2011 SEC Football Preview

2010 FINAL SEC STANDINGS

SEC East

South Carolina 9-5 (5-3)

Florida 8-5 (4-4)

Georgia 6-7 (3-5)

Tennessee 6-7 (3-5)

Kentucky 6-7 (2-6)

Vanderbilt 2-10 (1-7)

 

SEC West

Auburn 14-0 (8-0)

Arkansas 10-3 (6-2)

LSU 11-2 (6-2)

Alabama 10-3 (5-3)

Mississippi State 9-4 (4-4)

Ole Miss 4-8 (1-7)

 

2010 SEC Championship Game: Auburn 56 South Carolina 17

 

RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS

Returning Leaders: Passing

Aaron Murray, Georgia, Soph (209 of 342 for 3049, 24 TD, 8 INT)

Stephen Garcia, South Carolina, Sr (224 of 349 for 3059 yds, 20 TD, 14 INT)

Tyler Bray, Tennessee, Soph (125 of 224 for 1849, 18 TD, 10 INT)

Chris Relf, Miss St, Sr (128 of 217 for 1776 yds, 12 TD, 6 INT)

John Brantley, Florida, Sr (200 of 329 for 2061, 9 TD, 10 INT)


Returning Leaders: Rushing

Marcus Lattimore, SC, Soph (249 carries for 1197 yds, 4.8 ypc, 17 TD)

Vick Ballard, Miss St, Sr (187 carries for 981 yds, 5.2 ypc, 20 TD)

Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss, Sr (163 carries for 976 yds, 5.9 ypc, 14 TD)

Tauren Poole, Tenn, Sr (204 carries for 1034 yds, 5.0 ypc, 11 TD)

Michael Dyer, Auburn, Soph (182 carries for 1093 yds, 6.0 ypc, 5 TD)

Returning Leaders: Receiving

Alshon Jeffrey, SC, Jr (88 rec for 1517 yds, 9 TD)

Joe Adams, Arkansas, Sr (50 rec for 813 yds, 6 TD)

Chad Bumphis, Miss St, Jr (44 rec for 634 yds, 5 TD)

Jaruis Wright, Arkansas, Sr (42 rec for 788 yds, 5 TD)


Returning Leaders: Tackles

Danny Trevathan, UK, Sr, LB (144 total, 11.08 tackles/game)

Sean Richardson, Vandy, Sr, S (99 total, 8.25 tackles/game)

Winston Guy, UK, Sr, LB (105 total, 8.08 tackles/game)

Jerry Franklin, Arkansas, Sr, LB (95 total, 7.31 tackles/game)

Chris Marve, Vandy, Sr, LB (80 total, 7.27 tackles/game)


Returning Leaders: Sacks

Melvin Ingram, SC, Sr, DE (9.0 sacks)

Devin Taylor, SC, Jr, DE (7.5)

Ryan Baker, LSU, Sr, Sr (7.0)

Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, Sr, LB (7.0)

Jake Bequette, Arkansas, Sr (7.0)

 

Returning Leaders: Interceptions

Robert Lester, Alabama, Jr, S (8 interceptions)

Casey Hayward, Vandy, Sr, CB (6)

Morris Claiborne, LSU, Jr, CB (5)

Prentiss Waggner, Tenn, Jr, DB (5)

Tremain Thomas, Arkansas, Sr, S (4)

 

BREAKING DOWN THE SEC WITH THE ZEALOTS

 

Alabama

Jay (Prediction: #1 SEC West & SEC Champion): I don’t know if anybody needs to hear anything else from me about Alabama.  If you haven’t heard enough, you probably will soon.  I do think this team has been a slight bit overhyped based on a few key question marks, but ultimately, I agree that it’s, narrowly, the best team in the SEC.  If the offensive line stays healthy and returns to it’s dominating form of 08/09, and the Tide manages to avoid injuries in the thinned out running back ranks, they have a great chance to run the table and play for more championships.

Ross (Prediction: #1 SEC West & SEC Champion): I wanted to break with the pack here and take LSU, but that choice became untenable when LSU got mired in their own scandal right before the kickoff the season.  But Alabama looks pretty beastly, even if they need to replace Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Marcel Dareus, and Greg McElroy.  Alabama has all but reached the same level USC was at a few years ago where they’re just reloading with brand new blue-chip players when the old ones head to the NFL.  Plus, they didn’t lose much on defense, so an already-good unit could be positively lethal now with added experience.  Even the schedule is relatively favorable: they skip South Carolina and Georgia and get LSU and Arkansas at home.

