For the last five years, there's been an SEC National Champion. All this success has led to everyone and his wife wanting to be part of the conference (OK, Texas A&M!). The money helps too. Anyway, 2011's no difference. Instead of unfancied Auburn, everyone's talking about Alabama, Alabama, Alabama.
1. Will it be "Bama Time" in New Orleans?
Despite the fact that the Crimson Tide have lost an awful lot of talent—including quarterback Greg McElroy, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back/Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram—we can expect the new quarterback to hand the ball off to RB Trent Richardson, who's going to put some holes in opposition defenses.
We also anticipate that the Crimson Tide are going to have a defense to die for, led by linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
2. South Carolina, anyone?
Everyone's talked up the SEC West, but I'll throw this one out there: The SEC East has got some good teams—and this one in Columbia is going to be the one to beat. QB Stephen Garcia (and all the problems he brings with him) is back, as is his favorite target, wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey.
We are also a believer in RB Marcus Lattimore, who's going to cause some destruction down the middle. In the offseason, everyone's been talking about DE Jadevon Clowney, but will he start? Melvin Ingram hopes not!
Seriously though, Spurrier's got a good, deep team this year. Fear them at your peril.
3. LSU, LSU, LSU
LSU football is never, ever boring. This offseason guaranteed that with starting QB Jordan Jefferson getting suspended for the showdown season opener with Oregon for getting in a fight in a bar in Baton Rouge.
Anyway, Jarrett Lee's taking over behind the huddle. WR target Russell Shepard's also been suspended, which means LSU football could have a tough start to the season.
If we're honest, LSU's road games at Mississippi State and West Virginia won't be easy, either. That's three top 25 teams in four weeks. Ouch. Trips to Tennessee and Alabama won't be particularly easy, either.
4. How 'Bout 'Dem Dawgs?
People from the good state of Georgia are going to be hosting the VFA in Athens for the South Carolina game in Week 2, so we thought it might be nice to include them on the preview.
The good news for perennial hot-seat coach Mark Richt is that he's got QB Aaron Murray coming back. Tight end Orson Charles and freshman running back Isaiah Crowell are pretty damned good too - although Crowell is a little inexperienced.
People are also pretty excited about Georgia's defense, which will be much improved from last year (it had better be - because the 2010 brand just missed too many tackles!). Jarvis Jones —a transfer from USC—is being touted as one of the reasons for a better time on that side of the ball.
And the bad news? Richt's running back cohort is decimated by leg boots and boot-outs, and wide receivers AJ Green and Kris Durham have gone to make dough in the NFL, limiting his chances to put up some serious points. Not only that, but his two best players (Akeem Dent and Justin Houston) both went to the NFL, meaning that he's going to be missing some major players from his defense.
If Georgia loses its first game of the season against Boise State (and the Bulldogs are an underdog at this game), then expect the angry voices in Athens to start. But if Georgia wins, expect people to start talking about the Dawgs as potential SEC East and National Title contenders. The fans are fickle like that.
5) Happy in Mississippi?
While Oxford is one of the prettiest places you'll visit in the South, Starkville really isn't. But the team in Starkville has better prospects than the team in Oxford does.
QB Chris Relf is going to be a really exciting prospect for MSU—as is LaDarius Perkins and Vick Ballard, who are going to disrupt opposing defenses all season long.
Some people are worried about MSU's defensive line, but others aren't. With seven returning starters on defense, I don't think y'all should be too worried. If he gets MSU to the SEC Championship game, then Dan Mullen should get the Coach of The Year job.
As for Ole Miss? Well, at least Brandon Bolden's going to be a highlight for the Rebels. That and tailgating, of course.
6) Rocky Times in the 'Villes: Knoxville or Gainseville?
Actually, no. Tennessee fans we know are actually excited about college football season. Firstly, it's because the team has some continuity at quarterback and at head coach. Tyler Bray's going to star for the Vols at QB, who bring back 13 returning starters.
As for UF, Florida fans are happy with Will Muschamp's appointment as head coach and offensive co-ordinator Charlie Weis' coming in to improve QB John Brantley.
There is no question that there is a ton of talent in Florida (especially WRs Deonte Thompson and Quinton Dunbar, RBs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, and linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic), but will it hit paydirt? We'll see in October when UF plays back-to-back weeks against Alabama and LSU. Ouch.
And we completely forgot about...
Arkansas. We've got no real clue why. Let's call it an overstatement. Knile Davis' injury (he was the great running back hope) and Ryan Mallett's departure (he's gone to the NFL) has meant that some are doubting the Razorbacks, but Tyler Wilson's got a cannon arm and Ronnie Wingo's going to be more than adept at picking up the slack. Greg Childs is going to be one hell of a target for Wilson at wide receiver. The defense is going to be led by linebacker Jerry Franklin and DE Jake Bequette.
Players to watch
Trent Richardson (Alabama), Aaron Murray (Georgia), Jeff Demps (Florida), Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina), Alshon Jeffrey (South Carolina), Tyler Bray (Tennessee) and Russell Shepard (LSU).
Games to watch
- Oregon vs. LSU—No. 4 plays No. 5 in a prime-time season opener. This is going to be a classic.
- South Carolina vs. Georgia—This game is always a great game and we're going to it (weather providing!).
- Boise State vs. Georgia—Great test of how good both sides will be this year. A loss, and both sides yell about firing their coach. Well Georgia's do anyway...
- LSU vs. Alabama—This one's always been fun, and with a National Championship semifinal (sorry, SEC Championship Game!) place on the line, this is going to be even bigger.
- Arkansas at Alabama - Nothing like testing a secondary like Alabama's with a kid with a cannon arm (Wilson). This one's going to be fun.
- Alabama at Penn State—We wonder if Alabama will really enjoy going to Happy Valley on Week 2. My buddies are bringing their ear plugs.
- LSU at West Virginia—The Mountaineers will frighten the hell out of LSU. Mark our words.
- LSU at Mississippi State—Dan Mullen needs a marquee victory. LSU don't need it to be them. No pressure then...
- Tennessee at Florida—Tennessee fans will really be able to see how far their team's come in the head in Gainseville.
- Auburn at Clemson—This was one of the best games of the year last season and could well be a dark horse for one of the best of this year, too.
Alabama beats South Carolina in a not-particularly-close game to secure their spot in the National Championship Game.