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Often, the winner of the SEC plays for and wins the BCS Championship Game. With the amount of top-tier teams in the conference this season, however, the likelihood of an undefeated team is quite low. With nine returning starters on offense and seven on defense, the LSU Tigers have a legitimate shot to go all the way, but if they should slip up, the Sugar Bowl will be a nice consolation prize.
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Auburn will all be huge obstacles for the Tigers in 2011, but LSU has the experience edge over all of them. The biggest challenge will likely come in the form of an Oregon Ducks team who fell just short of a National Championship last season. The September 3 game will take place at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas, and the loser will have to battle back in the polls all season long.
Even with the loss of all-world cornerback Patrick Peterson to the NFL, LSU is projected to have the SEC's stingiest pass defense once again, with three returning starters in the secondary. A key to the Tigers' success will be the continued development of their passing game which, although it struggled at times, showed marked improvement near the end of the 2010 season. Top receivers Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle will both be back for the Tigers, as well as quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
As highly criticized as the Boise State Broncos are on a yearly basis because of their perceived weak schedules, there is no question that the Broncos have permanently entered themselves into the BCS conversation. Their move from the WAC to the Mountain West Conference should give them more credibility, but it will be difficult for Boise State to shake the small-conference stigma.
It's no secret that the Broncos essentially must go undefeated to even be considered for a BCS Bowl, but with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball, Boise State has a fantastic opportunity. Although Boise State's 2011 schedule isn't stacked with powerhouses by any means, there are certainly some landmines to look out for. Georgia, Nevada, Tulsa and TCU will all provide stiff tests, but the veteran-laden Broncos should be able to handle it.
Losing top receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young will be difficult to overcome, but fantastic quarterback Kellen Moore is incredibly adept at spreading the ball around, which should allow some new stars to emerge on offense. When you consider that a total of eight all-conference performers will suit up for the Broncos this season, it's clear that they will be the class of the MWC.