Tom (Prediction: #1 SEC West & SEC Champion)

Kevin (Prediction: #1 SEC West & SEC Champion): I’m going to make this unanimous which means that it won’t happen. I just think Bama has too much on defense. Stats don’t always tell the story but they only allowed 13.5 ppg last year and they return a ton of starters. If there is a weakness on the defense it’s up front but according to Jay they might be looking pretty good there. Trent Richardson is going to have a lot of pressure on him but if he (and/or Eddie Lacy) can carry the team early I think the young QB (whoever it may be) and WR corps will come along as the season progresses. Bama gets Arkansas and LSU at home and misses Georgia and South Carolina out of the East. If there is an “easy” schedule in the West (which there isn’t) this is it. Bama makes it’s way back to the Georgia Dome this year.

 

Arkansas

Jay (Prediction: #2 SEC West): It’s really bizarre, and, frankly, just not right, to see Arkansas fans acting like 10 wins are a given in 2011, but there’s definitely a lot to love about this team.  It all starts with that loaded receiving corps, who would be a nightmare for any secondary in the country.  Tyler Wilson flashed big-time ability in a hostile, big-game environment at Auburn last year, and while you could certainly say, “Well, Auburn’s defense was awful,” I think he’s legit.  He’s not the prodigious throwing talent Ryan Mallett was, but if he can manage Bobby Petrino’s system well enough, I think all those great receivers will make up the difference.  Losing Knile Davis certainly hurts, but with a platoon of solid guys like Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo stepping in, it’s not like they’re suddenly not going to have a running game.  The big difference maker for the Hogs this year will be the defense.  It’s been a long, often frustrating process to build this unit back up, but I think, finally, in Year 4, Petrino & Co. have a defense that can hold it’s own.  They’re very strong at the point of attack (a must in SEC play) and return most of their sack productivity from 2011 (37, 2nd-best in the conference).  No longer can you legitimately say, “Well, we’ll win in a shootout if we have to,” because there’s no guarantee you’re going to score that much anymore.  Their schedule sets up very well, and if they can steal a road win against Alabama or LSU, they’ll be in great position to play in Atlanta.

Ross (Prediction: #3 SEC West): Arkansas would have been a nice dark horse pick to emerge from the West a few weeks, with a potent offense directed by Bobby Petrino and a solid defense with multiple returning starters.  But then RB Knile Davis had to go and get injured for the season, which probably cripples Arkansas’ dark horse aspirations.  Their schedule wasn’t helping matters, either, with road trips to Alabama and LSU and tricky home games with South Carolina and Mississippi State.  Still, new QB Tyler Wilson should put up zany numbers in Petrino’s offense, especially with Davis absent.

Tom (Prediction: #4 SEC West)

Kevin (Prediction: #2 SEC West): I really, really hate Bobby Petrino. I’m a fan of the Atlanta Falcons so I don’t think you can blame me. That being said, I really loved Arkansas this summer and I still like them but I am no longer in love with them. The Knile Davis injury cause me to break up with them and know we are just friends. The Hogs still have a decent tandem of backs in Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo but I’m not totally sold on them yet. Arkansas will put up points and their defense will continue to improve. At one point I had Arkansas as high as #3 in my personal rankings but I’m just not sure they are ready for that yet. Which is a shame because the defense will probably take a step back next year without Bequette, Nelson, Franklin and Thomas (who are all seniors).

 

Auburn

Jay (Prediction: #5 SEC West): As has been well-documented by now, the losses for Auburn are extensive.  By the time all the offseason attrition was done, the Tigers were down some 30-some-odd players from it’s 2010 national championship team.  It’s going to be a total rebuild on both sides of the ball.  On offense, I think Barrett Trotter is capable of guiding Gus Malzahn’s offense in a Chris Todd-esque fashion, but it should probably give Auburn fans pause that it took Trotter so long to shake the terrible Clint Mosely in the QB race and that the coaching staff actively pursued outside help in the form of Russell Wilson to leapfrog both of them.  Of the returning offensive stars from 2010, I think they’ll find the going much more difficult without Newton drawing so much attention.  Guys like Onterrio McCalebb, Emory Blake, and Phillip Lutzenkirchen are undeniably talented, but all 3 probably out-produced their talent thanks to the presence of Cammy Cam.  I do expect a bigger year from Michael Dyer, who should be even more productive without Newton bogarting half the rushes.  As for the defense, well…it’s difficult to believe it could be worse than the 2010 defense, but it could.  There’s talent to spare on that side of the ball, but unless Gene Chizik has been recruiting from MENSA (hint:  he hasn’t), it’s going to take time for them to get it together.  Now, I’ve seen many calling for Auburn to have a losing season.  And between all the losses and a daunting schedule, you can’t totally rule out the possibility.  That said, I think there’s enough talent on hand, and Malzahn is a good enough point-producing wizard, to steal a few games and get into a bowl.

