Mississippi State Archives

SEC Preseason Preview: Can Alabama reload and re-win?

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, Ready to reload Alabama?

It’s no secret that 2011-2012 National Champions Alabama lost a load of talent to the NFL, but this is Nick Saban. He’s recruiting brilliantly (again), he’s one of the best coaches in the game (name us someone better), and Alabama ought to be OK for the 2012-3 season – which is why they are again one of the favorites to go to the National Title game.

LAST SEASON

Y’all know what happened last season. Alabama won the National Championship, hammering LSU 21-0. Should they have actually been in the National Championship Game? Well, the argument is is that the Crimson Tide didn’t even get to their Conference Championship Game. The other argument is is that they were really the second best team in the nation, and deserved the spot. But the fact of the matter is this: Alabama are National Champions.

NFL-wise, Alabama lost a heap of talent. Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman, DeQuan Menzie and Brad Smelley were all drafted.

SO WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN TO THE DEFENSE?

The first question is simple: How on earth is Nick Saban going to replace all that talent?

Simple, really. Super-sized and larger-than-life nose tackle Jesse Williams (24 tackles, 3.5 Tackles for Loss) will anchor the center of the field, taking over the nose guard role from Josh Chapman, while defensive ends Damion Squire and Ed Stinson will be expected to shore up things up.

Nico Johnson (47 tackles, 1 sack, 5 1/2 Tackles for Loss and 1 INT), CJ Moseley (37 tackles)  and Adam Hubbard will try and replace the major loss of Hightower (85 tackles, 4 sacks, 7 Tackles for Loss).

Secondary-wise, things aren’t going to be as easy. Mark Barron (68 tackles, 2 INTs), Dre Kirkpatrick (30 tackles) and DeQuan McKenzie (41 tackles, 1 INT) are gone – which is a hell of a lot of talent to try and reload from. Sorry, Nick. SS Robert Lester (39 tackles, 2 INTs) will try and pick up some of the pieces, and we should all watch out for Dee Milliner, who’s getting some rave previews from writers about his potential. Will he be able to turn potential into brilliance in 2012. Auburn fans will be hoping not.

AND ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BALL….

Last year in the National Championship Game, AJ McCarron made LSU’s extremely good secondary look extremely ordinary, picking them apart seemingly at will.

This season he’s getting some Heisman talk – and we think he’ll throw the ball a lot more what with Trent Richardson going to the NFL (he hasn’t had the greatest of starts). Much-heralded wide receiver Duron Carter’s departure from Alabama in the off-season has left McCarron with an even less-experienced receiving corps than last year – although Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Christian Jones, DeAndrew White and tight end Michael Williams won’t be bad at all.

Running backs-wise, we’re all going to miss Trent Richardson, who was as good at making players miss as he was simply running over them. We’ll miss you, Trent. Anyway, Eddie Lacy (674 yards, 7 TDs) is going to be depended on to put up the big ground numbers for Saban’s offense – although Jalston Fowler’s versality will also help, journalists say. Still, how are you really going to replace Richardson’s 1,679 yards?

The great thing for Alabama’s is that they are going to very, very solid up-front, still. Barrett Jones could be playing in the NFL right now, but he enjoyed being a member of the Tide that he decided to stay in school for another year. He’s moved to center on an offensive line that is so, so experienced. Antony Steen, Chance Warmack, DJ Fluker, Cyrus Kouandjio have nearly 100 career starts between them – and all are over 6 ft 3 and 300 pounds. That’s a ‘solid’ proposition for defenses and Alabama’s offense alike.

AND THE X-FACTOR IS…

Nick Saban. The guy is hands-down the best coach in College Football (certainly defensively, anyway!). While Alabama might have lost a lot of talent, Saban’s good enough to make sure that the season doesn’t unravel and the Crimson Tide are there or thereabouts when it comes to battling it out for a SEC West title.

