2009 Early SEC Lookaheads
Ole Miss QB Jevan Sneed & Florida LB Brandon Spike
Ole Miss QB Jevan Sneed & Florida LB Brandon Spike
Posted Feb 10, 2009

Another year, another national champion coming from the SEC. The conference had a relative down year overall, but it came back roaring, for the most part, in the bowl season, and should be far better from top to bottom in 2009. Check out CFN's early lookahead at each SEC team, what needs working on, and why to be excited.

2008 SEC Early Lookaheads

2009 Pages & Recruiting Classes
  Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt 
West Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Ole Miss | Miss State

2008 Pages
2007 SEC Season | 2007 SEC Lookbacks/Recaps
East  Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt 
West Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Ole Miss | Miss State
- 2008 CFN All-SEC Team
| 2008 CFN Preseason All-SEC Team
- 2007 SEC Lookback/Recaps | 2008 SEC Lookaheads

 - 2008 SEC Lookbacks/Recaps

CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 8-4   Final Record: 12-2

Why to get excited: The defense returns virtually intact. Losing leader Rashad Johnson from the secondary will hurt, and Bobby Greenwood was the team’s best pass rusher on the front, but the return of DT Terrence Cody for his senior season was a huge break, while linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Rolando McClain will set the tone for the back seven.  

Why to be grouchy: The offensive line could use a bit of retooling, and John Parker Wilson was a solid quarterback who kept things moving. Wilson might not have been Tim Tebow or Matthew Stafford, but he was a (cliché time) game manager who was efficient when he had to be. Andre Smith was the nation’s best offensive tackle, and he was sorely missed in the Sugar Bowl, As important as Wilson was to the team, center Antoine Caldwell was just as vital as the quarterback of the front five. 

The number one thing to work on is: Generating more of a pass rush. Considering how good and how aggressive the defense was throughout last season, there wasn’t enough of a steady presence into the backfield. The Tide was ninth in the SEC in sacks and was average at making plays behind the line.

Biggest offensive loss: OT Andre Smith
Biggest defensive loss: S Rashad Johnson
Best returning offensive player: WR Julio Jones, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Rolando McClain, Jr.

CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 6-6  Final Record: 5-7

Why to get excited: With the possible exception of Mitch Mustain, who bolted for USC, Ryan Mallett should be the most talented quarterback Arkansas has had in a long, long time. RB Michael Smith is back to work behind a strong line that loses center Jonathan Luigs and tackle Jose Valdez, but should be strong. The defense gets nine starters back highlighted by a strong front that should be far, far better. The Hogs finished last in the SEC in several key defensive categories, but experience should translate into production. That goes for the offense, too.  

Why to be grouchy: The schedule is a problem. South Carolina is strong, and that’s the easiest of the games against the East with Georgia and Florida also on the slate. The road games? Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU … considering is a plus if the Hogs can win one of those. Playing Texas A&M in Dallas won’t be a breeze. 

The number one thing to work on is: Pass protection. The defense needs to be better against the run, far better, and improving the turnover margin is a must, but the team can improve in a big hurry with better pass protection. The run blockers from the Houston Nutt era couldn’t pass protect, allowing a whopping 46 sacks, and things broke down from there. Ryan Mallett isn’t mobile and he’ll need the tackles to shine early on.

Biggest offensive loss: C Jonathan Luigs
Biggest defensive loss: LB Elston Forte
Best returning offensive player: RB Michael Smith, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DT Malcolm Sheppard, Sr.

CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 9-3   Final Record: 5-7

Why to get excited: Seven starters are back on defense, and although DT Sen’Derrick Marks and CB Jerraud Powers left early, it should be better. Antonio Coleman leads a pass rush that should be improved, while the offense can’t help but be better. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn isn’t a miracle worker, but he’s one of the best in the game and he should be able to get the attack moving after it averaged just 303 yards and 17 points per game.  

Why to be grouchy: Alabama. After owning the Iron Bowl for a long stretch, there was a seismic shift last year in a 36-0 Tide win. Nick Saban has put together a monster of a program with, arguably the best recruiting classes of anyone in America over the last two years. Auburn, like just about everyone in the SEC, has been able to load up on its share of good players, but it’s nothing like what Bama has done. Oh yeah, and LSU might have had the best recruiting class of 2009.

