2010 College Football Predictions: The SEC
Last but not least, it's the proverbial king of the mountain of college football conferences, the SEC.
The list is impressive: the last four BCS champions, 49 out of 255 players selected in the NFL draft, the toughest schedules, giant stadiums, and arguably the best defenses and most passionate fans.
Let's take a look to see who will play for the SEC title this season.
We all know the story by now. Tim Tebow has left, and John Brantley must follow one of the greatest college football players of all time. Brantley is not as mobile as Tebow, but he does have a better arm, so expect more running from the likes of Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody and more deep balls.
Who will catch those passes has yet to be determined. Other than Deonte Thompson, no one in the receiving corps has much experience.
The defense is loaded and fast as always, but who will lead them? Carlos Dunlap and Brandon Spikes are gone, as is defensive coordinator Charlie Strong.
Yes, many familiar faces are gone from the Gators, but it's not like the cupboard is bare. What I want to see is if one of the running backs can pick up a 3rd-and-short on the ground since Tebow isn't there to run left anymore.
The Gators have to travel to Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida State this season, but they have enough talent, albeit unproven, to win the East.
Right now the only school in the East who I believe has enough talent to try to hang with the Gators in the East is the Georgia Bulldogs. They are breaking in a new QB, but the other 10 starters are returning, which gives whomever starts under center plenty of weapons, especially WR A.J. Green, who is the biggest home run threat in the conference.
Defense, on the other hand, is a toss-up. Only five starters return from a unit that performed poorly last season. Switching to a 3-4 defense might just fix some of the problems.
This may be a make or break year for head coach Mark Richt, who has seen the Bulldogs' record slide the past two seasons.
For once I would like Tennessee to have a quiet offseason. The Vols are under their third head coach in as many years. Derek Dooley, son of legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley was brought in and has set in motion his plan to get the Volunteers back to respectability. It is not going to happen overnight though.
Tennessee is very thin in spots, mostly on the two lines. The offensive line will have five new starters, and the defensive line has been decimated by injuries this summer. Also, the Big Orange will be breaking in two new quarterbacks. JUCO transfer Matt Simms (son of Phil Simms) looks to get the nod to start the season, but look for true freshman Tyler Bray to get plenty of snaps.
The other skill positions have the potential to be quite potent. Receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore are experienced and will get a boost from freshmen Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. Tight end Luke Stocker can be all-conference, and running backs Tauren Poole and David Oku will be a nice one-two punch.
On defense the Vols have great depth at linebacker, and defensive backs Art Evans and Janzen Jackson are both heavy hitters.
Tennessee fans will have to be patient, and I think they will. This season the Vols can be anywhere from 8-4 to 4-8. Finishing 6-6 with a small bowl will be deemed a success.
Steve Spurrier never seems to be happy with his quarterback. Returning starter Stephen Garcia has drawn the ire of the ol' ball coach. Garcia has to learn to get rid of the ball more quickly to cut down on his sack total. He has plenty of talent, but if he struggles, Spurrier will be there with the quick hook.
Garcia does have some good targets. Alshon Jeffery is an emerging star, and tight end Weslye Saunders is a big target once he gets back from suspension. The Gamecocks finally have some talent in the backfield. True freshman Marcus Lattimore is poised for big things.
The defense will be solid again behind SEC defensive player of the year candidate cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
The biggest question will be if the Gamecocks can finally get over the proverbial hump and win nine to 10 games this season.
Going to four straight bowl games has been nothing short of a miracle for the Wildcats. Joker Phillips comes in to take over at head coach for the retiring Rich Brooks. The Wildcats are talented on offense. RB Derrick Locke and WR Randall Cobb are two of the most dangerous playmakers in the conference.
The secondary is quite battle-tested and is the strength of the defense, while the front seven just cannot seem to stop the run. If the defense can hold people once in a while, a fifth straight bowl game is not out of the question.
