SEC Preview: Can Anyone Challenge Alabama for the Conference Title?
With the college football season looming, it's time for me to get to work and start analyzing the field. Starting with the SEC today, I will break down each of the major conferences in college football on a few key points over the next month: 2009 overall record, conference record, division rank, bowl game if applicable; key losses on O; key losses on D; key additions through recruitment and transfers; and 2010 prediction/preview. Hopefully you guys will read these articles and bet with your bookies accordingly. Thanks to my friend Joe for his research and help.
2009 Record: 13-1, 8-1 (1st in SEC East); lost to Alabama in SEC Championship game; beat Cincinnati in Sugar Bowl
Key Losses on Offense: QB Tim Tebow, C Maurkice Pouncey
Key Losses on Defense: CB Joe Haden, LB Brandon Spikes
Key Additions: DT Sharrif Floyd, DB Matt Elam
2010 Prediction: For the first time since 2006, the Gators won’t have Jesus… I mean Tebow taking snaps. John Brantley was considered one of the most talented QBs in the SEC while backing up Tebow, so most of the Gators’ success will depend on how quickly he adapts to the role of starter and escapes from under Tebow’s shadow. The Gators also lose some All-SEC performers on defense in Joe Haden and Brandon “the eye-gouger” Spikes, but Urban Meyer has enough talent on the roster to replace them. Even with all the arrests (24 players since 2005!), the new NCAA investigation into Mike Pouncey, and drama around Meyer’s three-week retirement, Florida is still the team to beat in the East.
2. South Carolina
2009 Record: 7-6, 3-5 (T-4 in SEC East); lost to UConn in Papajohns.com Bowl
Key Losses on Offense: WR Moe Brown, OL Garrett Anderson
Key Losses on Defense: LB Eric Norwood, DE Clifton Geathers
Key Additions: RB Marcus Lattimore, OL A.J. Cann
2010 Prediction: The Gamecocks are hoping to benefit from an experienced team that returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense, combined with an SEC East that has many questions. Stephen Garcia was 2nd in the SEC in passing last year, behind only Arkansas stud and Heisman hopeful Ryan Mallett. If the 'Cocks can survive a brutal schedule and play up to potential and not choke down the stretch (again) this could be a 9- or 10-win team for the Ol’ Ball Coach.
2009 Record: 8-5, 4-4 (T-2 in SEC East); beat Texas A&M in Independence Bowl
Key Losses on Offense: QB Joe Cox
Key Losses on Defense: LB Rennie Curran, DT Jeff Owens
Key Additions: S Alec Ogletree, OG Kolton Houston
2010 Prediction: It’s never a good thing when two of your best returning players are your kicker and punter. Not to knock Drew Butler (Ray Guy Award winner for nation’s best punter) and Blair Walsh (one of three finalists for Lou Groza Award for nation’s best kicker), but when your special teams unit has less questions than offense AND defense, that’s not good. Even with 10 returning starters on offense, someone still needs to play quarterback. After one whopping season, the Joe Cox era ended in Athens; his replacement is redshirt freshman Aaron Murray. Thankfully he’ll still have A.J. Green around to toss the ball up to. Green is arguably the top receiver in the country and should be one of the first taken in the draft next spring. The showdown with South Carolina on Sept. 11 determines who challenges Florida in the East this season.
