SEC Football 2011: 12 Bold Predictions for Each Team for the Upcoming Year
What is SEC football? Simply a league of the greatest teams in college football. Over the past five seasons, SEC teams have won five national titles, the most recent being the Auburn Tigers at a perfect 14-0.
In the 2011 NFL draft, 38 SEC players were selected, including five of the top six overall.
So who's going to win it this year? Which teams are going to flop? Who are the players to watch in the conference?
In both divisions, there are a number of teams that have high expectations for making a run and a conference (and likely) national title.
Let's get the party started by going through my mini summary and predictions for each team in the SEC, along with some other mentions. I've covered 12 teams, and you're probably a fan of at least one of them.
Got something I missed? Tell me something I don't know.
Mississippi Rebels: 6th Place SEC West
Riddle me this, riddle me that, who in the hell is afraid of Ole Miss?
Well, no one was last year, when they were the only team to finish below .500 in the Western Division of the SEC, notably losing to the Gamecocks. No not those Gamecocks, the ones from Jacksonville State.
Ole Miss introduces to college football nation a new mascot: the anthropomorphic Rebel Black Bear, replacing Colonel Reb and grass-root supported Admiral Ackbar, eliminating the notion that Mississippi flies their own flag in the face of sanity in a galaxy far, far, away.
I digress though. What about the team? What do the Rebels need to do besides pray?
Well, Ole Miss returns 16 starters and theoretically should be a lot more competitive. The problem wasn't so much the offensive last year. Despite inconsistencies, it actually wasn't bad at all, at 43rd in the nation, averaging 400 yards per game.
Houston Nutt, provided he's not looking for his next SEC gig, needs to find some consistency on offense. First, Mississippi needs to decide between Nathan Stanley and Randall Mackey for quarterback duties, and then they need to figure out if senior running back Brandon Bolden can carry the load with Enrique Davis getting a few carries.
H.R. Greer and E.J. Epperson will likely provide a pretty solid 1-2 fullback punch.
On defense, the secondary got smacked in the face. Last season, they finished dead last in the SEC in allowing 246 yards per game and 109th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. You could probably have completed 50 percent of your passes on the Ole Miss secondary.
If you were on defense at Ole Miss, you would have loved to have played in the fall with junior outside linebacker D.T. Shackelford, but he is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Ole Miss should get to a bowl game this year, with games against Southern Illinois, Vanderbilt, Fresno State, Kentucky and Lousiana Tech on the horizon. The Rebels typically win a game they aren't supposed to, and I think that game may be against BYU.
If they can't get it done, then at least fans still have the Grove. Everyone always wins in the Grove. If you don't know what I mean, then you need to take a road trip to Oxford.
Auburn Tigers: 5th Place SEC West
The defending national champions have six starters returning for this season. Of the 23 seniors they lost, four starters were on the offensive line that had a combined 165 career starts.
Coupled with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and the Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley taking his cheap hit act to the NFL, the only thing the Tigers will be realistically chasing is their own tail, especially if they can't overcome themselves. Gene Chizik has had to dismiss five players this spring for violation of team rules.
Auburn will be dangerous though because they have a great coaching staff. Great coaching staffs know what to do with players like Michael Dyer, who broke some scrub named Bo Jackson's freshman rushing record and Onterio McCalebb who runs in the open field so hard that he might get a concussion.
Barrett Trotter or Clint Moseley will quarterback the team in the fall depending on who wins a close competition.
Defensively, Auburn has Nosa Eguae, virtually no depth at the tackle position, linebackers du jour with featuring senior Eltoro Freeman and juniors Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans. Neiko Thorpe is the only returning starter in the secondary and is converting to free safety.
On special teams, Cody Parker will replace 10th year senior Wes Byrum, the leading scorer in Auburn history not named John Vaughn.
The Tigers play Clemson and South Carolina early in the season and also have to deal with Arkansas, LSU and Georgia. Florida and Alabama also come to town for Auburn. Auburn won the national title that they were robbed of in 2004 last season.
I think they end up winning half of the 14 games they won last year. Still a respectable season.
For me, Auburn winning last year was tough to stomach, chiefly because I thought the whole Cam Newton circus was a joke.
