SEC Bloggers: 5 Bold Predictions, Part I
Mississippi State DB Charles Mitchell
CFN's SEC Bloggers share their first five outside-the-box predictions for the 2011 football season. From just how overrated MSU is, where UGA coach Mark Richt will be watching the Tennessee game, to the over/under for number of games SC's Connor Shaw will start at quarterback.
Barrett Sallee: Mississippi State isn't a darkhorse to win anything; the Bulldogs will barely make a bowl.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs have gained all kinds of street cred since beating up a weak SEC East and a Michigan team in shambles en route to a 9-4 season last year. Now...all of the sudden...the Bulldogs are a force in the SEC West?
Don't get me wrong, 9-4 is a good season; and in Starkville, it should be considered a great season. That should tell you all that you need to know about the state of the Mississippi State program.
Dan Mullen is a whopping 2-8 vs. the SEC West since taking over as the Bulldog head coach in 2009, both of those wins coming against his intrastate rival Ole Miss Rebels. In five of those losses, the Bulldogs lost by 20 points or more. Mullen should pat himself on the back for whipping up on the Rebs, but he's going to have to do much better than that if he's going to be considered an elite - or even average - SEC head coach.
Plus, it's not like Mississippi State is coming into the 2011 season with a ton of firepower. Gone are defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, linebackers Chris White and K.J. Wright, stud defensive end Pernell McPhee and offensive lineman Derek Sherrod. Yes, Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins constitute a pretty good 1-2 punch in the backfield, and Chris Relf is a decent SEC quarterback, but it's going to be a struggle for the Bulldogs.
The offense was just average last year (5th in the SEC in total offense and 10th in scoring offense), and the defense had issues stopping teams through the air (237.8 yards per game). The Bulldogs won because they were +7 in turnover margin and helped the offense out with good field position. Will that continue in 2011? It could; but it'd be foolish - especially with Diaz gone to Texas - to expect it.
With games at Auburn, vs. LSU, at Georgia, vs. South Carolina, vs. Alabama and at Arkansas; the Bulldogs will struggle to make it to 7-5 in 2011. In years past, that might have been considered a success. Something tells me it won't be in this time around.
Russ Mitchell: Georgia coach Mark Richt will be fired following the Miss State game.
Five games into the 2011 season, the Bulldogs will have little to show for the effort. An 0-2 start won't be the knockout punch; losing to top ten quality is never an embarrassment as long as those losses aren't, well, embarrassing. Still, it'll be enough to rankle a lot of feathers - particularly following the bowl game debacle vs. UCF.
Four of UGA's first five games will be played inside Georgia state borders, but the Bulldogs will win just one of those – that against mighty Coastal Carolina. And if not for truly hapless Ole Miss, Georgia would be winless in conference.
Following this effort in futility, the Bulldogs will also be without head coach Mark Richt for week six.
Georgia will begin its trek to 2-3 with a season-opening loss to the Boise State Broncos. Boise replaces both WRs who left for the NFL, but it returns a Heisman candidate in the form of senior quarterback Kellen Moore. Moore has proven he can lead his team in hostile environments against BCS conference teams, as will be the case come September third in Atlanta.
But this game won't be about Moore, it will center around UGA's ever-shifting offense against one of the best, most experienced defenses college football has for 2011. The Broncos return
10 eight defensive starters, and they're all seniors. Update: (Don't miss the forest for the trees, UGA fan.) This is a very experienced, very talented unit that finished the 2010 season ranked second best in the nation. It will handle a Georgia offense that is replacing A.J. Green, has a pedestrian offensive line that's in a state of flux, and is so thin at RB its moving LBs into the backfield that had earlier been banished - to play beside one great QB in Aaron Murray.
Without a proven wide receiver to keep this defense honest, Boise State will stack the box and make the Georgia running game a nightmare. Even IF the Bulldogs manage to find a replacement for A.J. Green in the first game of the season, this is a very experienced, talented defense - it will adjust.
South Carolina is simply too talented and experienced across its first string, offense and defense, for even the hedges to make a difference, and the Gamecocks are unlikely to have many injuries in week two. Meanwhile, while the War of the Bulldogs in week five will likely come down to the wire, MSU has more experience and enough talent to pull off the grinding road victory. Were this game played a few weeks later, UGA's youth movement might be experienced enough to make the difference. On the first day of October, though, that's unlikely.
Given a 2-3 start, player morale will likely be sputtering...though it will still be better than how most of Georgia nation will be fairing. Given the mounting disciple concerns of late, and that four of the last five years have ended in disappointment, we'll be watching an interim coach when the Dawgs travel to Knoxville for week six.
Gabe Harris: Kiehl Frazier will be Auburn's starter by the Iron Bowl.
Shiloh Christian product (and Malzahn quarterback prodigy) Kiehl Frazier will start this season; it's only a matter of how much.
Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley may have secured all the headlines this spring, but neither grabbed the reigns enough to separate themselves from the true freshman heading into fall practice.
Yes, either Trotter or Moseley will start game one, and one of them will likely start the majority of the games in the first half of this season. However, by November Frazier will have caught up to them, and Malzahn's eye will be on 2012 - and beyond.
Frazier is the quarterback of the future for Auburn, and that starts sooner rather than later out on the Plains.
Brian Harbach: Connor Shaw will start four or more games for South Carolina this year.
Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia is a changed man.
What, you don't believe three months of good behavior can outshine nearly a football lifetime of irresponsible actions and selfish team assassination?
Garcia hasn't changed, he is just on a streak where he hasn't gotten into any trouble. If Carolina somehow fails to meet its high expectations, Spurrier will look toward the future - and Shaw is the future at quarterback right now.
David Sweigart: All 12 current SEC coaches will return for the 2012 season.
For the 2011 season, the SEC welcomes Will Muschamp and James Franklin as new coaches at Florida and Vanderbilt, respectively. Before the start of the 2010 season, Tennessee brought in Derek Dooley and Kentucky promoted Joker Phillips to head coach.
Before the 2009 season Lane Kiffin was already stirring up controversy at SEC Media Days as the new Tennessee man, Gene Chizik was a surprise hire for Auburn, and Dan Mullen was entering his first season as the head coach at Mississippi St.
Prior to the 2008 season, Houston Nutt switched from Arkansas to Ole Miss and Arkansas wooed Bobby Petrino away from the Atlanta Falcons. As you can see, new coaches being introduced every year is common practice in the SEC. Though that pattern stops in 2012 - every SEC will be back next year.
Right off the bat you can eliminate Franklin, Dooley, Muschamp, and Phillips from the Eastern Division as being in any danger. From the Western Division, the same goes for Saban, Petrino, and Chizik.
That leaves five current SEC coaches: Richt, Spurrier, Les Miles, Mullen, and Nutt.
Despite the likelihood that UGA will open the 2011 season 0-2, Mark Richt will remain in Athens for at least the 2012 season. There are rumors that Richt's seat is hot, but he is well liked in Athens and has many fans/supporters. Richt is a coach with a great winning percentage (73.8%), and has 2 SEC titles during his time at UGA.
However, in the world of "what have you done for me lately?", many speculate Richt needs to produce to keep his job. While another 6-7 season with a loss to a Conference USA team in the bowl will not be tolerated, 8-4 or 9-3 will keep Richt in Athens for 2012. Given the Dawgs relatively easy 2011 schedule, there is a very good chance he'll be back.
Spurrier is entering his seventh year at USC, and people wonder if this will be his last on the Gamecock sidelines. Spurrier has his best and most talented team in Columbia, and is coming off the schools first SEC East title. Expectations are that the Gamecocks make it back to Atlanta.
IF Spurrier is able to win that game and give the Gamecocks their first SEC championship ever, will he ride off in to the sunset? The answer is no. Steve Spurrier will remain at USC until at least the 2013 season, after that all bets are off. Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney are why Spurrier will be back for 2012, despite potentially winning the SEC in 2011 and being able to go out on top.
LSU's Miles is also entering his seventh in Baton Rouge, where he has already won a national title, had four seasons with 10 or more wins, and has won the SEC twice. Yet the impression is this marriage could end at any moment. With the Michigan job being filled for the foreseeable future - Les Miles alma mater is off the table. There are also only a handful of coaching jobs in the country that are more attractive then LSU, and particularly given his new contact, LSU can't fire a coach with a 62-17 record entering the 2011 season.
Mullen is a young up and coming coach; as a result, his name will always be floating out there with possible openings. While a successful third season in Starkville will only enhance his resume, it would likely take a gig at another SEC school to make him jump - and given the argument I'm laying out, there's unlikely to be one.
Lastly, Houston Nutt, who likely faces the biggest challenge of remaining an SEC coach for 2012. Nutt is coming off a 4-8 2010 season that saw Ole Miss go 1-7 in the SEC. Ole Miss has also has lost two straight Egg Bowls to in-state rival Miss St, and 2011 looks like it could potentially be #3.
In three seasons, Nutt is 10-14 in the conference and 2011 likely will keep that record below .500. So why will Nutt be back?
He had two nine win seasons with two Cotton Bowl trophies before the losing season in 2010. He has a relatively inexperienced team and the expectations for 2011 are swinging way low. A third straight loss to MSU will anger some folks, but it won't be enough to fire him.
The SEC is a conference where expectations are high and the demand for success has never been greater. Change is inevitable. Still, all 12 current SEC coaches will show up to 2012 Media Days.
Please follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec, Brian Harbach @harbabd, Gabe Harris @gpharris Barrett Sallee @barrettsallee and David Sweigart @DMS225.
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