Archive for August, 2012

Aggies News: Brandon Williams will not play for Texas A&M this year

Incoming backfield transfer Brandon Williams will not play for Texas A&M this year, the NCAA has ruled.

On Wednesday night the powers-that-be at the NCAA ruled that sophomore full-back Brandon Williams, who transferred over from Oklahoma to College Station in an effort to see more playing time (and play in the SEC, obviously!), will not play in 2012, despite a waiver application being sent to the ruling authority.

That’s a blow to an Aggies offense that’s hoping that Christine Michael – who was a top tandem player with Cyrus Gray last season before he got injured – can stay healthy for 12 games.

BOTTOM LINE: This isn’t a major blow for Aggies Athletics, but it’s a blow nevertheless. In the SEC, Texas A&M needed depth….and tons of it.

 

Rogered: Tennessee WR Da’Rick Rogers suspended indefinitely

Huge news in Tennessee: Standout wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers has been suspended indefinitely by coach Derek Dooley for an unspecified violation of team rules, according to ESPN.

It is not known what he did to gain such a suspension, although Bruce Feldman, college football reporter at CBS was told that it was a string of troubling incidents that prompted the staff to make the move.

In one tweet he said: “After what I’d been told by sources inside Vols program last yr, was surprised Dooley allowed Da’Rick Rogers to stay w team.” He added: “In 2011 Da’Rick Rogers had a series of incidents, incldg a complete meltdown at UK gm that sources say COMPLETELY crossed line w UT staff.” And in a final note he said: “Da’Rick Rogers incidents in past yr were so troubling to staffers they felt Dooley was risking tm dynamic by allowing him to remain w UT.”

Last year Rogers was exceptional for the 5-7 Volunteers, grabbing 1,040 yards receiving and 9 TDs for an offense that really didn’t do that much otherwise.

UT linebacker Herman Lathers told Tennessee 24-7 blogger Wes Rusker: “No one is bigger than our team. We’ll be fine. This doesn’t bother us at all.

Rucker also reported that Dooley told reporters that he doesn’t expect Rogers back this year.Our expectation is he’s not (going to play this season), he told reporters. “Certainly there’s a process that we always respect, but our expectation is he’s not.He also seemed to indicate that it was unlikely that Rogers would be able to get back on the team.I think that the assumption is he’s not with us, and it’s very unlikely he will be.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a huge, huge miss for UT, who’s going to lose one of the SEC – and maybe the country’s – premier receivers. This puts HUGE pressure on not only newly-back-from-injury Justin Hunter but also the team’s running game – as well as QB Tyler Bray. But you’ve got to applaud Coach Dooley for standing by his guns – even though it may even cost him his job.

 

Maxwell Smith named as Kentucky’s starting quarterback

Joker Phillips has made Maxwell Smith his starting quarterback for the 2012 season.

Smith, who threw for 819 yards and 4 TDs (and 4 INTs) for the Wildcats last year, was named earlier this week.

The new QB told the Courier-Journal: “I heard about it this morning. Coach Joker and Coach Sanders were together and they called me in, and that’s when I found out. I felt good, felt great. That’s what I’ve been working for since I was a little kid, to get a job to start on an SEC team. It might not have been SEC at the time; you know I’m a West Coast guy. It might’ve been Pac-10 at the time, but I’m glad to be where I am and looking forward to having a real good season.”

Morgan Newton, last year’s starting QB (793 yards, 8 TDs, 7 INTs), came back from shoulder surgery so wasn’t anyone’s favourites to get the job: “You’ve just got to respect the coaches’ decision. It was going to be tough for me anyway, just coming back from shoulder (surgery). And I’m still coming back, so I’m just working hard on that and working hard on being a good teammate. That’s the only thing I can do.” He added that his shoulder still gives him “pain”, and called freshman QBs Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow ‘awesome’ talents.

It should be noted that Towles’ arrival will bring pressure to Smith – especially as Towles was ranked as one of the best high-school quarterbacks in the nation and the top quarterback in the State of Kentucky.

BOTTOM LINE: If Smith doesn’t play well and Phillips decides not to redshirt Towles – which could quite easily happy – don’t be surprised if it’s Towles – not Newton, who is the starter by the end of the year. And as for Whitlow, Kentucky should stop looking to play him at QB but instead at WR, where Smith will need the most help.

SEC Preseason Preview: Can Auburn roar in the SEC West?

There is no school out there that could have had a more horrible off-season than the Auburn Tigers. And only one incident capped it: Two former Auburn Tigers – Ladarious Phillips and Ed Christian – and sophomore offensive linesman Eric Mack were shot at a pool party in mid-June. Phillips and Christian lost their lives.

The news rocked the University to the core – and it’ll be interesting to see what effect – if any – it has on the Tigers are the start of the year.

In less important news, brilliant running back Michael Dyer was dismissed from the team and is now playing FCS football, and Auburn can still roll the Toomer’s Oaks for the 2012 season (although Harvey Updyke still isn’t in jail – despite admitting his guilt to a student newspaper).

LAST SEASON

Last season there weren’t a lot of nice things to say about Auburn’s offense, expect that we loved the on-side kick against Utah State that rescued the 2010-1 National Champion’s blushes. Here it is!

Otherwise, the Tigers were inconsistent last season, beating the likes of South Carolina, Florida (the latter in one of the ugliest games the SEC saw last year) and the two Mississippis while losing convincingly to Alabama, Arkansas and LSU as well as ancient rival Georgia. They finished the season an untidy 7-5, and proceeded to then trounce Virginia in a 43-24 victory in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

SO WHO’S GOING TO BE THE QUARTERBACK?

Gene Chizik’s an excellent card player, and he’s holding them to his chest as we all try and work out who he’s going to pick: Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley (or even freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace) as the starting quarterback in the Chick-Fil-A Kick-Off Game in Atlanta against the mighty Clemson Tigers (who, by the way, are having problems of their own with Sammy Watkins). Nobody knows, and everyone’s getting a little impatient.

Last year Moseley threw for 800 yards and 5 TDs (and 3 INTs) behind the now-departed Barrett Trotter, while Frazier threw for 34 yards, and 2 INTs. In other words, none of those two exactly fill us with confidence going into 2012 – and Moseley’s shoulder isn’t great – when the Tigers have to face SEC ballhawks at Georgia, LSU and Alabama, so could Wallace actually get the job? It’s all quite exciting!

BUT AT RUNNING BACK…

The Tigers are absolutely loaded – even without Michael Dyer. Onterio McCalebb, Corey Grant, Tre Mason and Illinois transfer Jay Prosch are going to take turns battering defensive lines- although put your money on McCalebb to do most of the work. He ran for 640 yards last year and he’s got an excellent change of speed. Frazier can also give Chizik an option if the Tigers go Wildcat – something that he seems to enjoy doing!

HOW GOOD ARE THE RECEIVERS?

Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn’s giant tight end, put together an excellent 2011 (especially where he consistently dug the Tigers out of trouble), and don’t be surprised if he ends up continuing to be Auburn’s go-to-guy this year (he had 7 TDs). Emory Blake’s also going to cause defenses problems – and McCalebb will also provide some receptions too (he had 344 receiving yards last year on top of his running numbers!). Auburn fans – if they find a quarterback capable of hitting the receivers properly (a problem in 2011) – could find they have a dangerous offensive punch.

AND IN THE DEFENSIVE LINE…

This year the Tigers bring back nine returning starters to the defense, including 3 of the top 5 tacklers – led by linebacker Daren Bates, who had 104 tackles. Watch out for redshirt freshman Kris Frost, who’s had some standout practices and everyone’s hoping will become The Future in Brian VanGorder’s defense.

Corey Lemonier will lead the defensive line, who are all coming back this year.

WHILE THE SECONDARY…

Defensive MVP for last season Jermaine Whitehead, as well as Chris Davis, T’Sharvan Bell and Demetruce McNeal are back for an Auburn secondary that’s looking a little more seasoned this year.

THE 2012 SEASON (thanks, Yahoo)

September 1 CLEMSON (In Atlanta)

September 8 at Mississippi State

September 15 LOUISIANA-MONROE

September 22 LSU

October 6 ARKANSAS

October 13 at Ole Miss, TBA

October 20 at Vanderbilt, TBA

October 27 TEXAS A&M

November 3 NEW MEXICO STATE

November 10 GEORGIA

November 17 ALABAMA A&M

November 24 at Alabama

BOTTOM LINE: There seems to be no question that the Auburn will go to a bowl game this year – but will it be with a 7-5 record or a 6-6 record? That’s all because of their difficult two games at the start of the year against Clemson and on the road to Mississippi State – both banana skins if ever we’ve seen them. Anyway, we think the Tigers split the series, beat ULM, lose back-to-back games against LSU and Arkansas and win for in a row at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, and at home against Texas A&M and the might New Mexico State. They then go 1-2 in the Georgia, Alabama A&M and Alabama series. Guess who they beat…. That gives them a 7-5 record and probably another Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

SEC Preaseason Preview: Georgia Bulldogs: A second straight SEC title game?

