SEC Football 2011: Preseason Predictions

Trenton WinfordContributor IIAugust 3, 2011

SEC Football 2011: Preseason Predictions

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    The 2011 offseason is playing out in remarkable fashion. Scandals, rumors and of course predictions are rampant.

    Recruits have made it to campus, for the most part. Most of the award watch lists have been revealed. Preseason honors and All-Teams have been released, both by media and coaches.

    Media Days have mostly passed, where more speculation and hype followed some teams, while others had to deal with nearly empty press conferences and the occasional photo-op.

    Come end of the season, who will be at the top of the packs and who will find themselves at the bottom.

    Allow me to speculate.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Most teams don’t have fans disappointed with a 10 win season, but Alabama isn’t most teams. Of course, Nick Saban isn’t most coaches, and he is certainly paid like royalty. Another top five recruiting class will be padding the Tide’s roster this coming season, but the departures are rampant.

    Gone is the starting quarterback. Gone is the starting running back. Gone is starting defensive tackle. Gone is a starting receiver.

    But returning is highly anticipated, though so far inconsistent, tailback Trent Richardson. The offensive line is also laden with talent, with three being selected to the Coaches’ Preseason All-SEC.

    Not to mention the players on the defensive side of the ball. Alabama had seven defensive players make the All-SEC list at either first, second or third team.

    Make no mistake, the hype surrounding this team is real. Such a talented team has never been seen in the BCS era. However, the question marks are real, too.

    Namely, who is going to lead the offense? AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims are battling for the right to play signal-caller for the Tide. Both players are quite talented, and Alabama has never really looked for the Heisman caliber quarterback.

    It seems that Saban prefers the type of quarterback that is a quiet strength. McElroy never really wowed people with big shows and large stats, but his consistency at the position meant that the coaches never had to question the offense’s ability. Sims, to me, fits that bill nicely, and I expect him to start come game time.

    Looking at the schedule for the Tide, it looks pretty difficult—and it is. They get three weeks of warm up before welcoming Arkansas to Bryant-Denny, a game that should factor into the race for the West. After that, they travel to Florida to face a team with about as many question marks as the census, followed by two should-win games. Tennessee could pose a challenge with Bray at QB, but he shouldn’t be enough to get the Volunteers past Alabama.

    The off week before the LSU game could prove to be a great asset or a great detriment. The extra week of preparation is great for a coach, but these Bama boys are going to want to play. MSU was a solid team last season, but they couldn’t (and still can’t) win the big game.

    Then comes the practice game against Georgia Southern before the rematch of a “what-the-heck-happened” Iron Bowl. Don’t expect Bama to blow any sort of lead this year.

    The Tide should enter the season in a hunt for the West, but a close, close game to LSU will derail those plans.

     

    Kent_State        W

    at Penn_State   W

    North_Texas      W

    Arkansas           W

    at Florida           W

    Vanderbilt          W

    at Ole_Miss       W

    Tennessee         W

    L-S-U                 L

    at Miss_State    W

    Ga_Southern    W

    at Auburn          W

Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Arkansas is expected to have a pretty good season. Gone is Ryan Mallet, but in his place is potential-laden Tyler Wilson. Many expect great things from the young QB. I expect good things from him.

    Look for Arkansas to rely on their ground game until Wilson gets comfortable back there. He will probably look comfortable right off the bat, with three subpar opponents to open the season. A rude awakening could await Wilson as the Razorbacks travel to Alabama for their fourth game.

    Knile Davis led the SEC in rushing for running backs in 2010, and I expect him to be up there again this season. He might not claim the top spot, but that would be solely due to the talent pool the SEC has at running back.

    The wide receivers are another thing that have Hogs fans excited about the coming season. Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright are very talented players who will provide inviting targets for Wilson throughout the season.

    The non-conference games for Arkansas should be a breeze leading up to the showdown with Alabama. I would call it poor scheduling, since it looks like Arkansas won’t be ready for the Tide. Wilson will be performing in three practice games before facing possibly the country’s best defense.

    After that, though, the schedule starts to fall into place. Texas A&M is good, but not up to Arkansas’ level this year. The same can most likely be said for Auburn, Ole Miss and MSU. Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt.