THE SCHEDULE

September 1 MICHIGAN (AT Cowboys Stadium, Dallas)

September 8 WESTERN KENTUCKY

September 15 at Arkansas

September 22 FLORIDA ATLANTIC

September 29 OLE MISS

October 13 at Missouri

October 20 at Tennessee

October 27 MISSISSIPPI STATE

November 3 at LSU

November 10 TEXAS A&M

November 17 WESTERN CAROLINA

November 24 AUBURN

THE BOTTOM LINE… Alabama has a monster match-up on the first game of the season when they play Michigan in JerryWorld, and it’s road trip to Arkansas ain’t gonna be easy either. Oh, and they also have to travel to LSU (as well as Tennessee and Missouri), too. Having said that, the favorable home schedule and the fact that there’s too much talent on this team means this: Alabama loses to LSU in Death Valley this year, but finishes the season a tidy 11-1, and is in the conversation (once again) for the National Championship.

SEC Preseason Preview: Can South Carolina dominate the SEC East?

In Steve Spurrier, South Carolina is coached by one of the greatest coaches the SEC (and College Football), has ever seen. And he’s great with doing something from nothing, because  South Carolina’s not historically Georgia, LSU or Alabama, and yet he can still pick up some immense recruits and sends some great ones to the pros.

This year, South Carolina goes into the season higher thought-of than ever. So can they win the SEC East title, which they missed out on last year?

Last year

Let’s get this straight: If they hadn’t have had such a sucky SEC conference, they would have won the SEC East. They went 4-0 against their division, but because Georgia managed to avoid playing anyone decent in the SEC West – and South Carolina had games at Auburn and Arkansas – Georgia (who they beat in an absolute classic last year) came out with a better SEC record and hence went to the SEC Championship Game.

Starting QB Stephen Garcia was dismissed in October for yet another bout of ‘overdoing it’,  and star running back Marcus Lattimore managed not to badly injure his knee at Mississippi State, and although the Gamecocks defense was still as good and reliable and usual, the offense never really recovered until the final game of the season when they put 34 on a suddenly-stumbling Clemson.

NFL-wise, Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, Alshon Jeffrey, Rokevious Watkins, Antonio Allen, and Travian Robertson were all drafted.

TWO BIG QUESTIONS ON OFFENSE

As far as we’re concerned, Connor Shaw’s going to do just fine this season for the Gamecocks. Although there are worries about Shaw’s back, Spurrier’s said he’s going to be fine for Thursday’s SEC opener at Vanderbilt.

The biggest question on everyone’s lips is about catching – who’s going to replace Alshon Jeffrey (762 yards, 8 TDs) as Shaw’s target man? Will it be Ace Sanders, or  Bruce Ellington or Rory Anderson or Nick Jones who will make the headlines? No-one knows? All we do know is that Jeffrey was a hell of a presence for the Gamecocks last year – something that will be needed.

And the other question – if we’re honest – is about Lattimore and his knee. The injury itself at Mississippi State was one to make any right-minded person feel nauseous, and it ruined his season there and then. Some reporters are confident that Lattimore’s back to the old self that made him a Heisman Trophy candidate, but Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles will also be used to provide bigger support. This could answer a couple of worries.

AND THE DEFENSE?

Actually, the NFL Draft did a pretty good job itself, ridding the Gamecocks of CB Stephon Gilmore and DE Melvin Ingram and LB/SS ‘Spur’ Antonio Allen.

Having said that, there are still imposing figures to destroy offensive lines in giant sophomore DE Jadeveon Clowney (36 tackles, 8 sacks), and DE co-player Devin Taylor (42 tackles, 6 sacks) who are also very quick. This should be fun.

But as we mentioned, the loss of Allen and Gilmore is going to be a major loss for Spurrier’s defensive back unit – and they’ll need CB Akeem Auguste to be healthy and SS DJ Swearinger (USC’s second-highest tackler with 80 tackles, 3 INTs, 1.5 Tackles For Loss) to continue his good form of 2011.

