Original Article Published on SEC Sports Report
ATLANTA, Ga--Hold onto your hat. There’s a fight getting ready to happen. The SEC West is loaded with talent, coaching personalities and high expectations of winning. I’ve been watching these coaches and players since January and everybody has improved since last season.
Here is my take on how the SEC West will play out in 2009:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Coach Nick Saban is one of the best coaches in college football. I’ve read everything he has said for the last two years and he truly gets how to build an organization.
He understands leadership, systems, accountability, motivation, and psychology, and he uses every piece of it to his advantage.
There have been some off-field issues that could slow down the start. Alabama will not go undefeated in the SEC, but they will win the West.
2. LSU Tigers
I was on the field with this team after they whipped Georgia Tech in the Georgia Dome. Coach Miles says an improved defense allows the offense to score more points.
This team has the best chance to beat Florida of all the Gators' opponents.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson has a lot of options including strong running backs and talented receivers.
The defense will be stronger under Chavis.
There are a lot of playmakers on this team and that’s why I pick them a close second.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
Everybody is picking this team at the top but I don’t see it that way. Ole Miss came on strong at the end of 2008 and they have a quarterback we can all believe in.
They are as talented as LSU and Alabama. I’m picking them third because I believe they have to work out some of the defeatist beliefs that were held a little less than a year ago from back to back losing seasons.
There’s a lot more pressure when you are picked No. 1 in the West which is why I pick Ole Miss third—a very competitive third.
4. Arkansas Razorbacks
This is my sleeper team. Coach Petrino will have a better team this year with a solid quarterback and backfield.
It will be a battle for this team week in and week out, but a year of experience will put the Hogs in more of a position to fight than last years squad.
Arkansas will upset some teams this year which could affect the West rankings.
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs
I met Dan Mullen in Birmingham and he seemed very excited about his team. The spread offense can give opponents fits. There is new optimism in Starkville and the Bulldogs could give Auburn problems in the first SEC match-up.
Mullen knows how to challenge young football players and his leadership will change the direction of this program. Of the three new SEC coaches, I believe Mullen will have the most success.
6. Auburn Tigers
It’s not easy picking Auburn last. For the record, we had Auburn first in 2008 in the West. I didn’t foresee the division on the team until the 3-2 score at Mississippi State and the Tony Franklin split.
My gut tells me there are too many negatives at Auburn to win.
Lackluster intro for coach Chizik and the language he uses throws up a lot of flags for me. Chizik talks about “re-building the program," "a daunting SEC schedule,” and he has just enough doubt in his expectations for me to put Auburn at the bottom.
That’s the way I see it. It’s going to be fun watching these teams develop and compete. The fall football season is finally here. I’ll cover SEC football every week. I will see you on the ball field.
Jay Holgate is an SEC analyst, freelance writer and editor of SEC Sports Report. He can be reached at editor (at)SECsportsReport (dot) com.