Preseason Lookaheads - SEC
Posted Jan 22, 2007

Before spring ball and before the recruiting madness kicks in, here are the pre-preseason lookaheads for each SEC team.

The numbers are the CFN pre-preseason national rankings. 

2. LSU   2006 Record: 11-2
Why to get excited: Most teams would lose a number one overall pick type of quarterback and be in for a rebuilding year, but LSU is blessed with two options in Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux that would start for just about anyone in America. The overall personnel losses aren't staggering with the return of DT Glenn Dorsey for his senior year meaning another great defense should be something special. The linebacking corps, led by Ali Highsmith. should be dominant.
Why to be grouchy: JaMarcus Russell really was good. While Early Doucet, Brandon LaFell and others will be more than adequate targets, losing Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis isn't a plus. LSU might be a factory for cranking out good defensive backs, but LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels were fantastic.
The number one thing to work on is: Punting and getting in sync with Gary Crowton. Chris Jackson was a field goal kicker, not a punter, and it showed with an inconsistent year. Patrick Fisher and Brady Dalfrey will battle it out to see who can help the team net more than 33.1 yards per kick. Offensively, things will be fine under Crowton in time, but any slip from an attack that averaged 34 points per game will get fans grumbling.
Biggest offensive loss: QB JaMarcus Russell
Biggest defensive loss: FS LaRon Landry 

4. Florida   2006 Record: 13-1 
Why to get excited: If the national championship game didn't prove to everyone how good Urban Meyer is, nothing will. The coaching staff has recruited as well as anyone in the country and should be able to replace all the lost talent with even more top-shelf athletes. The schedule might have been brutal last year, but this season, at least when it comes to the non-conference slate, is a relative walk in the park playing UCF, Troy and Florida Atlantic with the one tough game, Florida State, in Gainesville.
Why to be grouchy: Florida might have a slew of NFL-to-be talent, but there are way, way, way too many big losses to expect an unbeaten season much less a repeat championship. The defense loses Jarvis Moss, Brandon Siler, Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith a year early to the NFL, while the offense has to replace several good playmakers. While Tim Tebow has superstar potential, the steady play of Chris Leak will be missed.
The number one thing to work on is: Kickoff returns.
Obviously getting all the new defensive starters to shine, and making sure Tebow is comfortable in a full-time role, will get all the attention. However, Meyer is big on special teams and they weren't always great averaging just 17.5 yards per kickoff return.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Chris Leak
Biggest defensive loss: FS Reggie Nelson 

8. Arkansas  2006 Record: 10-4
Why to get excited: Last year was supposed to set the stage for 2007, and now the team is flat-out loaded. Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden and Felix Jones form the nation's best running back tandem. Marcus Monk is one of the SEC's most dangerous receivers, and the line, while it needs to make replacements, should be good. Seven starters return on a defense that kept teams to under 300 yards per game.
Why to be grouchy: What's the deal with the quarterback situation? Casey Dick rarely looked like a D-I starter, and former superstar recruit Mitch Mustain has been allowed to look elsewhere to play. Former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is gone to take on a bigger role at Tulsa (Tulsa?!) meaning David Lee has to keep the burgeoning attack rolling. 
The number one thing to work on is: Everything about the punting game. While McFadden and Jones can hit a home run from anywhere on the field. a team with a running game like this works better with good field position. Averaging 7.24 yards per punt return and 32.56 yards per punt isn't a positive.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Tony Ugoh
Biggest defensive loss: LB Sam Olajubutu       

12. Georgia   2006 Record: 9-4
Why to get excited: Matthew Stafford. He wasn't always sharp and wasn't always amazing in his true freshman year, but he certainly showed splashes of being a next-level type of passer. He's a special player with a fantastic group of running backs to help balance things out. The Bulldog pass defense finished fifth in the nation last year and now gets three starters back. 
Why to be grouchy: The defensive front didn't quite live up to snuff last year, and now it needs to make several replacements losing Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses on the ends and Ray Gant in the middle. Are the receivers going to be any better after being so average last year? Big TE Martrez Milner won't be around as the safety-valve anymore.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting more consistency out of the offense. Playing a freshman quarterback will usually cause problems, and dealing with banged up backs are also going to be an issue. Now Stafford has to start making everyone around him better, while the overall offense has to crank out more than 312 yards a game.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Daniel Inman
Biggest defensive loss: SS Tra Battle 

