SEC Football Predictions
The SEC Conference has completely overtaken college football. It has been hands down the best conference in the nation, and only figures to be that much better with the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri this season. Last year, LSU went a perfect 8-0 in conference play, and earned a trip to the National Championship game with a 42-10 beating of Georgia in the SEC title game. It was the sixth straight season that the winner of the SEC Championship Game has went on to play for the BCS Championship. Unfortunately for LSU, the second best team in the country just so happened to be Alabama, who the Tigers defeated 9-6 in overtime during the regular season. For the first time in the history of the BCS system, two teams from the same conference faced off in the title game. Alabama would go on to dominate LSU 21-0. It was the sixth consecutive season in which a team from the SEC has won the BCS National Championship.
From top to bottom there are so many good teams in this conference. Lately the SEC West has been the better of the two division, but the SEC East appears to be on the rise with Florida and Tennessee looking like they will be much improved. Predicting this conference is about as tough as it gets. Unlike other conferences, where there are maybe three teams who have a legit shot at winning, there are only three teams who you can count out of the race (Mississippi, Vanderbilt & Kentucky). Here’s a quick look at where I see the 14 teams in the SEC stacking up 2012.
SEC West Predictions:
1. LSU Tigers – The Tigers had about as good of a season as you could have without winning the National Championship. They defeated eight ranked teams, including three teams that were ranked No. 3 or better. They ended up finishing the year 13-1 overall. This team should be extremely motivated in 2012 after coming so close to winning it all. They do have to find a new starting quarterback and have to replace two outstanding defensive players in Morris Claiborne and Michael Brockers, but a ton of talent is back from last year and I wouldn’t be surprised if they got better quarterback play out of Zach Mettenberger. It won’t be easy repeating in the West, as they have to go the road to face Florida and Arkansas and have two difficult home games against South Carolina and Alabama. Still, I think this is the most complete team from the head coach to the players in the conference.
2. Arkansas Razorbacks – You could make the argument that the Razorbacks were the third best team in the nation last year. They finished up with an 11-2 record, with their only two losses coming at Alabama and at LSU. The Razorbacks should have one of the most explosive offenses in the SEC with the return of quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis. Had Arkansas not had to fire head coach Bobby Petrino after spring practice, I might have picked them to finish ahead of LSU. The Razorbacks are more than capable of winning the West, especially when they get both LSU and Alabama at home.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide – A lot of people are going to have Alabama finishing in the top two spots coming off a National Championship, but I think this team lost too much to the NFL last year. Yes, they have a ton of talent ready to step in and play, but they lack experience. I expect a very similar finish to what we saw after the Crimson Tide went 14-0 and won the National Championship in 2009. The following year they finished 4th in the West with a 5-3 conference record. Alabama will still be one of the best teams in the country, just not good enough to win this loaded division.
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs – Even though the Bulldogs were able to beat Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl to finish the season 7-6, it was not the season they expected to have. Mississippi State went just 2-6 inside conference play. The worst mark in head coach Dan Mullen’s three years with the team. It might come as a surprise to see them picked 4th in the West, but they have a very manageable schedule. They avoid Georgia, Florida and South Carolina out of the East. Outside of a couple of road games at LSU and Alabama and a home game against Arkansas, the Bulldogs should be favored in their other five conference matchups.
5. Auburn Tigers – While the Tigers were coming off a perfect 14-0 run that ended in a National Championship, the expectations were limited coming into the 2011 season, especially after losing Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Auburn was able to finish the season 8-5, which included a 45-24 win over Virginia in the Chik-fil-A Bowl. but they just as easily could have finished with a losing record. They were 4-0 in games that were decided by 10-points or less. There’s no question they will be a better team in 2012, but I think the schedule will keep them from finishing in the top half of the West. Three of their four conference home games come against LSU, Arkansas and Georgia, and they also have a couple of very difficult road games at Mississippi State and Alabama.
6. Texas A&M Aggies – No team had to deal with more heartbreaking losses in 2011. The Aggies defeated Northwestern in the Car Care of Texas Bowl to finish the season 7-6, but in five of their six losses they blew a double-digit lead. While I think Texas A&M could surprise in their first year in the SEC, it will likely be a learning process in 2012, especially considering they will have a new head coach (Kevin Sumlin).
