At an innovation seminar this fall I took one thing away from the hour long speech, people usually can't remember more than seven items at one time. If you look at books, the more successful ones anyways, they are usually…"Seven Ways to Lose Weight Fast" or "Seven Steps to Financial Independence." Well SEC fans, seven isn't enough. Seven is boring, there are twelve teams in the SEC and I bet you can name them in 15 seconds or less. So screw seven, let's go through eleven ridiculous predictions for SEC Football in 2011.
1) Winner of the Battle for the Boot will win the SEC
It may come as no surprise but the SEC West Champion will likely be the favorite to win the SEC once again this year. There is still too much transition going on in the East for any team in that division to be considered a favorite for the SEC and frankly to win the East. Expectations are high for Zach Mettenberger this year at LSU and Tyler Wilson is a pretty good replacement for Ryan Mallett. Neither of these two teams will be unbeaten but the winner of this game will win the SEC West and go on to beat the Eastern Division champ in Atlanta.
2) Mark Richt Will be Fired/Step Down at Georgia
Who would have thought that offense would be the reason for Mark Richt's downfall at Georgia, but that is the way it looks right now. Sure, the inability to lock down the borders in the state of Georgia for recruiting has some fans upset but UGA is going down because of the offense. AJ Green is gone, Aaron Murray looks good but there are one maybe two playmakers on Richt's offense. The running game is non-existent, the receivers aren't developing and the offensive line is…not improving. Richt needs to big season to keep his job and today, it doesn't look like Georgia has a big year in them.
That could change if Orson Charles becomes a bigger part of the offense, Washaun Ealey stops fumbling, the receivers finally begin to step up, the offensive line learns how to pass protect and Mike Bobo figures out how to call better plays. If all five of those things happen UGA will compete for the East, if only two or three of them happen…Richt will be gone. An eight win season is not good enough for Richt this year, the Bulldogs should be as talented as any team in the SEC but the results on the field don't match the talent on the sidelines.
3) South Carolina will name a head coach in waiting
No more claims that this will be Spurrier's last year for me…Marcus Lattimore lit a fire under SOS that he is going to ride out until the kid leaves early or graduates. But it makes sense to do what Florida State did a couple years ago with Jimbo Fisher. Bowden and Fisher didn't necessarily work great together and it hastened Bowden's exit, but Spurrier is no Bowden. Spurrier isn't staying in coaching to go after records, his ego isn't wired to at the expense of South Carolina…I honestly believe that Spurrier is putting South Carolina first in all his decisions which is just another reason he is so loved there.
But at some point when you have a coach that any year could be his last, it is time to think ahead. Personally I believe it will be Ellis Johnson. Spurrier respects him a lot, Carolina respects him a lot and he has been in the SEC a long time. It doesn't make sense to have an offensive coach as the HCIW if your coach is an offensive guru. Defense has saved South Carolina for years…it makes sense to have it be the future of the program as well.
4) The SEC East will once again be in transition
This one might be pretty obvious but transition is a nice way to put it but 2011 will be very similar to 2010 for the SEC East. Florida has a new head coach, Georgia is a mess right now, Kentucky is starting over at QB, South Carolina still has Stephen Garcia listed as the starter, Tennessee is young and Vandy is Vandy only with a new head coach. Any team but Kentucky and Vanderbilt seems capable of winning the East but none are a threat to compete for a BCS bowl and will more than likely be an underdog to any SEC West Champion.
5) Stephen Garcia will not start more than 7 games this fall
What does South Carolina need running their offense, a quarterback who will take care of the ball and be a game manager or a player who will follow up an amazing throw will a boneheaded play? That is the decision in front of Steve Spurrier this fall in another year when the SEC East is wide open. Garcia or Shaw…that will be the question for the next 8 months and quarterback play could be the difference between a return trip to Atlanta for the SECCG and a return trip to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl. This is Garcia's fifth year in Columbia and while the state media wants to defend him, it is becoming increasingly hard to do so…Connor Shaw can win the job, not sure when he will though.
6) Tyler Wilson will be a household name by October
I like Wilson, I mean I really like him…he will likely be my first or second ALL SEC Preseason pick for Quarterback later this year because it just makes sense. To be a successful QB in the SEC you need experience, a good offensive coordinator, a good offensive line, a threat at running back and great receivers. Arkansas has all of these things. This spring will be Wilson's second straight running with the first team during spring practice and Bobby Petrino is one of the top 3 offensive minds in the country.
