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Preseason Lookaheads - SEC
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.
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
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
The number one thing to work on is: Kickoff returns.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Biggest offensive loss: WR Robert Meachem
Biggest defensive loss: CB Jonathan Wade
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Biggest offensive loss: TE Lawrence Lilly
Biggest defensive loss: LB Patrick Willis