THE 2012 SCHEDULE

August 30 at Vanderbilt

September 8 EAST CAROLINA

September 15 UAB

September 22 MISSOURI

September 29 at Kentucky

October 6 GEORGIA

October 13 at LSU

October 20 at Florida

October 27 TENNESSEE

November 10 ARKANSAS

November 17 WOFFORD

November 24 at Clemson

USC’s first game of the season at Vandy on Thursday isn’t exactly an easy one to start with, and if they get through that game, then we expect them to run the table until they have the ‘triple whammy’ of Georgia and road games at LSU and Florida. Then it’s Tennessee, Arkansas, Wofford and a trip to ancient rivals Clemson.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Spurrier’s lost too much talent not to suffer this year, but the return of Marcus Lattimore, the fact that Connor Shaw’s a better QB than Stephen Garcia and the Clowney/Taylor combo is going to be fantastic on the defensive line is going to make life a little bit easier. Having said that, we think USC will go 10-2 – and miss out once again on a SEC Championship Game spot (despite beating Georgia)

SEC Preseason Preview: Can LSU overcome the loss of Tyrann Mathieu?

Tyrann Mathieu really screwed up this time. In fact, he screwed up so much that he’s now in rehab, and he’s off the LSU team. Last year he was suspended for drug use, while in the off-season he entertained everybody by wanting to change his ‘Honey Badger’ nickname for ‘King’. Wow, there’s nothing like a bit of humility, is there? We can only hope that a reformed, drug-free Tyrann Mathieu is back in FBS Football and his bravado is pitch only.

But will Mathieu’s expulsion from the team cost the LSU Tigers a shot at the National Championship?

LAST SEASON

As you all know, LSU was not only shut out of the National Championship by Alabama, but they were embarrassed, too. Their offense was lousy, and their defense wasn’t a lot better in the 21-0 defeat.

It’s funny, because LSU got to the National Championship the right way last year. They played Oregon and West Virginia outside the confines of Death Valley. And won both games. They won the toughest road game of them all in Tuscaloosa 9-6, and made frat boys cry in the process. And they beat Georgia comfortably in the SEC Championship Game. They destroyed teams with an excellent defense, and some even better special teams play. And guess made most of the standout plays?

LSU – loaded with NFL-worthy talent – sent Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers, Rueben Randle, Brandon Taylor and Ron Brooks to the NFL.

SO WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN WITHOUT TYRANN MATHIEU?

As angry Les Miles must be with Tyrann Mathieu, he must be also thanking the Good Lord that Eric Reid – who tied Mathieu for tackles and interceptions has stayed out of trouble. The secondary – with the loss of two of its star players – now returns just one of its starters (Reid), but Tharold Simon, Craig Loston Jr and Dwayne Collins, Dwayne Thomas and Jalen Mills could also be exciting options.

Having said that, defensive co-ordinator supreme John Chavis knows what he’s doing, and the Tigers should be fine – if a little less exciting than last year!

OH, AND LSU STILL HAS THE BEST DEFENSIVE LINE IN THE COUNTRY

Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo (what a great name, by the way) are two of the best defensive ends in the country. Between them, they had 17 sacks last year. And although Brockers is gone, DTs Bennie Logan(57 tackles, 3 sacks) and Antony Johnson will also scare offensive lines across the country.

And that’s going to help the linebacking corps, which lacks experience apart from Kevin Minter, who had 61 tackles last year. Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones are projected to start to0 – this could be pretty exciting.

And did we mention that John Chavis knew what he was doing?

AND THE OFFENSE?

We’ve been quite defense-focused in our LSU preview (mainly because of Mathieu), but the good news for LSU fans is that Les Miles finally has a strong-armed, good quarterback in Zach Mettenberger, who was named starting QB almost immediately to avoid a situation like Florida or Texas. LSU fans had better pray that Mettenberger stays healthy – and out of trouble – because PSU transfer Rob Bolden really wasn’t anything special in State College. But for some consolation, here’s freshman highlight reel, by the way. Things didn’t improve from there.

Mettenberger’s weapons are going to be Odell Beckham, Russell Shepard and TE Chase Clement. There’s not a lot of experience in the team on that line – both Shepard and Beckham only caught 55 passes and 6 TDs last year – but this was mainly due to Les Miles using his powerful offensive line to grind out the yards rather than throw it up in the air (and the fact that with Jarrett Lee / Jordan Jefferson at QB, they were hardly reliable, were they?). And with Mettenberger’s arm, opposition secondaries had better be careful.