Me being the tree-hugging SEC fan that I am is still planning on supporting the fund for Toomer's Oaks. If you like college football, you should give Auburn some love too.
Arkansas Razorbacks: 4th Place SEC West
Razorback fans, has The Ohio State football team given you back the Sugar Bowl rings they fleeced from you in New Orleans? Despite what has to be considered the biggest setup by the NCAA mafia until the next time they stick their foot in their collective mouths, Arkansas had a good season last year.
Ryan Mallett is now in New England sharing hair secrets with Tom Brady.
Coach Bobby Petrino, who I often refer to as "Coach Gutless" for his stunt with the Atlanta Falcons a few years ago, stated the following when asked about expectations at a winter booster club meeting a few months back:
“We started last season with high expectations. I think our players, our coaches and even the wives of our coaches expected it. I learned a long time ago to set high goals. I was taught by my father not to be afraid to try for something special. He taught me to reach for the rainbow".
Well isn't that special. I joke, but Arkansas could actually taste the rainbow of an SEC West crown depending primarily on how quickly the offense can get used to junior Tyler Wilson (likely starter) or run-pass swivel arm battle grip threat Brandon Mitchell.
This battle is still in progress. The Razorbacks are legion-deep at wide receiver with Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Cobi Hamilton.
At running back they have Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo, which by the way is the type of name that makes me think of a smoky room, a craps table and some Curtis Mayfield bumping on an 8-track player.
The defense was ranked 36th in the nation last year and fifth in the SEC. Not bad for an offense-first team. The secondary has Tramain Thomas at free safety allong with experienced linebackers Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson.
It's time for the D to step up. If Arkansas is averaging 37 points a game as they did last season, then they are going to have problems.
Now if you think I'm high on the hog, you'll stop to ask, "Jordan, you idiot, if things look so good for Arkansas, why do you have them at fourth in the SEC West?"
Four words: At Bama, at LSU
Arkansas for some reason is always snakebit, whether it was this past year at the bowl game with the drops, Houston Nutt busting a move to Ole Miss, or the Clint Stoerner fumble against Tennessee.
It's never a dull moment for the Hogs. I'm not ready to trust Arkansas back to back years. Plus, the Karma Bunny Petrino has locked down may soon find that key.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: 3rd Place SEC West
The Bulldogs were 9-4 last year and return 16 starters from a team that undressed Michigan in the Gator Bowl to the tune of 52-14 and ended up with a ranking of No. 15. These ain't your dad's dogs. These are countin' dogs, funky dogs, nasty dogs...
Third Place in the SEC West dogs...Ring the cowbell.
State first needs to figure out if Tyler Russell, former Mississippi high school player of the year is going to beat out incumbent Chris Relf for the quarterback position.
Relf is like the gum thats on the pavement that you step on and try to get rid of, but you can't. You try to scrape it off, but despite your best efforts, it has just enough tack to hassle you before you just decide to roll with it and let the problem run it's course.
MSU has enough people in skill positions to be considered an offense now. Last year they scored 30 points a game, and return Vick Ballard, 20 touchdown, school record scoring running back Vick Ballard and will have LaDarius Perkins, who will be serving out a fair share of big plays. Chad Bumphis at reciever and Marcus Green at tight end will both be steady contibutors and players to game plan for.
Last year's defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is now in Texas. Diaz could coach players up to make turnovers. Regardless, the talent looks to be there at tackle with Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox.
The secondary will have seniors Charles Mitchell and Wade Bonner and some promising young players.
The Bulldogs have LSU, South Carolina and Alabama at home. Interesting. I think they lose against South Carolina and Alabama and end up at the end of the year at 9-4.
Despite what Dan Mullen says about his love for Starkville, he is one of the hottest coaching names in college football right now. I think he'll be challenged staying engaged at a place that is still perceived as a place where coaches go to die.
LSU Tigers: 2nd Place SEC West
OK LSU fans, settle down, I don't need your chants of "Tiger Bait," a beer down my back or beads thrown at me. This pick was tough.
Everything should be good to go at LSU for a national title run. Les Miles once again flirted with Michigan's head job (remember 2007?), they have a new offensive coordinator again (Steve Kragthorpe) and they have a potential quarterback issue again, with Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee and Zach Mettenberger.