14. Auburn  2006 Record: 11-2
Why to get excited: The defense should be as good as always. The return of end Quentin Groves, who could've left early for the NFL, should make the front four as good as any in the SEC, while  there's speed and talent in the back seven. The secondary finished 14th in the nation last year and now gets three starters back. The passing game should shine with an experienced Brandon Cox throwing to Prechae Rodriguez and Rodgeriqus Smith.
Why to be grouchy: 2006 was supposed to be the year everything came together. That's not to say this won't be a successful season, but the offense loses Kenny Irons, Courtney Taylor, and four offensive linemen.
John Vaughn turned into a strong field goal kicker, and the punting game was fourth in the nation thanks to a big season from Kody Bliss. Both kickers are gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Pass protection. Getting more from the punt return game would be nice, but protecting Cox will be even more vital after the line allowed 34 sacks and even more hits. With a slew of new starters up front, the coaching staff has to figure out how to get the ball out of Cox's hands in a hurry.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Kenny Irons
Biggest defensive loss: LB Will Herring 

16. Tennessee   2006 Record: 9-4   
Why to get excited: Erik Ainge is back for his third year as a starter with a loaded stable of running backs to hand off to and a veteran line to work behind. Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe didn't get snapped up by anyone else. The defense suffers some key losses, but safety Jonathan Hefney should be among the best in the nation, while the linebacking corps, led by Jerod Mayo, has the potential to be special.
Why to be grouchy: The explosive receiving corps that made Ainge look so great at times with their yards after the catch needs an overhaul after losing All-American Robert Meachem to the NFL along with Bret Smith and Jayson Swain. The secondary wasn't always air tight last season, but it'll still miss corners Antwan Stewart and Jonathan Wade.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting to the quarterback. There's no reason a defense was as much athleticism and skill as Tennessee's should struggle so much at coming up with sacks. Getting into the backfield wasn't an issue, especially against the run, but closing on the passer was an issue. With starting ends Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds back, the defense simply has to hit more quarterbacks.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Robert Meachem
Biggest defensive loss: CB Jonathan Wade 

34. South Carolina   2006 Record: 8-5
Why to get excited: It's Steve Spurrier's third year in Columbia and he should finally have things starting to hum a bit better on offense. The attack averaged close to 400 yards per game last year and now has an experienced Blake Mitchell to rely on to run things. While the passing game always gets the attention, USC will run equally well with Cory Boyd and Mike Davis working behind what should be a solid offensive line. MLB Jasper Brinkley should be in the NFL, but he's back along with the rest of the defensive front seven.
Why to be grouchy: Mitchell lost his top target, Sidney Rice, to the NFL along with TE Andy Boyd and Noah Whiteside. The O line should be fine, but it has to replace both starting guards. The offense won't have Syvelle Newton to rely on as a safety net anymore.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting more out of the return game. With all the starters returning on both sides of the ball, the experience is there for a big year. Now the little things all have to be done right starting with the return game that averaged 7.74 yards on punt returns and 19.16 yards on kickoff returns.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Sidney Rice
Biggest defensive loss: CB Fred Bennett 

38. Kentucky   2006 Record: 8-5
Why to get excited: Andre Woodson decided to return for his senior year meaning the UK offense should be among the most dangerous in the SEC. There are more than enough weapons in the backfield to provide more balance, and if Rafael Little can stay healthy for the entire year, he'll combine with star receiver Keenan Burton to be the nation's best punt and kick return tandem. Nine starters return to the offense while most of the key components are back on defense. However ...
Why to be grouchy: ... can the D actually stop anyone? Last in the SEC in almost all the key categories, there are still major question marks in the secondary and on the line. The offense should be good enough to simply outbomb most teams, but getting a little help from the D on a consistent basis would be nice. If the O doesn't score at least 30 on the better teams, UK will lose.
The number one thing to work on is: Beyond the defense, protecting Woodson. The O line gets enough experience back to be far better at getting a push in the running game and doing more to keep Woodson from getting popped after allowing 39 sacks and way too many shots on its star.
Biggest offensive loss: C Matt McCutchan
Biggest defensive loss: CB Karl Booker 