The number one thing to work on is: Scoring. The defense is always going to be good at Auburn, but the offense hasn’t shown up for a few years. If the Tigers could simply be more consistent offensively, and if they could come up with a more efficient passing game, the wins will start to come. It might be just that simple.

Biggest offensive loss: WR Rodgeriqus Smith,
Biggest defensive loss: DT Sen’Derrick Marks
Best returning offensive player: RB Ben Tate, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: FS Zac Etheridge, Jr.

CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 10-2  Final Record: 13-1

Why to get excited: While the return of Tim Tebow got the most publicity, and rightly so, the real key to the 2009 season will be a defense that gets everyone back. Everyone. Led by the return of LB Brandon Spikes for his senior season, Florida not only returns all 11 starters, but all 11 backups. There isn’t one player gone from the defense that did anything in 2008, while the offense gets just enough talent back, helped by recent recruiting classes, to be almost as good as last year.  

Why to be grouchy: The offense takes a few major hits. Florida is loaded up with tremendous talents from recent recruiting classes, but it’ll still feel the loss of Percy Harvin to the NFL a year early, along with his running mate, Louis Murphy, who was an underappreciated target for Tebow.  The line has to replace Phil Troutwein at left tackle and Jason Watkins from the right side. Meanwhile the schedule has one major landmine that could screw up the national title dream: October 10th at LSU.

The number one thing to work on is: Maintaining the hunger. This team will spend the entire off-season getting its butt kissed and it will be national title-or-bust from the start. This will be everyone’s preseason No. 1 team, Tebow will be expected to win the Heisman, and the defense will be expected to be No. 1 in the country and all but impenetrable. The team has to guard against overconfidence. On the field, penalties have to be curbed after finishing 105th in the nation last year averaging 7.29 per game.

Biggest offensive loss: WR Percy Harvin
Biggest defensive loss: None
Best returning offensive player: QB Tim Tebow, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Brandon Spikes, Sr.

CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 10-2  Final Record: 10-3

Why to get excited: The entire starting five on the offensive line returns, and star OT Trinton Sturdivant is trying to get back from his devastating knee injury. Yes, Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno might be gone, but it’s Georgia; there are replacements. Caleb King is a good back, while Richard Samuel will be good if he can get healthy. A.J. Green is one of the nation’s elite receivers, giving likely new starting QB, Joe Cox, a star to work with. The defense has work to do up front, but the defensive back seven should be solid.  

Why to be grouchy: Florida. If the 49-10 whumping from the Gators last year wasn’t bad enough, everyone returns to the UF defense and Mr. Tebow is back to lead another good offense. The Dawgs have to host a much-improved LSU team and have to start out the year dealing with a high-powered Oklahoma State team in Stillwater. 

The number one thing to work on is: Generating more pressure. Three starters are gone off a defensive front that was solid against the run, but struggled to hit the quarterback. To be fair, no one in the SEC, outside of the Dawgs’ own Matthew Stafford and Florida’s Tim Tebow, could consistently throw the ball worth a lick, but that doesn’t excuse the struggles at getting to the quarterback. The turnover margin was lousy last year, and that needs to improve with a more disruptive D.

Biggest offensive loss: QB Matthew Stafford
Biggest defensive loss: CB Asher Allen
Best returning offensive player: WR A.J. Green, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Rennie Curran, Jr.

CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 5-7  Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited: Nine starters are back on an offense that wasn’t consistent, but was able to come up with flashes here and there. The offensive line was a plus, especially in pass protection, and it only loses star left tackle Garry Williams. There are only four road games on the schedule, and two of them are against a rebuilding Auburn and at Vanderbilt (the other two are at South Carolina and Georgia).  

Why to be grouchy: The defense loses some really, really good players from the line. End Jeremy Jarmon is back for his senior season, but Myron Pryor is gone off the interior along with end Ventrell Jenkins. The offense might be more experienced, but is there enough talent? After all, this is an attack that averaged fewer than 300 yards per game. 

The number one thing to work on is: Passing efficiency. To be fair, Randall Cobb was a wide receiver playing quarterback at times last season. Mike Hartline has to be more efficient, has to keep the mistakes to a minimum, and he needs more playmakers at receiver to help out Cobb. The time should be there to operate; UK allowed an SEC-best 13 sacks last year.

Biggest offensive loss: OT Garry Williams
Biggest defensive loss: DT Myron Pryor
Best returning offensive player: QB/WR Randall Cobb, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: CB Trevard Lindley, Sr.

CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 9-3  Final Record: 8-5

Why to get excited: This isn’t a national title-level team quite yet, but it should be good enough to be in the hunt for the SEC West title and it should be a stepping stone for what should be a monster 2010 season. The return of OT Ciron Black for his senior season should make the line far better, paving the way for a loaded backfield, led by Charles Scott. The defensive back seven is loaded.  

Why to be grouchy: The defensive line has to replace several future NFL producers. Tyson Jackson, Marlon Favorite, Charles Alexander, Kirston Pittman, and Ricky Jean-Francois formed what should’ve been one of the nation’s best defensive fronts, but it didn’t play that way. Even so, you don’t just replace talents like those right away. There’s still the question of consistent offensive firepower. Is Jordan Jefferson ready to be a big-time, full-time quarterback?

The number one thing to work on is: Consistent defense. Actually, consistency on both sides of the ball, but the defense is what will make or break the season. The Tigers have to play well against the big boys, and after getting ripped up by Florida and Georgia, they need to prove they can be better even with the defensive turnover.

Biggest offensive loss: OG Herman Johnson
Biggest defensive loss: LB Darry Beckwith
Best returning offensive player: OT Ciron Black, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: SS Harry Coleman, Sr.

Ole Miss
CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 9-4

Why to get excited: This was a relatively young team last year that grew up as the season went on, and now the experience should pay off. Eight starters return on defense, including ends Marcus Tillman, Kentrell Lockett, and Greg Hardy from one of the nation’s most active lines. The offense loses OT Michael Oher, WR Mike Wallace, and OG Maurice Miller, but gets everyone else of note back. The SEC road schedule is as easy as can be reasonably asked for going to Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Auburn and Mississippi State.  

Why to be grouchy: Now the expectations are going to be unrealistic. This is a program that hasn’t been all that patient in the past, canning David Cutcliffe after a little rough patch and firing Ed Orgeron just as his recruiting classes were about to mature. Now, anything less than a flirtation with ten wins and a win over a big-time team or two, like Alabama and LSU, both home games, will be unacceptable. 

The number one thing to work on is: Get even more out of the running game. It’s not like Ole Miss was bad last year, on the contrary, it was second in the SEC, and 28th in the nation, averaging 186 yards per game. Now it’s time to get more explosion and even more from the array of talented runners. After all, Houston Nutt helped make Arkansas deadly with its ground game, and now he has the chance to do something special with a good all-around quarterback like Jevan Snead to go along with the ground attack.

Biggest offensive loss: OT Michael Oher
Biggest defensive loss: DT Peria Jerry
Best returning offensive player: QB Jevan Snead, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Greg Hardy, Sr.

Mississippi State
CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 6-6  Final Record: 4-8

Why to get excited: New head man Dan Mullen will bring in the offense … some offense. He doesn’t have a Tim Tebow, like he had at Florida, and the class of all-around athleticism to work with isn’t in the same league as he might be used to, but he’s a good coach who should get the SEC’s worst scoring offense moving. The offensive line might have struggled, but all five starters return to pave the way for RB Anthony Dixon.  

Why to be grouchy: The defense loses all four starters in the secondary, including all-star safety Derek Pegues, and four starters are gone off the defensive front seven. That means the offense will have to pick up the slack for a while and the Bulldogs don’t necessarily have the stars at the skills to keep up with the better SEC attacks. The passing game has a long way to go to be merely average.

The number one thing to work on is: The offensive line. Against the SEC defensive lines full of NFL caliber athletes, if you don’t have a strong offensive front, you don’t have a chance. Last year, MSU allowed a whopping 37 sacks and led the way to a mere 101 rushing yards per game. To get the offense moving, the no-veteran line has to be far more effective and it has to find at least one thing it can do well.