Jefferson has the blessing of Miles, which will last until the first pick-six he throws. The offensive line has four starters returning, with Chris Faulk, a sophomore, set to replace Joseph Barksdale at left tackle.
The last time we saw running back Spencer Ware, he was running wild down Texas A&M's throat. No issues here. Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard are elite wideouts if LSU can get consistant play from the quarterback position.
Defensively, John Chavis is in charge of a young but talented defense running the 4-3. The group will be led by Ryan Baker (linebacker), Sam Montgomery (all SEC) and senior Ken Adams.
Here's why I put LSU second in the West: Alabama. The game against the Tide on Nov. 5th will be a war of attrition that I think Little Nicky and the boys will find a way to win. Gut feeling.
Alabama Crimson Tide: 1st Place SEC West
Nick Saban is a pimp. Pimps have ways of making you believe something regardless of the rationale for it. Last year, most of us believed that Alabama was going to go back to back.
We should have known—the team was too filled with too many kids with not enough experience.
I don't know if Bama is going to win the national title this year, but I do think they are going to win the SEC West this year. Since I don't think anybody in the SEC East is going to beat Alabama in the SEC Championship game and the winner of that game is likely in the national title game, it's likely that Bama will be in the national championship game.
Wait a minute...
See what a pimp does...
While Saban has obvious tool-like qualities, a god-complex, overactive imagination and is a bit obsessive compulsive, he is in my opinion the best coach working in college football. Oddly, Nick and the majority of his fanbase are a perfect match, with the exception that he won't rock the camos on gameday.
Alabama fans chill. I'm having fun. This is not hate. This is respect. You have a lot to look forward to this season. The only question is who is going to play quarterback.
Will it be sophomore A.J. McCarron or redshirt freshman Phillip Sims? Talent is there, experience not so much, but then, who thought Greg McElroy had the chops to QB the Tide's previous national title team?
Mark Ingram's gone. Replacing him is Trent Richardson, himself a possible Heisman hopeful. Backing him up is Eddie Lacy. The offensive line includes three-year starters in William Vlachos (center) and Barrett Jones (left tackle).
Julio Jones is in Atlanta, but he will be replaced by Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks.
The Tide defense returns safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester, linbackers Courtney Upshaw (Capital One Bowl MVP) and Dont'a Hightower. The defense, like LSU is ridiculously deep. Alabama plays LSU and Arkansas in Tuscaloosa. I give them the edge in the West.
Now off to the SEC East...
Vanderbilt Commodores: 6th Place SEC East
Some things are certain: Death, taxes and Vandy thinking about basketball in September.
The Commodores are 1-15 in SEC play over the last two years. With 18 returning starters, one would figure that would translate to greater success on the field this year.
James Franklin, former assistant head coach and offensive coordinator of Maryland at the helm, Vandy, despite a lack of talent, should play hard. Franklin was also known as a pretty good recruiter at Maryland, but how that will translate to Vanderbilt is still anyone's guess.
On offense, where Vandy was last or next to last in nearly every major statistical category, they have senior quarterback Larry Smith and junior college transfer Jordan Rodgers (brother of Aaron of Green Bay Packers) who should both see some significant time this fall.
Most people remember Smith for being the quarterback during the 2008 Music City Bowl, only Vandy's second bowl in 30 years.
Warren Norman and Zac Stacy were the leading rushers in 2010, and are back, providing some stability behind an offensive line that returns five starters. Tight end Brandon Barden led the team with 34 catches and three touchdowns. They simply need better production from their offensive unit.
Defensively, the Commodores return eight starters from last season for a unit that gave up 31 points a game in 2010. Pitiful, but more of a function of the fact that the offense could sustain drives, and the defense couldn't make big plays because of being gassed.
Up front, starting defensive tackles Rob Lohr and T.J. Greenstone return, senior middle linebacker beast Chris Marve returns and the secondary returns all four starters who gave up 226 yards a game through the air. Simply, the Commodores need a new set of troops. Vandy is still looking for a few good men.
James Patterson, the famous novelist graduated from Vanderbilt. The already intelligent fanbase may be better served this year taking a three-hour reading break on Saturday during games that don't involve Ole Miss or Kentucky this year.
