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2011 Preview - CFN Thoughts On The SEC
Auburn RB Michael Dyer
Auburn RB Michael Dyer
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 10, 2011


Preview 2011 - The CFNers give their thoughts on the upcoming SEC season.


Preview 2011

SEC Thoughts


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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
 
By Pete Fiutak   

- The SEC has GOT to come up with wins in its two monster opening day games: Boise State vs. Georgia (in Atlanta) and Oregon vs. LSU (in Dallas). If Boise State wins, it's smooth sailing up until the TCU game and it'll be another year of talk about whether or not the Broncos deserve to be in the BCS Championship. If Oregon wins, LSU is all but out of the national title chase, and the Pac-12 suddenly gets a major boost.

- Flying under the radar on September 3rd is South Carolina at East Carolina and BYU at Ole Miss. Watch out.

- Alabama will obliterate - OBLITERATE - Penn State in Happy Valley.

- Remember, Alabama was supposed to take a big step back defensively last year with a massive turnover of talent. The Tide finished first in the SEC in total defense (and 5th in the nation) and scoring defense (and third in the nation). Ten starters return. Expect something epic.

- Don't assume that Auburn will fall totally off the map without Cam Newton. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has come up with big numbers with far, far less talent then he gets to work with.

- Remember, last year at this time, the average college football fan had never heard of Cam Newton, Marcus Lattimore, and Nick Fairley. No, Georgia freshman running back Isaiah Crowell won't be Lattimore, and JUCO transfer John Jenkins and USC transfer linebacker Jarvis Jones aren't going to do for the Dawgs what Fairley and Newton did for the Tigers last year, but they'll make a major impact.

- Why the two division, eight game conference schedule is completely and totally unfair. Florida's games against the West: Alabama, at LSU, at Auburn. Tennessee's games against the West: LSU, at Alabama, at Arkansas ...

- Georgia's games against the West: at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn. No LSU, no Arkansas, no Alabama.

- Georgia's Aaron Murray was named the preseason All-SEC quarterback by default. Want a sleeper to be the league's best quarterback? Tennessee's Tyler Bray. He's going to let it rip.

- No player in America will have more pressure on his shoulders than Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. There's no reason whatsoever for the Hog offense to be anything less than dominant - the running backs and receivers are phenomenal - and if there's sputtering, Wilson will get the blame.

- LSU's secondary will be just fine without Patrick Peterson. Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu aren't household names like Peterson, but they're as good as any lockdown corner tandem in the nation.

- As a pure football fan, I can't wait to see Devin Taylor, Jadaveon Clowney, Travian Robertson, and the rest of the South Carolina defensive front. Steve Spurrier has put together a monster.

- Alright, Will Muschamp. You were antsy to get your own gig, and now you had better show what you can do. You couldn't be dealt a better hand than Florida. Ron Zook might have brought in enough good players for Urban Meyer to win a national title, but that's nothing compared to the jaw-dropping level of talents now in Gainesville thanks to the epic 2010 recruiting class.

- Yes, Florida is good enough to win the national title right now. Not tomorrow, not after breakfast, now.

- The spotlight might be on South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Arkansas' Knile Davis, Auburn's Michael Dyer, and Alabama's Trent Richardson, but there's a slew of other superstar running backs throughout the league. Tennessee's Taurean Poole, Vanderbilt's Warren Norman, Ole Miss' Brandon Bolden, LSU's Stephen Ware, Mississippi State's Vick Ballard, Florida's Jeff Demps, Auburn's Onterrio McCalebb, and Georgia's Isaiah Crowell are all good enough to be all-stars in any other conference.

- It's just assumed that Vanderbilt is going to stink because it's Vanderbilt, but this could be a sneaky-interesting team. The program needed a infusion of life and a shot of confidence, and that's new head coach James Franklin. He gets 11 starters back on offense, eight starters back on defense, and both kickers. The wild-card could be Jordan Rodgers, the brother of Aaron Rodgers, who could finally give the Commodores a passing game again.