Arkansas always has a physical offensive line and this year will be no different and throw in Knile Davis' breakout season the Razorbacks have a first team All SEC running back in 2011. The final piece is the receivers and Arkansas has some good ones returning and if Greg Childs comes back healthy…Arkansas might be better this year. Wilson looked good against Auburn in the 2+ quarters he played…Petrino will have no surprises with what he can and can't do so the Razorback offense should not miss a beat.
7) John Brantley will be an All SEC Quarterback in December
Brantley will be an All-SEC quarterback, but not THE All-SEC quarterback after the 2011 season…expect Charlie Weis to turn him into the player that Gator fans thought he would be a year ago. Allowing Weis to focus specifically on the offense with a head coach that is more than likely willing to let him do his own thing is going to be good for Brantley. Weis did good things with the Notre Dame passing game and the downfall was never offense…it was always defense. Brantley's confidence was so shaken last year it was impossible for him to do what was expected of Urban Meyer's spread. Weis' system matches Brantley and he will not rotate him in and out every other series. He is a talented quarterback…he is much more likely to shine in the new offense than he was in the spread. We will see the John Brantley this year we expected in 2010, not the one we got.
8) Tennessee will win the SEC East
Someone has to go on a limb and pick an Eastern Division Champion and mine is going to be Tennessee. Good things happen to second year SEC coaches…Tommy Tuberville, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Gene Chizik all made it to Atlanta in their second year and Derek Dooley is the only second year head coach in the league this season. The division is winnable, a 5-3 or 4-4 SEC record is probably good enough to win the East and Tennessee is as capable as the rest of the division. The Vols get Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt at home to go along with road games at Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky.
Tennessee does play what most would consider the three best teams in the SEC West today, but getting Georgia and South Carolina at home is big and Florida as the third game isn't the worst time to be playing the Gators even if the game is in the swamp.
The offense is poised for a break out season with a good returning QB in Tyler Bray, some good receivers with Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, the running backs are returning along with four offensive line starters. Seven defensive starters are back and with defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox returning…there is a lot to like about Tennessee.
9) Zach Mettenberger will be this year's Cam Newton
Zach Mettenberger is going to be huge for LSU and while we aren't willing to go as far as giving Zach the Heisman trophy, an All-SEC season isn't out of the question. Mettenberger is already on campus and will be competing for the job this spring…it isn't a stretch to say that Les Miles is hoping that Zack can win it because it is hard to see Miles and the LSU fans going through another year with Jordan Jefferson running the offense. Keep in mind that Mettenberger was right with Aaron Murray at UGA before off-field issues got him kicked off the team. While many assume that Murray would be named the starting QB, the decision was made as soon as Mettenberger was gone.
Mettenberger has a big body and a very strong arm, he is exactly what LSU needs to open up their vertical passing game that has been absent since Matt Flynn left. The LSU receivers are excellent and should now get an opportunity to spread the field and the LSU offensive line/running game will immediately improve because of it. LSU was a good offense away from winning the West this year, with Mettenberger they have it but how soon the team chemistry comes together will determine how far LSU can go.
10) The SEC will once again put two SEC West teams in the BCS
The only way the East is going to put a team in the BCS is if they are able to upset the West Champion in Atlanta. There will be no at-large bid for the SEC East this year and the SECCG runner up will likely end up with at least four losses again. If forced to pick two right now it would be the winner of the Battle for the Boot and the winner of the Iron Bowl. Obviously from the first prediction on the list I like the SEC Champion to come from the game played in Baton Rouge on Friday, November 25th but it isn't impossible to see the winner of the Iron Bowl with ten or more wins this season. If the East somehow wins the SECCG that will throw a wrench in the West's plans but right now this makes a lot of sense.
11) The SEC Champion will not play in the BCS Title Game
For years SEC haters have been accusing the SEC of being down and for the last five years the SEC has won the BCS Championship. The SEC will not be down this year but it will be even more balanced than it has in previous seasons. The West once again will dominate the league as the top 4 teams could be ranked ahead of any team in the SEC East in 2011. Of course no one predicted Auburn to go 14-0 but everyone did predict Alabama to do it last year and this year there isn't a team that looks dominate this fall.
The top four SEC teams from 2010…Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU will be breaking in new starting quarterbacks. The East is a mess considering Florida has a new coaching staff, Georgia has no playmakers, South Carolina still has Stephen Garcia and Tennessee is still very young. Mississippi State lost a great DC, Ole Miss is starting over after renting Masoli for a season and Kentucky/Vanderbilt won't change much. Someone is going to win the SEC, but don't expect that team to be unbeaten this time around.
What are your predictions for this season and where am I wrong? E-mail
me Brian Harbach
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter