Preview 2012 - SEC Predicted Finishes
The early summer look at where we think each team will finish.
SEC East Conference Picks
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Preview 2012 - Predicted Conference Finishes
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1. South Carolina
2011 Record: 11-2, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 9-3
Is there going to be a more dangerous set of pass rushers in America than Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney? Throw in the great set of linebackers and a secondary that should be fine without CB Stephon Gilmore, and the Gamecock defense should be devastating. The hope is for the offense to get back Marcus Lattimore at 100% to carry the running game, while Connor Shaw – if he can hang on to the starting quarterback job – should be steadier and should be able to wing the ball around the yard a bit more. While the team should be at least as good as it was last year, it's going to be a fight to get through another interesting schedule.
Not only is there a midseason stretch of three road games in four weeks, but the last two games are on the road at LSU and Florida after hosting Georgia. Throw in the home dates against Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee along with the end-of-the-year road trip to Clemson and there are more than enough landmines to worry about at least a three-loss season. However, if the Gamecocks can hold serve at home they should be in for a tremendous year.
2011 Record: 10-4, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 9-3
The Bulldogs are loaded. The lines are going to be terrific, the skill players are fantastic, and Aaron Murray could be the best quarterback in the SEC if a few breaks go his way. There are superior playmakers on a strong defense led by LB Jarvis Jones and safety Baracci Rambo – even with his off-the-field issues – to be able to hang around with any team on the slate, but can the Dawgs get through the road games?
The home schedule should be a relative breeze with the Georgia Tech game by far the most dangerous to worry about, and while Mark Richt has traditionally been able to get his teams up for road games he'll have some concerns this year. Georgia is better than Missouri, but it'll be the first SEC game in Columbia and the Faurot Field crowd will be jacked up. Going to South Carolina is bad enough, but it'll be followed up by the Don't-Call-It-A Cocktail Party game against Florida. The Auburn trip will also be nasty meaning it wouldn't be a shocker if Georgia lost three of their five games away from home. They'll beat Kentucky in Lexington, though.
2011 Record: 7-6, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 8-4
Can Will Muschamp start to do something with all the talent amassed over the last few years? The starting quarterback job is up in the air, but both Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are top players who could each produce with a good receiving corps and a nice stable of running backs to work with. The defense should be phenomenal even with star DE Ronald Powell suffering a torn ACL this offseason. Led by linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Bostic, the back seven is experienced and fast, while the line should be great with Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter locking down on the inside.
While the team is stronger, like last year, the schedule will be a problem with road games early at Texas A&M and Tennessee and in the regular season finale against Florida State. However, while the Tigers have to face LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, and Missouri, from the September 22nd date with Kentucky to the November 17th layup against Jacksonville State, the Gators have only one true road game at Vanderbilt.
2011 Record: 5-7, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 6-6
The Vols should get back on the bowl track, but it's going to take a fight to do it unless QB Tyler Bray turns into the star pro prospect many think he could be. The offensive line took its lumps last year, and now it's far more experienced and can't help but be better. The secondary is loaded with experience and should be one of the best in the SEC East, but will it be enough to overcome a mediocre pass rush? Getting Alabama from the West is a bad break made worse by being the lone home date in a four game stretch with road games against Georgia, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. Closing out with three home games in the final four should make for a nice November, but first the team has to be in range to go bowling. Having Georgia State and Akron on the slate should help.
2011 Record: 8-5, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 7-5
There are a lot of question marks for a team trying to work its way into the SEC world. Can QB James Franklin be healthy and stay in one piece after suffering a shoulder injury? Will the running game be fine without Henry Josey? Can the passing game have more spark, and will the defense be more consistent? The defensive back seven is solid and the front line should be great at tackle. The offense will be hit-or-miss, but it should be ready to roll for the SEC opener in Columbia against Georgia. Going to South Carolina will be bad, and following it up with a tough road test at UCF – likely the best team in Conference USA – could be disappointing, but the big problem will be dealing with Alabama at home in mid-October with a brutal finishing kick on the horizon. The Tigers play three road games in November going to Florida, Tennessee, and Texas A&M meaning the bowl bid had better be locked up relatively early or else a home game against Syracuse could be needed to save the year from a disaster.