Georgia goes into this season – again-  as SEC East favorites – simply because of the talent that the school is bringing back all over the field, but especially defensively, where some people have said that the Bulldogs could have one of the best Ds in the conference.

Having said that, Mark Richt has had disciplinary problem after disciplinary problem this year, and that might undermine is progress. Nevertheless, see what we think below…

LAST SEASON 

The Georgia Bulldogs may have won the SEC East and gone 10-4 this year, but it’s not exactly blasphemy in the House of Dog to say that they underperformed, is it? After all, of the four ‘quality’ teams that they played last year (Boise State, South Carolina, LSU and Michigan State), they went 0-4.

The Dawgs started the season losing to Boise and USC, and Athens was shaking with annoyance. After all, losing to Spurrier (again) isn’t something that the locals like. “If we lose against Mississippi State, this place will burn”, one a-little-too-theatrical Dawgs fan told this writer. It didn’t happen, and the Bulldogs rode a 10-game winning streak all the way to the SEC Championship Game….where they should been 21 points to the good against LSU in the first quarter if Malcolm Mitchell had held an easy touchdown pass. They also blew a number of chances in their bowl game against Michigan State, where they eventually – and in heartbreaking fashion- lost 33-30 to the Spartans in three overtimes.

NFL-wise, the Dawgs saw Orson Charles, Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn, Justin Anderson, DeAngelo Tyson, Brandon Boykin and Blair Walsh all drafted to the big leagues.

SO…..THE BEST DEFENSIVE UNIT IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL…

Everyone’s drooling over Todd Grantham’s defensive unit this year, and so they should be. This is a team that returns all but Brandon Boykin of last year’s top 12 tacklers.

Giant nose tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers (both over 350lbs) are man mountains in a defensive line that returns seven of eight starters. Abry Jones and Garrison Smith are excellent defensive ends, and at linebacker, they are simply incredible, with Jarvis Jones – who led the SEC in sacks and was a first team All-American, and Alec Ogletree.

BUT AT SECONDARY….

Everyone loves Baccari Rambo, who was a first team All-American, and well as Sanders Commings and Branden Smith at cornerback. Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell has converted to cornerback – and he’s getting rave reviews. 

The biggest problem that Mark Richt is going to have is the BEHAVIOUR of his secondary, with Rambo and Commings both out of at least the first game of the season (as well as linebacker Alec Ogletree, according to reports, as well as linebacker Chase Vasser’s also in Richt’s doghouse, having been arrested for a DUI in Atlanta. He’s going to miss the first two games of the season). Key members of the team could potentially also miss a road sizzler at upset-minded Missouri – for drug violations, and Rambo could potentially miss a quarter of the season, unless Richt believes Rambo’s “It was only hash brownies, sir”, excuse. One senior college football reporter described Richt’s tough drug policy as ‘noble’, but puts the Dawgs at a disadvantage. Recently, Branden Smith avoided suspension for being arrested, although he has denied doing drugs.  Because Richt hasn’t gone public over how much time Rambo is going to miss, we can’t help but think that the head coach might believe Rambo’s excuse. Otherwise, the Dawgs are going to have a big hole to fill in the back.

SPEAKING OF PROBLEMS….

Talented troublemaker and running back Isaiah Crowell was booted out of Athens in the off-season after being arrested on felony gun charges, giving Richt a massive problem: Who’s going to be the running back for the Georgia Bulldogs?

Although there are some who are quite happy with Ken Malcolme, Keith Marshall, and Todd Gurley- the latter two who were big hits on the North Carolina high school scene – we’re slightly worried about the change of pace that’s going to lack now that Crowell’s left.

OFFENSIVE-LINE WISE…

The problem for Georgia is that they won’t be able to get a running game going against defenses if their offensive line unit – which is going to be a work in progress now Cordy Glenn, Justin Anderson, and Ben Jones are playing in the big-time. David Jones will anchor the centre with Chris Brunette as a right guard – both of whom started double-digit games last year – and the rest is somewhat of a mystery. Still, Richt certainly has the talent to make a ‘work in progress’ work just fine.

BUT THE QUARTERBACK’S NOT BAD…

No, no he’s not. In fact, Aaron Murray’s one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, and  the land. He’s got a cannon arm, understands the playbook as well as the defenses, and can put throws on the money. As we mentioned, if his receivers could have caught the ball, maybe Murray would be the proud owner of a SEC ring.

Murray threw for 3,149 yards and 35 touchdowns last year (and 14 INTs), and he’s going to frighten a lot of players.