    South Carolina and Tennessee provide challenges from the East, but they too are not quite up to Arkansas’ level and both games are played in Fayetteville. Then comes the Battle for the Golden Boot, and Wilson now has a year of experience to go along with a top-caliber RB and a trio of golden receivers (pun intended). But, I expect LSU to pull it out at home.

    Arkansas should end up looking at another oh-so-close season, but for now that should be enough in Fayetteville. Of course the fans are wanting Championships, but 10-2 in the SEC is nothing to be ashamed of.

     

    Missouri_State    W

    New_Mexico        W

    Troy                    W

    at Alabama         L

    at Texas_A&M    W

    Auburn               W

    at Ole_Miss        W

    at Vanderbilt      W

    So_Carolina       W

    Tennessee         W

    Miss_State         W

    at L-S-U             L

Auburn Tigers

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    What hasn’t been said about Auburn’s 2010 BCS National Championship campaign? They had an amazing year last season, but unfortunately last season is last season. Auburn features a very talented roster, like all SEC counterparts, but Cam Newton was the difference last season. Without him, those Tigers might have gone 8-4, or at least around there.

    Running back Michael Dyer will be a force to be reckoned with. My favorite player on the team though is Philip Lutzenkirchen, maybe because I am a tight end myself. He is an excellent run blocker, and I don’t know if I have ever seen a more clutch player in the red zone. A pass to Lutz inside the 10 is a sure touchdown, and that is an asset that is immeasurable.

    The secondary was exposed last season, and this season they won’t have the help of Nick Fairley’s monster pass rush. I can only expect that the secondary has improved with experience, but they had lots of room to improve as it was.

    The downfall for Auburn this season isn’t that the Tigers’ are not a good team, because they really are. The problem is that they play in the SEC West.

    Utah State shouldn’t be any sort of problem, but Week Two features a team that threatened them early on last season. Luck seems to bounce MSU’s way more often than not (as evidenced by the insane amount of muffed punts that the opposition seemed to always have against the Bulldogs). Clemson is a good team, but they are not quite up to the level of Auburn. South Carolina is expected to compete in the East, and should Garcia lead the Gamecocks, then they will be tough to handle.

    Arkansas might be the team to expose Auburn the most this season, with Wilson doing wonders to the defense last season before he had even really taken meaningful snaps. Florida will face Auburn in the middle of a very tough stretch for the Gators that could leave them reeling. LSU is a favorite in the West, and Ole Miss thrives on low expectations. Georgia could very well go undefeated, and there isn’t much to say about the Iron Bowl that isn’t already known.

    I don’t think a Champion has ever missed a bowl game the following year, but Auburn could be in danger of this, potentially going 6-6. The game most likely to go the opposite of the prediction is MSU.

     

    Utah_State         W

    Miss_State         W

    at Clemson         W

    Fla_Atlantic        W

    at So_Carolina   L

    at Arkansas         L

    Florida                  W

    at L-S-U               L

    Ole_Miss             L

    at Georgia           L

    Samford               W

    Alabama              L

Louisiana State Tigers

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    In my opinion, Les Miles is the best coach currently in college football. I know a lot of people will disagree with me on that, but hey it’s my opinion. And he only has a BCS National Championship, SEC Championship, a 90-38 overall record (62-17 at LSU) and so on.

    However, what I hold against him is the way he has handled Jordan Jefferson. Jefferson has the talent and the motivation to be a very, very good quarterback, but he needs some help from his coach.

    Miles needs to let Jefferson know that he supports him 100 percent to lead his team. Some players work harder when they know they might risk losing their spot. Some have the opposite reaction. Instead of working harder they begin getting upset with themselves after every little mistake out of fear that it will cost them the spot. Once a player is thinking too much about making mistakes, then he will inevitably make them.

    Watching Jefferson on the sideline after an interception tells the whole story. He keeps his helmet on, hangs his head, and slowly trots back onto the field the next possession. Miles has a chance to get another ring, but he needs Jefferson to do it.

    As far as the rest of the Tigers go, their defense will lead them this season. Five players were named to the defensive side of the Coaches All-SEC, though only one each on First and Second Team. Although, when you look at the defensive individuals in the SEC, Third Team is a better accomplishment than some conferences First Teams.

    Peterson is gone, but LSU has not one, but two lock down defensive backs in Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Claiborne finished last season with five interceptions, while Mathieu pulled in two in limited play as a freshman.

    On the offensive side, the Tigers lose their starting running back, but they have a stable of talented players to fill the position, including Spencer Ware who enters his sophomore season. While his season stats look like they came from one game last season, he is expected to be the go to guy for the LSU ground game.

    Another threat that LSU has on offense is in receiver Reuben Randle, a Second Team All-SEC selection. If Jefferson is given time to make some plays, which the offensive line should provide pretty well, then expect Randle to be the target often this season.

    What might trip LSU up, like always, is the schedule. Opening weekend in Dallas will be a big test, but not the toughest of the year. If they get by Oregon, then 4-0 nonconference is very likely. 

    MSU had an up season last year, peaking at #15 in the AP, but they have yet to provide their fans with an impressive win. Don’t expect them to do it against LSU. The Tigers should beat their Eastern opponents, but playing at Neyland is never easy.

    Auburn shouldn’t provide LSU with much of a battle if all goes as expected, but the following game might be on the mind of the LSU players, meaning Auburn might catch the Cajun Tigers in a trap. At Alabama could very well determine the West.

    This game should go down to the wire, possibly even overtime, but I expect Miles to pull a play that Saban isn’t ready for. 2010 Florida-LSU all over again? Well, maybe not as dramatic, but certainly just as thrilling.

    Ole Miss has proven to be a thorn in LSU’s side, though that should be expected from a rivalry game such as the Magnolia Bowl. In the final regular season game, LSU will be looking to redeem the loss that kept them from the Sugar Bowl last season. This year though they get the Hogs at Death Valley. Tyler Wilson will have his work cut out for him against this secondary, but he will also have a season under his belt facing some top caliber defenses.

     

    Oregon                          W

    Northwestern_St            W

    at Miss_State                 W

    at West_Virginia             W

    Kentucky                        W

    Florida                           W

    at Tennessee                 W

    Auburn                          W

    at Alabama                    W

    Western_Ky                   W

    at Ole_Miss                    W

    Arkansas                         W

Mississippi Rebels

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    Ole Miss opened up last season with an embarrassing loss at the hands of Division 1-AA foe Jacksonville State. Everyone knows that part. What most people don’t know is that Brandon Bolden, the Rebel’s star running back, only touched the ball three times the entire fourth quarter, and that three sophomore or freshman non-starting offensive lineman played the majority of the fourth quarter.

    Meanwhile, Jacksonville State played their starters throughout the entire game. Ole Miss, up 21 points at the half, called off the dogs like most big teams do when playing the smaller schools. JSU had other plans though.

    As an Ole Miss fan, I will easily admit that loss hurt and it didn’t foreshadow well for the season. Turns out 4-8 was waiting on the Rebels.

    The interesting thing though is the inconsistency of Ole Miss. Take 2008 for example. In Week Four, Ole Miss loses to Vanderbilt, their annual East foe. In Week Five, Ole Miss upsets Florida in the Swamp. No need to explain the significance of that game. In Week Six, the Rebels drop a game at home to South Carolina by a touchdown. After an off week, Week Eight sees the Rebels lose by four at Bryant-Denny. Following that, the Rebs rally off six straight, including a win over one-loss Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.

    So, in the same season that Ole Miss beats the eventual National Champions in the Swamp, they also drop games to Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Welcome to the world of being a Rebel fan.

    But, let’s forget about the past for a moment to discuss the upcoming season. The Rebels are loaded with talent. Sure, that talent level doesn’t quite match with Alabama and Auburn and LSU, but the Rebels have a good bit of underrated players. Brandon Bolden has been selected by many as the back that won’t make much noise nationally, but at the end of the season his stats will match the top dogs.

    I have personally witnessed what Brandon Bolden can do. If he had the help of the Alabama or Oklahoma or Michigan name, I wouldn’t hesitate to mention Heisman hopeful. However, a running back from Ole Miss just doesn’t get as much attention.

    Complementing Bolden is Jeff Scott, who can absolutely fly. If you want to see for yourself, then watch highlights of the Ole Miss-Auburn game last season when he scored on the opening drive.

    The Rebels also feature an offensive line that is returning everyone, including All-SEC First Team selection Bradley Sowell at left tackle. He has the size of a tank and can move well. He followed in the shadow of Michael Oher—a rather large shadow that is—and received criticism his first season, but he has silenced critics now.

    The biggest question mark for the Rebels is at the quarterback position. Nathan Stanley left the program after falling to fourth in the depth chart. As a fan, that only excites me because he barely lost the starting spot last season to Jeremiah Masoli, the second best producer in the SEC last season behind Cam Newton. If Ole Miss now has three guys ahead of him, then I’m anxious for football season (as if I need any other reasons already).

    Those three guys are West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti, who wants to play closer to his Memphis home so his mom who was injured in a car wreck can watch him play, Junior College transfer Randall Mackey, who red-shirted last season and Junior College transfer Zach Stoudt, a pure pocket passer who has been compared to at least one of the Mannings by several NFL scouts.

    Brunetti appears to have the lead with Mackey nipping at his heels. Stoudt will likely receive a redshirt, but preseason camp leaves him room to make some noise though the window of opportunity is small.

    On the defensive side of the ball, tragedy struck the Ole Miss faithful this spring with reports that linebacker DT Shackelford had gone down with a knee injury. Not only did this further deplete the LB position for the Rebels, but it knocked a large hole in the leadership of the team.

    Some good news that came out of the spring, though, involves defensive end Kentrell Lockett as he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Lockett went down early last season with a knee injury, but the powers-that-be graced him with one more year to play for the Rebels. He has impressed the SEC coaches and finds himself on the Second Team this preseason, the only player to return from a season ending injury on the list.

    Schedule is the biggest mountain for the Rebels, though. Two non-conference games should be easy wins, but the other two feature some very competitive non-Automatic Qualifying opponents. BYU is transitioning to Independent status and looking for a big win to start that off, while Fresno State wants revenge from last season’s game in Oxford that handed them their first loss.

    The Rebels travel to Vanderbilt and Kentucky this year, and they should be able to win both of those. But as I explained earlier, there are no guarantees with Ole Miss. Georgia should contend for the East, and I just don’t expect Ole Miss to match up.

    The same can be said for Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU. Ole Miss catches Auburn at a good time, in between match ups with LSU and Georgia. Finally, there is the annual Egg Bowl in Starkville this year. MSU head coach Dan Mullen has done a lot to get the maroon and white faithful behind him, but this year could really expose his team.

    I have the Rebels going 8-4, but the Auburn, LSU, and MSU games in conference, as well as the two nonconference games mention above, could really go either way. In all honesty, this team, if they play to their talent level, could see another very good season, or they could be home come bowl season.

     

    B-Y-U                                 W

    Southern_Ill                       W

    at Vanderbilt                      W

    Georgia                              L

    at Fresno_State                 W

    Alabama                             L

    Arkansas                             L

    at Auburn                           W

    at Kentucky                        W

    Louisiana_Tech                 W

    L-S-U                                  L

    at Miss_State                     W

Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    MSU had a better season in 2010 than in their first year under Dan Mullen in 2009. Ironically, they finished higher in the SEC West in 2009 than they did in 2010. Last season they impressed a lot of people. I was not one of those people. Now, I know someone will point out that I am an Ole Miss fan, but honestly that has nothing to do with it.

    I watched every MSU game last year (thank you SEC-ESPN contract and ESPN3’s Xbox app), and I noticed a trend. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat, they lost the games they were supposed to lose, and they got some really lucky breaks in every game. Just as an example, let’s break down the Auburn game (and why not since it was the closest game and Auburn did have a pretty good year).

    First, Auburn had over 100 yards more than MSU. In fact, MSU only outgained Newton alone by 40 yards, and the Tigers held Relf to only 26 yards.

    Second, MSU’s drive summary looked like this: Punt, Punt, Fumble Recovery Touchdown, Interception, Fumble, Punt, Rushing Touchdown, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Turnover on Downs.

    Auburn’s looked like: Passing Touchdown, Punt, Interception, Passing Touchdown, Field Goal Good, End of Half, Punt, Punt, Punt, Field Goal Missed, End of Game.

    Neither of these lists look very good, but MSU’s just looks horrendous. And this was against the third-worst defense in the SEC.

    The only reason MSU even got their first touchdown was due to a muffed punt by Quindarius Carr and recovery by MSU and an offensive lineman falling on a loose ball in the endzone. Two fumbles going MSU’s way gives them seven points.

    Then later in the quarter, Newton forced a pass (a play he didn’t make again until the Championship game) that was intercepted in the endzone. So, now MSU has caught three very lucky breaks.

    Eventually, into the second half, Auburn’s offense of 2010 just isn’t quite clicking yet and MSU’s linebackers are making some outstanding plays.

    In the end, Auburn won it 17-14. However, if Carr hadn’t muffed the punt, then 24-7 could have easily been the outcome, maybe even worse. Had these two teams faced later in the season, then Auburn would have run away with it easily.

    But, I digress. Let’s talk about this season. This season, the Bulldogs are without their three starting LBs who slowed the Heisman trophy candidate enough last season to keep the game close. They are also without Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz, who was no small part of that nine win season, as well as the leading recruiter for the Bulldogs—which explains why they lost recruits like flies after he left.

    Returning is Chris Relf, who is about as consistent as Jordan Jefferson without all the hype, which has turned out to be a good thing. While Jefferson was getting flustered in the spotlight, Relf turned the latter half of last season into a training camp. He is facing his senior season and could be drafted, though that might be a stretch.

    Also returning is Vick Ballard, the Bulldogs leading rusher last season who really didn’t get significant carries to start the season.

    All in all, MSU is nowhere near as talented as the top of the SEC, coming in ninth-12th in the SEC in recruiting ranking the past four years. However, their schedule is favorable for a bowl berth.

    The four nonconference games are jokes that MSU has no business even allowing to be close. With 4-0 nonconference being the expectation, the Bulldogs just have to find two in conference to get to the six win plateau. Annual East foe Kentucky should give them one, but the other will be hard to find. Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Arkansas are just too good for MSU. Tennessee has Tyler Bray who, barring a sophomore slump, is good enough to lead them past MSU. Auburn and Ole Miss both have some question marks and seem to be getting less attention from the media, but I don’t see MSU beating either of those teams.

    5-7 seems like the most accurate finish for MSU, but the last two games I mentioned could play in their favor.

     

    at Memphis           W

    at Auburn              L

    L-S-U                     L

    Louisiana_Tech   W

    at Georgia             L

    at U-A-B                W

    So_Carolina          L

    at Kentucky          W

    Tenn-Martin         W

    Alabama               L

    at Arkansas          L

    Ole_Miss              L

     

    As much as I hate the annoying cowbells, I will admit I teared up when Nick Bell's mother rang a cowbell to end the moment of silence for his son. Let us never forget that above all else, this is just a game that we love.

Florida Gators

7 of 13

    Florida underperformed last season with a QB in a system that wasn’t designed for him. Question marks abound for the team this season, most importantly being how is Muschamp’s head coaching debut going to pan out?

    John Brantley has a lot of talent, and Florida fans hope he hit all the bumps last season. With the under-the-radar talent that is surrounding him, though, if he plays consistently then the Gators could be looking at a pretty good season.

    Jeff Demps is the bright spot for the Gators though, claiming Second Team Preseason All-SEC honors from the coaches. He could be overshadowed this season, but that is no fault of his own. Just look at the pool of running backs in the conference.

    Defensively in the Swamp, the line backers will be the stars with both Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins finding themselves on the Third Team.

    The schedule opens up very favorably for the Gators with two non-conference gimmes before hosting equally questionable Tennessee. They then travel to Kentucky, giving them the potential to start the season 4-0.

    But then comes the grind. The Gators play host to Alabama, travel to LSU and Auburn and close in Jacksonville against Georgia. That stretch could leave the Gators reeling. They pick back up with Vandy before travelling to South Carolina, where they could upset the favored Gamecocks to end SEC play. Furman will be a practice game for the rival Seminoles, who are picked to contend for the ACC crown this season.

    I expect the Gators to truly have a roller coaster season with an up-down-up swing. 8-4 looks realistic, with 9-3 being a possibility.

    Two games that could be reversed are Auburn and Florida State. Location of the game will play a factor in those two, as well as placement on the schedule.

     

    Fla_Atlantic        W

    U-A-B                 W

    Tennessee         W

    at Kentucky        W

    Alabama              L

    at L-S-U              L

    at Auburn            L

    Georgia               L

    Vanderbilt           W

    at So_Carolina   W

    Furman               W

    Florida_State     W

Georgia Bulldogs

8 of 13

    Playing in the SEC is difficult enough, but how about starting as a freshman? Aaron Murray did just that last season, and now as a sophomore he finds himself on the First Team All-SEC in the Coaches poll.

    Quite the expectation surrounds him, but that isn’t all. He is also surrounded by two All-SEC offensive linemen and one of the best incoming running backs in the nation who should get the starting nod. Also, there is Orson Charles, who is a deep threat receiver who just so happens to play tight-end. Oh, he is also First Team All-SEC.

    Much was left to be desired in Athens last season, Richt’s only losing season as a head coach. But look for that to turn around in a big way this season. The schedule lines up like one never seen before in the SEC. Yes, Georgia opens with Boise State, but missing from the schedule is Alabama, LSU and Arkansas, the expected top three in the West. Included on the schedule is Coastal Carolina and New Mexico State, which should be very easy wins. Georgia Tech rounds out the non-conference schedule and the regular season for the Bulldogs. By the end of the season, Georgia should be clicking on all cylinders.

    In conference the Bulldogs have it easy, at least by SEC standards. South Carolina for Game Two presents the biggest threat, especially considering that UGA will be leaning on a freshman to control the ground game. This is definitely a game that Dawg fans wish was later in the year. It should end close, but I favor Georgia mostly because of the protection that the OL should provide Murray.

    Ole Miss and MSU might find themselves in a close game with Georgia in the third quarter, but look for Georgia to pull away by 10+ in the fourth in both of those. Tennessee could be a trap game for the Bulldogs as they face the middle of the five week SEC stretch at Neyland. Vanderbilt shouldn’t be too much trouble, but sometimes they are a surprise. Florida will be looking to make a statement this season, but don’t expect that game to be against Georgia. Auburn and Kentucky both are expected to have down seasons compared to the rest of the SEC, but Georgia shouldn’t overlook either of them. Auburn has something to prove, and it is a rivalry after all. As for Kentucky, they have some playmakers, but that shouldn’t be enough.

     

    Boise_State                      W

    So_Carolina                     W

    Coastal_Carolina              W

    at Ole_Miss                       W

    Miss_State                       W

    at Tennessee                   W

    at Vanderbilt                     W

    at Florida                          W

    New_Mexico_St                W

    Auburn                             W

    Kentucky                          W

    at Georgia_Tech               W

Kentucky Wildcats

9 of 13

    Kentucky is looking at what could be a long year in the SEC, again. While their 6-7 mark last season wasn’t a horrible record, they finished with only two wins in conference. However, one of those wins was the East representative South Carolina. If you don’t believe every team is capable of winning in the SEC, then that helps disprove you.

    The Wildcats did land three players on the Coaches’ All-SEC List, with two of these being First Team offense or defense. OL Larry Warford is one of the biggest in the league, weighing in at 340 on the Kentucky official roster. He will anchor a line that will be protecting Morgan Newton, or so it appears. Newton took over in the bowl game last season for suspended Wildcat QB Mike Hartline who has now run out of eligibility. In that bowl game Newton didn’t shine, going 21-36 for 211 yards in the air, but he didn’t really falter either, not throwing an interception.

    Some teams, like Alabama, aren’t looking for a big play QB. Instead, they are focusing on consistency and ability to lead the offense. However, teams like Kentucky need a big play QB in order to survive in the SEC. Newton might not be that guy, but he could break through this season.

    On the defensive side of the ball it is all about LB Danny Trevathan, and it should be. The ball hawk finished the season at number nine in the NCAA in tackles with 144 tackles, an astounding 11.08 per game. He is back for his senior year and he is definitely capable of taking over a game. My advice: On third down, run far, far away from Trevathan. If you don’t, expect to punt.

    Looking at the schedule, things shake up pretty favorably for the Cats. They should expect to win all four non-conference games this season, a feat they accomplished last season as well. All it would then take is two wins in-conference to become bowl eligible, but barring an upset of South Carolina magnitude like last season I don’t see them reaching six wins.