- I'm making the call. This will be the first year a one-loss SEC champion plays for the national title when there are two unbeaten BCS conference teams available.

By Richard Cirminiello

Alabama will win the SEC championship and contend for a national title because no one in the country boasts a better defense. Period. Nick Saban plus nine returning starters from a squad that yielded just 13 points a game equals a truly suffocating unit in 2011.

Will Phillip Sims or A.J. McCarron be under center for the Tide when Kent State visits on Sept. 3? It might not matter so much since both are expected to play, and handing the ball to Heisman contender Trent Richardson will quickly flatten the quarterbacks’ learning curve.

Unfortunate scheduling will be Arkansas’ biggest hurdle to the school’s first conference title in more than two decades. The offense will be electric and the D improved, but trips to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge have a way of reducing an SEC team’s upside potential.

I have no faith in QB Jordan Jefferson, which is why I don’t believe LSU wins the West Division. Sure, he has a lot of raw ability, but if a fourth-year player isn’t fully ripened by now, he may never be. Plus, the hiring of Steve Kragthorpe to straighten out the offense is a head-scratcher until proven otherwise.

I have no faith in QB Stephen Garcia, which is why I don’t believe South Carolina wins the East Division. If the chance to play with mega-talents Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery for one more year can’t get the senior straightened out, nothing will.

It won’t take three months to get a feel for Georgia head coach Mark Richt’s future. Try two games. If he’s 0-2 after games with Boise State and South Carolina, he won’t survive. 2-0? Extend his contract. Splitting the first two is a gray area that ratchets up the importance of Mississippi State, Tennessee and Florida.

Part out of necessity and part out of common sense, Georgia won’t waste any time popping the cork on the career of touted rookie RB Isaiah Crowell. His arrival, along with the return sophomore QB Aaron Murray, give the Dawgs hope that they’ll be set in the backfield for the next three years.

It’ll be fun watching new Florida head coach Will Muschamp mold all of that young defensive talent, like linemen Ronald Powell and Shariff Floyd, LB Jelani Jenkins and S Matt Elam. Ditto offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and how he handles enigmatic senior QB John Brantley.

Can Mississippi State keep Dan Mullen in Starkville much longer? The coach has done a splendid job with some of the league’s worst resources to ascend to the top of plenty of AD’s wish lists. If the Bulldogs can finish in the Top 25 for a second straight year—an achievable goal—it could wind up being a double-edged sword.

With proper support up front—and from the passing attack—Auburn RB Michael Dyer is capable of leading the SEC in rushing. An immense talent, with a full season of action behind him, he’s ready to supplant Cam Newton as the focal point of the offense.

While no one on the Auburn D will attract attention the way Nick Fairley did in 2010, it’ll be fun watching pass rushers Nosa Eguae and Corey Lemonier grow into playmakers. The sophomores are about to form the league’s most underrated bookend.

If Derek Dooley can move the needle even slightly in Knoxville, he’s liable to set the table for a breakout year in 2012. Tennessee is brimming with future stars, like QB Tyler Bray, WR Justin Hunter and CB Eric Gordon, who’re just itching to get the Vols back on track.

By Matt Zemek

The SEC West Division will be contentious this year, but counter-intuitively, it’s not a complicated division. LSU and Arkansas belong to the ranks of college football programs whose personalities endure as the years go by. (More on this in a bit.) Auburn and Alabama, on the other hand, are emerging from seasons that cut against recent history. Now, Auburn lacks Cameron Newton. Alabama is once again deep without being quite so green up and down its roster. Mississippi State figures to be a solid team, but the Bulldogs don’t possess the heft of a team ready to make a trip to Atlanta. It’s Alabama’s division to lose, but the Arkansas-LSU winner will have something to say about the matter. There – that’s not so overwhelmingly complex, is it?

It’s useless to try to analyze LSU before each and every season. The Tigers’ personality is that of a schizophrenia patient, but one with a benign diagnosis bereft of severe manifestations. The Tigers are brilliant on some occasions and inept at other times. They don’t win division or conference championships on a regular basis, but they somehow find a way to win nine or 10 games every autumn. Plainly put, LSU is coached by Les Miles. Don’t try to figure this team out. Just wait for the hilarity and insanity to ensue, and behold the new ways in which Novak Djokovic’s distantly-related grass-eating relative defies the odds.

The other SEC West team with a consistent personality is Arkansas. The Razorbacks simply absorb the way their coach acts. Under Houston Nutt, Arkansas was as unpredictable as its Boss Hog; it found inspiration and passion for stretches of times, but the team lacked wisdom and levelheaded constancy. Yep, that’s Houston Nutt – unafraid to take chances, but also unable to be prudent and restrained. Under Bobby Petrino, the Hogs have once again put on the mind of their sideline leader. Petrino has a well-established reputation for crafting brilliant game plans and orchestrating great starts. However, once momentum begins to shift, the immensely gifted play caller tightens up, and his offense follows suit (while his defense takes on the negative vibe generated by the offense).

Louisville’s epic 2006 against Rutgers was the most profound example of Petrino Pigskin Paralysis Syndrome, but last year’s Arkansas loss to Alabama also entered the pantheon of Petrino’s most poignant peanut-brittle experiences. The Hogs don’t need to worry about the quarterback spot: Petrino coaches up quarterbacks like few others in the profession; moreover, he regularly gets backups ready to play. Hunter Cantwell ably backed up Brian Brohm at Louisville, and Tyler Wilson filled in admirably for Ryan Mallett last season. Wilson and the rest of Arkansas’s offense should hum this year. The question, though, is this: Will the Hogs handle the heat and not become pulled (apart) pork in the crucible of crunch time? The answer with Petrino-coached teams is historically “no.” Arkansas, it’s time to overturn history… and counter your longstanding personality as a program.

As for Alabama, the Tide don’t have such personality problems. Their epic collapse against Auburn – in a game that should have been 35-0 midway through the second quarter – will be impossible to forget throughout the lifetimes of each and every fan who witnessed that Iron Bowl. However, the Tide wouldn’t have won the SEC West even if Bama had taken down the Tigers. Before the stinging and stunning loss to Auburn, Nick Saban’s ballclub had already fallen short of its goals; do keep that point in mind. The 2010 season was disappointing, but it wasn’t disappointing in the sense that a great team took a huge fall and fell far short of evident potential. The sense of emptiness produced last year in Tuscaloosa stemmed more from the fact that Alabama was given opportunities to win even when its weaknesses were on display, but couldn’t convert. South Carolina mistakes showed Alabama an avenue to competitive parity in the second half, but the Tide couldn’t pounce when “The Curse of the Chicken” was tripping (not so) lightly from the lips of every Gamecock fan.

LSU didn’t deliver roundhouse punches last season, but the Tide became one of several teams to come up just short against the Bayou Bengals. Then came Auburn, a game filled with many individual failures on the part of the Crimson crew, but none quite so graphic as Mark Barron’s whiff on the early-second-half Auburn touchdown pass that catapulted the Tigers to their historic comeback. Alabama was not supposed to put all the pieces together in 2010; the defending national champions were expected to be deficient in the secondary, inexperienced on defense, and not as dominant at the line of scrimmage. These small but telling shortcomings suggested that a three-loss season was possible; it’s just that the ebb and flow of Bama’s games offered the promise of a better outcome. Now, in 2011, Alabama should have a stronger team, a tougher 22 than it brought to the gridiron last year. The rout of Michigan State after a month of post-Auburn fuming indicated that this team hasn’t lost its edge; Alabama owns a winning mentality, a way of proceeding that should resurface in full relief this autumn.

