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SEC Preview 2006

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 9, 2006


Preview 2006 CollegeFootballNews.com SEC Preview


SEC Preview | All-SEC team and top 30 players | Top 5s | Unit Rankings
- Alabama Preview | Arkansas Preview | Auburn Preview 
- Florida Preview | Georgia Preview |
 Kentucky Preview
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LSU Preview | Ole Miss Preview |  Mississippi State Preview |
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South Carolina Preview | Tennessee Preview | Vanderbilt Preview
 

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
Auburn over Florida

CONFERENCE OUTLOOK
The SEC might have been mediocre last year by its own high standards, but it’s back to being the best conference in the nation and it’s not even close. Even so, everyone appears to be a year away from really, really, really being good. Urban Meyer is recruiting his tail off at Florida on his way to creating USC East, SEC champ Georgia is nasty again despite needing to reload, Tennessee will quickly rebound with David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator, and LSU and Auburn belong in the discussion of the five best teams in America. Alabama and South Carolina won’t do what they did last year, but they’ll still be solid. Arkansas will be back to its old bowl bound ways, and Ole Miss and Mississippi State will be much improved.

3 THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Quarterback controversies. The SEC has never had so much young quarterback talent, and they’re all ready to play. Georgia’s Matthew Stafford, Florida’s Tim Tebow, LSU’s Ryan Perrilloux and Arkansas’ Mitch Mustain all have NFL potential, but all will start out on the bench.

2. Florida and LSU will each finish with two losses despite being among the best teams in America. Most teams would struggle to go .500 with Florida’s schedule.

3. The league will get its shots in on Steve Spurrier. South Carolina will start out 4-2 before hitting a scheduling wall.

GAME OF THE YEAR
September 16th LSU at Auburn.
The LSU version of the Tigers won a 20-17 thriller last season and has to come out of the conference opener with a win or face the daunting task of having to win in Gainesville and Knoxville to have any hope of playing for the SEC title. If Auburn wins, it should be 6-0 going into the showdown with Florida.

EAST DIVISION

1. Florida
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Player: QB Chris Leak, Sr.
Offense - It's year two of the Urban Meyer offense and the pieces still aren't in place after an uneven 2005. Quarterback Chris Leak showed more mobility this spring and should be an even sharper passer, but super-recruit Tim Tebow will see meaningful action and could take over if he lives up to the hype. The receiving corps has the potential to be great as long as Andre Caldwell returns healthy from a broken leg and Dallas Baker steps up as the number one target. There's talent in the backfield, but no one appears able to fit into the scheme. The big issue is on the offensive line with only one starter returning from a group that struggled last season.
Defense -
Most of the publicity will be focused on the offense, but it'll be the defense that carries the Gators. The front seven should be terrific as long as injuries don't strike the linebackers. There are plenty of options on the line with tackle Marcus Thomas and ends Ray McDonald, Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey all good enough to be in the hunt for all-star honors. If corners Reggie Lewis holds up, the secondary will be fine even after losing three starters. Safety Reggie Nelson is about to emerge as an all-star.
This season will be a success if … Florida wins the SEC title. Who cares that the offense is still at least a year away from being up-to-Urban-snuff? Who cares that most teams would jump for joy to go 5-7 with Florida's schedule? Anything less than an SEC title might make the Gators this year's Tennessee.

2. Tennessee
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: OT Arron Sears, Sr.
Offense - Tennessee had way too much talent to average 326 yards and 18.6 points per game last year, and changes were made in the coaching staff bringing in former Ole Miss head coach and Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe to handle the offense again. Expect a night-and-day turnaround with a speedy, veteran receiving corps, a talented workhorse running back in Arian Foster along with an inexperienced, but lightning fast group of reserves, and a huge line that should be rock solid despite the return of only one starter. The big question is at quarterback where Erik Ainge has to live up to the promise of a solid 2004 season and not play like the shaky sophomore he was last year. 
Defense - For all the problems the team had last year, the defense couldn't be blamed finishing sixth in the nation allowing fewer than 300 yards per game and second against the run allowing 82 yards per outing. Now the hope has to be for all the top recruiting classes to pay off in a big way with six of the starters on the front seven needing to be replaced including the entire linebacking corps. Five players with starting experience return to the secondary, but it's just an above-average group. The real overall concern, along with the new starters up front, is with size. This isn't a big defense by Tennessee standards, but it's very fast and full of talented prospects.
This season will be a success if … the Vols win the SEC East. After last year, anything less than an appearance in the SEC title game will leave the sour taste of 2005 in everyone's mouth. The schedule, athleticism, and fire are all in place for a good season.

