Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Friday, September 2, 2011
Will the SEC make it 6 in a row? I’ve been back and forth, but at the moment, I say yes. Alabama is returning 9 starters on a defense that averaged 13.5 points per game, and If that defense played in any league besides the SEC that number would likely be cut in half. Yes, Alabama does have quarterback issues right now, but their running game, led by Junior Trent Richardson is as good as it gets. That will take an enormous amount of pressure off of McCarron or Sims, whoever wins the job, and the Defense will keep them in games regardless of how the Offense plays. So, yes, I think Alabama will be the National Champion this year. They’ve got the only coach who has won more than one BCS National Championship, and he’s got an elite cadre of talent at his disposal.
As for the rest of the conference, the situation is much like last year, the power is in the west, and the east is a toss up (let’s be honest, when South Carolina is the favorite, no one is the favorite). In the west, a week ago I would say LSU is the clear cut team for second place, and a challenger for the Crimson Tide, but since the scandal with Jefferson and other teammates taking place, I am no longer confident in the Tigers ability to compete, especially in the week one match-up with Oregon.
Also in the West are the defending National Champs, who have seen their status fall dramatically, from #1 last season to #23 is quite the fall. Yes, graduation and the NFL draft left Auburn without good expectations for this season, but they were under the radar last year as well, maybe that’s where Chizik likes to be.
And then once you’re passed the Elite come the middle of the pack teams all fighting to make a statement and join the powerhouses on top. Arkansas is poised to do just that behind new quarterback Tyler Wilson and one of the best receiving corps in the country. Mississippi State wants to take the next step with their program after a solid season and big bowl win. Mark Richt needs a good season to silence his critics and cement his place in Athens, and this year he may have the talent to do it in a weak Eastern Conference. Tennessee and Florida each are on the rebuilding rout, trying to return their programs back to prominence. Kentucky and Ole Miss each want to distinguish themselves from the bottom of the pack, and Vanderbilt does it’s job keeping the conference academics and player GPA’s above average.
1.) Georgia Bulldogs – This is a huge leap of faith, but if there is any coach in the East that can handle it, it’s Mark Richt. Yes, the last couple of seasons have been disappointing, but that doesn’t mean Richt has lost his touch. And this season, Richt has the talent, and the schedule to make a run. Aaron Murray is one of the most talented Quarter Backs in the League, and adding Isaiah Crowell to the backfield only strengthens Murray’s position. There are questions in the receiving corps, can Tavarres King step into AJ Green’s role? And the Offensive Line lacks depth, but this season Georgia has the schedule working to their advantage. They don’t have to play Alabama, LSU, or Arkansas, they get South Carolina (which will be the game that decides the East) at home on Week 2, they also get Auburn and Mississippi State at home. The toughest road games will be @ Ole Miss and @ Tennessee. Georgia has talent that needs to make a statement, and in Weeks 1 and 2, they get the chance. Boise State in the Georgia Dome (which will be big game on the national level) but the real season breaking game for Georgia comes the next week when the Gamecocks come to Athens. Prediction 10-2
2.) South Carolina Gamecocks – I’m going against conventional wisdom by picking against the Gamecocks, who are loaded, but this team has never had these kind of expectations before, Spurrier has, his players haven’t. Can they handle the pressure of being the favorite? I don’t think so. Most of the issue (and the fate of this team) lies with Stephen Garcia. The skill positions are set, Lattimore and Jeffries are two of the best players in the league. But without a QB, their abilities are limited. Spurrier says Garcia has changed, and we’ve seen what Garcia can do when he is on (see Alabama game last year) but we also saw what happens when he is off (See SEC Championship Game). This may mean Garcia finally being replaced by Connor Shaw (Shaw will be starting against ECU, Garcia will come in the 2nd Quarter) The Defense collapsed against Kentucky a week after stifling the 1, 2 Punch of Ingram and Richardson of Alabama. It’s those pitfall game losses to teams like Kentucky that reminds us that South Carolina is still South Carolina. The schedule doesn’t help, Tough road games @Georgia, @Mississippi State, and @Arkansas. Don’t get me wrong, South Carolina will be a good team, but their shortcomings will hold them back from playing in Atlanta this year. Prediction 9-3
3.) Florida Gators – There are so many questions facing this Florida team. New Coach, New Offensive Coordinator, and a new offensive scheme. Florida has talent, but there is a lot of adjusting to be done in this new regime in Gainesville. The Defense will compete and keep them in many games. But it’s the offense that presents the issues. John Brantley underperformed last year, now in a new pro system coached by Charley Weiss, he will become more of the player he was supposed to be, but the two speed running backs, Demps and Rainey, don’t fit so well into a pro scheme. Add in the fact that the offensive line only returns two starters from a mediocre unit last year and there leaves much room for improvement. The Gators will compete for SEC titles again in the future, but this year is the adjustment year for Muschamp. Prediction 7-5