Ross (Prediction: #5 SEC West): They return virtually nothing aside from stud RB Michael Dyer, so consider this a vote in celebration of Gus Malzahn’s brilliance and Gene Chizik’s masterful recruiting.  They’ll take a significant step back from a year ago, but the talent will still be good enough to prevent a complete fall off into the abyss.

Tom (Prediction: #3 SEC West)

Auburn (Prediction: #5 SEC West): Auburn was just a team that I refused to buy into last year and they just kept winning and winning and winning. Auburn was a perfect storm of talent (Cam and Fairley leading the way), senior leadership, young talent (Dyer) and coaching (Malzahn). You have to hand it to Chizik the way he kept that group focused in the light of all of the off-the-field controversy that Auburn endured (justly or unjustly) last year. I think that if that team did not have so many seniors and so much talent they would have fallen apart. Now, Auburn is left with a massive rebuilding job. Barrett Trotter will try to replace Cam. I expect, much like Jay above, that Trotter will be a serviceable QB that Malzahn will get the most out of. I think Auburn will still be pretty good offensively this year and they will beat a team or two they aren’t supposed to. That being said, I think this young defense is in for a long year. I think Auburn goes bowling but might only win 6 or 7 games.

 

Florida

Jay (Prediction: #3 SEC East): Despite the extent to which the Gators are being poor-mouthed this offseason, the talent hasn’t gone anywhere.  Yes, it’s going to be a difficult transition from Urban Meyer’s spread to Charlie Weis’ pro-style offense.  No, they don’t have the “right” guys on hand to run it.  And, yes, the defense has been drained of almost all of it’s proven players, essentially forcing Will Muschamp to start over from scratch.  But the talent is still there.  All that freakish speed and athleticism is still there.  They will struggle mightily at times and people will doubt whether Muschamp was the right man for the job, maybe even plead openly for Urban to return.  But there will also be games where they put it all together and they’ll look like they can beat anybody in the country.  It’s just going to be that kind of up-and-down year.  I think early “trap” road trips to Kentucky and Auburn will be the swing games for their season.  Ultimately, I think they finish more up than down.

Ross (Prediction: #3 SEC East): Can Charlie Weis make John Brantley into a real quarterback? That’s the million-dollar question in Gainesville.  Will Muschamp should whip the defense into shape (although there will be a lot of new faces lining up out there this year), but if the offense can’t get on track, the Gators are doomed to another middling season. The schedule does them few favors, too, with road trips to LSU and South Carolina and a home game with Alabama.

Tom (Prediction: #3 SEC East) 

Kevin (Prediction: #3 SEC East): Florida is one of the toughest teams to get a read on in the SEC. They have a ton of talent but they also lost a bunch of talent this off-season including their best defensive player (Janoris Jenkins). I think Florida will be a team that will have to win games with their defense (this year) but will get better offensively each week. The pesimist in me tells me that they will peak against Georgia like they do every year. Will Muschamp will be successful in the Swamp but this won’t be his year.

 