Like it or not, the loss of Orson Charles to the NFL is going to be a big loss for the Bulldogs, but helping Murray will be WRs Tavarres King, Marlon Brown, Mitchell and Michael Bennett. As we mentioned earlier, we expect Mitchell to be playing both ways – especially if Richt needs another option through the air.

THE 2012 SCHEDULE

Sept 1 – BUFFALO

Sept 8 – At Missouri

Sept 15 – FLORIDA ATLANTIC

Sept 22 – VANDERBILT

Sept 29 – TENNESSEE

Oct 6 – At South Carolina

Oct 20 – At Kentucky

Oct 27 – FLORIDA (at Jacksonville)

Nov 3 – OLE MISS

Nov 10 – At Auburn

Nov 17 – GEORGIA SOUTHERN

Nov 24 – GEORGIA TECH

THE BOTTOM LINE: Georgia Bulldogs fans will be laughing (again) that they miss out on playing LSU, Alabama and Arkansas this season, while South Carolina gets LSU and Arkansas and Florida gets just LSU. They will also benefit from playing absolutely no-one in the non-conference (please Dawgs fans, don’t tell us that Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern are good teams).

We think that if the Bulldogs can avoid a bullet in a fright-of-your life game at Missouri, then they should be 5-0 before they roll into South Carolina. The Cocktail Party two weeks after (Kentucky in the middle) won’t be a lot easier, meaning that Georgia could easily be 6-2 – or 7-1. We’re predicting the Dawgs go 11-1. But will it be enough to go to the SEC Championship Game for the second straight year?


SEC Presason preview: Can Hugh Freeze turn around Ole Miss?

In the days of Eli Manning it might have been a truism to talk about the Rebels and say: “Ole Miss by damn!”, but last season, there was only one ‘damn’ to describe this team: Damn awful.

But can they improve and at least break their SEC losing streak – and give hope to Rebels fans who haven’t had a decent team since 2009?

LAST SEASON

Ole Miss went 2-10 last year under Houston Nutt, who was summarily given his marching orders a month before the season ended – a move that sparked some outrage. And it was no bad thing. The Rebels didn’t lose many close heartbreakers – they were generally laughers (bar BYU (loss by 1) and Arkansas, by five). In fact, the biggest highlight of Ole Miss’ season was being part of an opposition running back’s Heisman reel (Trent Richardson). That, and losing by 20 to Louisiana Tech.

And in the losing streak, they took their losing streak in the SEC to 15. But they can still throw a party, as friends of this blog who hit up the Georgia game happily maintain.

NFL-wise, offensive lineman Bobby Massie was drafted.

So who’s going to be the new quarterback?

As fans of the University of Texas will tell you, quarterbacks sharing position doesn’t really work, but Coach Freeze seriously wants to give playing time to both his QBs – Barry Brunnetti (who went 19-35 for 144 yards last season) or Bo Wallace, who played for Freeze at Arkansas State, where St Hugh ruled the roost before he was asked to coach in Oxford, where had success as a high school coach.

Coach Freeze better start choosing quickly, or it’ll be a long hard season.

And what weapons will the new QB have to rely on?

Now that four starters have left, Wallace/Brunnetti is not going to get a whole of lot of support at offensive line, so he’d better be quick on his heels. Brunnetti ran for 100 yards last year, which was quite tidy for a QB.

Anyway, running backs Jeff Scott, Nicholas Parker, and Devin Thomas are going to provide some threat from the backfield, while the Rebs are really deep at wide receiver/tight end, bringing back almost anyone who had a receiving yard last year – including Donte Moncrief (454 yds),and Ja-Mes Logan (274). Randall Mackey also comes over from QB to play RB AND WR (so he’ll be busy then!!) which should be more fun. But the loss of  Nickolas Brassell (336) to academic ineligibility is going to be a huge loss to Freeze’s men. Brassell will transfer.

Whoever is at quarterback, there’s a big question: Can the offensive line deal with the speed of their SEC counterparts? Sadly, we think not.

And on the other side of the ball?

Defensively, linebacker Mike Marry and free safety Charles Sawyer return, which is good bearing in mind they had over 150 tackles between them. Cornerback Wesley Pendleton has been getting some rave reviews this Spring, too.

But they’ll need to be helped by Des Channing Ward and C.J. Johnson, who –as remarked by Lindy’s – should benefit from the new blitz-happy schemes of new co-defensive co-ordinator Dave Wommack.

But this was a defense that gave up nearly 420 yards per game this year. Will it be able to improve so much that Ole Miss can actually win a SEC game?