2011 Record: 6-7, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 5-7
The team might be better now that coach James Franklin has had a year to work, but can it win the tough home games? Back-to-back road games against Georgia and Missouri will be next to impossible after starting the season off against South Carolina and a week after a road trip to Northwestern. The Commodores have to win a few of the home games against teams like Florida, Auburn and Tennessee to be in the hunt for a bowl game, and while three of the final four games are on the road, they're winnable against Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Wake Forest. Four starters are back on the offensive front to potentially help the great group of skill players shine, while six starters are back on defense. Even though there's experience to rely on, losing LB Chris Marve and top defensive backs Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson will hurt.
2011 Record: 5-7, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 4-8
Welcome to the new world of the SEC with even more nasty games. The Wildcats not only have to deal with Missouri, they have to go to Columbia. Outside of the home game against Vanderbilt, where are the possible conference wins? Mississippi State at home? An upset over Tennessee on the road? There can't be any slips against WKU or Kent State at home, and pulling off a few shockers will be a must to have any hope of getting in the hunt for a bowl game. The team was so young last year that it'll be far more experienced on offense and should be a bit more consistent going into the season, but will it be better? The defensive front should be fine, but the secondary needs a ton of help. Fortunately, there aren't any dangerous passing teams on the slate until Arkansas comes up in mid-October.
SEC West Conference Picks
2011 Record: 13-1, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 12-0
If you liked the 2011 version of the Tigers, there's a chance you'll love the sequel even more with a killer of an offensive line paving the way for what should be the nation's most dominant running game. It might not put up the numbers of a Wisconsin or Navy, but the LSU front line is loaded with NFL talent and all the running backs return to bring wave after wave of big, strong pounders to wear down a defense.
The problem, though, is that the 2011 Tigers seemed to feed off the really big game-changing play to get energized, and when that didn't happen in the BCS championship, everything broke down. This year, the offense will generate more big plays down the field with QB Zach Mettenberger pushing the deep play down the field a bit more after the defenses are softened up by the killer ground attack. On the other side of the ball, Tyrann Mathieu and the defense should be dominant again even without DT Michael Brockers and CB Morris Claiborne. DE Sam Montgomery should be in the NFL right now, Barkevious Mingo will dominate on the other side, and the defensive tackle combination of Anthony "Freak" Johnson and Bennie Logan will be special.
The 2012 Tigers will be great, but they might not be quite as good across the board as they were last year. Fortunately the schedule will be far easier with Alabama coming to Death Valley and with no brutal Oregon-like non-conference games. Going to Arkansas could screw up the dream year in the regular-season finale, and going to Florida, Auburn, and Texas A&M will be challenging, but if everything goes according to plan the worst-case scenario could be 10-2.
2011 Record: 12-1, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 10-2
Alabama will be loaded again and it should be even stronger in the passing game, but can the running game continue to shine without Trent Richardson? Can the defense be the same sort of killer it was throughout last year without seven starters? Will the kicking game come through when it has to in the big games? Can the offense shine without offensive coordinator Jim McElwain? The answer to all of the above is probably a resounding yes, but that still might mean a really, really strong two-loss season.
The Tide has to go to Death Valley to deal with a loaded LSU – made worse with the Tigers getting two weeks off to rest up and prepare. While Bama will be better than everyone else on the schedule, there are four other landmines against Michigan
in Arlington, Texas
, at Missouri, at Tennessee, and at Arkansas. Throw in the always-tough Auburn game and a home date with Texas A&M and there are just enough tough battles to assume a slip-up.
Remember, the Tide had to replace Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, and Julio Jones in 2011, so the idea of losing starters – and offensive coordinator Jim McElwain - isn't exactly going to cause a major panic for Nick Saban and his program. Star running back Trent Richardson turned pro, but Eddie Lacy is a big playmaker who's ready for a bigger role. The linebacking corps will need to be remade with Dont'a Hightower taking off early, Courtney Upshaw done, and C.J. Mosley a question mark at the moment considering the horrible injury he suffered in the BCS championship.
