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CFN 2011 SEC Preview
Alabama RB Trent Richardson
Alabama RB Trent Richardson
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 10, 2011


Preview, predictions, and breakdown of the upcoming SEC season.


Preview 2011

SEC Preview


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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   

It’s time to sift through the rhetoric and the myths and the talking points when it comes to the SEC.

Yes, the SEC is the best conference in America and it has been for the last several years. No, it’s not by as big a margin as you might think.

Yes, this is the year of the running back in the SEC with every team boasting at least one star who can crank out 100 yards on a regular basis. No, no other conference can come close this season.

Yes, the SEC deserves every benefit of every doubt now after winning five straight national titles. No, fair or not, a one-loss SEC champion might not get the automatic invite to the BCS Championship if two other BCS teams are unbeaten.

Yes, the top SEC teams are more talented than the top teams of most other conferences. No, the SEC, as a whole, isn’t faster than the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, or even the ACC.

Yes, the best SEC teams are dominant. No, the entire league isn’t dominant.

If you count the bowl games – including the Georgia loss to UCF – the SEC went a decent 15-11 last year against BCS conference teams and in the bowls. However, that doesn’t include an Ole Miss loss to Jacksonville State, and that does include Alabama, LSU, and Auburn going a combined 8-0 against the top conference programs.

To break it down even further, Auburn didn’t exactly dominate in its big non-conference games, getting by in overtime at home against Clemson and beating Oregon in the national championship on a late drive - fine, there’s no questioning how a team won a national championship. LSU rocked Texas A&M, but held on by the skin of its teeth against North Carolina and West Virginia.

Yes, Vanderbilt accounted for three of the losses, but that’s sort of the point; 34-13 to Wake Forest is inexcusable. The SEC has been top-heavy, and last season, it was mediocre overall.

But that’s about to change.

The SEC might not have been all that deep over the last few years, but Tennessee isn’t going to be average forever. Georgia isn’t going to be as bad as it was last year, Florida will wake up soon, and the problems at Ole Miss appear to be just a blip. All of a sudden, with the rise South Carolina as a powerhouse, Arkansas coming off a BCS season, and with Mississippi State becoming relevant, there’s the Vanderbilt layup – although new head man James Franklin is trying to work miracles – and Kentucky is Kentucky. That’s about it.

The SEC is still going to be top heavy, but the mid-section is about to get a whole bunch better. If Florida doesn’t reload this year, it’ll be national title-good next season once all the talent that Urban Meyer stockpiled from the 2010 recruiting class fully matures. South Carolina isn’t going away, Auburn will be back in the championship mix again in 2012 after what should be a reloading 2011, and Georgia and Tennessee will be better. Throw in the emergence of Arkansas as a special program, and the continued excellence of LSU and Alabama, and yeah, the SEC really will be the be-all-end-all of the college football world.

This season, the focus will be on the West with Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas all in the national title hunt. The good and the bad about the West being the best division in college football, and the SEC being the best conference in college football, is that it'll be next to impossible for anyone to get through unscathed. Auburn was good last year, but it also took advantage of a down year overall for the conference. That won't be the case this year as there isn't a gimme in the bunch in the West, and the East will be far, far better.

So will a one-loss SEC champion play for the national title if there are two unbeaten BCS conference teams? Many would argue yes, or at least the SEC champion will deserve to get the nod, and this year, with the conference as nasty as it's going to be, there might be a different set of rules and standards. There's the SEC, and there's everyone else. 

Other conferences and fans will scream and yell about it, but this season and going forward, the SEC is going to live up to the hype.

Team That'll Surprise
Ole Miss - The Rebels aren't going to win the SEC West, and there's a chance they could finish last in the best division in college football, but they're far better overall than last year. It wouldn't take that much of a leap to go from 4-8 to 6-6 for a team with one of the league's best offensive lines, a good backfield, and a strong enough defense to get to the quarterback on a regular basis. Had Ole Miss not gagged in the opener against Jacksonville State, and had it not blown the layup against Vanderbilt, it would've been a 6-6 season. this year. With both Vandy and Kentucky on the schedule from the East, and with enough talent to pull off an upset or two, this should be a bounceback campaign.  

