2009 SEC Preview and Predictions: West Division

Bryan FlynnAnalyst ISeptember 3, 2009

DALLAS - JANUARY 02:  Wide receiver Dexter McCluster #22 of the Mississippi Rebels runs for a touchdown against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the fourth quarter during the AT&T Cotton Bowl on January 2, 2009 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

After previewing the other BCS conferences they feel like an appetizer. Moving to the SEC feels like a main course.

Florida will win the SEC East. That's the most certain bet one can make in college football. The rest of the conference should be fighting for the label of second-best team.

Before we start on the East let’s look at the most competitive division in the SEC. The SEC West could be the hardest fought division in football.

While it might be a stretch to think Arkansas, Miss. State, or Auburn will win the West, Ole Miss, LSU, and Alabama should fight it out like a heavy weight boxing match.

Every team in the West except for Miss. State should have a chance at a bowl game. The big three will battle it out all season long for the right to play the Gators in SEC Championship game.

So here is the SEC West preview and predictions in alphabetical order.

Alabama Crimson Tide: Prediction 11-1

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The Tide was a game away from a perfect season and playing for a national championship when it ran into a Tim Tebow led buzz saw in Florida. Then the wheels came off before the bowl game against Utah in the Sugar Bowl.

Sure Alabama has holes in the offensive line and a new quarterback starting the season. One thing we know about Nick Saban is the man knows how to recruit.

There are players at Alabama ready to step in and take over. The offense will be the biggest question and Saban will love the fact his team is flying under the radar.

The offense has to find a new quarterback now that John Parker Wilson is gone. No matter who takes over under center as long as they can throw to Julio Jones everything should be fine.

The Tide also gets running back Mark Ingram back this season. Ingram can help the transition to a new quarterback.

While the offense might have questions, the defense will be one of the best in the country. Even with some departures the Tide has recruited well.

The country will find out just how good Alabama will be in the opening game of the season. Their only non-conference test will be a neutral site game versus Virginia Tech.

The Tide will lean on their defense and get just enough offense to beat the Hokies. They will also beat Florida International, North Texas, and Chattanooga out of conference.

The Tide’s in conference schedule is not bad, and they get most of the tough games at home. The Tide should get home wins versus Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, and LSU.

The LSU game could go either way but it is at home so the Tide gets the nod. The away games are not bad.

The conference schedule on the road has games against Kentucky, Miss State, and Auburn. The only tough road game I see is a trip to Oxford to play Ole Miss.

The Ole Miss game is the only game I see the Tide losing. The worst I see Alabama being is 8-4 but the Tide has the talent to run at a national title.

Still think they will slip at Ole Miss and will finish with an 11-1 season.

Arkansas Razorbacks: Prediction 7-5

The Razorbacks could be ready to go bowing in year two under Bobby Petrino. Arkansas' season last year could have been better and it could have been worse.

The Razorbacks were in every game last season except for the three against eventual BCS teams Florida, Alabama, and Texas. They struggled against weaker opponents at times and even lost to a good Tulsa team out of conference.

Arkansas could have won enough games to have been bowl eligible last season.  The offense returns quarterback Matt Mallett, and running back Michael Smith.

Smith will get rushing yardage, but how good the offense is could depend on former Michigan transfer Mallett. 

On defense Arkansas should be fine in the front seven. The secondary is where most of the changes are this season.

Still overall the defense should be good enough again to keep the Razorbacks in most games. This season the non-conference schedule does not include a tough test.

Arkansas should get out of conference wins against Missouri State, Eastern Michigan, and Troy. The biggest non-conference game is at a neutral site against Texas A&M. The Razorbacks should win all their out of conference games.

In conference Arkansas should win games at home versus Auburn, South Carolina, and Miss State. The only loss at home could come against Georgia.

The conference road schedule is brutal for the Razorbacks.

The Hogs will have to travel to Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss, and LSU. Unless they can pull off some upsets they could lose all their conference road games.

The worst Arkansas could be is 4-8 and the best could be 9-3 if everything goes perfect. Still I think that a 7-5 season should be no problem for the Razorbacks. Not bad in year two of a rebuilding project.

Auburn Tigers: Prediction 6-6

Can a coach be on the hot seat his first season on the job? That could be the case at two schools in the SEC this season.

One could be Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and will be discussed later. The other could be Gene Chizik at Auburn.

Chizik posted a 5-19 record while at Iowa State and was given the job at Auburn. He does have ties to the school after working three years as defensive coordinator.

Still the hire made most fans wonder about the choice. The Tigers fans think they play second fiddle to Alabama. If Chizik does not turn things around quickly he could be out just as fast as he was hired.

The Tigers offense returns Ben Tate at running back, but the biggest player returning is Mario Fannin. Fannin is in the Dexter McCluster mold of a player who can do everything offensively.

The question offensively will be if Auburn can find a quarterback. The Tigers need to settle on a starter for the season unlike last season when they bounced around between players.

The defense should be solid with several good players. The only game the defense did not keep Auburn in was the final game against Alabama.

The schedule out of conference should not be too hard. There are three games the Tigers should win against Louisiana Tech, Ball State, and Furman.

The only non-conference test should come from a West Virginia team rebuilding with no Pat White. The best part the game is that it's at home. Auburn should be able to pull out a win if the offense can move the ball.