3. Georgia
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 5-3
Best Player: DE Quentin Moses, Sr.
Offense - Don't expect things to be steadier with seven new starters. While it's a rebuilding year for the Bulldog offense, there's a good foundation in place with one of the nation's best running back corps thanks to the return of Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware. Will they have holes to run through? It's no coincidence that Georgia won SEC championships under Mark Richt when it had a veteran, senior dominated offensive line, and now there's a lot of patching to be done losing three top starters. The receiving corps has potential, but there aren't any obvious stars needing top receiver Mo Massaquoi to be more of a big-play target. There are enough top prospects at quarterback to provide productive starters for four teams with senior Joe Tereshinski the main man while super-recruit Matthew Stafford learns the ropes.
Defense - Georgia's run defense wasn't a rock last year allowing 144 yards per game, and there could be more problems early on after losing its top three defensive tackles and needing the injury-riddled linebacking corps to get healthy. The secondary is also an issue losing three All-SEC performers, but the safeties should be solid led by speedy Tra Battle. Cornerback will be a problem if Paul Oliver doesn't shine, and depth needs developing just about everywhere. On the plus side, few teams will be better at getting to the quarterback with ends Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson certain to be in opposing backfields all season long.
This season will be a success if … Georgia wins ten games. It doesn't have quite enough firepower to win the SEC title, or even the SEC East if Florida plays as well as expected and if Tennessee rebounds, but it'll get back to a bowl game and it should have a good chance at finishing with double-digit wins.

4. South Carolina
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Player: WR Sidney Rice, Soph.
Offense - The Gamecocks threw out of necessity last season, but there should be more balance with Mike Davis and Cory Boyd forming a good 1-2 rushing punch behind a line that can't be much worse. The front five had an awful season, but there's good size and several good incoming talents to challenge for positions. Sidney Rice leads a good receiving corps that could use more game-breakers, while solid Blake Mitchell should be a fine quarterback in his second year, but won't be anything special.
Defense - The defense sacrifices size for speed whenever possible, but that only works if there are plenty of big plays from all the athletes. Tyrone Nix has the defensive coordinator duties all to himself now, and he's all about being aggressive and forcing big plays. He has the speedsters in the back seven to do it, but there could be problems against the power running teams unless JUCO transfer Jasper Brinkley is a beast in the middle. The line is mediocre at best needing tackle Stanley Doughty to get in shape and play up to his talent level. Despite losing Ko Simpson, Johnathan Jackson and Tremaine Tyler, the secondary should be fine with top corner Fred Bennett leading the way.
This season will be a success if … USC wins eight games. This team isn't great, but Steve Spurrier has enough offensive weapons to be more than competitive and crush someone’s SEC title dreams.

5. Kentucky
Predicted record: 4-8  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: RB Rafael Little, Jr.
Offense - The potential is there for a little bit of a turnaround after averaging 297 yards and an inconsistent 22 points a game. The strength early on should be an experienced line with more than enough starters and depth to be far better. The quarterback situation will be a topic of debate all season long with big Andre Woodson battling with the all-around talents of 2004 super-recruit Curtis Pulley. The receiving corps needs to stay healthy and be far more productive even though many of last year's top producers are gone. Fortunately, do-it-all running back Rafael Little is back to carry the offense with Tony Dixon returning from injury to provide some much needed support.
Defense - The defense was the worst in the SEC in just about every way imaginable and isn't about to be dominant. However, there should be a bit of improvement with all the young players who had mega-problems last season more experienced led by a linebacking corps with all three starters returning and an athletic, sophomore dominated front line. The secondary will be a work in progress with the pieces needing to be put together around corner Bo Smith. Most importantly, the D has to be far better against the run.
This season will be a success if … UK wins six games and is better against the top teams. Anything less than the post-season, especially with a relatively light schedule for an SEC East team, might mean the end of the Rich Brooks era.