The 2012 schedule

September 1 CENTRAL ARKANSAS

September 8 UTEP

September 15 TEXAS

September 22 at Tulane

September 29 at Alabama

October 6 TEXAS A&M

October 13 AUBURN

October 27 at Arkansas

November 3 at Georgia

November 10 VANDERBILT

November 17 at LSU

November 24 MISSISSIPPI STATE

THE BOTTOM LINE: There is no getting past the fact that the Rebels have one of the toughest schedules in the land. They play Texas, Texas A&M, Auburn, Vandy and Mississippi State at home, but by gosh their away schedule is difficult. Anyone else want to go on the road to Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU? The only saving grace of Freeze’s first season in charge in Oxford is that the team should start the season well and be 3-1 before they play Alabama. Thereafter, it’s hard to see where a win’s going to come from. Sorry, Hugh. We predict a 3-9 season….and still no SEC victory.


SEC Preseason Preview: Will Vanderbilt continue moving on up?

A lot of people are very excited about the Vanderbilt Commodores this year. After all, they’ve been making a lot of noise on the recruiting front lately, and James Franklin put together a team that doesn’t just give up – hence why they lost four desperately close games (one in overtime), and this could be a season when Vandy puts together a winning regular season record for the first time in a decade. People are saying that they could upset South Carolina on the first game of the season…

Anyway…

LAST YEAR

Vanderbilt fans may have celebrated going bowling, but really, it could have been so much more than that if they hadn’t broken their fans’ hearts over and over again. Georgia was given the scare of its life at Vanderbilt Stadium, they led Arkansas 28-20 and were on the Razorbacks’ one before their offense’s fumble went back nearly 100 yards for a Hogs score and a huge heartbreak, and a fierce rally at Florida came just five points short. Oh, and they lost to the hated Tennessee – a team itself in the doldrums – in overtime.

On the brighter side of life, Vanderbilt made its bowl game by hammering Wake Forest 41-7 on the road, and had SEC victories over Ole Miss and Kentucky – its best conference record since 2009 (although that’s not saying much!).

Tim Fugger and Casey Hayward were both drafted into the NFL in April.

JORDAN RODGERS….THE NEXT AARON RODGERS?

Just because Jordan Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers’ brother, we’ll go as far as saying that we don’t think he’ll be the next Aaron – or the next Jay Cutler, for that matter (Cutler was a stud at Vandy, for those of you who don’t remember). Rodgers took over the team from Larry Smith and played well enough against Georgia to take the starting job. He finished the half-season he started with 1,500 yards and 9 TDs – although he also had 10 INTs. Rodgers will face competition with new transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, but this could be a year where we throws for at least 2,500 yards – although this will be a lot less if he can’t keep the interception number down.

His wide receiving options – Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd – had great 2011s and will both be troubling opposition secondaries this year.

DEEPER AT RUNNING BACK?

It’s hard not to like Zac Stacy, who broke Vandy’s single season rushing record with 1,193 yards (and 14 TDs). Check out the highlight of him carrying Kentucky defenders on his back en route to the end-zone! And with Warren Norman, Jerron Seymour, and Wesley Tate now in the backfield, Vanderbilt’s going to have options in the backfield – which can only be good for Franklin and his coaching staff.

WHAT COULD HURT VANDY OFFENSIVELY… 

Is a shallow offensive line, with worries about the team’s depth despite four starters coming back (although one –  Ryan Seymour – has been injured for a while).

WHILE AT DEFENSE…

Let’s be honest, the graduation of the SEC’s top tackler for the last four years – to law school – Chris Marve (LB), is going to be massive. As coaches have found out through the decades, replacing a top defender is a tough, tough business. Marve will be one of those difficult to be replaced. And they also look safety Sean Richardson and cornerback Casey Hayward, who were the team’s second and third best tacklers last year.

However, there is good news. A ‘starting duo’ returns in the secondary in the form of Trey Wilson (CB) and Javon Marshall (SS) in the secondary, and there is a defensive line with quite a few starts under its belt, other than Fugger.

THE 2012 SCHEDULE

August 30 SOUTH CAROLINA

September 8 at Northwestern

September 15 PRESBYTERIAN

September 22 at Georgia

October 6 at Missouri

October 13 FLORIDA

October 20 AUBURN

October 27 UMASS

November 3 at Kentucky

November 10 at Ole Miss

November 17 TENNESSEE

November 24 at Wake Forest

BOTTOM LINE: Vanderbilt hasn’t got the easiest of schedules. While we expect them to beat Presbyterian, UMass and win road games at Kentucky and Ole Miss, the rest of the season is simply up-in-the air. They’ve got to hope that South Carolina starts slowly on the first game of the season, and we worry that their four game stretch against Georgia, Florida, Auburn and Missouri (not in that order) may not yield a victory. The games at home to Tennessee and at Wake Forest will prove pivotal to Vandy’s chances of a bowl game…. and we think that they’ve make it, with a 6-6 record.