New head coach Robbie Caldwell was the life of the party at SEC Media Days, but now it is time to start playing football, and the Commodores have plenty to work on. There are some quality players, namely RB/KR Warren Norman, and the defense should be pretty sturdy, but there are still gaping holes in talent compared to the rest of the SEC.
Vanderbilt will have to keep games close and make plays at the end when it counts, just like they did when they went bowling in 2008.
The defending national champions are ready to defend their title. The Crimson Tide are loaded on offense. Heisman Trophy winner RB Mark Ingram returns but may have less of an impact, as his backup Trent Richardson is a beast as well. With the two of them sharing duties, they have the best backfield in the country.
QB Greg McElroy did not have to do much last year but was great when he needed to be, with the last-minute drive to beat Auburn and in the SEC title game against Florida. He has great targets to throw to, as WR Julio Jones looks to rebound from a down sophomore season, and Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks can both go out and get the ball.
Defense could be the Achilles heel of the Crimson Tide. Nine starters from last season's team either graduated or are in the NFL. DE Marcell Davis and LB Dont'a Hightower lead this new group. We might not be familiar with the names on defense, but they definitely have the talent; whether they can grow enough this season will be the factor.
Also, the schedule is not friendly this season. Six of Alabama's conference opponents have a bye the week before they play the Tide. One of those teams will trip them up.
No one is out at the airstrip yelling at Gene Chizik anymore. Auburn went 8-5 last season and were seconds away from knocking off Alabama. The Tigers are a veteran team, especially on the offensive line, and had the nation's No. 4 recruiting class.
JUCO transfer Cameron Newton has the job at quarterback. At 6'6", 247 pounds, Newton has great arm strength and running ability, which is perfect for Auburn's high-tempo offense.
The defense is strong but lacks an elite pass rusher, and there is no real ball-hawk in the secondary.
The Tigers should be fun to watch, but Auburn has to travel to Alabama this year, which means they fall short again to the Crimson Tide.
Combine one of the most acknowledged offensive coaching minds in Bobby Petrino and one of the best NFL prospects at quarterback in Ryan Mallett, and you have an offense that is ready to put on a show at Arkansas. Add to that a very deep receiving corps in Greg Childs, Joe Adams, and Jarius Wright, and things could be perfect through the air.
However, Arkansas has to get something out of their running game, and Mallett needs to throw more than just the deep ball. Also, despite the great offense, defense and kicking still wins games in the SEC, and the Razorbacks have struggled there.
Games 3 and 4 at Georgia and hosting Alabama will go a long way in determining how far the Hogs will go.
Following the 2007 BCS National Championship, the LSU Tigers had two disappointing seasons of 8-5 and 9-4. A renewed emphasis on the running game and better overall play from QB Jordan Jefferson will help the Tigers rebound on offense after finishing the season ranked 112th in total offense last year. The Tigers challenged Florida and Alabama last year until the lack of firepower caused them to fall short.
Defensive attrition is a concern, but CB Patrick Peterson is a big time player. Stamina and late-game dominance will be critical to the Tigers' success, and Lord help Les Miles if he has a clock problem again.
The Bulldogs ended 2009 with a momentum-building blowout over rival Ole Miss and saw its future at QB in Chris Relf. Coach Dan Mullen has worked to fill in some of the gaps, but it is going to be tough to replace all-time rushing leader Anthony Dixon at running back, and there is little experience at receiver.
If they can shore up those spots and the defense can stay salty, a bowl game should be in sight.
Ole Miss is coming off 18 wins in the past two seasons but will need to almost totally revamp its offense to keep winning. Ole Miss picked up former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli after he was dismissed from the school following his third arrest. If Masoli can stay out of trouble, things might improve, but they still have to find someone to replace Mr. Everything Dexter McCluster and WR Shay Hodge.
The Rebels do return a stout defense that should keep them in games, but this looks like a down year in Oxford. However, coach Houston Nutt seems to do much better when expectations are low.
The Tide will not get through the season unscathed, which will keep an SEC team out of the BCS Championship Game, but they still have the best team in the conference.
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