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2011 SEC Preview - West Lookaheads
Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden
Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 10, 2011


Preview 2011 - CFN SEC West Team-By-Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finish



SEC West Predicted Finish

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EAST
- 2011 Florida Preview | 2011 Georgia Preview
- 2011 Kentucky Preview | 2011 South Carolina Preview
- 2011 Tennessee Preview | 2011 Vanderbilt Preview

WEST  
- 2011 Alabama Preview | 2011 Arkansas Preview
- 2011 Auburn Preview | 2011 LSU Preview
- 2011 Ole Miss Preview | 2011 Mississippi State Preview
   
- 2011 SEC Preview | 2011 SEC Unit Rankings
- 2011 SEC Schedules & Picks | 2011 SEC Thoughts
- 2011 CFN All-SEC Team & Top 30 Players 
- 2011 SEC East Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2011 SEC West Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2010 SEC Preview
 
1. Alabama 

Offense: Last year the big concerns revolved around the defense and replacing all the key stars. Now the spotlight will be on an offense that loses the three top skill players and has to reload in a hurry. While averaging 444 yards and 36 points per game is hardly anything to be upside about, the offense should’ve done more considering the experience and with the talent returning up front, but there are plenty of things to get excited about. The line was mediocre, but now it should be better with four returning starters and a good group of backups to count on. The running game might miss Mark Ingram, but Trent Richardson is more than ready to grow into a Heisman-caliber superstar if he can stay healthy. The loss of Julio Jones from the receiving corps means Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks have to become special to help out new starting quarterback. While A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims might have more talent than Greg McElroy, the new options have to prove they can be as heady and as efficient.

Defense: The 2010 Alabama defense lost the Butkus Award winner (Rolando McClain), three NFL-caliber defensive backs, a mountain of a nose tackle in Terrence Cody, and only returned three starters. How massive was the drop-off after finishing second in the nation in total defense and scoring defense? The Tide finished last year fifth in the country in yards allowed and third in scoring defense. Granted, the consistency wasn’t always there, but whatever … the production was outstanding. The talent level is off the charts, especially in the defensive back seven where Dont’a Hightower might be the nation’s best linebacker if it’s not his running mate, C.J. Mosley. The secondary has an embarrassment of riches led by safety Mark Barron and corner Dre Kirkpatrick, who should both be in the NFL right now, along with at least four other Tide defensive backs. The front three doesn’t have a Marcell Dareus, but it’s big, tough, and won’t be moved, while Courtney Upshaw will be the pass rusher in a hybrid JACK position. In all, eight starters are back on Kirby Smart’s D, and it’ll be a stunner if it doesn’t finish among the top five in the country again, if not No. 1 overall.

2. LSU 

Offense: The offense sputtered, the passing game was non-existent, and the production wasn’t there on a regular basis. Now there’s no excuse to not be far better. Changes were made with coordinator Gary Crowton getting booted for Steve Kragthorpe, who’s renowned for developing quarterbacks. If he has any success getting settling the erratic Jordan Jefferson, the Tigers have the all the pieces in place. Leading running back Stevan Ridley and top receiver Terrence Toliver are gone, but the team is loaded with promising prospects waiting to shine. The line is deep and talented, there’s speed in the backfield, and Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard are dangerous receivers. The line rebounded after a horrendous 2009 to anchor a rushing attack that finished 28th in the nation in what was the lone bright spot. The Tigers were dead last in the SEC in passing, and 107th in the nation, with the air attack never working on a consistent basis. Overall, LSU could muster only ten passing touchdowns – one of those by running back Spencer Ware – and now the spotlight is on Jefferson to see if he can use his experience to become a steadier playmaker. 

Defense: LSU was ranked 12th in the nation in total defense and bailed out the offense time and again, and even though there are some key concerns at linebacker and tackle, everything should be just fine once again. The D loses three All-Americans in NT Drake Nevis, MLB Kelvin Sheppard, and CB Patrick Peterson, but there’s talent waiting in the wings. The secondary is terrific, led by junior corner Morris Claiborne and burgeoning star Tyrann Mathieu, while others like Brandon Taylor, Craig Loston, Eric Reid, Ron Brooks, Tharold Simon provide a group so deep that hard-hitting safety Karnell Hatcher moved to linebacker this offseason. Ryan Baker is a big-time playmaker at linebacker, but he has to shine with an inexperienced group around him. The inexperienced but exceptionally talented defensive line should continue to live up to the expectations, but it might take a little time for the tremendous talent to play consistently well.

3. Arkansas

Offense: The offense was devastating last season finishing ninth in the nation in total yards, fourth in passing and 17th in scoring. Even with the early departure of Ryan Mallett to the NFL the offense could be even stronger if the line can come together right away. The Hogs have the same starting five up front for all 13 games, and now they have to replace three players and have to deal with some major position battles to find the right combination. Tyler Wilson is more than ready to be the star of the passing show, and he should be brilliant if he gets time. The stable of running backs was among the deepest in the nation, and that depth will be tested with Knile Davis out with an ankle injury and Dennis Johnson gone with a knee injury. If the receiving corps isn’t college football’s best, it’s in the team photo.