SEC Prediction: Will Arkansas ‘Hog’ The SEC West?

Between Bobby Petrino and Houston Nutt, the Arkansas Razorbacks have put together winning seasons for seven years out of the last 10, including a pretty wonderful 11-2 run in 2011.

This year, many people are expecting nothing to change except the fact that Bobby Petrino’s out (penalized for his philandering ways), and beloved John L. Smith’s in with a 10-month contract. If Arkansas is half as a good as Smith is as a soundbite, they might make a run for the title!

In fact, the AP and USA Today like the Hogs so much that they have a Top 10 ranking to start the 2012 season. But can they be better than that, or will the John L. Smith roadshow fall by the wayside?

LAST SEASON

The Razorbacks were great last year. Tyler Wilson took over where Ryan Mallett left off, spraying the ball in all directions on an offense that continually torched the opposition for an average of nearly 37 points per game. Of course, the LSU and Alabama losses – as well as an injury to Knile Davis – hurt a run for a SEC West title – but it didn’t hurt a run to the Cotton Bowl, where they stomped Kansas State 29-16 in a battle of the unequals.

Then, in the off-season, Bobby Petrino had a motorbike crash and afterwards it emerged that he’d been cheating on his wife with Jessica Dorrell, an Arkansas member of staff, and he was kicked out of a job. He has since bowed his head and begged for forgiveness publically – we’ll see if anything comes of that in 2013. The SEC Football Blog has already made a point that Petrino should return in 2012, but right now, it’s the John L. Smith show, although Smith did hire Bobby Petrino’s brother, Paul, as offensive co-ordinator. The Hogs have realised that they might not like their ex-coach, but they sure as hell love his offensive mind.

NFL-wise, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Jake Bequette were all drafted, and don’t be surprised if each of them has an impact this or next season in the big leagues.

SO WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN OFFENSIVELY?

We’ll go as far as saying that Paul Petrino’s offense – and he knows his brother’s system inside-out – will be rich on both pass (QB Wilson, who threw for over 3,600 yards and 24 TDs in an incredible year comes back, as do WRs Cobi Hamilton and Marquel Wade and TE Chris Gragg) and run – Knile Davis is back after injury. Be afraid, defenses. We feel that by December, we’ll be using another two words to talk about Wilson: Heisman Candidate. Yep, he’s that good.

BUT IS KNILE DAVIS GOING TO BE OK?

Knile Davis suffered a broken ankle in August that wiped out his 2011 year, but he’s back and bigger, faster and angrier than ever. This guy could well be the next Darren McFadden or Felix Jones in Fayetteville, and we anticipate he’ll rack up the receiving yards, too, which gives Wilson another pair of hands. And if Davis is slow to start the season, Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo put together over 1,000 yards rushing between them. In short, the Hogs are going to be OK in the backfield.

SPEAKING OF BACK, HOW’S THE DEFENSE LOOKING? 

The loss of defensive end Jake Bequette to the NFL – he had 10 sacks last year – is going to hurt Arkansas. No two ways about it. Also, top tackler Jerry Franklin, who had 101 tackles last year, has gone, too, meaning that there are going to be a few holes in Paul Haynes’ ‘D’. A Spring injury to Alonzo Highsmith – who contributed 12 ½ tackles for loss last year – won’t have helped Haynes’ humour much, although Highsmith will probably be back by the opener against the mighty Jacksonville State.

AND AT DEFENSIVE BACK?

Free safety Tremain Thomas, who had 91 tackles of his own last year, is gone, as is Elton Ford. Haynes will be hoping that Darius Winston and Tevin Mitchel can pick up the slack that’s going to be left – and look out for Ross Rasner, a linebacker who can play at free safety too. This could be interesting…. Or distastrous.

THE 2012 SCHEDULE

September 1 JACKSONVILLE STATE

September 8 LOUISIANA-MONROE

September 15 ALABAMA

September 22 RUTGERS

September 29 at Texas A&M

October 6 at Auburn

October 13 KENTUCKY

October 27 OLE MISS

November 3 TULSA

November 10 at South Carolina

November 17 at Mississippi State

November 24 LSU

BOTTOM LINE: Arkansas has a decent start to the season, with its first four games at home – including a monster one against Alabama, which gives the Razorbacks to a) Get some revenge for 2011 and b) Show the pollsters that they are a viable National Championship Option. Realistically, we think that they will go all the way to November 10th with just one loss (to Alabama), before a monster clash at South Carolina starts off a nasty final three games of the schedule, with a road trip to Mississippi State and a home game against LSU providing all the fun of the fair. Realistically, we think Arkansas ends the season with a 9-3 record, with Alabama, LSU and South Carolina providing the losses on an otherwise strong deal.