2009 Record: 7-6, 4-4, (T-2 in SEC East); lost to Virginia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl
Key Losses on Offense: RB Montario Hardesty, QB Jonathan Crompton
Key Losses on Defense: SS Eric Berry, DT Dan Williams
Key Additions: OT Ja’ Wuan James, WR Justin Hunter, WR Da’Rick Rogers
2010 Prediction: Tennessee should be a fun team to watch this season, not because of their on-field performance, but to try and see Derek Dooley clean up the mess Lane Kiffin left for him. They’ve already had a dozen players involved in a bar fight off campus, which may lead to an NCAA investigation for “improper benefits” since the bar owner said they waive the cover charges of UT athletes. Meanwhile, Vol fans may have never thought they would say this, but they’ll miss QB Jonathan Crompton. Now they only have a true freshman and a JuCo transfer battling it out for the starting spot, and former five-star RB recruit Bryce Brown left the team. The defense has a huge hole to fill with Eric Berry’s departure, but DE Ben Martin is an all-conference performer. Seven wins will be a wishful goal for Tennessee. Hopefully they can play well enough to help ease the loss of not seeing Layla Kiffin around Knoxville anymore and well enough to calm this guy down:
2009 Record: 7-6, 3-5 (T-4 in SEC East); lost to Clemson in Music City Bowl
Key Losses on Offense: RB John Conner
Key Losses on Defense: CB Trevard Lindley, DT Corey Peters
Key Additions: RB Brandon Gainer, CB Dale Trimble
2010 Prediction: Joker Phillips takes over as head coach from Rich Brooks, the most successful coach in Kentucky football history (bear in mind this is, and always will be, a basketball school). Junior Randall Cobb is the most underrated playmaker in the SEC, and makes the most out of the talent he has around him (in two seasons he has two passing, 17 rushing, and six receiving TDs, plus another returned for one. In most other conferences, Kentucky would be a solid team, but unfortunately they have too much talent ahead of them to expect more than three or four conference wins this season.
2009 Record: 2-10, 0-8 (5th in SEC East)
Key Losses on Offense: OL Thomas Welch
Key Losses on Defense: CB Myron Lewis
Key Additions: S Kenneth Ladler, K Carey Spear
2010 Prediction: Except another long season, Commodore fans. It doesn’t help that head coach Bobby Johnson just resigned out of the blue a few weeks ago with practice just on the horizon, but there isn’t much to look forward to from last year’s squad that laid a goose egg in conference play. At least Vandy fans can still take pride in having the top academic school in the SEC.
2009 Record: 14-0, 9-0 (1st in SEC West); beat Florida in SEC Championship; beat Texas in National Championship
Key Losses on Offense: OG Mike Johnson, TE Colin Peak
Key Losses on Defense: CB Javier Arenas, DT Terrance Cody, CB Kareem Jackson, LB Rolando McClain
Key Additions: QB Phillip Sims, CB DeMarcus Milliner, CB John Fulton, OG Chad Lindsay, DE Alfy Hill
2010 Prediction: Not many teams can lose so many All-Americans and NFL draft picks and still be considered front runners to repeat as National Champions. That is unless you’re Alabama and your coach can attract the #5 recruiting class to the campus that is considered the Mecca of college football. Steady game manager Greg McElroy, who is undefeated since taking over for John Parker Wilson, returns to run the Crimson Tide offense. RB Mark Ingram returns with his Heisman Trophy, a horse in Trent Richardson backing him up, and the expectation to get more carries. The pending investigation about National Championship game defensive MVP Marcell Dareus’s trip to South Beach will determine if the Tide will have a very good defense in 2010, or a great defense. Either way, except a trip to Atlanta for Alabama this season.
2009 Record: 8-5, 3-5 (T-4th in SEC West); beat ECU in Liberty Bowl
Key Losses on Offense: OG Mitch Petrus
Key Losses on Defense: DT Malcolm Shephard
Key Additions: OT Cam Feldt, DT Calvin Barnett
2010 Prediction: Arkansas has some of the most talented receivers in the conference, and an NFL-ready quarterback to throw to them. We know the Razorbacks can score points in Bobby Petrino’s throw-happy offense, but the question for this season will be whether or not they stop anyone with their suspect defense. Everyone knows you need a solid defense to win week in and week out in the SEC. Ryan Mallett will keep this team in any game, but they’ll only go as far as the defense will take them. Last season they finished dead last in the SEC, allowing 401.2 yards per game.
2009 Record: 8-5, 3-5 (T-4th in SEC West); beat Northwestern in Outback Bowl
Key Losses on Offense: RB Ben Tate, QB Chris Todd
Key Losses on Defense: DB Walter McFadden, DE Antonio Coleman
Key Additions: RB Michael Dyer, QB Cam Newton, OG Eric Mack, DE Corey Lemonier
2010 Prediction: In the second season under head coach Gene Chizik, the Tigers look to repeat their 5-0 start to the season, except they would like to finish better than they did this past season, ending the year with a 3-5 clip. The offense has the power to be explosive despite losing QB Chris Todd and their talented 1,300-yard RB Ben Tate. They have an explosive receiver in Darvin Adams, who caught 10 TDs last season, and they landed what many believe to be the best running back recruit in the country, Michael Dyer (though Gamecock fans may disagree). JuCo transfer Cam Newton (another former Tebow backup) adds another element of speed in the backfield that could be tricky for SEC defenses. The fate of the Tigers rests on the shoulders of their young defense, who were not up to par last season. If they can improve with the experience they gained last year and move up from the last-ranked defense in the league then the Tigers could potentially have a great season. It's all up to the defense.
2009 Record: 9-4, 5-3 (2nd in SEC West); lost to Penn State in Capital One Bowl
Key Losses on Offense: WR Brandon LaFell, RB Charles Scott, RB Keiland Williams
Key Losses on Defense: FS Chad Jones, LB Perry Riley, DT Al Woods
Key Additions: TE Travis Dickson, S Eric Reid, WR Kadron Boone
2010 Prediction: LSU will only go as far as QB Jordan Jefferson takes them. Jefferson has the talent to be a star at LSU, and we know you only need to be an average quarterback to see good results at LSU (Matt Mauck in 2003, Matt Flynn in 2007). Between Jefferson’s shaky play and Les Miles’ ability to screw up winable games it may be too much to ask for LSU to contend in the West this year. Like most other teams in the SEC, there are enough playmakers on offense and speed on defense to keep the Tigers in most games, and Death Valley (the real one, sorry Clemson) is never a fun place to play on the road. Keep an eye on Patrick Patterson, he should be the first corner back taken in the draft next year.
5. Ole Miss
2009 Record: 9-4, 4-4 (3rd in SEC West) Beat OkSt in Cotton Bowl
Key Losses on Offense: QB Jevan Snead, RB Dexter McCluster, WR Shay Hodge
Key Losses on Defense: DE Greg Hardy, FS Kendrick Lewis
Key Additions: DE Wayne Dorsey, DB Damien Jackson
2010 Prediction: The Rebels went from being a dark horse team to national title contenders last year with a Heisman hopeful quarterback in Jevan Snead to suffering some disappointing losses (though still having a 9 win season) and seeing Snead go undrafted. Houston Nutt is going to need some young players to step up on offense after the loss of McCluster and Hodge, or this may be another rough year in Oxford. Stay tuned to see if former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli and his reoccurring arrests end up at Ole Miss; that would instantly add some experience to an offense that is down to two quarterbacks after Raymond Cotton left the team.
6. Mississippi State
2009 Record: 5-7, 3-5 (T-4th in SEC West)
Key Losses on Offense: RB Anthony Dixon
Key Losses on Defense: LB Jamar Chaney
Key Additions: OT Damien Robinson, ATH Michael Carr
2010 Prediction: The departures of 1,300-yard rusher Anthony Dixon and stud linebacker Jamar Chaney are really going to hurt the Bulldogs this year. Add in the fact that they still don't have a definite starting QB this year plus the coaching changes on defense and you’re looking at a mediocre season again. Expect them to hover around five wins again, with most of those coming out of conference. A bowl game is not out of the question, but this team will need to endure a vicious three-game stretch at the start of the season vs. Auburn, at LSU, and vs. Georgia. If they can win one of the three, then they might have a shot at a bowl. Progress is being made under former Urban Meyer disciple Dan Mullen, but it will take a few years to see significant results in this league. Just ask Steve Spurrier how long it takes to build a contender.
2010 Championship Game Prediction:
With the East up for grabs between Florida, Georgia, and a long-overdue South Carolina squad, which one of the ultimately three faces Alabama could all come down to the final games of the season. With that in mind, I am picking Florida to win the East again. They just have too many weapons and an absurdly talented recruiting class to make a smooth transition into the PT (Post-Tebow) Era. If a quarterback steps up at either Georgia or South Carolina, each of those teams' games against Florida could be the deciding factor in the East. I still like the Gators' chances though. In the West, Alabama should except a third-straight trip to the championship game. Between a tough, speedy defense and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram leading a talented two-deep rushing attack, the Tide will have one of the strongest teams in the nation. It will be tough for anybody in the West to beat 'Bama this year. In the championship game, Alabama is my pick to win the SEC Championship for the second year in a row.