Georgia

Jay (Prediction: #2 SEC East): I really struggled with placing Georgia at #2 in the East.  I think they have a great shot at making it to Atlanta.  That opening doubleshot of Boise State and South Carolina looks daunting, but the rest of the schedule is their’s for the taking.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at some of the scores, but the defense was slightly improved in 2010.  The Bulldogs mostly struggled with stopping the run, which didn’t come as a surprise to me in the first year of their transition to a 3-4 defense.  They simply didn’t have the right personnel to run it.  With some key additions (including Jon Jenkins at nose guard) and another year’s worth of physical redevelopment of returning players, I think we could see a big jump in Georgia’s defense similar to Alabama’s big jump in 2008.  Offensively, I would expect much more consistent play and more poise in big moments from Aaron Murray, who was already one of the better performers in the conference as a wet-behind-the-ears freshman.  I’m just wondering how his supporting cast is going to fill in.  Obviously, he’ll miss the dynamic AJ Green and his safety blanket, Kris Durham, but I think there are solid receiving options waiting to step up.  No, what he really needs is a consistent running game.  But with the massive attrition Georgia has experienced at RB this offseason, I don’t see it.  Isaiah Crowell is a phenomenal talent, and he’ll likely develop into The Guy down the line, but is he really capable of stepping in and being The Guy in 2011?  And I don’t mean just running the ball.  I mean being able to pick up blitzes and catch out of the backfield and do all the little things you need a #1 back to do.  Marcus Lattimore was able to be The Guy for South Carolina out of the chute in 2011, but those kind don’t come around often.  I have my doubts.  But here’s the larger issue with Georgia:  Mark Richt.  Over the last 3 seasons under his watch, the Bulldogs have steadily lost their discipline and toughness, bottoming out in the Liberty Bowl when they couldn’t muster enough fight to beat UCF with a winning season on the line.  To me, that lack of character comes straight from the head coach and it permeates the culture of the team.  Change coordinators and strength coaches all you want…If the coach can’t change, it won’t matter.  Richt has officially entered “Show Me” territory, and until he proves he’s got his winning edge back, I can’t pick him to win anything.

Ross (Prediction: #2 SEC East): Georgia has a budding star at quarterback (Aaron Murray), some instant injections of talent at RB (Isaiah Crowell) and DT (Jonathan Jenkins), and an even more favorable schedule than South Carolina (they also skip Alabama and LSU and their toughest road game is at Tennessee).  South Carolina’s bona fides are a little more proven after their run to the SEC Championship Game last year, but really this division may very well be decided in Week 2, when South Carolina visits Georgia.  Whoever wins that game will be in the driver’s seat in the East.

Tom (Prediction: #1 SEC East)

Kevin (Prediction: #1 SEC East): I agree with some of the sentiments that Jay said above (just not the way he said it). I do believe that Georgia had the wrong attitude for the last two years and I do believe this is a make it or break it year for Richt. Georgia *seems* to have made the right changes in their Strength & Conditioning Program this off-season, they’ve kept the players out of trouble and leaders have stepped up (Aaron Murray, Ben Jones, Christian Robinson). Now it’s time to see if translates on the field. The biggest issue the Dawgs had last year was winning battle on the line of scrimmage. On defense Kwame Geathers had a huge off-season and John Jenkins has been brought in from JUCO-land to shore up the middle of the D. This give Georgia the opportunity to move DeAngelo Tyson out to DE where he will be able to have an impact on the game (he didn’t last year as an undersized NG). Georgia also brings in two potential game-breaking LBs in converted safety/tackling machine Alec Ogletree and USC transfer Jarvis Jones. Those two guys have more talent at the LB position than anybody we had playing in that position last year (Justin Houston was a great pass rusher but he didn’t have the complete game as an OLB). On offense Georgia has an experienced line but doesn’t have much depth. It will be key for Georgia to stay healthy if they want to compete with South Carolina in the East. Aaron Murray needs to find Orson Charles early and often and a couple of the receivers (Wooten, Brown or Mitchell) need to step up and be Tavarres King’s tag-team partner. Finally, Isaiah Crowell and Richard Samuel need to be serviceable. They don’t have to go 100+ every game but Samuel needs to get that extra yard and Crowell needs to show the ability to be a play-maker. Crowell doesn’t need to take it to the house every game but if he gets a few nice moves or big runs under his belt teams will have to start game-planning for him which will open up the passing game. This season has the ability to go South in a hurry with a two-game stretch against Boise and South Carolina but it could also propel Georgia to a Top 10 ranking if they somehow find a way to win both games. Those are such huge games for Georgia as they try to rebound from an embarrassing 2010. My head says South Carolina but my heart says Georgia.

 

Kentucky

Jay (Prediction: #4 SEC East): People are sleeping on the Wildcats this year.  I mean, they’re not going to challenge for the division title, let’s not be silly.  But this looks like a plucky team that’s going to give people problems.  They return an amazing wealth of experience on defense, which will help ease the loss of key playmakers like Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke on offense.  I think if Kentucky can just get consistent play out of Morgan Newton at quarterback, minimizing turnovers that lead to cheap scores, they will be a tough out for anybody.  Also on their side is the fact that their schedule sets up amazingly well.  For starters, they get a shot at Florida at home in September.  The Gators will be the favorites in that game (they’ve beaten Kentucky 24 straight, after all), but this will only be UF’s fourth game into a major transition process.  It’s a great opportunity for the Kats to steal one.  They’re back 6 looks like this:  vs.FCS opponent, vs. MissSt, vs.OleMiss, @Vandy, @Georgia, vs. Tennessee.  I realize they have another bad streak going against the Vols, but they have a strong shot at closing out SEC play 3-2.

