SEC Football Power Rankings: Alabama Crimson Tide Back on Top, 2011 Predictions

Patrick MangumContributor IMarch 10, 2011

SEC Football Power Rankings: Alabama Crimson Tide Back on Top, 2011 Predictions

0 of 16

    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    The Auburn Tigers are coming off a national championship but must replace possible top 10 NFL draft picks Cam Newton and Nick Fairley.

    The loser of last year's SEC Championship Game, the South Carolina Gamecocks, returns an absolutely stacked team. They picked up a huge boost from the No. 1 recruit in the country, Jadeveon Clowney.

    Let's start with the lowly SEC East and then move to the SEC West, where the top three SEC teams reside. The SEC continues to be the premier conference in college football.

    I'll give predictions for each division, the SEC Championship Game and a hint toward the national championship.

    Everyone will again be watching the SEC Championship Game to see who plays for the BCS title.

Vanderbilt Commodores

1 of 16

    East Power Ranking: Sixth

    SEC Power Ranking: 11th

    2-10 (1-7 SEC)

     

    Vanderbilt’s new vice chancellor outlined a plan to instill a winning culture at the school, including improving facilities. Their coaching search proved that it is a sincere effort.

    They are at No. 11 in this ranking rather than No. 12 because of their coaching hire.

    First, they went after Gus Malzahn, the orchestrator of the best offense in the SEC last year with Auburn. They ended up with Maryland’s head coach in waiting, James Franklin.

    He’s 39, he was in line to be a head coach at a BCS school and he’s a good fit for Vanderbilt’s program.

Kentucky Wildcats

2 of 16

    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    East Power Ranking: Fifth

    SEC Power Ranking: 10th

    2010 Record: 6-6 (2-6 SEC)

     

    Because Mike Hartline was suspended for the BBVA Compass Bowl, Morgan Newton received an early audition for the starting QB spot. He threw 21-of-36 for 211 yards with no interceptions or touchdowns.

    Coach Joker Phillips liked Newton's improvement last year, and he probably has the lead in the QB competition.

    The junior quarterback Newton will have to fight off freshman Maxwell Smith for the starting spot.

Tennessee Volunteers

3 of 16

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    East Power Ranking: Fourth

    SEC Power Ranking: Ninth

    2010 Record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)

     

    Tennessee is having to deal with violations from the Lane Kiffin error.

    Shouldn’t those violations follow the coach?

    I think Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton needs to be held accountable as well.

    On the football field, quarterback Tyler Bray improved his play late in the year, and Tennessee finished the year playing its best football.

Georgia Bulldogs

4 of 16

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    East Power Ranking: Third

    SEC Power Ranking: Eighth

    2010 Record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)

     

    Because of guys like Herschel Walker and Terrell Davis, the running back position is always a headline at Georgia.

    In Athens, there were rumors of Washaun Ealey wanting to transfer. He’s back with the team after a suspension. Caleb King missed the Liberty Bowl because of academics. They will both receive competition this year from true freshman Isaiah Crowell.

    Mark Richt really needs a winning season in the SEC to save his job. In his 10th year at Georgia, he is the longest-tenured coach in the SEC and has three East division titles to his credit.

Florida Gators

5 of 16

    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    East Power Ranking: Second

    SEC Power Ranking: Fifth

    2010 Record: 7-5 (4-4 SEC)

     

    Will Muschamp could probably take a note or two from Al Golden.

    Golden is taking over for the Miami Hurricanes this year. He’s already turned Temple’s program around, and he’s looking to do the same in Miami. 

    Muschamp and Golden are in similar situations because the talent level at both schools is such that they can be successful sooner rather than later.

    Golden talked about the importance of forming relationships with the seniors and leaders at each position on the team. It’s especially important in the feeling-out stage of team development. At first, each side feels a need to prove itself to the other, and then hopefully the players “buy in.”

    Golden said it took him 18 months to achieve that at Temple, but it’s already happening at Miami because he's coming into an environment that doesn't tolerate losing.

    Muschamp needs the support of guys like senior All-American Janoris Jenkins, especially early on, to help get his message across.

    How long will it take the Gators to catch back up with Miami and Florida State?

    I'm not so sure it happens this year. Maybe by the end of the year Muschamp and Charlie Weis will have things rolling.

South Carolina Gamecocks

6 of 16

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    East Power Ranking: First

    SEC Power Ranking: Fourth

    2010 Record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)

     

    South Carolina is stacked with talent coming back.

    Senior QB Stephen Garcia, Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Lattimore, junior All-SEC candidate Alshon Jeffery and sophomore cornerback Stephon Gilmore all return.

    They receive another star in Jadeveon Clowney, the instant starter No. 1 recruit in the nation. Credit that recruitment to defensive coordinators Ellis Johnson and Lorenzo Ward.

    There’s no doubt that USC is on top of the East.

SEC East Prediction

7 of 16

    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Here's how I predict the SEC East will turn out

    USC (6-2): South Carolina loses against an East team and West team, but Steve Spurrier heads to Atlanta again.

    UF (5-3): I'll say UF sweeps the East but gets swept by the West.

    UGA (5-3): Same record as Florida, but I'll say Georgia loses the head-to-head tiebreaker.

    UT (4-4): Good progression from Derek Dooley's team.

    UK (2-6): Kentucky stands pat from a year ago. Not bad for them.

    Vandy (1-7): Vandy starts to build a winning foundation. Look for it to do well in the non-conference.

Ole Miss Rebels

8 of 16

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    West Power Ranking: Sixth

    SEC Power Ranking: 12th

    2010 Record: 4-8 (1-7 SEC)

     

    Not much news is coming out of Oxford, Mississippi.

    That’s when Houston Nutt is his best—when nobody is talking about him.