Now, a few words about the inferior but more mysterious SEC East. The biggest competition in this division basically comes down to a contest-within-the-contest between Stephen Garcia’s brain and Georgia’s post-2007 penchant for self sabotage. It’s worth saying that South Carolina beat Georgia (at home) last year only because A.J. Green got wrongly suspended. The game flow of that clash in Columbia would have been markedly different if Georgia had its stud pass catcher on the field. The Gamecocks didn’t do much of anything on offense and needed Georgia’s offense to be fully futile, complete with a Jasper Sanks-like fumble near the goal line by Washaun Ealey. This season, in Athens, Garcia will have to deliver the goods. He’ll have Marcus Lattimore providing support out of the backfield, but he’ll need to make clutch plays early in the season in a hostile environment. With Garcia - a man lucky to still have the starting quarterback job (that tells you all you need to know about Steve Spurrier’s confidence in Connor Shaw…) – that’s no sure thing. South Carolina’s ability to win the East for the first time last year is hardly a guarantee of more success this year.

What can be acknowledged is that the experience of breaking through that barrier might give the Gamecocks just enough belief – especially at the quarterback spot – to put their status as “reigning East champions” to good use. If Carolina and Georgia are tied at 17 with two minutes left in regulation, the Gamecocks – able to survive the first 58 minutes of mortal combat Between the Hedges – would probably merit a champion’s edge. Will the Gamecocks get to that point, though? It’s a question that’s easier to pass on than to answer definitively.

If James Franklin can coach half as well as he can recruit, I and everyone else who panned that hire at Vanderbilt will eat a copious quantity of crow.

Can Will Muschamp replicate Urban Meyer’s unmatched ability to order fake punts and make other appropriately bold moves in the right moments? Can Muschamp’s enthusiasm translate to the more holistic arts of game management and program oversight? We can’t wait to find the answers to these questions.

Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee

- It's not uncommon, but this is definitely the year of the running back in the SEC. When studs Brandon Bolden, Vick Ballard and Tauren Poole are getting overlooked on the national scale, you know that your conference is deep with running back talent.

- With that said, I wouldn't be surprised to see all of us lauding the play of SEC quarterbacks at season's end. Aaron Murray, Tyler Wilson, Stephen Garcia, Tyler Bray and Chris Relf are all capable of putting up stellar seasons; and the offensive coordinators at Florida and Auburn are both capable of making household names out of even average quarterbacks.

- If Arkansas wins the SEC Championship and contends for a national title, it shouldn't shock to you. The Razorbacks have the SEC's most potent offense and a veteran defense. When you have a veteran defense, you typically capitalize on opportunities. Just ask Auburn. Arkansas' offense on a short field? Look out.

- I wouldn't be surprised to see Arkansas, Alabama and LSU beat each other up and all wind up with one conference loss. That would make for an interesting BCS ranking debate to see who gets eliminated first.

- If the SEC Champion has one loss, we will have the conversation at the end of the season on whether or not a one-loss SEC champ deserves the BCS Championship Game spot over an undefeated Boise State. In years past, that debate would have ended quickly. It still will, but Boise State will have a win over an SEC team (Georgia) in the Bulldogs' own backyard under its belt.

- If Georgia beats South Carolina in Week 2, the Bulldogs have to make it to the SEC Championship Game for head coach Mark Richt to keep his job. If he doesn't, the Bulldogs will have several unacceptable losses on their resume, and Richt will be looking for employment.

- Alabama's loss of former starting quarterback Greg McElroy won't be as easy to overcome as some members of Crimson Tide nation want to make you believe.

- Mississippi State is VERY overrated. Dan Mullen is 2-8 against SEC West competition. The program appears to be at a high level because the Bulldogs have beaten up on a weak SEC East. The Bulldogs will finish the season 7-5 at best, and Mullen will regret not taking another job last offseason.

- Brace yourself - LSU's Jordan Jefferson will have a good year. No, you didn't misread that

- No, I haven't been drinking. Why do you ask?

- Auburn will take a step back, but it won't be off of a cliff like many are expecting. The problem isn't talent, it's experience. The Tigers will get better as the year progresses, and will spring an upset or two along the way.

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