Can the SEC Dominance Continue? 2011 SEC Previews & Predictions

J. NewcastleContributor IAugust 7, 2011

Can the SEC Dominance Continue? 2011 SEC Previews & Predictions

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    The season is just a few weeks away, and the 2011 teams have reported to get ready for the coming year.

    Can the SEC continue its streak of BCS championships?

    Will another surprise team rise from the pack and lead the conference?

    Can a player from the conference snag a third consecutive Heisman trophy?

    The answer to all of the above is, “Maybe.” There’s plenty of talent and reason to believe all will happen. There’s also enough talent spread across the conference to think it will not happen, as the conference cancels itself out of those opportunities in the midst of stiff competition.

    This article will take a look, team by team, at what the SEC looks like for 2011 and make predictions for records.

Auburn

1 of 14

    2010 Record: 14-0. Returning Starters: 5; 3 Offense, 2 Defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

    Gene Chizik and company proved they could coach when they took Tommy Tuberville’s leftovers and went 8-5 then added one dynamic player and ran the table all the way to the BCS title last year.

    They have also blazed up and down the recruiting trail the last couple years. That makes Auburn young but very talented.

    Michael Dyer is one of the top running backs in the league, and he’ll be counted on this year in a major way. OC Gus Malzhan took a team that barely scored in 2008 and put them near the top of the league in 2009, so there’s little reason to think he can’t find a way to make this group click.

     

    Reasons to Doubt: 

    Inexperience and a tough road schedule means growing pains are in store for Auburn this year.

    Playing a lot of young guys in key positions bodes well for their future, as there’s nothing like game experience to help a young team grow, but it usually means taking few on the chin as well.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 6-6.

    Auburn may pull an upset in there and make it above .500 before a bowl, but the real key this year is going to be getting young guys experience to set up for the future.

Arkansas

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    2010 Record: 10-3. Returning Starters: 13; 6 offense, 7 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

     That offense. Not only is the WR corps the best in the conference, but RB Knile Davis is a real threat out of the backfield.

    New QB Tyler Wilson (who saw limited action last season) will have plenty of weapons to help him ease into the starting role.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

    As usual, the defense is the biggest question mark for the Hogs.

    The unit improved greatly from ’09 to ’10, but they’ll have to be even better if Arkansas has any plans to make it to Atlanta for the championship game.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 10-2.

    Arkansas has a fairly favorable schedule and should put up a ton of points. However, there’s enough defense in the league and on their schedule to probably trip them up a couple of times.

    So, the Hogs will need some defense of their own if they hope to make plans for Atlanta.

LSU

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    2010 Record: 11-2. 15; 8 Offense, 7 Defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

    LSU won 11 games with virtually no offensive plan last year. So, having a guy like Steve Kragthorpe around to tutor the quarterbacks and at least help architect an attack should show some signs of improvement.

    LSU is also one of three teams in the SEC loaded nearly three-deep at every position.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

     LSU lost some leaders on defense and will have to hope somewhere in all that depth are some new ones. They also have to be much more consistent on offense than they were next year.

    They have also got the a really stout out of conference schedule to go along with the regular SEC run.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 9-3.

    LSU will be a solid team, but there’s just too much good competition for them to win the West this year. However, Les Miles is by far the luckiest coach in America, so anything is possible.

Alabama

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    2010 Record: 10-3. Returning Starters: 16; 7 offense, 9 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

    Tons of defense returning including a deep, talented linebacker corps.

    Alabama’s also great at the safety position, and the corners are highly touted. The offensive line is also strong, and RB Trent Richardson has shown signs of brilliance and will be counted on to carry the load on offense, especially early in the season.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

      Inexperience at quarterback will be exacerbated by the fact that the top playmaker at WR is also gone. The last time the Crimson Tide broke in a new signal caller, they won it all, but he had a lot of help around him.

    Whoever gets the nod this year will have to grow up quickly. Opposing defenses are going to load the box, so the development of a consistent passing threat is paramount. Also, the defensive line is largely unknown.

    For Alabama’s LBs to do their thing, they need a big force up front to emerge.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 10-2.

    Alabama’s loaded with talent but has enough inexperience to get tripped up a couple of times during the season.

Mississippi State

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    2010 Record: 9-4. Returning Starters: 15; 8 offense, 7 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

    Dan Mullen has breathed a real air of confidence in the Bulldogs since his arrival, and his offense has lived up to the billing. Returning starters at QB and RB and the core from a decent defense should allow the Bulldogs to continue to flourish.

    The schedule is also pretty good with the toughest road games opening and closing the season.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

      For all the offensive balance, at times the unit just is not able to perform in key situations. That’s not a scheme issue as much as it’s a lack of complete talent to run it.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 7-5.

    Every year a team takes a step back from forward momentum, and this year it is Mississippi State.

    They are good enough to beat the teams they should but probably not good enough to take out the upper echelon teams in the conference.

Mississippi

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    2010 Record: 4-8. Returning Starters: 14; 9 offense, 5 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

    Well, a lot of players on offense are coming back including a decent backfield. There’s a lot of hope another JUCO transfer QB will spark the offense along with RB Enrique Davis.