Biggest offensive loss: OG Michael Gates
Biggest defensive loss: S Derek Pegues
Best returning offensive player: RB Anthony Dixon, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB K.J. Wright, Jr.

South Carolina
CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 8-4    Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited: The recruiting classes have been excellent. It’s not like Steve Spurrier hasn’t brought in a high-level of talent. No, USC’s classes aren’t Alabamas or Floridas, but they’ve been more than good enough to succeed with. With LB Eric Norwood returning, the defense should be excellent after leading the SEC, and finishing second in the nation, in pass defense while allowing just 133 rushing yards per game. The offense gets back six starters.  

Why to be grouchy: While the Gamecocks get to host Florida and Ole Miss, the four SEC road games aren’t a plus going to Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and against an improved Arkansas. The offense might get back most of the starters, but some of the key starters are gone. Someone has to step up and replace No. 1 target Kenny McKinley, while TE Jared Cook and RB Mike Davis are also gone.

The number one thing to work on is: Interceptions. The interceptions started early, with four against NC State in the opener, and they didn’t stop, with 27 on the year. The Gamecock quarterbacks didn’t get any better in ball security as the season went on, throwing ten in the final three games of the season, all losses, and threw at least one in every game on the year. To be fair, the quarterbacks had to press a bit considering there wasn’t any running game to help the cause.

Biggest offensive loss: WR Kenny McKinley
Biggest defensive loss: S Emmanuel Cook
Best returning offensive player: QB Stephen Garcia, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Eric Norwood, Sr.

CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 9-3    Final Record: 5-7

Why to get excited: It shouldn’t take too much to get the team moving again. Eight starters return on offense, and that doesn’t include a slew of decent running backs ready to break out with a bit more work. Eric Berry is back in the secondary to lead a defense that won’t be as good as it was last year, but has Ed Orgeron, one of the best defensive line coaches in the business, to help overcome the losses up front.  

Why to be grouchy: If you’re a schedule is half-full fan, Tennessee probably isn’t good enough to beat Florida or Alabama anyway, so those two games might as well be on the road. Then again, those two games are, well, on the road, along with a tough game at Ole Miss. The coaching staff is strong, but it’s going to have to be phenomenal to overcome some serious personnel losses on the defensive front seven. 

The number one thing to work on is: The quarterback situation. Lane Kiffin and his staff will be going with what’s in the cupboard as they didn’t sign any quarterback prospects this recruiting season. While it’ll be addressed next year in a big way, for the moment, it’ll be a battle between Jonathan Crompton, B.J. Coleman, and Nick Stephens. Kiffin has to settle on his leader early on.

Biggest offensive loss: OG Anthony Parker
Biggest defensive loss: DE Robert Ayers
Best returning offensive player: WR Gerald Jones, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: S Eric Berry, Jr.  

CFN 2008 Preseason Prediction: 3-9   Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited: Nine starters return to a defense that was opportunistic and a major plus throughout last season. Star corner D.J. Moore took off early, but the return of Patrick Benoist for his senior season was a big help. The offense might need a lot of work, but this was a relatively young group that should be far better on the line, with all five starters returning, and Mackenzi Adams a veteran quarterback to work around.  

Why to be grouchy: After the opening day game against Western Carolina, there isn’t much in the way of a breather. Six games are on the road, and while two are very winnable, against Rice and Army, they could take their toll in the midst of the SEC season. Going to LSU, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee will be tough, meaning there will have to be an upset along the way against someone like Georgia Tech, Ole Miss or Georgia to get to a bowl. 

The number one thing to work on is: Converting on third downs. Vanderbilt will never by Oklahoma, putting up 60 points per game, but it needs to at least keep things moving. That means a more efficient passing game and far more production on third downs after finishing 108th in the nation last year on conversions. Connecting on just 31.5% of third down chances isn’t going to get it done in the SEC.

Biggest offensive loss: WR George Smith
Biggest defensive loss: CB D.J. Moore
Best returning offensive player: QB Mackenzi Adams, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Patrick Benoist, Sr.