    Both LSU and Georgia should be guaranteed losses. The rest of the schedule I would say that Kentucky should be the underdog in. However, it would not be surprising if they stole one to gain eligibility.

     

    Western_Ky

    W

    Central_Mich

    W

    Louisville

    W

    Florida

    L

    at L-S-U

    L

    at So_Carolina

    L

    Jacksonville_St

    W

    Miss_State

    L

    Ole_Miss

    L

    at Vanderbilt

    W

    at Georgia

    L

    Tennessee

    L

South Carolina Gamecocks

10 of 13

    Let me begin by saying that Marcus Lattimore will be invited to the Heisman ceremonies. I knew he was that good in the Southern Miss game to start the season last year.

    Next, Stephen Garcia will be one of the passing yards leaders in the SEC.

    Third, Alshon Jeffrey will rake in double digit touchdown receptions.

    But, beyond those three, the Gamecocks offense is lacking. I realize that they have a playmaker at the three key positions, but the line is horrid. Lattimore could have trouble finding holes, and converting the third downs could be fully up to him. As a coach, I would have faith in him to get the first down, but without help I wouldn’t expect too many conversions.

    A game can be won or lost due to third down percentage, and that is where I see South Carolina struggling.

    The Gamecocks defensive line was rated number one in the SEC by ESPN for the upcoming season, but this is primarily the same line that got walked over by Auburn in the SEC Championship game. Maybe they have vastly improved, but number one seems a little high to me. The squad is upperclassmen heavy, though. So, maybe the experience will pay off.

    The schedule doesn’t look too bad, and the Gamecocks will have no excuse if they lose a non-conference game. Vanderbilt and Kentucky should provide them with two more wins as well, thus all but guaranteeing eligibility.

    Week two, in my opinion, is the speed bump for the Gamecocks as they face a more talented Georgia team. Auburn and MSU could play well with South Carolina, but the East should claim both of those match ups. Tennessee is just too young right now to compete with the superior Gamecocks, but Arkansas is a different story.

    The DL may be able to shut down Davis, but I doubt they have an answer for Wilson. Florida is a game that South Carolina should not lose. Of course, that was said about Kentucky last year. This South Carolina team is better than last year, but this Florida squad should be as well.

    Favorites to win the East, I see South Carolina dropping three, all in conference. Of course, they dropped three in conference last season but still represented the East in Atlanta.

     

    at East_Carolina                W

    at Georgia                           L

    Navy                                      W

    Vanderbilt                           W

    Auburn                                 W

    Kentucky                             W

    at Miss_State                    W

    at Tennessee                     W

    at Arkansas                         L

    Florida                                  L

    Citadel                                  W

    Clemson                              W

Tennessee Volunteers

11 of 13

    Tennessee had a pretty interesting year last season. The start was rough, getting throttled by Oregon in Neyland. Maybe the pain was eased slightly that Oregon made it to the Championship but lost to SEC foe Auburn. Maybe, doubtful though.

    The Volunteers then had a roller coaster ride that included not one, but two last second penalties that cost Tennessee a game. The hard pill to swallow is that one of those games the other team committed the penalty and ended up winning because of it. Late in the season Tennessee handed a thumping of their own to Ole Miss, avenging loss from 2009 where now-Kansas City Chiefs All-Purpose player Dexter McCluster went Wild, literally.

    Tyler Bray did not fully take over for Matt Simms at quarterback until the Memphis game, and the Volunteers promptly won four straight, though granted the opponents were less than stellar. Bray, a sophomore, will lead Tennessee this coming season, and a lot is expected from him.

    Tennessee isn’t regularly among the talk of the East, but Auburn didn’t receive much attention in the West last season. They say preseason predictions are like excuses or something like that, right? (Of course my predictions are obviously going to be golden). I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a little noise, but it really all depends on Bray.

    Tennessee actually placed the lowest number on the Coaches All-SEC team with a whopping two, both on defense. Defensive lineman Malik Jackson has the size and quickness to disrupt the opposing offenses, but he needs a comrade to step up. If offenses can double team him without worrying about the rest of the line, then his effectiveness is basically moot.

