2011 SEC Football: Western Division Season Preview and Predictions

Allen SmithContributor IJuly 24, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Terrell Zachery #81 of the Auburn Tigers avoids the tackle of the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s been a while but it is finally time to dust off the pads, polish the helmets and plan your Saturdays around visits to your alma mater, or your favorite school (for you sidewalk alumni).  This year teams will be vying for two spots in New Orleans for the BCS National Championship, the backyard for the SEC.

With that said it is time for my preview/predictions for the 2011 SEC season.  

6. Ole Miss Rebels 

2010 Season (4-8, 1-7)

2011 Season

Wins: BYU, Southern Illinois, Vanderbilt, Fresno St., Louisiana Tech

Losses: Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi St.

The Rebs' schedule doesn't allow for much improvement from last year, particularly in a division where five teams won nine games or more last year. The schedule sets up nice to start but when the return from their bye week, in Week 6 they draw in order: Alabama, Arkansas, @ Auburn, @ Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, LSU, @ Mississippi St. Rough stretch.

5. Auburn Tigers

2010 Season (14-0, 8-0) (SEC West champions, SEC champions, National Champions)

2011 Season 

Wins: Utah St., Clemson, Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss, Samford

Losses: Mississippi State, South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama

For Auburn the reason is simple: too much to replace at too many crucial positions. People are talking about replacing Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, and that will be tough to replace, but the biggest loss in my opinion is losing the entire offensive line.

Though I paint a morbid five-win season, there is no reason why they couldn't win up to eight games. But the schedule is far more difficult this season; that combined with replacing 30 plus players isn't conducive to a good season.

4. Mississippi State Bulldogs

2010 Season (9-4, 4-4) (Gator Bowl Champions)

2011 Season

Wins: Memphis, Auburn, Louisiana Tech, UAB, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee-Martin, Ole Miss

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Kirk Cousins #8  of the Michigan State Spartans is sacked by Courtney Upshaw #41 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the Capitol One Bowl at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Losses: LSU, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas

The Bulldogs were the surprise team last year, picking up nine wins including a rare New Year's bowl victory. I see much the same from Dan Mullen and company. The conference schedule is a tick harder, with a road trip to Athens and a home date against South Carolina. Even so, I believe the Bulldogs will get a nice bowl bid and another solid season.

3. Arkansas Razorbacks

2010 Season (10-3, 6-2)

2011 Season

Wins:  Missouri St., New Mexico, Troy, Texas A&M, Auburn, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi St.

Losses: Alabama, LSU

I think Arkansas will be a very good team; however, they return a defense that was ranked 70th in rushing. That isn't going to fly in a conference that is all about the power run game. But unfortunately for the Hogs, drawing LSU and Alabama on the road this year doesn't help matters.  But I do think this is a BCS quality team, unfortunately there is only room for two SEC teams in the Bowl Championship Series, per stupid BCS rules.

2. LSU Tigers

2010 Season (11-2, 6-2) (Cotton Bowl Champions)

2011 Season

Wins: Oregon, Northwestern St., Mississippi St., West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Western Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas

Losses: Alabama

On paper, the Bayou Bengals are one of the favorites to win the national championship. But, they have to go through the toughest division in the country. They have a championship-quality resume, but it may be too much for the Tigers to handle. September will be the crucial month for LSU, road games against Mississippi State and West Virginia, and the neutral site game in Dallas against Oregon. 

With all that said, I really like this Tigers team and expect them to be in the BCS, just not the National Championship Game.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2010 Season (10-3, 5-3) (Capital One Bowl champions)

2011 Season

Wins: All

Losses: None

I can't ignore a defense that returns nine starters of a top-five defense, coupled with a very strong running game. This team will mirror the 2009 team in terms of philosophy. Whoever the quarterback will be for Alabama, the job will be simple: hand the ball off and don't do anything stupid that would lose the game. 

However, whoever the quarterback is, they have more playmaking ability than any Alabama quarterback since Brodie Croyle. The only team I see as an equal for them is LSU, and that game is at home, therefore I see Alabama heading back to Atlanta at 12-0.

So there you have it. From where I sit, Alabama will represent the West. Up next my review of the SEC Eastern Division.