2011 College Football Predictions: Who Will Come Out on Top in the SEC?

James Harrison Jr.Contributor IIJanuary 27, 2011

2011 College Football Predictions: Who Will Come Out on Top in the SEC?

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    Let me just say, that the SEC has developed itself into the best conference in all of football.  Whether we're watching Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, or Cam Newton and a Tigers defense that can get the job done, almost every team in the conference is having continued success in the NCAA.

    After Auburn defeated the Oregon Ducks 22-19 in one of the best matched BCS National Championship games to date, the SEC locked up their 5th BCS title in a row.

    But it's not just the champions that are making it into bowl-season, nine of the 12 teams in the SEC made it into bowl games.

    Maybe this year is the year the SEC falls apart, with a great senior class for many teams moving beyond their college years, and numerous juniors joining the NFL.  But this season is a chance for the SEC to prove their dominance over the rest of the league and establish themselves as the undisputed best conference.

    Teams like Auburn, losing Newton and four of their top five tacklers need to show their recruiting skills, and Florida can show the nation that there is life after the loss of a tremendous coach.

    This upcoming season could be incredible for the SEC, but there are plenty of factors and teams that come into play the first few weeks that could turn the SEC into a 2011 bust.

12. Vanderbilt Commodores

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    New coach James Franklin has his work cut out for him, and the 'Dores have an incredibly difficult schedule in front of them as they shed light on a new season.  They are on the road against Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina.

    However, they can look forward to seeing running back Warren Norman return. The kid is an athlete.  He only had 459 rushing yards and four touchdowns last season, but he's young, and has a bright future ahead of him if he can keep performing. They are also going to see their quarterback return, and only lose 10 seniors this off-season.

    Don't let the picture fool you though, the only thing Warren Norman and the Vanderbilt football squad will be dominating next season is the bottom of the standings, and the NCAA.

11. Kentucky Wildcats

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    Kentucky will lose Randall Cobb and Mike Hartline this upcoming season, but Morgan Newton stepped in for the suspended Hartline in their bowl game, and Wildcat nation received a small glimpse at success.

    This Newton, however, is no Cam Newton.  The Wildcats got pummeled by Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl where Newton went 21-36 for 211 yards almost completing 60% of his passes.  He needs to develop some confidence, which will come with time, but the Wildcats future isn't looking too bright for 2011.

    The Wildcats will finish off the season in 11th place in the SEC (fifth in the east), but will hopefully start to see one of the younger teams start to develop.  UK will have a tough time recruiting in the SEC with powerhouses like LSU and Alabama, but watch out for Kentucky, because the Wildcats could pounce at any time.

10. Ole Miss Rebels

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    Jeremiah Masoli was a complete disappointment for Rebel fans, having a very disappointing season which included a loss against Jacksonville State.  

    Unfortunately, the Old Miss Rebels don't have what it takes to move anywhere higher than the 10th spot in 2011, especially because the other five teams could be considered serious contenders next season, whether it be for a BCS Championship, or a well respected bowl game.  The competition is a little challenging for an underachieving team like the Rebels.

    With Masoli out the door this year, the Rebels need to find themselves a quarterback that can win them a few games, because if they don't, it's going to be yet another long season for Ole Miss.

9. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    The Bulldog's bowl win against Michigan shows that this team is a legit football organization.  The quality of athlete on the team is not as good as some of the other big teams in the division, which will lead me to not buy the hype this season, as they will lose games.

    Don't expect an awful team, but I think the Bulldogs could meet a few speed bumps this season against some weaker teams.  The Bulldogs lost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, which could really prevent the team from improving defensively.

    This is a risky position to put the Bulldogs at nine, and if I'm wrong about one of the bottom four, this will be the team that can prove me, and a majority of America wrong all over again.  Expect Mississippi State to knock one of the big boys out though later in the season.

8. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Although the Georgia Bulldogs may have the easiest schedule in the SEC, their defense is a major concern.  With AJ Green heading to the NFL, Aaron Murray will either have to expand his horizons beyond one receiver, or expect a disappointing season.

    The loss of Todd Grantham will no doubt effect their defensive play on the field, but with teams like Florida, Tennessee and Auburn headlining their schedule, they're in a position to trump the east, although I think that is very unlikely.

    Expect Georgia to look hot out of the gates, but watch and see their defensive game and possibly their star quarterback completely diminish.

7. Auburn Tigers

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    Yes, I know that Auburn won the BCS National Championship, but I'm sorry they're not going to have even the slightest chance at it this year!

    Cam Newton led the Tigers' offense last season in overall athletic ability, and it is clear that he carried their team offensively.  But with Newton off to the NFL, the Tigers will have to accept reality and admit that their offensive game is almost completely diminished.  That is, unless we can have another no-name player step into the spotlight as we have seen so many times before in college football.  But that is not something to count on.