Kentucky Wildcats: 5th Place SEC East
Kentucky football is somewhere between the opening concert act you never pay attention to and the drunk uncle who complains about everything when he's had too much of the sauce on Thanksgiving.
Ramblin. White noise. You just smile and nod answering every everything with, "Yeah..."
The Wildcats have some promise with Joker Phillips going into his second year as coach. The wild card is how the offense is going to flow without some prime time players who helped in getting the Cats to the Compass Bowl last year.
Hey, they played after New Year's last season. Isn't that the goal?
The Wildcats need to find some big plays this fall. They will need replacements for Randall Cobb, who went to the NFL draft and Chris Matthews, another prolific receiver who had nine touchdowns last year.
Derrick Locke is also gone. Will this be the time that Morgan Newton finally steps up and becomes the highly touted quarterback he was coming out of Indiana?
There are some wins to be had in a down year for the SEC East. Last year the Cats won two SEC games. This has to change. If the veteran offensive line can protect Newton and the new receivers step up, Kentucky looks to win three SEC games.
On defense, Kentucky adds Rick Minter as defensive coordinator to help improve on a scoring defense that was 10th in the league. If the front four has any consistency, look for Danny Trevathan, who had 144 tackles last year (and should have been a finalist for the Butkus Award) to cause more havoc along with a veteran secondary.
The schedule for the Cats should have them at 3-0 before they play Florida on September 24th. The number of overall wins is seven.
I think Kentucky beats Florida this year, something they haven't been able to do since 1986. If I'm wrong, I'll be drinking with your uncle at Thanksgiving.
Florida Gators: 4th Place SEC East
The scourge of the SEC for many years, the Florida Gators had a down year by their standards, going 8-5 overall and 4-4 in conference play.
The Gators definitely lost their chomp last year but still finished in second place and will look to try to win the SEC East with just 10 starters back and nearly an entirely new coaching staff.
Florida should expect close to the same result this year. Too much inexperience and changes. Will Muschamp is the head man in Gainesville now, and he promptly recruited Charlie Weis to come in as the new offensive coordinator.
Watch this developing situation on the sidelines this year if things get tight. The pro-style offense that will be ran by the Gators, seeks to suit senior quarterback John Brantley, who was never a spread quarterback to begin with. Brantley does have weapons in senior Deonte Thompson and Chris Rainey.
The only thing consistently running out of Gainesville last year was I-75. The Gators need to find a running game and a line.
At times last year, this unit was lackluster, in large part due to injuries. Who's behind Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Tyler Burton (who will be solely a running back this year) if someone gets injured will be a question that needs to be answered soon.
With the exception of junior left tackle Xaiver Nixon, all starters on the offensive line are new, running a new offense.
On defense, the Gators have four starters back, with the strength being the linebackers in Jonathan Bostic, Jeliani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray. The secondary is raw and untested.
Looking at Florida's schedule, they have three home games in the SEC. They play South Carolina on the road and against UGA on a "neutral site" in Jacksonville.
Did I mention that they play LSU and Alabama? Did I mention that there is no way they beat all four of these teams?
Tennessee Volunteers: 3rd Place SEC East
Tennessee with a better season than Florida?
I know, it's a stretch, but I am going to go out on a limb. If you give me teams such as UT and UF who are, in my opinion, this year evenly matched, I am going to take the team with a more stable coaching situation and more certainty on offense.
After going 2-6 last year, the Vols manned up and finished strong at the end of the year.
Let's make no mistake, Tennessee has a ridiciously tough schedule. They get to play Alabama, LSU and Arkansas, but from the SEC East perspective, they get South Carolina at home.
The Vols discovered a quarterback Tyler Bray after Matt Simms faltered and they bring back senior running back Tauren Poole. With an offensive line that returns four starters and an improving Bray, Poole should be one of the top runners in the SEC.
Receivers on offense need to step up. Sophomore receivers Justin Hunter, true freshman DeAnthony Arnett and junior Mychal Rivera (tight end) will look to develop chemistry with Bray.
On defense, the talent should rise with senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson and youngsters Corey Miller and Jacques Smith playing the two end spots respectively. The secondary allowed 230 yards per game last year.
All four starters are back, so they should be improved. Junior Marsalis Teague and sophomore Eric Gordon are back at corner, and juniors Prentiss Waggner and Janzen Jackson return at the two safety positions.