4.) Tennessee Volunteers – Last year the Vols outperformed expectations, yet the season still left a very bad taste in Knoxville. The Vols were two Bizarre plays from 8 -4 with a team that no one picked to be better than 6-6. This year, there are a few more expectations on the young team. For the first time in a while, the Vols return experience on the Offensive Line, if they can stay healthy, they will be solid here. The workhorse of the offense is going to be Tauren Poole, and behind an experienced line, look for Poole to breakout this season. Then comes Quarterback Tyler Bray. Bray exploded the final 4 games of the season and helped the Vols get into a Bowl game after being 2-6 with four games to go. The Gunslinger showed he has ability, but a shaky spring game has led to many questions about Bray and whether he would suffer a “sophomore slump.” Key Recievers Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones graduated and it's time for sophomores Justin Hunter and Da'rick Rogers to step into the spotlight. The Defense lost Janzen Jackson, likely the most talented player on the squad. The secondary still has strengths in Prentiss Wagner and Brent Brewer and the corners are strong as well, the secondary shouldn’t be an issue. The line backing corps is young, two freshman are expected to start, AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt. Malik Jackson, the USC transfer made the move to Defensive Tackle and has impressed many, showing up on numerous pre-season “players to watch” lists. The Vols have potential, while this year is not a rebuilding year, it isn’t a championship one either. But there is something on Rocky Top that hasn’t been present in a while, and that’s prospects for a bright future for the football team. Young talent is abounding, and with recruiting violations, and athletic department changes in the past, the first step foreword for Tennessee begins this year. Prediction 7-5
5.) Kentucky Wildcats – Joker Phillips led Kentucky to it’s 5th straight bowl appearance last year, which, when you’re Kentucky, that’s a feat in and of itself. But the offense has to replace a lot of talent. RB Derrick Locke and all Purpose player Randall Cobb are both gone, as well as Quarter back Mike Hartline. Morgan Newton takes the helm, much to the excitement of many in Lexington, but Newton has no experience around him at WR or RB, that is not a good combination for a new Quarterback. The Defensive front is very average, which, in this league, will create problems. LB Danny Trevathan and SS Winston Guy are both talented players, but they do not have much support. Kentucky is average, they will have to battle this year to extend that streak to 6 years. The Key Games will be Louisville and Ole Miss, both at home, if they win both of those, their in. Prediction 4-8
6.) Vanderbilt Commodores- Behind New Coach James Franklin, the Dores have generated some excitement when they got some touted recruits from bigger schools such as Tennessee. But for the 2011 season, the makings for success are not present. RB Warren Norman is solid, and the Offensive line returns 5 starters, but QB Larry Smith and the receivers give Vanderbilt no prospects for a passing game. The defense isn’t much either, Chris Marve, the Linebacker is a stud, but he’s about It, with a little bit of strength in the secondary. Don’t look for Vanderbilt to turn many heads this season. Prediction 2-10
1.) Alabama Crimson Tide- Yes, this is a popular pick but it’s that way for a reason. When you return nine starters from a defense that allowed 13 points a game on average, which was 3rd in the country, you generally will be favored. This team is a defensive nightmare for opposing Offensive Coordinators. Yes the defensive line has to replace Marcell Dareus, but the linebackers are a force to be reckoned with. Dont’a Hightower is a stud but Courtney Upshaw has drawn comparisons to first round pick Von Miller. In the secondary, Mark Barron is on the list for the Bednarik award.. The offense lost key players Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, and Juilo Jones, but Trent Richardson, a pre-season Heisman hopeful, returns and is poised to take over the spotlight after Ingram’s declaring early for the draft. The Quarterback battle is up in the air, but this isn’t a “you have two quarterbacks, thus you have no quarterbacks” situation, the problem is the two battling for the spot are both equally talented. AJ McCarron has more game experience, playing clean up duty last season, but Phillip Sims, the redshirt freshman started turning heads in the off-season. Alabama has announced that both will get playing time in the opener against coach Nick Saban’s alma mater, Kent State. And that’s the key for Alabama, they have one of the best coaches in the game in Nick Saban, and if he has the talent he needs, you can be sure that his team is in the running for the title. Alabama gets Arkansas and LSU at home, but goes on the road to Florida, to Mississippi State and at Auburn.Prediction 12-0 (gosh that felt weird. I need to take a shower)