SEC Prediction: Is Tennessee A Dark Horse for the SEC East this year?

If you haven’t heard, Derek Dooley’s out of his job as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. When? About December, 2012. We jest, but you get the point: Mr Dooley’s under huge pressure to get the 2012 right at Neyland Stadium after two years of debacle, and our thought is this: Shouldn’t we be thinking of the Vols as a dark horse for the division, rather than an also ran?

LAST SEASON

As awful as people who like you to think Tennessee was last year, we’d like to put this out there: The Vols were also hellish unlucky with injuries. They lost their best wide receiver Justin Hunter in their third  game of the season against Florida. Their QB, Tyler Bray, went down with a thumb injury and missed five games, too. And add to that a horrible schedule that included LSU, Alabama and Arkansas out of the West, things were always going to be poor. Having said that, we didn’t think that the Vols would lose 10-7 to Kentucky. Did anyone?

NFL-wise, the Vols had defensive lineman Malick Jackson drafted (although a point has been made that Jackson was a transfer from USC) – the only one in the class. Having said that, RB Tauren Poole is playing for the Carolina Panthers – although it’s a great possibility he’ll get cut despite having a good preseason, or simply end up on the practice squad.

LOVING THE VOLS OFFENSIVE LINE…

The Tennessee Vols should be good for pass protection for Tyler Bray, bearing in mind that they are bringing EVERYONE of the biggies back. According to Phil Steele, that gives them 105 career starts on the line – tied for third in the FBS. That’s pretty impressive. It’s important to note that they didn’t allow a lot of sacks – so expect the number to be even better this year. The biggest thing for the line will be helped the anaemic running game, which we expect to struggle, but more of that later. The name on your mouth should be giant 6 ft 6, 329-pound left tackle Antonio ‘Tiny’ Richardson, who is our tip to go in the first round in the 2014 draft.

…AND THE QB/ WR HOOK-UP ISN’T GOING TO BE BAD EITHER

Tyler Bray was having a pretty good season until not only his best receiver got injured, but he himself hurt as well. Despite all this, Bray threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. He’s a dark horse to be All-SEC this year, particularly if Justin Hunter (314 yards from only 17 receptions last year), Da’Rick Rogers (over 1,000 yards receiving and nine TDs), and TE Mychal Rivera (over 340, 1 TD) can keep hold of the ball. That’s a pretty good line in receivers, and will certainly give their opponents something to think about.

BUT THERE’S A PROBLEM WITH THE RUNNING GAME

Tennessee has a problem with the running game. Poole has graduated, leaving inexperienced Marlin Lane, Rajion Neal and Devrin Young to pick up the pieces. Sure, Neal’s got speed, but will he be able to last against nasty SEC defenses such as Florida and Alabama? They are going to need to put some yards together, otherwise UT’s offense becomes one-shaped – and that’s going to hurt them.

AND DEFENSIVELY….

Sal Sunseri’s taken over as the new defensive co-ordinator on The Hill, and there are worries how his defense will be able to adjust from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, although with four of their top 6 starters back – as well as junior college player (and awesomely named) Darrington Sentimore – Steele says: “UT has their most experienced D-Line in years”, predicting that they will be fantastic against the rush. We’ll have to see.

Linebackers-wise, there is going to be every more strength with virtually everybody – including A.J. Johnson (80 tackles) coming back – and pay attention to cornerback Prentiss Waggner, who’s going to lead what is again a pretty experienced Vols secondary.

AND THE SCHEDULE?

August 31 NC STATE (ATLANTA, GA)

September 8 GEORGIA STATE

September 15 FLORIDA

September 22 AKRON

September 29 at Georgia

October 13 at Mississippi State

October 20 ALABAMA

October 27 at South Carolina

November 3 TROY

November 17 at Vanderbilt

November 24 KENTUCKY

Although the first four games – including the home showdown with Florida – are very winnable indeed, Tennessee’s schedule’s a horror show in the middle, with trips to Georgia and Mississippi State followed by Alabama at home and a trip to South Carolina. The Vols will be lucky to get one win out of five of those games, although they could well go 0-5 in that stretch. That means that the games against Troy, Vanderbilt (on the road) and Kentucky could be ultra-important for Vols fans – and the job of one Derek Dooley.