Of all the teams in the SEC East, I think UT is the one team that could shake up the conference, riding off the momentum from last year.
Georgia Bulldogs: 2nd Place SEC East
Georgia is the most underachieving team in the SEC. For the amount of press they receive for recruiting classes, considering the resources and tradition of the program, a 3-5 mark in the SEC last season was unacceptable.
You could contribute the early issues last year to the suspension of A.J. Green, who was benched by the NCAA for selling his Independence Bowl Jersey from the previous year. I contribute it to coaching on both the offensive and defensive side.
This year, despite what many may think, Mark Richt is on the hot seat. Another six-win season will have fans packing him a one-way ticket out of Athens.
Well, we shouldn't kick a dawg when he's down. As I just said at the outset, Georgia has a lot of talent. Specifically at quarterback, where the offense is led by sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray, who will in the list of 2013 Heisman hopefuls.
As a freshman QB, Murray completed 61 percent of his passes for under 3,100 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. If he just does that again, UGA will be in good shape, but he will likely be much improved.
Former UGA running back Washaun Ealey, after a ridiciously insane 2009 season, has had a bevy of offseason problems and has since transferred to Jacksonville State. Enter Isaiah Crowell, who is one of the top freshman running backs in the country and should make a significant impact on a backfield that is in need of a punch and simply better offensive line play.
Receiver is a question mark. After Green's departure to the NFL, they are left with junior wide out Tavarres King and junior tight end Orson Charles. Both moderately productive, if they can make consistent catches, UGA's offense will put pressure on a lot of defenses.
For a defense that allowed 22 points a game, the Bulldogs 3-4 scheme is still improving, despite the loss of linebacker Justin Houston. Seven starters return to this side of the ball, but all linebackers are new and the secondary comes back with all four starters. The unit should be solid.
Can the Bulldogs go 9-3? Possible. They don't have Alabama and LSU to deal with.
However, they have South Carolina on Sept. 10th at home and then a blood bath with Florida, that will be extra spicy when you consider that UF's coach Will Muschamp used to play for the Dawgs.
Look for the Dawgs to win this game. Why? Because they need it more.
South Carolina Gamecocks: 1st Place SEC East
This South Carolina team could be the best team that coach Stever Spurrier has ever had in Columbia.
South Carolina has players. Consider that they have phenom RB Marcus Lattimore who finished third in the SEC in rushing (1,197), WR Alshon Jeffery who led the conference in catches (88) and yards (1,517) and Stephon Gilmore, who can cover anyone in the country, and they have quarterback Stephen Garcia...
Garcia is the one player who may keep South Carolina from reaching their goals this season. Spurrier has moments in games where I think he would literally like to grab Garcia's helmet and shove a pair down his throat. If he can't get it done, then USC has sophomore Connor Shaw.
Have you seen freshman Jadeveon Clowney? You will this fall. Along with the rest of better than average defense led by senior defensive tackle Travian Robertson, Linebacker DeVonte Holloman and senior outside linebacker Rodney Paulk.
The secondary for USC is a problem, the other weak link that could keep them from winning the SEC East. As a group, the unit gave up 242 yards a game but do return three of four starters from a year ago.
Junior Stephon Gilmore will have to duplicate his three-interception, 79-tackle season performance until the secondary gels more by midseason.
South Carolina has to beat Georgia on September 10th. If this happens, they may be the only team that can beat themselves.
Some Other Season Predictions
Here are some other observations:
Georgia's Aaron Murray will be the best quarterback in the SEC this season, provided that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gets out of his way.
Marcus Lattimore from South Carolina will be most valuable player in the SEC, but Trent Richardson from Alabama will be the leading yard gainer. Both will be Heisman candidates well into November.
Watch Mike Dyer, running back from Auburn. He might make people forget about Cam Newton real fast.
Dont'a Hightower will be the best linebacker in the SEC.
Brandon Bolden at Ole Miss is the most underrated offensive skill player in the SEC.
Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is going to get a call from Ohio State. If Mark Richt gets canned at UGA, you can look for Mullen to get at least a phone call from Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity.
Alabama vs. LSU on Nov. 5th, will be the best SEC game of the year and the game that determines the national championship.