What To Look Out For In The SEC - Star QBs
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray
Posted Jul 20, 2012

After the SEC media days, what are the biggest things to look out for going into the season? Part 2

Preview 2012

SEC - Now What? Part 2

By Pete Fiutak

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After the SEC Media Days, what are the biggest things to look out for going into the season?

- SEC What To Look Out For, Part 1 - Injured Superstars, Coaching Hot Seats
- 2012 SEC Media Days  Predictions & More | SEC Big Questions

As if the SEC wasn’t nasty enough.

It’s not that anyone around the SEC media days believed that Missouri or Texas A&M would challenge for the title any time soon, but those two add to the mix of nasty teams to get up for in the midst of the always brutal conference schedule. SEC slates aren’t necessarily about the one big game; they’re usually a collection of landmines that have to be sidestepped and survived. The Tigers and the Aggies will be just good enough to beat anyone in the conference at any time, and they're both going to be looking to prove they belong right away. It's not like they're coming in from the WAC - they're used to playing tough schedules - but it's a whole different world now after dealing with the high-flying Big 12. However, the SEC stars have to watch out.

Alabama is better than both Mizzou and A&M, but it has to deal with the Aggies the week after the showdown at LSU and has to go on the road to face the Tigers. More than anything else, these two teams are going to bring some offensive firepower to the equation with Missouri finishing 12th in the nation last season in total offense and A&M finishing seventh. This is big because …

The SEC offenses have to step up and produce.

Alabama finished No. 1 in the nation in total defense. LSU was No. 2, South Carolina No. 3, Georgia No. 5, Florida No. 8 and Vanderbilt (18), Tennessee (28), Mississippi State (35) and Arkansas (47) were all in the top 50. While there’s no denying that the SEC defensive talent level was tremendous - especially at Alabama and LSU - it also helped the cause that the offenses were awful.

Arkansas had a great attack, Georgia’s was fine and Alabama and LSU were able to bludgeon with their ground games, but nine of the 12 teams finished 74th in the nation or lower and Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Ole Miss and Kentucky all finished in the bottom 21. Of course, the offenses were supposed to look lousy because the defenses were so great, right?

Not really.

Outside of South Carolina’s stomping of Clemson and the miserable Florida-Florida State game, for the most part, the SEC defenses struggled in non-conference games against offenses that could play, with part of the perception problem coming from the bowl games with Georgia (vs. Nebraska), Arkansas (Kansas State) and Florida (Ohio State) looking solid against mediocre one-dimensional attacks. Georgia faced Michigan State in the Outback and gave up 318 passing yards and 33 points in the loss.

Arkansas got lit up like a Christmas tree by Texas A&M, giving up 628 total yards and five rushing scores in the thrilling win. Alabama didn’t play a non-conference game against any offense with a pulse, and LSU got ripped up by the West Virginia air show and had a few problems with the Oregon passing attack.

Again, no one is saying the SEC defenses couldn’t play and they weren’t overrated, but they were good and most SEC offenses were bad. This year, the SEC defenses will be phenomenal and the offenses, especially with the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, will be better and it should make for a better season.

11 of the 14 the teams will work with quarterbacks with measurable starting experience, while LSU is getting an upgrade in Zach Mettenberger. The passing games will be fine but the running games should be stronger. The Arkansas and Georgia offenses will be great, while some of the struggling attacks like Florida’s, Mississippi's and Kentucky’s should be far better with a little more experience.

But even with the offensive improvements, there's no reason to get your popcorn ready on November 3rd when Alabama goes to LSU.

Fortunately, there should be more pop and firepower because of …

The emergence of several top-shelf quarterbacks.

Last year’s perceived weakness could now be a major strength. Remember, going into 2011 the SEC lost Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett and Greg McElroy with question marks under center for almost every team. This year the league is loaded with veteran quarterback talents and pro prospects who’ll start airing it out a little bit.

Several SEC teams are talking about getting more out of their quarterbacks and trusting them to start making more big plays. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray and Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell are prototype passers who’ll have to start bombing away to keep their respective teams in games, and they should be able to do it. LSU is getting an upgrade with Zach Mettenberger taking over for Jordan Jefferson, and Alabama is going to look from more out of AJ McCarron after he closed out the national championship run on fire.

Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson are established veterans who’ll each be under the NFL microscope, while South Carolina’s Connor Shaw finally has the starting job all to himself and will get to show he’s more than just a runner.

Florida and Auburn are still trying to figure out what they’re doing with their quarterbacks, but they have elite prospects who had lots and lots of stars next to their names when they signed on. The skills and prospects are in place, but former super-recruits Jeff Driskel for the Gators and Kiehl Frazier for the Tigers are still young.

Missouri’s James Franklin and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel are great all-around playmakers, while Kentucky’s Maxwell Smith and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers should be stronger now that they have a year of experience.

No, don't expect the SEC to turn into the Big 12, but the overall play will be upgraded. However, for all the improvements in the passing games ...

There's a reason why LSU and Alabama will be on top again. Their offensive lines will pave the way.

LSU and Alabama will be deep in the hunt for the national championship once again, but it won’t be just because of their phenomenal defenses. The two best teams of last year will once again be ahead of the pack because their front fives are head-and-shoulders better than everyone else’s in the league other than Texas A&M’s.

Quick, if you’re not a die-hard SEC fan, name a Tide or Tiger wide receiver. The two running games will be outstanding, but it’ll be because of a committee approach with waves of talented players ready to rotate in. However, both offenses should shine because their lines are going to dominate and destroy everything in their paths.

Last season, LSU was able to win blowout after blowout partly because its big, brutal line wore teams down and was able to pop the running game open in the second halves of games. Four starters are back and the one new starter, sophomore guard La’el Collins, is an elite prospect who should grow into a next-level right guard.

LSU’s line will be great, but Alabama’s will be better as long as it stays healthy. There are concerns about developed depth, but the Tide front five boast four future NFL starters and almost certain top 50 overall picks in center Barrett Jones, tackles Cyrus Kouandijo and D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack. The fifth starter, right guard Anthony Steen, might be the team’s strongest player. 

- SEC What To Look Out For, Part 1 - Injured Superstars, Coaching Hot Seats