    If Les Miles is lucky, then Houston Nutt is sneaky, always seeming to find ways to win when he’s considered out for the count.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

    The defense was just downright awful last year, giving up 35 points a game and never being able to get a stop when needed. There’s not much reason to believe it is going to be much better this year, as the cupboard has not been stocked with top talent under the Nutt regime recruiting classes.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 4-8.

    Pretty much like last year, the Rebels/Black Bears appear to be the most likely candidates as the whipping post for the SEC West.

SEC West Summary

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    SEC West 2011 Predicted Records

    Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2) and Alabama Crimson Tide (10-2)

    LSU Tigers (9-3)

    Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-5)

    Auburn Tigers (6-6)

    Ole Miss Rebels (4-8)

     

    I predict Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU will be the top teams of the SEC West.

     

    Now, on to the SEC East.

     


South Carolina

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    2010 Record: 9-5. Returning Starters: 13; 7 offense, 6 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

    The studs on offense are back for another round. So are some of the leaders from the defense.

    The Gamecocks also have a pretty favorable schedule in 2011.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

    Consistency has never been the hallmark of Spurrier’s teams in Columbia, and that was even a problem last year. For all their offensive prowess, the Gamecocks finished in the middle of the conference statistically.

    They’ll have to do better than that if they plan on a repeat trip to Atlanta.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 9-3.

    The schedule helps a lot, and if they are more consistent, the Gamecocks just might earn that return trip. But it won’t be easy.

Florida

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    2010 Record: 8-5. Returning Starters: 11; 7 offense, 4 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

     Florida is loaded with talent. (Remember those three teams I said were virtually three-deep in the SEC? Well, Florida is one of them.) Will Muschamp and that defense should not really miss a beat and, in fact, expect the blitz packages to become much more creative.

    Bringing in Charlie Weis to run the offense should really help improve what was easily the weakest link in last year’s squad.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

      Changing offenses is never easy, and though I have faith Weis’ scheme will work, it may take a little time to come around. Florida’s got three of its toughest games in conference on the road as well.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 9-3.

    In spite of a tough schedule and growing pains of a new regime, these Gators should be much improved, right back in the thick of it in the East.

Georgia

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    2010 Record: 6-7. Returning Starters: 13; 6 offense, 7 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

    QB Aaron Murray is considered to be the top signal caller in the league and for good reason. He really stepped up to the plate last year.

    Georgia also landed a stellar recruiting class after a disappointing season to compliment their young QB. Last year’s defense was not totally bad, and having experience on that side of the ball should serve them well.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

    The Bulldogs backfield is severely depleted with losses to graduation and transfers, which will put the load on a young, talented back in Isaiah Crowell.

    The Georgia offensive line has struggled for years, so this may be a case of addition by subtraction, but I’ll have to see it to believe it.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 8-4.

    Georgia looks like a team right in the middle of things in the East.

    However, they are probably still behind Florida and South Carolina and need to watch their backs, as Tennessee is not far behind them at this point.

Kentucky

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    2010 Record: 6-7. Returning Starters: 15; 6 offense, 9 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

      A lot of folks are high on QB Morgan Newton to come in and make the offense click in the post Randall Cobb era.

    The return of LB Danny Trevathan, who led the SEC in tackles last year, is also a plus.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

      There’s just not much else on the roster to get excited about for the Wildcats. If they played in Conference USA or the Big East, they’d probably be in the mix, but in the loaded SEC, they are in the hot water week in and week out.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 3-9.

    Kentucky had a good defense and a solid offense last year and still only managed six wins. With the offense in rebuild mode, it looks to be a long year for Big Blue.

Tennessee

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    2010 Record: 6-7. Returning Starters: 13; 7 offense, 6 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

    Tyler Bray is a star in the making at QB for the Vols, and there are playmakers around him on offense.

    Derek Dooley proved he could handle adversity last year, and the trend in the SEC of late is for second-year coaches to make a big improvement.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

      While the offense came around late in the season, the defense was never better that good, and they’ll have to get a lot better if Tennessee hopes to improve on last year’s record.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 7-5.

    The Vols are a team trending upwards and should have enough to get over .500 this season.

Vanderbilt

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    2010 Record: 2-10. Returning Starters: 19; 11 offense, 8 defense.

    Reasons to Believe:

     James Marshall is really selling the program to recruits and to the group that’s still intact. That large number of returning starters gives Vandy experience on the field.

     

    Reasons to Doubt:

      This is still Vanderbilt, and this is still the SEC. Having a large number of returning starters is usually a good thing unless both squads finished dead last in 2010. There’s room for improvement, because it’s hard to get any worse.

     

    Predicted 2011 Record: 4-8.

    Even if they are as bad as last year (which I don’t think they could be), Vandy’s experience should buy them a couple more wins but not much else.

SEC East Summary

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    SEC East 2011 Predicted Records

    Florida Gators (9-3) and South Carolina Gamecocks (9-3)

    Georgia Bulldogs (8-4)

    Tennessee Volunteers (7-5)

    Vanderbilt Commodores (4-8)

    Kentucky Wildcats (3-9)

     

    I predict Florida and South Carolina will be the top teams of the SEC East with Georgia as the darkhorse.

     

    These predictions will be revisited at midseason and adjusted accordingly. Until then, let the countdown to the season continue.