41. Alabama   2006 Record: 6-7
Why to get excited: Nick Saban. Mike Shula did a fine job, but Saban is an A list head man who'll bring more attention to Bama football than it's had in years. Lost in the Shula canning was how 2006 was a stepping-stone season having to break in several new starters. Now, nine starters return to the offense while the defense should be better than last year. The schedule works out as well as humanly possible with the first truly tough road game coming against Auburn in the regular season finale.
Why to be grouchy: There are losses on defense. The back seven takes a bit of a hit, while the big tackles need to be replaced. The schedule might bring Bama plenty of home games, but it's never fun to play Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and LSU to go along with a neutral-site date with Florida State.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting into the backfield. Could this really have been Alabama's defense with no push up front and no quarterback pressure? The Tide finished last in the SEC in sacks (with just 13) and tackles for loss (with 55). Saban and his staff is sure to change that in a hurry.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Kenneth Darby
Biggest defensive loss: LB Juwan Simpson

58. Vanderbilt   2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited: Could this finally be bowling time under Bobby Johnson? Nine starters return on offense with eight coming back on defense helped by linebacker Jonathan Goff's decision to not go to the NFL a year early. With the improvement of QB Chris Nickson and the return of WR Earl Bennett and RB Cassen Jackson-Garrison, the offense should shine. This was a young team last year that lost four games by a touchdown or less and was more than competitive with most of the big boys. There will be more than a few upsets, but ...
Why to be grouchy: ... they're not going to come on the road. How's this for an away slate? Louisville, Auburn, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. The SEC home dates aren't horrible getting Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia and Kentucky, but Vandy still might have to win two of them to get a bowl bid.
The number one thing to work on is: Kick returns. Sure, Vandy has plenty of things it needs to do to tighten up all over the place, but it needs to take a cue from a similar program in stature, Wake Forest, and do all the little things right, like being better in turnover margin, time of possession (91st in the nation averaging 28.52), third down conversions (99th averaging 32.9%), and returning kicks after averaging just 4.73 yards per punt return and 17.85 yards on kickoff returns.
Biggest offensive loss: OT B
Biggest defensive loss: DE No 

59. Mississippi State   2006 Record: 3-9
Why to get excited: The youth movement of last year on offense should mean a more productive attack. Things changed around once Michael Henig took over the reins, and he should be back and healthy to provide more overall pop. Anthony Dixon is a special running back to carry the workload if the veteran offensive line can be better. While the offense is just now coming into its own ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the defense should take a step back. MSU struggled against the great offenses, but did a good job against most of the mediocre ones and usually kept the team in games. Now six starters are gone with the biggest hit coming on a line that was excellent at making plays in the backfield.
The number one thing to work on is: Punting. Holding onto the ball would be nice and protecting the quarterback also need work. The MSU offense, improved as it might be, needs field position, and the defense can't be put in lousy positions like it was far too often last season. The Bulldog punting game was the worst in the SEC last year averaging just 31.71 yards per boot.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Brian Anderson
Biggest defensive loss: LB Quinton Culberson 

63. Ole Miss   2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited: DT
Jerrell Powe appears to finally have everything together and should provide an instant boost to a run defense that got steamrolled over last year. Brent Schaeffer and Seth Adams have enough experience to do more for the passing game, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a good back to revolve the offense around. This was a very, very young team in too many ways last year, and now the decent recruiting job by Ed Orgeron and his staff should pay off, especially on the offensive line.
Why to be grouchy: All that youth on the lines had better produce. Ole Miss is better, but the rest of the SEC appears to also be improved. The early departure of Rory Johnson to the NFL is a killer to a linebacking corps that also loses Patrick Willis. Three starters are gone from the secondary.
The number one thing to work on is: Offensive consistency. That starts with better play from the quarterbacks; the passing game has to be more efficient. While things got better towards the end of the year, the Rebels still weren't explosive and had a hard time coming up with enough good drives to help the defense get a break. With all the key offensive parts coming back, there's no reason things should be so awful.
Biggest offensive loss: TE Lawrence Lilly
Biggest defensive loss: LB Patrick Willis