    Like Brandon Bolden of Ole Miss, Vols running back Tauren Poole could be a hidden gem. He eclipsed the 1000 yard mark last season averaging just over five yards-per-carry.  He should be able to relieve some of the pressure off Bray and provide Tennessee with a balanced offense.

    As for the schedule, the middle is the heavy part. Non-conference foes are a bit underwhelming, but Cincinnati is looking for respect in the Big East without Kelly. SEC play, though, might prove too brutal for Tennessee. Aside from Vanderbilt and Kentucky, the Vols might not win an SEC game. That four game stretch from Georgia to South Carolina does Tennessee no favors except that three will be played in Neyland.

    All in all, Tennessee looks like a team that can compete, but falls just short of beating some of the upper teams in the SEC. They should find themselves bowl eligible, but barely.

     

    Montana                             W

    Cincinnati                            W

    at Florida                             L

    Buffalo                                 W

    Georgia                              L

    L-S-U                                  L

    at Alabama                         L

    So_Carolina                        L

    Middle_Tennessee            W

    at Arkansas                         L

    Vanderbilt                           W

    at Kentucky                        W

Vanderbilt Commodores

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    At the threat of sounding completely insane, I am going to admit that Vanderbilt does not have a bad team. They are actually slightly above average, on a scale of all Division 1-A schools. However, compared to the SEC, they are downright deplorable. It isn’t really their fault, though.

    In fact, from 1960-2010 Vanderbilt actually has a winning record out of conference with a win percentage of .536, while their conference win percentage in that span is a measly .152.

    Not much is expected from the Commodores this season, and I will venture to say that is because they play in the SEC. I would favor Vanderbilt to win the Sun Belt or MAC, though that is strictly conjecture.

    Vandy does have some playmakers though, landing three on the Coaches All-SEC list. Tight end Brandon Barden led the Commodores in receiving last season, and he has the strength to play any position on the line. I would definitely love to have him blocking for me or releasing up field for a route. For a quarterback, Barden is basically target practice since he is like hitting the broad side of a barn when compared to an average receiver.

    Defensively, the Commodores will be led by First Teamer Chris Marve at the linebacker position. The senior saw a slight reduction in stats in 2010 amassing 79, 40 shy of his 2009 mark. However, he did not play in the Eastern Michigan game, and the SEC coaches know a talented player when they see it. So, Marve did not make the First Team by mistake.

    Defensive back Casey Hayward also landed on the All-SEC list as a Second Team selection. He is looking to capitalize off a 70 tackle, six interception season as he heads into his final year of eligibility.

    As mentioned above, the SEC schedule tends to tear Vanderbilt apart. They have mild success against annual West opponent Ole Miss recently, and they play them in Week Three, starting a stretch of SEC games that is broken up only by Army. I have a hard time seeing Vanderbilt winning any SEC games this year, though Kentucky and Ole Miss could be options. As far as non-conference goes, Elon shouldn’t be too much trouble. Connecticut won the Big East last year, but the conference had a bad year. Wake Forest finds itself in the same boat as Vanderbilt, being an above average team in a much better conference.

     

    Elon                                    W

    Connecticut                       W

    Ole_Miss                             L

    at So_Carolina                   L

    at Alabama                         L

    Georgia                              L

    Army                                  L

    Arkansas                            L

    at Florida                            L

    Kentucky                            L

    at Tennessee                     L

    at Wake_Forest                W

SEC Championship and Final Standings

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    As you have probably figured out by now, I have LSU representing the West and Georgia from the East meeting in Atlanta. Neither team is a stranger to the SEC Championship game, with LSU playing four times and Georgia three. Both have only lost once.

    This should be a much better matchup than the 2010 game. LSU will bring in one of the best defenses in the country to face a Georgia team that should be clicking on offense. Not to mention the fact that both teams are undefeated, meaning a spot in the BCS National Championship is potentially on the line.

    When it is all said and done, I expect LSU to make it out of Atlanta unblemished, but boy will it be close.

     

    WEST

    LSU                         BCS National Championship

    Alabama                 Capital One

    Arkansas                Cotton

    Ole Miss                 Outback

    MSU

    Auburn

     

    EAST

    Georgia                  Sugar

    South Carolina       Chick-Fila

    Florida                   Gator

    Tennessee            Music City Bowl

    Kentucky

    Vanderbilt