Defense: After finishing last in the SEC in total defense two years in a row, the Hogs found a pass rush, got stronger in the secondary, and the team went from good to BCS-worthy. The pass rush should be great, but improvement will only come with tighter play against the run. The production up front could come with a tremendous rotation of very big, very young tackles with ends Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright working on the outside. Jerry Franklin leads an active linebacking corps that gets all over the field, but could stand to be stronger against the run, while corner Jerry Mitchell headlines a big secondary with several good options to play around with.

4. Mississippi State

Offense: The offense took the leap forward that everyone was hoping it would. Under head coach Dan Mullen and offensive coordinator Les Koenning, MSU went from 115th in the nation in scoring in 2008, to 72nd in 2009, to 45th in 2010, and went from 113th in total offense in 2008, to 65th in 2009, to 42nd last year. The running game became dominant, rolling for 215 yards per game, and while the passing game wasn’t special, it improved over the last half of the season. The quarterback situation is tremendous with Chris Relf a rising superstar and Tyler Russell a top talent pushing for the job, while the receiving corps is experienced, if not spectacular. Vick Ballard is a scoring machine who leads a deep group of backs, and they’ll get to work behind a strong line that should be terrific at four spots, but has a major issue at left tackle with Derek Sherrod off to the NFL.

Defense: There wasn’t much of a pass rush, the secondary got lit up for over 200 yards a game on a regular basis, and there were too many problems over the second half of the year against strong attacks, but the Bulldogs managed to finish 21st in the nation in scoring defense and were terrific against the run. Now there’s work to do. The secondary gets everyone back led by two nice corners in Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks, but they need more help from a pass rush that isn’t likely to come from a line that loses Pernell McPhee to the NFL. The defensive tackles, Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd, are going to be terrific against the run, and they’ll have to be with concerns at linebacker. Chris White and K.J. Wright did everything for the linebacking corps and the defense, and they’ll be almost impossible to replace early on.

5. Auburn 

Offense: You don’t just replace Cam Newton. There’s talent returning under center, and there’s more on the way, but a mediocre offseason didn’t exactly inspire the same sort of buzz there was last summer. The offense will focus on establishing a solid ground game behind sophomore Mike Dyer and junior speedster Onterio McCalebb, who’ll be used in a variety of ways including receiver. Quarterback might be the big issue, but replacing four starters on the line might be almost as big a task. Tackle Brandon Mosley returns, as does former starter A.J. Greene – who’s returning from a season-ending ankle injury. If the Tigers can get their line situation sorted out early, then all the focus will be on quarterbacks Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier, who’ll get an equal shot at the plum job of running Gus Malzahn’s attack.

Defense: The defense was phenomenal against the run and stunk it up against the pass, and now eight starters and lots of leadership must be replaced. Nick Fairley is irreplaceable on the interior, while playmakers are gone throughout the back seven. While there’s a lot to worry about, overall the talent level might be upgraded with tremendous recruiting classes about to kick n. Neiko Thorpe is the only returning player in the secondary, and former defensive back Daren Bates is now a leader of the green linebacker. The line has issues with so many replacements, but from Gabe Wright to Kenneth Carter to Jeffrey Whitaker, the tackles should eventually be phenomenal, while end Nosa Equae is on the verge of blowing up as a top-shelf pass rusher. The secondary might need an overhaul, but it can’t be much worse after finishing last in the SEC in pass defense.

6. Ole Miss

Offense: The offense has to find more pop and more explosion, and while the passing game is going to be an ongoing question mark with several quarterbacks battling for the No. 1 job, and with the receiving corps needing to uncover more playmakers and a go-to target, the running game should be phenomenal. The huge, HUGE line will be among the best in the SEC and should blast open holes on a regular basis for Brandon Bolden and a deep, talented group of runners. Consistency will be the key for offensive coordinator David Lee’s offense, but that won’t come unless there’s more efficiency from the passing attack and fewer turnovers.

Defense: The defense was stunningly mediocre from the start in the loss to Jacksonville State, and things didn’t get that much better with too many problems against the better running teams and not enough production against the pass. The pass rush was good as the defense finished 20th in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss, but there weren’t enough takeaways and there weren’t enough big stops. The line is going to be a bit of a concern, but the ends should be strong with Kentrell Lockett getting a sixth year of eligibility and with Wayne Dorsey back. The linebackers should be solid and will get into the backfield on a regular basis, while the secondary should be better with three starters back. There’s good athleticism across the board, but it won’t matter unless there’s more production.

EAST
- 2011 Florida Preview | 2011 Georgia Preview
- 2011 Kentucky Preview | 2011 South Carolina Preview
- 2011 Tennessee Preview | 2011 Vanderbilt Preview

WEST  
- 2011 Alabama Preview | 2011 Arkansas Preview
- 2011 Auburn Preview | 2011 LSU Preview
- 2011 Ole Miss Preview | 2011 Mississippi State Preview
   
- 2011 SEC Preview | 2011 SEC Unit Rankings
- 2011 SEC Schedules & Picks | 2011 SEC Thoughts
- 2011 CFN All-SEC Team & Top 30 Players 
- 2011 SEC East Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2011 SEC West Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2010 SEC Preview