    On the other side of the ball, Auburn is losing four of their top five tacklers, which is a huge problem for an already less than stellar defense.  I think it's safe to say that Nick Fairley was almost the "Newton" of the defense, and carried them way beyond expectations.

    I'm not saying Auburn is going to be awful, they will make the postseason, but they are not going undefeated, and they aren't going to beat teams like LSU and Alabama.

6. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Ryan Mallett is history, but Arkansas saw a glimpse of Tyler Wilson in the Auburn game last season, where he showed that he could step up to the challenge this season.

    Wilson will have possibly the best group of receivers that Arkansas has ever seen in Joe Adams, Greg Childs, Cobi Hamilton and Jarius Wright. Adams had a miserable Sugar Bowl, but the guy can make some serious plays happen.

    Knile Davis and his determination to be a force on the ground is unmatched within the Arkansas depth chart. This kid can play. 

    With over 1,300 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season, Davis was forced to play in the large shadow casted by Mallett. But Davis will get his time to shine next season, and with Petrino still being a terrific coach, the Razorbacks will do well next season.

5. Florida Gators

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    Urban Meyer is gone, but Will Muschamp and Charlie Weis have their work cut out for them at the quarterback position. Florida has a defense returning that can flat out play great football, and with Muschamp running that side of the ball, you know Florida will have a good defense.

    The big question surrounding Florida is, who can play quarterback? Who will they decide to take a leap of faith with? John Brantley or freshman Jeff Driskel? 

    One thing that Meyer was never able to accomplish during his time at Florida, was to have a 1,000 yard rusher, and that is one direction the the Gators should look towards if they cannot improve their play behind the center. 

    The Gators have a very tough three-game run in October, hosting Alabama and road games against LSU and Auburn. I could see LSU smashing the Gators, and Auburn knocking them off in a close game, but I think that Florida has a real shot at beating Alabama this season with a strong defensive outing and solid work with the football.

4. Tennessee Volunteers

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    Every year, there is going to be a team from the SEC that will surprise you.  I think that in 2011, Tennessee is that team.  But this past season, Derek Dooley had to have had the worst luck of any coach in the country. 

    The Volunteers have a bunch of talent this year, especially Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter.  But the Vols have to be worried about their defense next season.  They are losing a talented middle linebacker in Nick Reveiz, and Chris Walker at defensive end.

    The Volunteers will be similar to the Razorbacks, as they will be strong on offense, but they will need lots of help on defense.  I see them getting a few lucky bounces though that could throw their whole season in a positive direction.  Expect their big BCS push to be in 2012.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    The Alabama Crimson Tide will come into the 2011 season with a new quarterback, and lacking a Heisman Trophy winner.  But Nick Saban has the tools and the experience to keep on rollin'.

    The Crimson Tide's defense will be outstanding next season with Dont'a Hightower and Mark Barron coming back for one more season.  Some new faces on the defensive line show that they have the talent and drive to become one of the better D-lines in all of football, and size won't be an issue for these boys.

    Trent Richardson will be the new starting running back for the Tide, and he is somebody that experts are saying is a possible Heisman caliber athlete.  If Richardson and the Tide defense can prove to withstand a relatively tough schedule and put up consistent statistics, expect the Tide to make a late run at the SEC.

2. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    South Carolina will be very strong next season, sporting names like Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery.  Lattimore rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last season and had 17 touchdowns for the Gamecocks.  But will Steve Spurrier go with Stephen Garcia or Connor Shaw? That is the big question.

    The schedule is not too tough for the Gamecocks in 2011, which will help a thin secondary have a shot at the SEC.  I don't think that there is a chance at the Gamecocks running the table with their conference games, but they will win the east.

    If the Gamecocks can just get adequate play from the quarterback position and some help in the secondary, look for the Gamecocks to take a shot against the #1 in the SEC, and maybe even the top 10 in the NCAA.

1. LSU Tigers

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    Les Miles staying true to his purple and gold this off-season may be the beginning of some key pieces falling into place as the Tigers look to take the BCS National Championship away from anybody who dares stand in their way.

    LSU is putting their teeth to the grindstone when it comes to recruiting, as they always have.   But they lose some great players like Patrick Peterson, Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard for next season.  They also lost Stevan Ridley who is entering the NFL in 2011. 

    LSU will potentially go with Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger as their starting quarterback, but could possibly ignore the hype surrounding him and put the ball in Jordan Jerfferson's hands.  Either way, the Tigers will be incredibly powerful with the football in 2011, ditching their reputation as a defense first team, as running back Spencer Ware had an outstanding performance in the Cotton Bowl.  Ware looks to fill the void at the running back position and take control of the offense.

    The LSU Tigers will immediately have a challenge to start the 2011 season, playing Oregon in Dallas.  But the toughest task for the Tigers this season, will be trying to take care of the Tide in Tuscaloosa.  The winner of this game will win the SEC west, and as I had originally said, take a shot at the entire BCS, trying to make it six straight.