On the plus side, Outland-winning tackle Barrett Jones stunningly chose to come back to join Chance Warmack to anchor the left side to keep BCS championship hero AJ McCarron clean, while D.J. Fluker is back at right tackle. The young receivers who looked so strong against LSU should play a bigger role, and they might need to make the passing game stronger to overcome early problems for a defense that lost seven starters. Even so, the D will quickly reload around strong safety Robert Lester and linebacker Nico Johnson.
2011 Record: 11-2, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 8-4
Yes, there really is a difference between Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith. The talent level might be in place to come up with a big year, but does Smith have the chops to get through a slew of dangerous dogfights? On the plus side, Alabama and LSU are home games, but Alabama and LSU are going to be Alabama and LSU again. Auburn and Mississippi State are both better and both games are on the road, as is a date with, possibly, the East's best team, South Carolina. The Texas A&M game in Arlington will be a problem, as should a sneaky-tough home game against a Rutgers team that might win the Big East.
QB Tyler Wilson is poised and ready to become a first-round NFL draft pick, and even with some turnover he'll have a good receiving corps to work with. The hope is for Knile Davis to be healthy and ready to go, but even if he's not the running game should still work behind a solid line. The defense will be good enough to get by, but will it be at the same level as the other top SEC teams? No, and the offense will have to pick up the slack against the top teams.
2011 Record: 8-5, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 8-4
The Tigers will be better on offense even after losing coordinator Gus Malzahn and RB Michael Dyer – at least the passing game should be stronger. First things first, the offense has to settle on a starting quarterback, and while it'll almost certainly be Kiehl Frazier, Clint Moseley still has an outside shot. The problems with the defense last year should all pay off with nine starters returning and with more talent across the board than it had in the national title season.
Even though there's reason to be optimistic, there's still the schedule to deal with. The Tigers will know where they stand right away opening things up in Atlanta against a Clemson team fired up to show the Orange Bowl was an aberration, and followed up by a trip to Mississippi State. To make things even more interesting, LSU and Arkansas have to come to Auburn to wrap up a fun first five weeks of the season. Four home games in a row late in the year will help prepare for the regular season finale at Alabama, but Georgia and Texas A&M will be fights.
5. Mississippi State
2011 Record: 7-6, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 8-4
Can the Bulldogs find their way through the brutal SEC West? In any other division in college football they'd be in for a great season with six starters back on a good defense and with plenty of hope for an offense that should have a stronger passing attack. The O line needs some work and the running game needs to replace Vick Ballard, but Dan Mullen's offenses always produce on the ground. But will it matter with so many nasty SEC teams to deal with? If MSU can get by the conference opener at home against Auburn, a 7-0 start is not only possible, it's likely before the brutal back half of the slate kicks in including dates with Alabama and LSU on the road and home battles with Texas A&M and Arkansas.
6. Texas A&M
2011 Record: 7-6, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 7-5
Welcome to the SEC, Texas A&M. Now enjoy opening up conference play against Florida, and later enjoy the midseason run of five games away from College Station in six dates. That's not going to be just any old stretch; it kicks off against Arkansas and includes three straight road games to Auburn, Mississippi State, and just for a little bit more fun, Alabama. Oh, and that home game to rest up and recharge in the middle of all the road madness is against LSU. Throw in September road games against Louisiana Tech – who should be the favorite to win the WAC – and SMU – who should be the favorite to win Conference USA, and yes, dates against South Carolina State and Sam Houston State are more than forgivable for a team that's getting its feet wet with a new coaching staff. On the plus side, the O line should be fantastic with all five starters returning and the D that led the nation in sacks returns six starters.
7. Ole Miss
2011 Record: 2-10, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 4-8
The first year under Hugh Freeze should be far, far stronger than the final season under Houston Nutt. The Rebels couldn't score and were the worst in the SEC in total defense and scoring defense, and now there's a lot of work to do. The underachieving defensive front has to be stronger with several young players needing to step up and shine. All four starters return to the secondary while there are plenty of promising talents up front to work around. Consistent offensive playmakers have to be found, and the line needs help, but Freeze should have the team just strong enough to beat Central Arkansas, UTEP, and Tulane in September, but the SEC schedule is a bear and the other non-conference game is against Texas. Even so, with Vanderbilt and Mississippi State at home, six wins isn't a crazy goal.