Ross (Prediction: #5 SEC East): There’s probably a case to be made for Kentucky finishing ahead of Tennessee, actually.  They return quite a few starters (including ten on defense alone) and have a far more favorable schedule: they skip Alabama, Arkansas, and Auburn.  But they’re still Kentucky and they have to replace their most productive players on offense from a year ago.

Tom (Prediction: #6 SEC East)

Kevin (Prediction: #5 SEC East): Kentucky is one of the teams I am most interested in watching early this year. No I’m not a masochist, I’m just interested in how they replace Mike Hartline, Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb. They return their top 11 tacklers so they won’t be any worse than they were last year (gave up 40+ to Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida). Kentucky has a three-game stretch starting Sept 24th in which they play Florida and then go on the road to LSU and South Carolina. If they can pull some type of magic in those games the rest of the season really isn’t bad as they don’t play Bama or Arkansas this year.

 

LSU

Jay (Prediction: #3 SEC East): It’s really tough for me to pick LSU at 3rd in the West.  On paper, they’re right there with Alabama in terms of having the most talent in the conference, and they return a tremendous amount of experience to complement it.  My issues with LSU are threefold.  First, as it’s been for the past several years, it’s the QB situation.  I think Jordan Jefferson just stinks.  I hear people saying that this is the season that he’s finally “getting it,” but I’ve been hearing that the last two years.  And he still stinks, and I don’t see how changing the offensive system is going to make him any brighter.  Of course, now he’s in legal trouble and he may miss at least part of the season, if not all of it.  So they’re going to have to turn to..Jarrett Lee?  Based on everything I’ve heard Les say this offseason, Lee is his #2 guy.  And, don’t get me wrong, Lee isn’t the walking disaster he was back in 2008, but he’s still not a guy who’s going to help you win games consistently.  Maybe Zach Mettenberger eventually works his way into the game, but will it be too little, too late?  Secondly, while they do return an impressive 16 of their top 21 tacklers from last year, they also lose their three key difference makers at each level of the defense (Peterson, Nevis, Sheppard).  As an Alabama guy who experienced it last year, believe me, sometimes these amazing athletic talents don’t always grow into those leadership roles as quickly as you would expect.  Lastly, it seems to me like Les Miles’ luck runs in a 3 year cycle.  In 2007, his third year on the job in Baton Rouge, all the breaks went his way and he brought home a national championship.  After two lean years, the ball consistently bounced his way again in 2010, and if not for the Cam Newton buzzsaw, he would probably have another crystal ball on his mantle.  So I believe this year LSU will return to wandering in the wilderness behind the Mad Hatter again until 2013.  I realize that isn’t very scientific, but it’s a theory I’m working off, nonetheless.  They’ll still be a tough out for anybody they play.

Ross (Prediction: #2 SEC East): LSU looked like such a fun pick to win the league a few months ago: they had considerable experience on both sides of the ball, a veteran QB, a versatile playmaker at WR, and a host of future NFL draft picks in the defense.  Oh, and the unpredictable chaos magic of The Hat, of course.  Then Russell Shephard had to get suspended for an NCAA violation and Jordan Jefferson and a few other players had to get involved in a barfight that’s going to see them missing at least the season opener against Oregon.  Of course, even with those guys in the roster, LSU had a daunting task with their schedule: the non-conference had a neutral site game with Oregon and a road trip to Morgantown to play West Virginia, while the conference slate included road trips to Alabama and Mississippi State, as well as home dates with Florida and Arkansas.  LSU should come up a bit short this year.  Then again, it doesn’t pay to bet against The Hat.

Tom (Prediction: #2 SEC East)

Kevin (Prediction: #3 SEC East): LSU has a ton of talent. I really like John Chavis on defense but this is a young team that losses their stars on defense and starts off with really tough opponents in three out of their first four games. If they get out 4-0 it will be a typical Les Miles miracle, if they get out 3-1 they will be OK but if they go 2-2 then their psyche could take a big hit. LSU is the X-factor in the West. They have the talent to win the Conference and the National Championship but all of the recent issues around the team (from the unfortunate illness of Steve Kragthorpe, to Jordan Jefferson’s arrest and subsequent shoe issues to Russell Shepard’s suspension. I just don’t like the trajectory of LSU’s off-season so close to the season starting.

 

Mississippi State

Jay (Prediction: #4 SEC West): I’m struggling to think of the last time the phrase “offensive juggernaut” could be associated with Mississippi State, but that could be the case this year.  All the pieces are in place for the Bulldogs to eat up a lot of yards and put a lot of points on the board.  Chris Relf probably doesn’t have much of a future in the NFL (though at 6’4″ 250lbs, you can bet somebody will give him a shot), but he’s a great match for what Dan Mallen wants to do on offense, and you could see Relf getting more comfortable with the job last season.  They’ll probably need a boost from that end of things this season, as they’ve lost numerous difference makers on defense.  In particular, the linebacking corps is being completely rebuilt, though they are getting help from Clemson refugee Brandon Maye.  But more than any personnel issues, I think they’ll miss departed defensive coordinator Manny Diaz the most.  Diaz is on his way to putting his name up there with a guy like Kirby Smart as one of the great young defensive minds in the game.  His simple, aggressive scheme produced tremendous results for the Bulldogs, and that won’t be easily replicated.  They’ll win enough to go to a bowl for the second straight year, but their conference slate is too tough for them to make a sleeper run on the division title.

Ross (Prediction: #4 SEC West): Dan Mullen has done a masterful job of turning Mississippi State into a legitimately good team, especially in a division as full of potholes as the SEC West, but a lot of that success was built off the unheralded-but-nasty defenses guided by DC Manny Diaz.  He followed the stacks of dolla dolla bills to Longhorn country, though, so it’s unclear how much of a hit the Bulldog defense will take in ’11.  The good news is that Mullen’s offense returns nine starters, so if he can tap into his usual vein of offensive brilliance, Mississippi State may not need such a salty defense to get some wins this year.

Tom (Prediction: #5 SEC West)

Kevin (Prediction: #4 SEC West): I heart Dan Mullen. Chris Relf, Vick Ballard and Chad Bumphis do very well in this style of offense. It’s often not pretty but it wears down teams. Miss State is as dangerous a 4th place team in a 6 team division that there ever has been. They will beat some folks this year but I just don’t see how they can possibly be better than last year. Look at their schedule- at Auburn, LSU, at Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas. Look for the Bulldogs to have a similar finish to last years squad.

 

Ole Miss

Jay (Prediction: #6 SEC West): To the surprise of no one, once all the talent that Ed Orgeron recruited began to filter out of Oxford, Houston Nutt suddenly stunk.  I don’t see the negative momentum swinging back the other way this year.  I love Tyrone Nix, but I don’t know what’s gone wrong with that defense.  It was a total embarrassment in 2010, and the 2011 team actually returns even less talent.  Unless he’s got an ace up his sleeve with Barry Brunetti or Randall Mackey gets out of the doghouse and turns into Midget Cam 2011, I think we’ll be talking about a new coach at Ole Miss this time next year.

Ross (Prediction: #6 SEC West): Ole Miss returns a lot on offense (damn near everyone but QB Jeremiah Masoli), but they don’t fare so well on defense (just four returning starters) and they have a murderous slate of SEC home games (Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, LSU).  They might spring an upset or two, but that’s probably the ceiling of their ambitions.

Tom (Prediction: #6 SEC West)

Kevin (Prediction: #6 West): Just like Alabama is the unanimous #1 pick, Ole Miss is unanimous at #6. I know Houston Nutt likes to lay in the weeds but not like this. Let’s not mix words, the Ole Miss defense was disgusting last year. And not in the way the *cool* kids refer to disgusting, it was almost vomit inducing. Ole Miss has to find a way to stop the big play this year or Houston Nutt is not long for this job. The key to this season (besides the defense) is probably how well West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti adapts to the offense and becomes a team leader. The offense put up 20 points in every game except for three (all of which were losses- I mean how do you not score 20 points against Vandy?) but Brunetti will need to help the Rebels become more consistent. A lot of pressure is on Tyrone Nix this year and his defense.

 

South Carolina

Jay (Prediction: #1 SEC East): I don’t have a ton of faith in the Gamecocks’ ability to live up to these expectations, but they return enough of the key players from their “huge” 9-5 season for me to pick them here.  They’ll probably still lose around 3 games, but the rest of the East is still down enough that it won’t keep them out of Atlanta.