Also, Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard all come back into a rushing game that, giving LSU a very legitimate run threat too.

And we think the offense is going to need to be more sparky than they were in 2011, because the defense is definitely a little weaker. Especially in the secondary (if we hadn’t mentioned it before).

In the SEC West, where field position in all-important, One of Les Miles’ biggest weapons is going to be a rather good-looking Australian kid called Brad Wing, who’s an absolute freak at doing that.

THE SCHEDULE

September 1 NORTH TEXAS

September 8 WASHINGTON

September 15 IDAHO

September 22 at Auburn

September 29 TOWSON

October 6 at Florida

October 13 SOUTH CAROLINA

October 20 at Texas A&M

November 3 ALABAMA

November 10 MISSISSIPPI STATE

November 17 OLE MISS

November 23 at Arkansas

LSU’s schedule isn’t an easy one…particularly on the road. Going to Florida, Arkansas and Auburn will be tough, and the atmosphere at Kyle Field (Texas A&M) is one of the most deafening in the country. Home-wise, Alabama and South Carolina at home are the key games.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Regardless of how magical John Chavis is or how good LSU’s defense is, the logic is this: LSU is a worse team without Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu is a threat on defense AND special teams – something that LSU will struggle with without their Heisman Candidate in the team. But we still think LSU is good enough to run the table – squeezing past Alabama to maintain a 12-0 record and a SEC Championship Game spot. It won’t be easy, though.

MSU receivers coach resigns over NCAA investigation

Mississippi State wide receivers coach Angelo Mirando has walked out – allegedly over an ongoing NCAA investigation into recruiting violations in Starkville, a number of news sources have reported – and a former Big Ten head coach has been hired to take his place!

The wide receivers coach is being investigated into the recruitment of defensive back Will Redmond and possible other players, the report from ESPN said.

Mirando – who stressed that he was leaving due to ‘unforeseen personal issues’ said in a statement: “I have enjoyed my time at Mississippi State as a graduate assistant and as an assistant coach. I have made friends that will last a lifetime; however, due to unforeseen personal issues, I believe it is in my best interest to resign from Mississippi State. I want to stress that these issues are personal. I look forward to pursuing other opportunities in the future. Finally, I want to thank my friend and mentor Dan Mullen for giving me this chance.

Dan Mullen, the school’s head coach said: “We appreciate Angelo and the work he did, and wish him the best in wherever the future takes him,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said in a statement. “We’ll take some time to evaluate what our next steps will be with that staff position, but I’m confident in our veteran group of wide receivers and know they’ll be focused and ready to go Sept. 1.

The move to replace him was pretty quick – the school announced Thursday that it had hired former Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster as receivers coach.

Mullen said in a statement: “Tim is a veteran football coach and his football knowledge and ability to teach made him the perfect choice to join our staff at this time…He’ll hit the ground running as we get ready for Jackson State.

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 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.

 

SEC Schedule: Top 10 In-Conference Games You MUST watch this season

Every year the SEC dominates other schools in bowl games (unless you’re Michigan State, but less said about that the better) quite simply because they have the most difficult conference. EVERY game is a bowl game,  a potential National Championship Game, or a big-time match-up. If you don’t believe us, ask CBS why – every year without fail – they always screen Florida vs Tennessee, even though both sides weren’t going to compete last year, and could possibly be put down as ‘afterthoughts’ for the last couple, at least.

Anyway, here’s our Top 10 games (IN-CONFERENCE) on the SEC schedule. And there should be no surprises who’s going to be No.1….