    He thrives on low expectations.

    So I'll set Nutt up for a surprise breakout year and predict Ole Miss to be the worst team in the league—though it's not really a surprise if we know he thrives on low expectations.

Arkansas Razorbacks

9 of 16

    West Power Ranking: Fifth

    SEC Power Ranking: Seventh

    2010 Record: 10-2 (6-2 SEC)

     

    Arkansas dropped in power as soon as Ryan Mallett played his last game.

    It's junior Tyler Wilson's job now. He'll receive competition from Brandon Mitchell, Jacoby Walker and Brandon Allen.

    Arkansas has the best WR group in the SEC and just stocked up more in recruiting. They signed Quinta Funderburk, Davyon McKinney, Marquel Wade, Kane Whitehurst and Kenate Minor. They return experience at the receiver position in the form of Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

10 of 16

    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    West Power Ranking: Fourth

    SEC Power Ranking: Sixth

    2010 Record: 8-4 (4-4 SEC)

     

    Dan Mullen heads into spring practice with sophomore QB Tyler Russell, who was the best recruit to come to Starkville in quite a while. He can't get on the field, however, because of senior QB Chris Relf. I expect Relf will start, and the competition from Russell will elevate the Bulldogs QB position overall.

    I have the Bulldogs ranked ahead of Arkansas because of the way they ended last year with that big bowl win against Michigan. They return more proven talent and momentum.

    They’re the forgotten team in the Cam Newton story.

    Isn’t is obvious he went to Auburn because it offered more money than Mississippi State?

Auburn Tigers

11 of 16

    West Power Ranking: Third

    SEC Power Ranking: Third

    2010 Record: 13-0 (8-0 SEC)

     

    While Cam Newton and Nick Fairley are getting fitted for their NFL draft suits, Auburn will do its best to defend its SEC and BCS championships.

    Gene Chizik is sure glad he was able to hire Gus Malzahn and then get him to stick around after last year. He’s the highest-paid assistant coach, by the way, making $1.3 million now.

    Auburn set the precedent for hiring a successful former assistant as head coach and then making a big money hire on the other side of the ball. It worked for Auburn’s Chizik and Malzahn. The Vols tried it with Derek Dooley (the former offensive coach) and Kevin Steele (the million-dollar defensive coordinator). Now the Gators are trying it out with Will Muschamp (former defensive coach) and Charlie Weis (the million-dollar hire).

    The QB job should be Barrett Trotter's. He gave Heisman Trophy-winning QB Cam Newton a run for his money last spring practice. He'll face competition from Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier.

    Auburn returns Heisman Trophy dark horse candidate Michael Dyer. The RB provided as big an impact for Auburn as fellow freshman Marcus Lattimore did for South Carolina last year.

LSU Tigers

12 of 16

    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    West Power Ranking: Second

    SEC Power Ranking: Second

    2010 Record: 10-2 (7-1 SEC)

     

    I think it says something about Jordan Jefferson's intrinsic motivation that it took OC Gary Crowton giving some of his playing time to Jarrett Lee last year to get him to work harder and focus on improving as a QB.

    Jefferson showed development as a pocket passer during the bowl practices. Will that be enough to stabilize the QB position for LSU? Everything else is in place for title run. I'd say you need to give Jefferson as much competition as possible. Zach Mettenberger should provide some of that this spring.

    How will the love/hate relationship between Les Miles and the LSU faithful play out this year?

    I thought he was going to be out the door to Michigan. He stayed put, and he has a national champion contender if he can get consistent play from his QB.

Alabama Crimson Tide

13 of 16

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    West Power Ranking: First

    SEC Power Ranking: First

    2010 Record: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)

     

    Urban Meyer’s departure leaves Nick Saban alone atop the SEC as the best coach.

    He’s won two BCS titles with two different teams, and his Alabama Crimson Tide will be a contender to do the same this year.

    Redshirt sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims will provide the QB battle to take over after Greg McElroy. Tampa Plant QB Phillip Ely will be a true freshman in the mix this spring. Don't expect Saban to announce his starter until the fall though. He's going to milk this competition for all it's worth. Nick Saban is all about using competition to make a team better.

    RB Trent Richardson, who is more explosive than Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, returns to the Crimson Tide backfield. Joining him will be Demetrius Goode and Eddie Lacy.

    Defensive back Mark Barron and defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw return for their senior seasons and to what should be the best defense in the nation.

SEC West Prediction

14 of 16

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Here's how I predict the SEC West will turn out:

     

    LSU (8-0): Jordan Jefferson improves enough to lead the Tigers to the SEC Championship Game.

    Ala (7-1): Alabama beats everybody except for those pesky LSU Tigers.

    Aub (6-2): I don't expect Auburn to have as much of a hangover in 2011 as some expect.

    MSU (4-4): Another four-win SEC season is solid progress for Dan Mullen's club.

    Ark (2-6): I see a precipitous drop-off for Arkansas. There are only so many wins to go around.

    Miss (1-7): Everybody pick Ole Miss to finish last so Houston Nutt can have a "surprise" year.

SEC Championship Game

15 of 16

    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    I say a two-loss South Carolina Gamecocks team upsets the undefeated LSU Tigers in December.

    The tradition of the SEC winner heading to the BCS game will be broken.

    No SEC team in the national championship?

    The public outcry for a playoff system is at a fever pitch.

    Mark Cuban's plan for a college football playoff is put in place for 2012.

    I can dream, right?

Jadeveon Clowney High School Highlights

16 of 16

    This is Jadeveon Clowney against pretty good competition in his high school state championship game.

    To see him really dominate, click on his 11-minute, 46-second senior season highlight reel (it will come up next after this video plays).

    It's like a man playing against middle schoolers.