I did this last year, but I’ll be damned if I can find the post. After spring drills were concluded last April, I picked a coin flip between LSU and Auburn to win the SEC West, and a coin flip between Florida and South Carolina to win the SEC East. I didn’t see Alabama with the maturity to repeat as SEC West champions, nor did I see Georgia with the weapons to compete with Florida in the SEC East while identifying Stephen Garcia as the best QB in that division. I did change the SEC West prediction somewhat after August practices, mainly on Auburn’s development of Cam Newton. I seriously thought the Iron Bowl winner was on its way to Atlanta and Glendale.
For the 2011 season, here’s the spring run down of the top three programs in each SEC Division.
Alabama. Last year, I didn’t think Alabama would be the dominating force it was in 2009. This year, I’m convinced on the opposite side—not only does this the Alabama Crimson Tide have the defense to contend, the combination of a massive, talented offensive line and the best running back corps in the country makes this team deadly. Add to that an absolutely ferocious defense and there’s a championship contender at the Capstone. There are still some questions at Quarterback to be resolved, but that is a much less important position in college football than it is in the pros. In college ball, if you have the beef and talent up front, you win football games. If you have the talent and depth at at Tailback, you win even more. If you have talent, depth and experience at key linebacker positions to go with all that, you have the makings of a serious run at all of the marbles. Bama’s got’em all.
Louisiana State University. Early on, I gave this team a coin flip’s chance of contending with Auburn for the SEC West title in 2010, and I was not disappointed. Les Miles has been absolutely cleaning up the state in recruiting, and the 2011 installment of the Bayou Bengals is nothing short of stellar. Like Bama, they also have questions at Quarterback, but LSU’s questions are much less significant than Bama’s. It’s the other key positions that LSU may (or may not) have issues that gives Bama the slight edge. Losing Peterson’s talent and leadership in the backfield is probably the key to an oh-so-close season. Replacing it could propel them straight to the title.
Whichever team survives the slobber-knocker in November in Tuscaloosa will probably play for the SEC Title, and if either team wins, it will likely be in the BCS Championship game in January 2012.
Mississippi State. Look, whatever you think of the talent pool Dan Mullen has to work with, you can’t discount the man’s ability to get the most out of it. I and many others think it’s quite obvious that Mullen’s tenure at Florida under Urban Meyer demonstrated an offensive mind that is equaled by few others. MSU had some recruiting failures in-state against Ole Miss, but I really thing their in-state rival is a grease fire and that Houston Nutt is slowly losing control.
Florida. Loaded with talent. Coached by a disciple of Nick Saban. Muschamp’s first year will surely show the effects of a first-year Head Coach and staff, but the talent level is just sick. If the offensive line can stay healthy and Brantley can grow some at Quarterback, Florida is set for another run at the SEC East.
Tennessee. They disappointed Vol fans last year, but Derek Dooley seems to be doing things the right way and, while the schedule presents some serious obstacles, the Vols could catch a few breaks along the way and do some real damage in the SEC East. Do I think this is the year they make a run at the SEC East title? Not yet. We’ll see after the first few games of the year. Do I think Dooley is on his way to creamy orange goodness at Knoxville? Yeah, if Vol fans give him the time…
Georgia. I really think this is Richt’s last shot at keeping his job. As such I see the Bulldogs making as hard a run at the title as they ever have. I should probably put them at least at a coin flip with Tennessee, as the Bulldogs probably have a slight edge in talent. But some of the off-the-field issues at Georgia have to be troubling. I know that stuff doesn’t necessarily translate to performance on the field. I also know that Georgia recruited exceptionally well for the 2011 class and that the incoming freshmen might be the difference makers.
Auburn has simply lost too much talent to be a contender in the West, especially late in the season. Malzahn is an offensive genius, but Tracy Rocker developed that devastating defensive line. I don’t see them simply outscoring teams like LSU and Arkansas with that talent and experience. Ole Miss is—as described above—a grease fire under Houston Nutt. South Carolina may have had a shot at a second straight trip to the Georgia Dome if Garcia managed to stay sober. Vandy’s Vandy. Kentucky looks forward to basketball season in early October. Losing Ryan Mallet sets Arkansas back a year, but if Petrino can keep the state talent coming into Fayetteville, look for them to be a serious threat in 2012.
SEC West: Alabama or LSU.
SEC East: Florida.