1) Alabama vs LSU (Nov 3)

Night game. LSU vs Alabama. Saban’s back in town. The LSU fans have been waiting for revenge since January for this one, and this game could well not only decide the SEC West, it could well decide who goes to the National Championship Game from the SEC. Why not both teams? Because Southern California and Oregon could well have something to say about that…

2) Georgia vs South Carolina (Oct 6)

If Alabama – LSU might be a SEC West decider, then this might be a decided for the SEC East – if both sides can get past Florida and an exception defense that’s being built in Gainseville. Can Georgia’s suddenly-vaunted ‘D’ stop Marcus Lattimore? Can Jadeveon Clowney muscle Aaron Murray out of the game? Will Georgia’s wide receivers learn to catch a pass? This is going to be a cracker of a showdown.

3) a) Florida at Texas A&M (Sept 8)

b) Georgia at Missouri (Sept 8)

These games probably wouldn’t make the list any time else, but since it’s Mizzou and A&M’s first games in the SEC, these are calendar highlights. An insider at Georgia already told the SEC Football Blog that they were “worried” about going to Farot Field – and as they should be. Will the Bulldogs have their defense after their off-season troubles. Who’s going to be running back? And for Florida, it’s guaranteed that Kyle Field’s going to be noisy and pretty unforgiving – even if they don’t have male cheerleaders (something’s that has GOT to be changed now that the Aggies are in the SEC). These two games are going to be fun.

4) LSU at Arkansas (Nov 24)

Not an easy Thanksgiving trip for the Tigers – especially as the Razorbacks will be in the mood after losing so badly in Death Valley in 2011 after starting so well. We look forward to seeing how the Mathieu-less defense deals with the one of the best QBs in college football in Tyler Wilson, as well as the ground threat of Knile Davis.

5) Florida at Tennessee (Sep 15)

Not an easy September schedule for Florida, who has back-t0-back SEC road games. The trip to Knoxville isn’t a guaranteed win in 2012, particularly as Tennessee brings back so much talent – especially WR Justin Hunter off the physio’s table, Tyler Bray’s arm and a vaunted, experienced offensive line. Personally, we can’t get enough of ‘Tiny’ Richardson, Tennessee’s 6 ft 6, 329 lb left tackle. But for the Gators, it’s all going to be about whether Will Muschamp’s worked out who he wants to be his QB (Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel) and whether the offense has ‘it’ this season – something we’ll see before this game. Expect fireworks in Neyland.

6) South Carolina at Vanderbilt (Aug 30)

Vanderbilt might be good this year? Everyone loving the Commodores and James Franklin, especially when he’s talking about recruiting? Well, ‘Jay Fray’, as we’ve now nicknamed him, is going to get the surprise of his life when South Carolina roll into town, with Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore running things offensively and  Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney preparing to do damage on the other side of the ball. Jordan Rodgers, watch out. This could be fireworks – especially if Carolina aren’t clicking properly (as they have a habit of not doing on Game 1 of the season).

7) Alabama at Arkansas (Sept 15)

We’ll make this bold-ish prediction: Both Alabama and Arkansas will be 2-0 before both sides meet in Fayetteville. Arkansas fans will be screaming blood after losing so badly at the Crimson Tide last year, and Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis will be ready to test an Alabama defense looking to prove that it’s going to win back-to-back championships and against a coach who’s one of the best in the game. This game’s going to be a war, people.

8) Ge0rgia vs Florida (Jacksonville) (Oct 27)

You know the drill. Show up four days before the game, drink as much as you possibly can, fight with an opposing fan, tease an opposing fan for being a redneck (Georgia) or for wearing jorts (Florida), laugh about both sides’ mascots and both join in in saying unkind things about Steve Spurrier. Then, steel yourself for a monster SEC East game, which is played in the worst possible spirit. Isn’t college ball fun?

9) Arkansas at Auburn (Oct 6)

Remember this: Auburn will upset one of LSU, Arkansas or Georgia this season. That’s because Gene Chizik’s too good of a coach to make this happen. And Jordan-Hare at night is too great of a place NOT to score a big-time win. We think it could well happen against the Razorbacks. Then again, we haven’t seen much of either team, have we?

10) Auburn vs Alabama (Nov 24)

Because it’s the biggest game on the schedule for both teams, and if there’s a National Championship to worry about from Saban’s standpoint, this one’s even bigger. We’ve got a (State of) Alabama-sized heartbeat just thinking about it…

 

 

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