Ross (Prediction: #1 SEC East): They have one of the best quarterbacks in the league (Stephen Garcia).  They have arguably the best running back in the league (Marcus Lattimore).  They have the best wide receiver in the league (Alshon Jeffery).  They have the most exciting freshman in the league (Jadeveon Clowney).  They play in the (much) weaker division and skip out on Alabama and LSU this year.  If everything doesn’t come up Cocky in 2011, Steve Spurrier should permanently retire to the links because the stars are as well-aligned this year as they’ll ever be for South Carolina.

Tom (Prediction: #2 SEC East)

Kevin (Prediction: #2 SEC East): Steve Spurrier just can’t help himself. He has to create a QB controversy even if there isn’t one and he’s started it up again just as the season is about to start. Stephen Garcia is not the best QB but he gives the Gamecocks the best chance to win and in my opinion the only chance to get to Atlanta. Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey also have to at least equal their production from last year for this team to get to Atlanta. I hear a lot about how great South Carolina’s defense is but they actually gave up more points last year than did Georgia (yeah I know they had to play Cam Newton twice and he tore then a new one in their second match-up). South Carolina had the second ranked red-zone defense in the conference last year in terms of % scored on but only Kentucky gave up more red zone visits than they did. South Carolina was also 10th in the league in passing yardage given up. Did I mention they were 11th in the league in stopping their opponent on third down (don’t rub it in- Georgia was dead last). There is alot of talk about this Gamecocks defense being dominant but don’t fool yourself. They have the ability to be a really good defense but right now they are just simply average. If South Carolina gets back to Atlanta it’s because of their offense. 

 

Tennessee

Jay (Prediction: #5 SEC East): You know, there’s a recent trend of troubled programs producing big results in Year 2 under a new head coach in the SEC.  Meyer won a national title in Year 2 at Florida.  Saban took Alabama to a BCS bowl in Year 2.  Just last year, Chizik won it all.  So, I guess, if you’re Tennessee, you’ve got that hope.  Of course, a common trait of those teams was a mix of exciting young talent and a wealth of upperclassmen maturing and “buying in” in the second year of a new system.  The Vols have the former.  Guys like Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers have huge upside.  Even Tyler Bray has great potential if he can gain some weight and maturity.  But they’re lacking those upperclassmen.  And that’s mostly not Derek Dooley’s fault.  I think this is the season where the Vols will most feel the effects of the final years of Phil Fulmer’s neglect and the spectacular failure of the Lane Kiffin experiment.  Things are looking up for 2012, but with this team’s lack of inheritance and a brutal SEC schedule that puts the top 3 teams from the West on their plate, it’s going to be another November struggle for the Vols to get bowl eligible.

Ross (Prediction: #4 SEC East): The Vols return a decent number of starters on both sides of the ball (including almost their entire offensive and defensive backfields), but they have some work to do along the lines and Tyler Bray may not be that good, really.  Plus, they’re the only SEC East team to draw Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas, which is a tough roll of the dice. 

Tom (Prediction: #4 SEC East) 

Kevin (Prediction: #4 SEC East): Take me to another place. Take me to another land. Make me forget all that hurts me. I think Derek Dooley was probably singing that little diddy by Arrested Development after their four game losing streak last year (LSU, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina). Luckily, the Tennessee schedule is back-loaded with patsies and Tyler Bray feasted on the likes of Kentucky, Vandy, Ole Miss and Memphis. Dooley will continue to try to dig the Vols out of the hole that Lane Kiffin built and this isn’t the year he sees a way out. Tennessee has some talent like Tauren Poole, Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rodgers. They will probably win some games they shouldn’t this year but the defense is not going to be good. The recent loss of Janzen Jackson really hurts this team. Tennessee will be better than last year but they aren’t ready yet. 

 

Vanderbilt

Jay (Prediction: #6 SEC East): I give Vandy credit.  Unlike some schools out there, at least they seem to be TRYING.  Just because you’re doomed to only make a bowl once every 20 years or so, doesn’t mean you have to accept it.  James Franklin is no Gus Malzahn, but he’s brought some enthusiasm to Vanderbilt and, at least for now, it seems to be paying off in recruiting.  But even if he truly is the guy capable of making the Commodores winners, you’re not going to see it this year.  Or next year.  Maybe not even the year after that.  Check back in 2014.