In conference the Tigers get Ole Miss and Alabama at home but both teams should win. Auburn does get Miss. State and Kentucky at home in a games they should win.

The road conference schedule has trips to Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia. While wins versus Tennessee and Arkansas are possible they might not pan out. LSU and Georgia should be losses.

The worst Auburn could be this season is 4-8 and the best would be 8-4. Still I think the Tigers will finish the season 6-6.

Still we could find out if Chizik can coach and if Auburn know something we all do not.

LSU Tigers: Prediction 9-3

LSU finished last season on a high note, destroying Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl. Still it was a down year for the Tigers after losing five games.

After winning a national championship in 2007 the bar has been set high at LSU. But reaching even a BCS game might be a bit of a stretch this season.

Les Miles has stocked the Tigers with plenty of talent and if not for Alabama and Ole Miss’s teams this year the Tigers would be the favorite to win the West.

The offense was not bad last season but the quarterback play was inconsistent at best. If the Tigers want to win the west the quarterback play has to be better.

The defense should be the strength once again this season. Even though LSU has lost great players to the NFL draft the defense has just reloaded.

The out of conference schedule is nothing to scare LSU. The biggest test will be a long road trip to play a bad Washington team.

The Tigers should beat the Huskies and their other non-conference foe of Louisiana Tech, Tulane, and Louisiana-Lafayette.  LSU should be 4-0 in out of conference games.

In conference the Tigers are good enough to beat most of the teams they face. The only home game LSU could lose is to Florida.

The other home games are Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Arkansas. The Tigers should win these home games.

The road schedule has games against Miss State, Alabama, Georgia, and Ole Miss. LSU should beat a Georgia, team replacing a lot of stars, and a Miss State still rebuilding.

The only away games the Tigers could lose are Alabama and Ole Miss. LSU should lose no more than five games and go 8-5. The Tigers could win every game on the schedule but it seems unlikely.

Still I think a solid 9-3 season is very possible. LSU could be the team to beat in the SEC in 2010.

Mississippi Rebels: Prediction 12-0

Of the six teams in the West only the Rebels have not played in the SEC championship game. Even in state rival Mississippi State has won the West.

Now this season is one of the best chances Ole Miss has at winning the West since Eli Manning left. The Rebels are the sexy pick to win the West this season.

Ole Miss looks to have the fewest questions heading into this season. While losing several players to the NFL the core of the team comes back this season.

The offense returns its two best players in Jevan Snead and Dexter McCluster. The main offensive question is, can the Rebels find a running game?

The rushing attack could be the weakest part of this team. If the Rebels can run the ball they should be able to make a lot happen on offense.

Defensively there are a few holes to fill from departures. Still this is the defense that beat the Gators in the Swamp.

If the defense can play as well as it did last season there should be no problems in a special season. The schedule is a plus as well.

The only game out of conference that could be a problem is at Memphis.  The Rebels should beat Memphis, and win the rest of the non-conference games against Southeast Louisiana, UAB, and Northern Arizona.

The in conference schedule works out perfectly for the Rebels. They get both LSU and Alabama at home.

The only tough road games will be at Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee. The Rebels could lose one game or more this season.

Still I think this season could be the perfect storm for the Rebels. They have the talent to win every game and the schedule to do so.

Mississippi State Bulldogs: 3-9

Sylvester Croom lost his job at Mississippi State for two reasons. The first was the rise of in-state rival Ole Miss. The other was Croom was a victim of his own success.

The 2007 Bulldogs team that finished 8-5 with a bowl win was not an 8-5 team. Miss. State caught every break possible in 2007.

Every bounce of the ball went their way all season long. So 2008 created unrealistic expectations.

The Bulldogs fell back to earth in 2008 when nothing went MSU’s way. Games they won in 2007 with the breaks they caught were losses in 2008 with no breaks.

So Croom was fired and former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen was hired. Mullen will bring the spread offense to Starkville.

The only problem is that the Bulldogs were built to be a West coast or power rushing offense. It will take time for Mullen to get his type of players to Miss. State.

Offensively there is hope with freshman Tyler Russell, a high school spread quarterback. Russell could be the starter by the end of the season.

This team will not challenge for much this season. Still offensively the Bulldogs have four starters returning on the offensive line and Anthony Dixon returning to run the ball.

Defensively the back seven return and should be good. The defense could be the strength of this team. Still the defense needs to find a pass rush.

Out of conference the Bulldogs could get their only wins of the season. Miss State should beat Jackson State, Middle Tennessee, and Houston.

The Bulldogs get a very good Georgia Tech team at home but should not win. In conference Miss State might not win a game.

Talent wise the Bulldogs might be in the bottom three of the whole conference. Still there are trips to Vanderbilt and Kentucky that could be wins.

The Bulldogs could ruin someone’s season with an upset.  Still I think at best a 3-9 season is possible and Mullen will need time to rebuild this team.

The SEC West will be a three horse race between Ole Miss, LSU, and Alabama. LSU could struggle with games at Ole Miss and Alabama.

Alabama could finish second with the road trip to Ole Miss. The Rebels are in the driver’s seat with both the Tide and the Tigers coming to Oxford.

The schedule is why I have to give the nod to the Rebels to win the West.