6. Vanderbilt
Predicted record: 2-10  Conf. record: 0-8
Best Player: WR Earl Bennett, Soph.
Offense - Vanderbilt isn't going to be better without star quarterback Jay Cutler, but it has enough overall talent to keep last year's second best SEC offense from slipping too much. The main focus will be on the quarterback battle between Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams. They can both run and have good arms, but can they come through with half as many big plays as Cutler was able to? Earl Bennett leads a nice receiving corps, while Cassen Jackson-Garrison is a big, veteran back who'll be used more. The real strength will be the line with two tremendous tackles in Brain Stamper and Chris Williams to work around.
Defense - There's nothing special about this defense, and it needs to find something that it can do really well in a big hurry. It's a vanilla D that tried to do everything not to give up the big play, but it needs to force more game-changing plays. There's little to no proven pass rush and the corners have to be better, but there are things to work around up the middle in linebacker Jonathan Goff, tackle Theo Horrocks and safety Reshard Langford. Now someone has to start doing something big on the outside.
This season will be a success if … Vandy wins five games. Forget about beating the big boys without Jay Cutler slinging it anymore, but there’s no reason it can’t beat all the teams its own size.

WEST DIVISION

1. Auburn
Predicted record: 11-1  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Player: RB Kenny Irons, Sr.
Offense - The offense averaged 32.3 points per game last year, but it wasn't consistent and ended on a sour note coming up with a surprising stinker against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Despite the loss of top tackles Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick along with the top three receivers and starting tight end Cooper Wallace, expect things to be even better. QB Brandon Cox knows what he's doing, Kenny Irons leads a deep and talented backfield, and there's more than enough explosion to go around among the receivers. The problem is inexperience in the receiving corps and depth on the offensive line, but neither should be a issue unless there's a big injury problem early on.
Defense - If you liked last year's Auburn defense, you'll enjoy more of the same. The key move is the position switch of star safety Will Herring to linebacker, but there are players to fill in on the weakside if the experiment doesn't work out. The D is stronger on the outside than the middle with tremendous tackling corners David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite returning, and defensive ends Marquies Gunn and Quentin Groves sure to be among the league's best pass rushers. There's not a lot of size in the linebacking corps, but that's by design going with smaller, more athletic players. There could be big problems if there are any early injuries at tackle.
This season will be a success if … Auburn wins the SEC title. That would make it an extremely impressive two in three years. It's not every season you get so many big conference games at home and the Tigers must take advantage.

T2. LSU
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: FS LaRon Landry, Sr.
Offense - There's speed to burn in the receiving corps, live arms abound among the quarterbacks, and NFL talent in the backfield and on the line. Now it has to come together after an inconsistent and slightly disappointing season. JaMarcus Russell is the number one quarterback, but Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux are each in the hunt for meaningful playing time. Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucet will catch plenty of deep balls if the running game improves enough to open things up. That could be an issue with Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent each coming off torn ACLs. The offensive line will be significantly worse than last year, but it still should be among the best in the SEC if the three new starters can be consistent.
Defense - Expect lots of big plays from the Bo Pelini defense and, as always, there's enough speed and athleticism to make up for several problems including some huge losses up front. While this might not be the nation's number three defense again, it's not going to fall too far if the front four can get a big season out of tackle Glen Dorsey. Linebacker Ali Highsmith is on the verge of superstardom leading a shaky linebacking corps that needs Luke Sanders to be healthy. Safety LaRon Landry should be in the NFL, but he's back combining with Jessie Daniels to form one of the nation's best safety tandems.
This season will be a success if … LSU wins the SEC West. It's not going to be easy, but after playing for the title last year, anything less will be a major disappointment. This is a national title team with a great home schedule, but 10-2 in the regular season would be a big accomplishment with four brutal road games.

