SEC Three & Out: Flirting With Crystal
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw
CFN SEC columnist Barrett Sallee examines the offseason in the SEC.
By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee
Three & Out returns in 2012 to keep fans up-to-date on the latest news and notes from the SEC.
THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
In college football, preseason rankings mean a lot. Don't believe me? Ask the 2004 Auburn Tigers how they feel about it.
With six straight national titles in its back pocket, the SEC has earned the benefit of the doubt. But it still helps to be loved early in the season. LSU, Alabama and Arkansas will most likely be dancing around the top five when the preseason polls come out in August, but who else will be flirting with the big boys?
The obvious top choice is South Carolina. The Gamecocks will get Heisman contender Marcus Lattimore back, a full season of the vastly-improved Connor Shaw at quarterback and a defense that is still littered with talent despite the loss of former defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.
Plus, the Gamecocks have momentum. Despite not winning the SEC East, they are bringing a ton of steam into the offseason, following the first 11-win season in school history. Fresh off a season sweep of the SEC East and a 30-13 throttling of Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina will be a chic pick to win it all in 2012.
And then, there's Georgia.
The Bulldogs were a mystery all season in 2011, despite ripping off 10 straight wins en route to the SEC Championship Game. But the knock against Georgia last year will be the same question we have about the Bulldogs in 2012 - the schedule. For the second straight season, Georgia will avoid LSU, Alabama and Arkansas out of the SEC West.
Just because the schedule is relatively easy doesn't mean that the Bulldogs should be discounted. Aside from Brandon Boykin, the Bulldogs will return most of the talent from last season's defense - a defense that finished the season ranked No. 5 in total defense (277.2 ypg). Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley - two stud running back recruits - will be in the mix if and when last year's star recruit Isaiah Crowell decides to flake out on his team again. If Aaron Murray can be just a little bit more consistent, next season may be Georgia's year.
But then again, every next year is "Georgia's year," so proceed with caution.
THE CRYSTAL RETURNS
Alabama fans defied rainy weather on Saturday afternoon to celebrate with the champs. For the second time in three seasons, the Alabama Crimson Tide held a championship celebration inside Bryant-Denny Stadium in an event that included highlight videos, autograph sessions and speeches from coaches and players.
If there's any theme to take away from the event, it's that the Tide is still determined despite the loss of stars like Trent Richardson, Dont'a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron and Courney Upshaw.
Two years ago at this same event, Nick Saban preached that this wasn't "the end," it was the beginning. Considering the way that Alabama has been - and currently is - recruiting, he could have easily just copied and pasted that speech and used it again.
The personnel losses will be plentiful, but if there's one thing to take away from the 21-0 drubbing Alabama gave LSU in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, it's that the Tide has better depth than any team in the country. Without Trent Richardson, there's Eddie Lacy...or Dee Hart...or Brent Calloway...or any other stud recruit standing on the sidelines that new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier wants to trot out there.
The addition of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC brings a litany of logistical headaches, most notably scheduling. It also triggers the option to increase the conference's media rights deal with television partners CBS and ESPN.
Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News reported last week that the television networks are pushing the SEC to schedule better matchups in Weeks 1 and 2, and the next-to-last weekend of the regular season. As it currently stands, those weekends are typically when SEC teams schedule tuneups or cupcakes.
The real kicker is that the SEC is also considering doing away with permanent cross-divisional opponents.
This can't happen.
Rivalries like Auburn/Georgia and Alabama/Tennessee are part of what makes this the best conference in America. It's not just the talent, it's the tradition. Is it fair that those four teams - which historically are among the best in the conference - are forced to play each other every season? No. But those traditions can't be sacrificed at the expense of a more lucrative television contract.
Losing them would hurt in the long run.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @BarrettSallee
2012 Offseason Three & Out Archive
Three & Out - January 23, 2012
Three & Out - January 16, 2012
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Click Here for the 2011 regular season column archive