included the 2008 season will be the first in Knoxville without Phillip Fulmer. The former player turned coach was pushed out after a slow start to the 2008 season.
Looking to become more of a prominent school in the SEC to go along with LSU, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia the Volunteers hired ex-Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin. In turn Kiffin started his tenure off by throwing jabs at just about every school in the SEC.
The bright spot of the Volunteers offense could be the offensive line with most of the starters coming back. The running back position could be the deepest on the team and boast three incoming freshman Toney Williams, David Oku, and Bryce Brown that all see playing time this season.
The running game for Tennessee had better be good since the quarterbacks are not. Last year both Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens saw time as the starter. Neither impressed enough last year to inspire great things and certainly not enough to go along with do-everything wide receiver Gerald Jones.
The defense will be led by Eric Berry in the secondary and Rico McCoy will be called upon to lead a very young front seven. The defensive line should play hard under coach Ed Orgeron and will be needed if the running game is bottled up and the passing attack goes nowhere like last season.
The Volunteers could have some trouble on their hands off the field after Kiffin has already been caught for minor infractions. Even though Kiffin has not committed a major infraction he will be watched closely by other programs especially the ones he has needled in his short time at Tennessee.
With all his off the field remarks and jabs do not expect coaches to take it easy on Kiffin his first year in the SEC. The Volunteers could be looking at as few as three wins in Kiffin’s first year.
More than likely it will be just four or five wins and no bowl game for a second straight year in Knoxville. Kiffin will be given one season but if any major infractions start to surface look for Tennessee to cut ties quickly.
Vanderbilt Commodores: Could the first back to back bowl seasons in school history happen in 2009?
The Commodores fans did something last season they had not done since 1982. That was going bowling and they made the most of it beating Boston College 16-14 in the Music City bowl.
While Vanderbilt fans will never be considered greedy, the football program has never gone to a bowl game two years in row. With 18 starters back on a team that won seven games last season it is not too much to ask for a return to the post season.
The only problem is that the Commodores play in the SEC not the ACC like Wake Forest or the Big-10 like Northwestern. Vanderbilt will never challenge for the SEC title but a bowl game every so often is not out of the question.
To do so the Commodores will have to find some offensive help. With all five starting linemen back on the offense the running backs should be able to find holes to run and the quarterbacks should have time to throw.
Mackenzi Adams will take the snaps under center but has to be a better passer this season than last. If Adams can get the pass game down he will have receivers to throw to. Two transfers Tray Herndon from Minnesota and Terence Jeffers from Connecticut will provide solid targets.
The running game will not scare anyone but there are several backs on the roster led by returning starter Jared Hawkins.
On defense the Commodores will have to find replacements for D.J. Moore and Reshard Langford in the secondary. The front seven should be the strength of the defense with six of the seven starters returning this season.
No one can question the job Bobby Johnson has done while at Vanderbilt. Johnson could be the most underrated coach in the country. He has turned the Commodores in to a solid team year in and year out.
While they will not compete for SEC titles they will be competitive with the middle of the pack teams in the SEC and a threat to pull an upset if the top tier teams over look them.
A second straight bowl game is not impossible for the 2009 season. More than every other team in the conference Vanderbilt has to win the games it is supposed to win. That means beating Western Carolina, Mississippi State, Rice, and Army.
That would give the Commodores four wins and only needing two more to become bowl eligible. To get the other two wins Vanderbilt will have to win at home against Kentucky and Georgia or at Tennessee or South Carolina. They could win all four but more than likely they will split them and get to six wins.
The LSU, Florida and Ole Miss are not winnable this season but they could pull an upset that is always possible every season from Vanderbilt.
Bobby Johnson has done great recruiting and returns a veteran team so a bowl game is not a wild idea. The Commodores will have to stay hungry to get there but they can get there.
The questions will be answered
The biggest questions will be answered at the season’s end. The top questions to be answered will be can Florida repeat? What team will win the three team race in the west between Ole Miss, Alabama, and LSU?
Can Tennessee remove the bull’s-eye of their back after Lane Kiffin’s remarks in the off season? Can Vanderbilt build on last season’s success?
While every team has questions that could affect its season the SEC teams are no different. At least for the next month the dreams of the 2009 season are endless.
By the end of September the questions for the upcoming season will have to be answered or they will haunt a team from October to November.