SEC media days are wrapping up, the kids are getting ready to head back to school, it’s hotter than blue blazes outside, and on six collegiate campuses in the western half of the southeast, a few young men are anxiously awaiting the chance to put on the pads. That’s right folks, it’s almost football season.
In a mere 40 days, teams from all over the country will begin play for the 2010 college football season and in the south, where SEC football is king, this day could not come any sooner.
Every year the SEC fields the most competitive conference in the NCAA and we have no reason not to expect the same thing this year. Florida and Urban Meyer will light it up in Gainesville, A.J. Green (assuming he’s eligible with all of this agent mess) will catch quite a few touchdowns in Athens, and heck maybe even Derek Dooley will make a name for himself in Knoxville.
However, for you SEC West fans, you might in be for one heck of a treat this fall.
First we go to Alabama. Coming off of a magical National Championship year and returning last year’s Heisman trophy winner, there isn’t much to say other than ‘Bama is certainly back.
Love him or hate him, Saban had turned that program around and is a mastermind of defense, which was responsible for much of last years success. Ironically enough, this is the Tide’s biggest question mark this year as you cant help but wonder how they will replace nine defensive starters (possibly 10 if Marcell Dareus remains ineligible). Offensively, the Tide boasts quite a sound running attack (being modest) and a quarterback, Greg McElroy, who hasn’t lost a football game since middle school.
However one school that gave the Crimson Tide a run for their money last year, and consequently their most hated opponent each year, is most certainly on the up and up and could very easily challenge them for the west this fall: the Auburn Tigers.
Head coach Gene Chizik silenced the nay-sayers with his establishment of a fantastic program last fall, and even more so with his coaching hires. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn made the Auburn offense one of the nation’s best last fall and with most starters returning plus the addition of Cam Newton at Quarterback, and freshman RB Michael Dyer, the offense ought to improve yet again.
Defensively Auburn will have a sound secondary with Zac Etheridge returning as well as a healthy Aairon Savage, and solid linebacking with Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens. Under the direction of Ted Roof, this group should also most certainly improve over last year as well. Also Auburn has, in my opinion, the best group of recievers in the SEC with Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachary leading the charge. Dont be surprised to see the Iron Bowl become incredibly important in the SEC west decision.
Moving farther west, Arkansas is heavily hyped this year after outdoing itself last year thanks almost entirely to the unbelievable quarterbacking by Ryan Mallett. Assuming his foot injury is entirely recovered and a non-issue come September, I would expect Mallett to lead the Hogs on multiple scoring drives and possibly get his name thrown around for the Heisman. The Hogs return a ton of starters, including an outstanding six-man receiving pack that Mallett ought to use to light up the passing category. They will need this for sure, as defensively there questions about depth and over all athleticism. If the Hogs can handle the hype, keep an eye out for them in Atlanta come December.
LSU is flying steadily under the radar this year due partially to their somewhat disappointing seasons (at least by Cajun standards) over the last two years. Jordan Jefferson has the skills to be an outstanding quarterback in the SEC but he’s still taking his time to grow up, and there’s not much around him offensively. To summarize, LSU and Les Miles will always have a good defense (that’s just SEC ball for you) but this is a VERY young team offensively. The Tigers have what it takes to knock off some big names this fall, it’s just a matter of when and where.
Mississippi State doesn’t have the greatest track record recently, but i still believe that Dan Mullen is the second-best offensive mind the the league behind Malazahn. Combine that with their thumping of rival Mississippi in the season finale last year, and you get a significant amount of buzz in Starkville.
The big offensive positions of running back and quarterback aren’t yet spoken for and will be a huge focal point in preseason camp coming up. However, one thing is for sure, Dan Mullen will put an offense on the field capable of winning football games. Mississippi State struggled defensively last year, partially due to depth and age but all signs show there should be improvement this year.
Combine defensive improvement, with another year of Dan Mullen and you can look for some pretty intense sellouts in Davis Wade stadium, at least two big upsets, and potentially a bowl game.
A little farther norther we finish in Oxford, Mississippi with Houston Nutt. The Rebels began last year highly ranked nationally and highly hyped with the likes of Dexter McCluster and Jevan Snead. Replacing those two future NFL stars is going to be a quite a task and will require a complete rebuild of the offense.
The good news is that Ole Miss has a variety of solid potential quarterbacks to choose from this year with many people picking Randall Mackey to be the starter because of his performance in the “Wild Rebel” formation. Defensively, Ole Miss returns plenty of experience but not necessarily a great amount of talent. All in all, I wouldn’t expect too much out of the Rebels this year.
To conclude, there you have six strong teams fighting for only one chance to go to Atlanta. Alabama is probably the front runner, but i can’t say that they’re miles ahead of everybody. Auburn and Arkansas will certainly give the Tide a run for their money.
LSU and Mississippi State will also make their presence known. Just like any year, it’s hard to predict SEC football, but this year, as far as the West is concerned, it might be that much harder.