Ross (Prediction: #6 SEC East): New coach James Franklin has been doing a bang-up job on the recruiting trail.  Unfortunately, those kids won’t be able to help this year’s Commodore team at all. Their usual place in the East cellar awaits. 

Tom (Prediction: #5 SEC East)

Kevin (Prediction: #6 SEC East): Oh Vanderbilt. You are the only SEC team that I can’t get a half way decent guy to do a Q&A with for our Pre-Season Previews. Last year the guy I got gave me one-word answers (really? have you ever done a Q&A) and this year the guy must have realized Vandy sucked and quit returning my e-mails. Vandy- you are dead to me.

 

PLAYER OF THE YEAR PREDICTIONS: 

Jay: Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina:  Trent Richardson is the best player in the conference, but Lattimore is going to have more help on offense with a veteran QB and the best receiver in the conference.  It will be much easier for him to be productive than it will be for Richardson, at least in the earlygoing.  Not that Lattimore is any slouch.  He’s a legit threat in the passing game, and I imagine he’ll fill up those columns on the stat sheet even more this season as the Gamecocks try to do a better job managing his carries.

Ross: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB:  Lattimore will put up boffo numbers and the Alabama will be too balanced to produce a standout option here.

Tom: Trent Richardson, Alabama, RB: Trent has it all, power, speed and agility. Arguably a better back than Mark Ingram, obviously your numbers are tempered when you are sharing time with a Heisman Trophy winner. Richardson will thrive in Nick Saban’s pro style offense this season getting a lion’s share of the carries. With the Alabama defense again stellar, the Tide will play ball control, especially with young quarterbacks. Expect Richardson to put up monster numbers and lead Alabama to the SEC and National Championship. Following the season, Richardson will turn pro and become a top-10 draft pick in the 2012 NFL draft. 

Kevin: Mark Barron, Alabama, S: Yeah I went there. Bama’s defense will be the backbone of their team and will win games for them. Barron had 7 picks last year and led the team in the tackles. He’s the best player in the best secondary in college football. He’s my SEC Player of the Year.


BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR PREDICTIONS:

Jay: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas.  There are a ton of talented guys ready for their closeup in the SEC this season.  Eddie Lacy at Bama, Spencer Ware at LSU, Trovon Reed at Auburn, and Isaiah Crowell at Georgia, to name a few.  But none of them walk into as sweet a situation as Wilson.  He could very well be the top offensive player in the conference when it’s all said and done.

Ross: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina DE.  I buy the hype.  He’s going to be a terrormonster for opposing teams to try and stop.

Tom: Tyler Wilson, Arkansas, QB:   We got a brief glimpse of what Wilson could do in 2010 when he came on in relief of injured Ryan Mallet at Auburn. Wilson lit up the Auburn defense with 332 yards passing at four touchdowns in just over a half of work. Unfortunately for the Razorback defense didn’t hold up their end of the bargain in a 65-43 Auburn win. Although running back Knile Davis is lost for the season, Ronnie Wingo Jr is more than a capable backup to keep things balanced. Wilson has ample targets with future NFL receivers like Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Cobi Hamilton.

Kevin: Alec Ogletree, Georgia, ILB: Call me a homer but Ogletree will add another dimension to Georgia’s defense this year. They got bigger up front and Ogletree is faster and quicker with better instincts than anybody we had a LB last year. He gets to the whole and to his opponents very quickly and he will stop plays before they have a chance to open up. Ogletree is destined for stardom. This time next year he will be on first team pre-season All-SEC lists.

 

CFBZ PREDICTED 2011 SEC FINISH

After tallying up the votes we finished with South Carolina and Georgia dead locked for 1st in the SEC East. I could pull a homer vote here and say that since I think Georgia beats the Gamecocks that we are putting them #1. Instead I’m recusing my self from the vote due to my Blatant Homerism, sorry Alan, and I will count the other three Zealots votes for Georgia and South Carolina which gives the Gamecocks the nod to Atlanta in our Pre-Season Preview of the SEC.

 

SEC East

1 (tie) South Carolina

1 (tie) Georgia

3. Florida

4. Tennessee

5. Kentucky

6. Vanderbilt

 

SEC West

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Arkansas

4. Mississippi State

5. Auburn

6. Ole Miss

 

SEC Championship Game: Alabama over South Carolina

Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Student Section and founder of College Football Zealots

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