T2. Arkansas
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: RB Darrren McFadden, Soph.
Offense - New offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was brought in to pump some more life into the offense, and to help land top quarterback prospect Mitch Mustain. The passing game will be better if Mustain starts or redshirts, but the real focus will continue to be on one of the nation's best running games. Five players with starting experience return to the line to lead the way for the tremendous backfield of Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and fullback Peyton Hillis. Expect more balance and even a few three-wide sets to open things up a bit as long as a steady starting quarterback emerges.
Defense - It's a fast defense that got better as last year went on, and now should be great as long as there aren't major injury problems in the back seven. The linebacking corps has speed and talent led by All-SEC star Sam Olajabutu, but there's no depth relying on several true freshmen to help out the top four in the rotation. Chris Houston leads an excellent group of corners, and the safeties should be better with lightning-fast Michael Grant moving to free safety. 300-pounders Marcus Harrison and Keith Jackson should clog up the middle, but the ends need to generate more sacks.
This season will be a success if … the Hogs end up with a winning season and go to a bowl. Another losing season wouldn't get Nutt fired, but it would put him on double-secret probation for 2007.

T4. Alabama
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Player: RB Ken Darby, Sr.
Offense - The ground game was solid, the passing game put up decent numbers, and all the skill players had good seasons, so why was it like pulling teeth to get into the end zone? The offensive line. More developed depth is needed up front, but the starting five, which had so many problems with injuries and inexperience last year, has the potential to grow into something special. QB John Parker Wilson has to quickly develop into a productive passer, but everything else is in place from a tremendous stable of running backs to a good, unheralded receiving corps.
Defense - Alabama finished last year with the nation's second ranked defense allowing a mere 255 yards per game and finished first in scoring D allowing 10.7 points per game. Expect both of those numbers to go way up this year, but don't expect the Tide defense to crash and burn despite returning only four starters and losing the top stars from the linebacking corps and secondary. Depth is a major, major issue in the back seven, but defensive coordinator Joe Kines has a few good new starters to work with like FS Jeffrey Dukes, LB Terrence Jones and DE Bobby Greenwood. 
This season will be a success if … Bama wins nine games. The home slate is too light to shoot for anything less, and an upset or two on the road will mean another double-digit year. Expecting to be a major factor in the SEC West race is asking for way too much considering all the new starters on defense.

T4. Ole Miss
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Player: LB Patrick Willis, Sr.
Offense - Massive changes are being made to an offense that managed a mere 73 rushing yards and 13.45 points per game. Offensive coordinator Dan Werner and offensive line coach Art Kehoe come over from Miami, QB Brent Schaeffer comes over from Tennessee, and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis comes in from Indiana. The ground game should be night-and-day better, and it needs to be with no experience whatsoever at wide receiver. Green-Ellis and Mico McSwain should form a solid 1-2 punch, while the mobile Schaeffer will instantly give a boost to the rushing totals. Kehoe will get a promising line into shape in a hurry led by tackle Michael Oher. 
Defense - The defense had its moments in head coach/defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron's first season and should be even better now with all-everything linebacker Patrick Willis back along with one of the SEC's best unsung secondaries. The entire front four needs to be replaced, but that's not the end of the world with the likely emergence of pass rusher Paria Jerry along with several promising prospects. There could stand to be more interceptions and more sacks; the two will likely go hand in hand.
This season will be a success if … the Rebels win seven games. It'll take at least one big upset and no slip ups against the teams its own size, but Ole Miss should be just good enough to be able to squeak out a few more wins.

6. Mississippi State
Predicted record: 4-8  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: LB Quinton Culberson, Sr.
Offense - The offense was awful last season thanks to an inept passing game that only averaged 139 yards per game, but things should be a bit better now with an improved receiving corps helped by JUCO transfer Tony Burks and former quarterback Omarr Conner in a full-time receiver role. The ground game lost Jerious Norwood, but there are several decent backs to keep the production from falling off the map. The play of the young, young, young offensive line the struggled through injuries and inexperience last year, but now it's a deep group. Quarterback will be the major issue needing Michael Henig to complete at least half his passes and be more consistent.
Defense - MSU's defense had a whale of a season considering the offense provided no support whatsoever. Nine starters return from a group that more than held its own last year finishing 29th in the nation in total defense. One of the losses is a big one with All-SEC DE Willie Evans gone leaving a huge pass rushing void. The secondary should be excellent as long as the starting corners stay healthy, and the D should be great up the middle with a deep group of tackles and Quinton Culberson back at middle linebacker. This isn't a big defense, but everyone can run.
This season will be a success if … MSU wins six games. The defense is too good and there are too many improvements on offense to expect another losing season. The Bulldogs won't battle for the SEC West title, but they could be the league's jump-up team.