7. Mississippi Rebels – The Rebels were the only team in the SEC who failed to win a conference game (0-8). Things were so bad in Oxford, that head coach Houston Nutt was fired with three games left in the season. However, it opened the door for Ole Miss to go out and hire Mississippi native Hugh Freeze, who did a remarkable job in his first season as the head coach of Arkansas State. Freeze took a Red Wolves team that was coming off a 4-8 run in 2010, to a school record 10 wins and a perfect 8-0 finish in the Sun Belt, It’s likely going to take a year or two to turn things around, but Rebel fans have a reason to be excited. :
SEC East Predictions:
1. Georgia Bulldogs – The Bulldogs had a bit of a roller coaster run in 2011. After opening the season with back-to-back losses against Boise State and division rival South Carolina, Georgia rolled off 10 straight wins. They won the SEC East with a 7-1 conference record, but were crushed in the SEC Championship Game 10-42 at the hands of LSU and then followed that up with a 30-33 triple-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. With 16 starters back and one of the most complete teams in all of college football, the pressure is on head coach Mark Richt to deliver a National Championship. For a second straight season the Bulldogs avoid LSU, Alabama and Arkansas out of the West, but in order to defend to their East title they will likely have to win either at South Carolina or a neutral site game against Florida.
2. Florida Gators – In the first season under head coach Will Muschamp, the Gators got off to an impressive 4-0 start. Things took a turn for the worse from that point, as Florida would lose their next four and wind up finishing 3-5 in conference play. They did manage to beat Ohio St in the Gator Bowl to finish 7-6, but it was not the type of season Gator fans have come to expect. With 17 starters back and the players now comfortable with the new systems installed last year, Florida should be one of the most improved teams in the country. While they have to host LSU, they don’t have to play Alabama or Arkansas out of the East. The Gators also get South Carolina at home and the previously mentioned game against Georgia in Jacksonville. Whether or not Florida lives up to my 2nd place finish, will come down to the production they get from either Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel at quarterback.
3. South Carolina Gamecocks – Head coach Steve Spurrier appears to have turned the corner in South Carolina. For the first time in eight seasons, Spurrier was able to lead the Gamecocks to a double-digit win season. They finished the year 11-2 with an impressive 30-13 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. South Carolina would have won the SEC East if it wasn’t for a 13-16 upset loss at home to Auburn. Fans have to wonder how much better this team would have been if starting quarterback Stephen Garcia could have kept his head on his shoulders (kicked off the team after just 5 games) and star running back Marcus Lattimore not suffered a season ending injury after seven games. Even though this team has a ton of talent coming back on both sides of the ball, I have big concerns with quarterback Connor Shaw and a defense that has just five starters back.
4. Tennessee Volunteers – If there is a sleeper team to watch out for in the SEC, its the Volunteers. Tennessee went just 5-7 overall and 1-7 in conference play last year, but lost their star quarterback, Tyler Bray,after just seven games and their top wide out, Justin Hunter, after just two. Head coach Derek Dooley is on the hot seat, but with 19 starters back its without question the best team he will field in his tenure with Tennessee. We will find out just how good this team is when they host Florida on Sept. 15 and go on the road to face Georgia on Sept. 29.
5. Missouri Tigers – The Tigers make their way to the SEC from the Big 12 in 2012, and I think it’s going to be a tough transition. Missouri needed to win their final four games to finish up 2011 at 8-5. The final three weren’t exactly all that impressive. They knocked off two of the bottom feeders in the Big 12 in Kansas and Texas Tech and beat a uninterested North Carolina team in the Independence Bowl. With just 12 starters back, I believe head coach Gary Pinkel (12th season) is in for one of his biggest challenges since taking over the job back in 2001. For Missouri to surprise and finish in the top half of the East, junior quarterback James Franklin is going to have to be special.
6. Vanderbilt Commodores – The Commodores have to be feeling good about the direction head coach James Franklin has this team headed in. In his first season with Vanderbilt, Franklin led the Commodores to just their second bowl game in the last 29 years. He will have a chance to do something that has never been done in school history. Take Vanderbilt to back-to-back bowl games. I personally think the Commodores are going to struggle to match last year’s success. After winning just four games in 2009 and 2010 combined (1-15 SEC), it’s hard to imagine opposing teams were taking Vanderbilt all that seriously last year. That won’t be the case in 2012, and I think it’s going to result in a disappointing finish.
7. Kentucky Wildcats – The key losses on the offensive side of the ball were too much for the Wildcats to overcome in 2011. After putting up 31.2 ppg in 2010, Kentucky barely managed to score over 15.0 ppg last season. As a result, the Wildcats finished the year 5-7 (2-6 SEC), failing to make a bowl game for the first time in five seasons. With just 11 starters back in what is now an even stronger SEC, I think Kentucky will struggle to win a single conference game in 2012.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: LSU defeats Georgia
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