2.) Arkansas Razorbacks – Yes, I dropped LSU to third after the scandals last week. Arkansas has the best receiving corps in the country. Greg Childs is back from injury last season. Jarius Right, Cobi Hamilton, and Joe Adams could all be #1 Recievers at other schools. The team took a hit when last year’s breakout running back Knile Davis went down with a season ending injury, Ronnie Wingo Jr. started at the beginning of last season, so there is some experience stepping in. Tyler Wilson had to step into the Auburn game after Ryan Mallet went out with an injury, he threw for 334 yards and 4 touchdowns, granted, Auburn’s secondary was garbage, but the kid showed he could play, and he’s got fans in Fayetteville excited. The defense returns 7 starters from an average squad, they will need to improve if Arkansas is going to make a run for the West. The schedule this season doesn’t favor the Razorbacks. At Alabama on September 24, vs Texas A&M the next week, then Auburn the week after that. They close at the season traveling to LSU. Prediction 11-1
3.) LSU Tigers – There is a lot of hype surrounding the Tigers, and I’ll be honest, I don’t see it. Last year for most of the season, this team offensively depened on RB Stevan Ridley, the quarterbacks Jefferson and Lee couldn’t find any consistency, and LSU survived a couple games by the skin of their teeth. They came on some at the end of the season, catching Alabama on a bad Saturday, and Jefferson began to play better. Factor in the lost of defensive stud Patrick Peterson, and that was the state of the team last offseason. Jefferson had improved and was ready to be the starter LSU fans had waited for, but then the allegations came after the bar fight. Jefferson is out for the Oregon game, at least, maybe more. Jarett Lee will start, Terrance Tolliver, one of the Tigers top receivers, it ineligible for the Oregon game as well. I don’t see LSU winning this game, and losing the first game of the season after a scandal can have adverse affects on the team. Les Miles, the mad hatter, the cat with nine lives, whatever you want to call him, will need to pull this team together if their going to make any impact in the west this season. Trips to West Virginia and Tennessee in weeks 3 and 4 may not be easy for the Tigers, especially if they already have a loss. Later in the season they have to travel to Alabama. They Close with a match up against the Razorbacks in Baton Rouge. I think this is the year that Les Miles’ luck finally runs out. Prediction 9-3
4.) Mississippi State – Last year Mississippi State surprised everyone, going 9-4 and smashing Michigan in the Gator Bowl. They are returning many key players, and this is the part where I would see they are poised for another year on the rise, except for the part where they are in the SEC west. Thus it’s an unfortunate case for Mullen and the Dogs, not that this team isn’t good, it is, but it’s not going to be able to compete with the rest of the West as far as an SEC title is concerned. Key returners on Offense are QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard and most of the receiving corps. The Offensive line will be making replacements, which, in this league could spell trouble. On defense, the secondary needs to improve this season, the line backing corps shows some talent as well. The Dogs have to go on the road to Auburn, to Georgia and to Arkansas, but they do get Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, and the Egg Bowl game at home.Prediction 7-5
5.) Auburn- 5 returning starters on both sides of the ball from a National Championship has dropped Auburn from 1st to 23rd. This year will be a struggle for Auburn, their talented, but losing that many key players, especially Cam Newton, is tough to turn around and in the SEC West, it’s even worse. Michael Dyer is the key amongst the returning players, and if the offensive line can get their feet under them, the running game could be solid, and the coaching is there, Guz Malzahn is one of the best offensive minds in the league and his squad will compete, but once again, the schedule is just too tough to expect much more than 7-5, 6-6 for this team. Mississipi State at home, @ Clemson, @ South Carolina, @ Arkansas, vs. Florida, @LSU, @Georgia, Vs Alabama. Yeah, it’s going to be a long year in Auburn. Prediction 6-6
6.) Ole Miss-The Good news, they won’t be as bad as last year. The bad news, they won’t be good. The Quarterback issue wasn’t solved until a couple weeks ago when one of the competitors was arrested, so it’s likely Barry Brunetti will be the man. The key player on this offense will be Running Back Brandon Bolden, and there is depth at the running back position with Jeff Scott and Enrique Davis. Also the Offensive line returns starters Bradley Sowell and Bobbie Massie, the running game isn’t the issue, but with the Quarterback issue just resolving itself and a corps of average receivers, the passing game will struggle, especially against SEC defenses. Last year the defense ranked 107th in Points against, averaging 35 points a game. That will need to change if this team expects to go anywhere up from last year’s 4-8 season. Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU are all home games, but let’s be honest, for the Rebels, that won’t mean much. But it’s the SEC, you never know. Prediciton 5-7
SEC Championship: Alabama over Georgia (Seriously, I’m getting sicker by the moment.)
Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Murray
Defensive Player of the Year: Don’t’a Hightower
Breakout Offensive Player: Tyler Wilson
Breakout Defensive Player: Jadevon Clowney
Team on the Rise: Tennessee
Team on the Decline: Ole Miss
Coach of the Year: Mark Richt
Most Overrated: Stephen Garcia
"Good Season Fellas."
These are not at all guaranteed or even likely for that matter. But if they do happen, don’t be shocked because it’s possible.
Alabama’s Quarterbacks never develop and it costs them 3 games.
Arkansas wins the SEC West behind Wilson
LSU Collapses and goes 7-5
Mississippi State beats Alabama and LSU in Starkville.
Auburn goes 5-7 and doesn’t make a bowl.
Ole Miss goes to a bowl game.
Georgia goes 11-1 behind Aaron Murray.
Stephen Garcia gets beaten out by Connor Shaw at Quarterback.
Florida wins the SEC East.
Tennessee wins 9 games.
Kentucky upsets Tennessee in Lexington and ends the streak.
Vanderbilt admits a student with a 3.9 GPA (yeah right.)
That’s the preview, I’ll probably be proven wrong on most points by next week, but it was fun while it lasted. It’s going to be a great season, and here’s to the SEC taking it’s 6th in a row as long as it’s not Alabama or Florida (It’s Kentucky’s turn this year, baby.)
Thursday, September 1, 2011
My Grandfather is one of my heroes. For a lot of reasons, he was always there to mentor and teach me and my brothers new things about life, from respecting others, to loving God, to fishing, to making whistles out of tree leaves, we even tried to make baseball bats in his woodshed one time (they broke). But more than anything, I saw so much of Jesus in my grandfather, and that's why he is one of my heroes. Each year he took each of us to one football game, we each got to pick (in 1998 I picked Arkansas, what a doozy that was). Some of my greatest memories from my childhood were in Section Y8, Row 35, Seats 11 and 12 going to Tennessee football games with him. (Y8 is literally right behind the T when the Vols take the field, it opens up seemingly right below you and the boys in Orange come spilling out on the field while the stadium roars).
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
This off-season has been the worst for college football. The Ohio State case, the "scouting services" Oregon and LSU have been using. There is silver lining in this. All of the cases coming up likely diminished the relevancy of Tennessee's case. The NCAA was in a position to make an example of Tennessee. Look what they did to USC over improper benefits to a football player and a basketball player. 2 Years of post season ban, recruiting restrictions, probation, and stripping victories (including a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy). They were prepared to do the same to Tennessee, making an example of an SEC school would certainly send a message. But then the off-season comes and the Ohio State case breaks, that gets messy and the Tennessee case goes under the rug some. Then comes last week and the Miami case, which makes the Tennessee and even the Ohio State cases look like Child's play. Tennessee is lucky to have got out the way they did.
Look at some of these matchups and imagine, first, the amazing football games we would see, and the audiences they would draw on television (last year Auburn-Oregon alone drew 27.3 Million) Second, imagine the amount of money that would be made on ticket sales.