BOTTOM LINE: Tennessee finishes the season 7-5, the school’s best season since 2007, when it finished 10-4. The biggest win of the season comes against the hated Gators, and suddenly everyone’s a bit happier. Heck, it’s a heck of a lot happier than it’s been for a few years.

 

SEC Preseason Preview: Can Dan Mullen continue to take Mississippi State out of the doldrums?

When people think of the words: “Mississippi State”, they think of the word “Cowbell” rather than “Good football team”. This is rather harsh, bearing in mind the turnaround that Dan Mullen has put into Starkville in his last three years. The fanbase now EXPECTS to go bowling, because they’ve been to one for the last two years (which, for a team that had only been to one over the course of 2002-2009, it’s a miracle!), and high times are now behind the former University of Florida’s former offensive co-ordinator.

They are going to tempt recruits with a $75m stadium expansion, which should see the sound of cowbells ring even louder across the State of Mississippi.

LAST YEAR

Was last year really that much of a disappointment for the Bulldogs, who were some people’s dark horses for a SEC West title? We don’t think so, bearing in mind the incredible The Bulldogs gave LSU and Alabama good games, should have beaten Auburn and South Carolina, and were whipped by Georgia and Arkansas. Of their other SEC games, they beat Kentucky and Mississippi, although in the final days of the 2011 season, it was not known whether the Rebs actually played football or not. Also, they also beat Memphis, Louisiana Tech (they were unconvincing) and UT-Martin.

In the NFL Draft, the Bulldogs saw defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (1), running back Vick Ballard (5) and strong safety Charles Mitchell (6) all drafted by NFL teams.

Who’s going to make up for the loss of Vick Ballard?

Vick Ballard is a monstrous loss for MSU’s offense, after putting together nearly 1,900 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, as well as nearly 200 yards receiving. Ballard was brilliant for the Bulldogs, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. There’s going to be an incredible amount of pressure on LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin to perform – because of the amount of work that Griffin told. And against the likes of Alabama and LSU’s defense, they are going to get all the work they need.

And what can be done through the air?

Chris Relf’s graduation means that a lot is going to be put on Tyler Russell to perform – and after his injury in the Music City Bowl last season (preceded by a poor completion rate during the regular season). OC Les Koenning has already pointed out that he was a little ‘slow’ in the red-zone, which Bulldogs fans are really hoping won’t be to the team’s detriment when things become competitive. Russell certainly gives a good (if cliched) interview, but it’s not about the interview, it’s about the arm. MSU fans will just be praying for ‘complete, complete, complete’.

And defensively?

Fletcher Cox’s loss will be felt a lot at defensive tackle – Mullen will be banking on Josh Boyd and Curtis Virges to stop the run. Personally, we’re looking forward to 6 ft 5, 255lb defensive end Denico Autry, who’s tipped to be a sack machine this year.

Mullen nearly walked out of his first press conference after being asked questions about the health of strong safety Nickoe Whitley, but have no fear: 11 days later Whitley answered the question himself: He’s back at full speed. That’s good, because forces reckon that he’s going to be drafted next year. Let’s just hope his Achilles remains OK, eh? Mullen’s press conferences have indicated that he’s happy that Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks’ progress at cornerback – and he’s even using Broomfield as a safety. What does this spell for pass-happy offenses such as Arkansas this year? Trouble if they get it wrong.

What’s the 2012 schedule like?

Looking at the schedule (thanks to Yahoo), Mississippi State can conceivably have an incredible start to the season, going 7-0 in their first seven games of the season – particularly as both Auburn and Tennessee play in Cowbell Country. That’s not to say that we don’t think both Auburn and Tennessee will be bowl-eligible this year, but it’s to say that both teams are going to struggle in the cacophony of Davis-Wade.

Then comes the biggest problem, road games at Alabama and LSU, and home games against Texas A&M and Arkansas. MSU fans may expect to go 1-3 in that stretch. Then comes The Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, where anything can happen – and usually does – particularly in Oxford where the six hours of party before the action are usually better than the games itself.

September 1 vs. Jackson State

September 8 vs. Auburn

September 15 at Troy

September 22 vs. South Alabama

October 6 at Kentucky

October 13 vs. Tennessee

October 20 vs. Middle Tennessee

October 27 at Alabama

November 3 vs. Texas A&M

November 10 at LSU

November 17 vs. Arkansas

November 24 at Ole Miss

BOTTOM LINE: Mississippi State doesn’t upset Alabama, LSU or Arkansas, but still goes a tidy 8-4 this year, beating Auburn in its first non-Mississippi SEC West win in forever. This automatically makes Dan Mullen God.

 

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