Team That'll Disappoint

LSU - Being a disappointment is all relative for the top SEC teams. For LSU, not winning the national title would be a disappointment, but it might be even worse than that. The Tigers still have to prove they can throw the ball, there isn't any one area that's appreciably better than Alabama, and they have to prove that all the talent can add up to more wins on a regular basis. Last year, LSU won six games by a touchdown or less, and if it didn't hang on in two of those games, the final regular season record would've been a pedestrian 8-4 instead of 10-2. With games against Oregon, at Mississippi State, at West Virginia, Florida, at Tennessee, Auburn, at Alabama, at Ole Miss, and Arkansas, it'll be tough to get through unscathed. Again, when the goal is the national title, or at least the SEC title, anything less will be a major downer.

Game of the Year

LSU at Alabama, Nov. 5 - Alabama is the preseason No. 2 team in the Coaches' Poll, and LSU is No. 4. Oklahoma might be No. 1 and Oregon might be No. 2, but the if the winner of the LSU-Alabama game goes unbeaten, it'll play in the BCS Championship no matter what. It's not a stretch to say that the loser might be out of the race for the SEC title, much less the national championship. This might not only be the SEC game of the year, this might be the real national championship.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight

1. DE Devin Taylor, Jr. South Carolina
2. LB C.J. Mosley, Soph. Alabama
3. OT Bradley Sowell, Sr. Ole Miss
4. DT/DE Malik Jackson, Sr. Tennessee
5. WR Greg Childs, Sr. Arkansas

Coach on the Hot Seat
Mark Richt, Georgia - He was on the hot seat last year and survived, and after a 6-7 campaign, now he won't get another chance if his Bulldogs don't come up with a big year. It's not like he's a bad coach, and he's extremely well liked, but Georgia wants to be in the annual national title discussion like some of the other top SEC programs. Yes, Richt and the Dawgs are only two years removed from a run of six double-digit wins in seven seasons, but that's part of the problem; he got the program close, but didn't get it over the hump. He doesn't have to win the national championship to keep his job, and he doesn't have to win the SEC title, but with no Alabama, Arkansas or LSU on the schedule, and with South Carolina at home, and with just four road games - all winnable - against Ole Miss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Georgia tech, there are no excuses.

5 Non-Conference Games the SEC had better take very, very seriously

1. LSU at West Virginia, Sept. 24
2. South Carolina at East Carolina, Sept. 3
3. BYU at Ole Miss, Sept. 3
4. Cincinnati at Tennessee, Sept. 10
5. Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State, Sept. 24

Bold Predictions …
Charlie Weis will make the Florida offense explode. Next year. ... Isaiah Crowell won't be Marcus Lattimore for the Georgia offense, but the true freshman running back will be close. ... Kentucky's Danny Trevathan will be the best linebacker in the SEC, but will be overshadowed by Alabama's Dont'a Hightower. ... South Carolina super-recruit Jadeveon Clowney will live up to the hype right away, but Devin Taylor will be the team's best lineman. ... Tennessee will have a very good 2010 and will be the hot team going into 2011. ... Vanderbilt will screw someone up. The record won't be that great, but it'll pull off at least one shocker. ... The Alabama offense won't miss QB Greg McElroy, RB Mark Ingram, or WR Julio Jones. ... Auburn will really, really miss Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, and it'll miss the veteran linebackers almost as much. ... Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson will be just fine in place of Ryan Mallett. ... LSU RB Spencer Ware will finish the year on the All-SEC team. ... Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden won't end on the All-SEC team, but he'll deserve it. ... Mississippi State will take a minor step back, not because the team will be worse, but because the SEC will be better.

5 Best Pro Prospects

1. WR Alshon Jeffery, Jr. South Carolina
2. DE Ronald Powell, Soph. Florida
3. LB Dont’a Hightower, Jr. Alabama
4. RB Trent Richardson, Jr. Alabama
5. CB Morris Claiborne, Sr. LSU

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill

1. QB Barrett Trotter for Cam Newton, Auburn
2. DT Jeffery Whitaker for Nick Fairley, Auburn
3. QB Tyler Wilson for Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
4. CB Tyrann Mathieu for Patrick Peterson, LSU
5. WR Marquis Maze for Julio Jones, Alabama

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