SEC West: Will Ole Miss challenge Bama, LSU?



Last season: 12-2; lost to Florida 31-21 in SEC championship game; lost to Utah 31-17 in Sugar Bowl.

Starters returning: Offense 4, defense 9, kicker 2.

Coach: Nick Saban, 110-50-1 overall, 19-8 in two seasons at Alabama.

What we still don’t know: Can the defense carry this team until the offense grows up? Three very good starters (including Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith) are gone on the offensive line. The Tide will have a new quarterback in Greg McElroy, who takes over for John Parker Wilson. Alabama still needs a big-time receiver on other side from superstar Julio Jones. There are just a lot of questions on the offensive side of the ball.  Alabama will not be able to dominate teams running the ball as it did a year ago. The good thing is that the defense, which was third nationally (263.5 ypg) last season, returns nine starters. LB Rolando McClain becomes the de facto leader with the departure of FS Rashad Johnson. NT Terrence Cody has now had a year’s worth of conditioning. It will show come the fall. Can the Crimson Tide repeat as SEC West champs? They certainly have the schedule to do it. Georgia goes off the schedule and South Carolina comes on. The toughest road game will be at Ole Miss on Oct. 10. LSU comes to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 7. Alabama will find out early if it has the right stuff as the Crimson Tide plays Virginia Tech, who will be in everybody’s Top 10, at the Georgia Dome in the Chick-fil-A Classic.

First game:   Sept. 5 vs. Virginia Tech (Georgia Dome).




Last season:  5-7, 2-6 SEC.

Starters returning:  Offense 8, defense 9, kicker 1.

Coach: Bobby Petrino, 46-16 overall, 5-7 in one season at Arkansas.

What we still don’t know:  Arkansas had the worst defense in the SEC last season. Does it have a chance to get better? Nine starters return from a unit that gave up 375.2 yards per game and gave up way too many big plays in the passing game. Petrino and his staff went out and signed a bunch of defensive backs, some of whom will compete for playing time in the fall. Transfer Rudell Crimm was an honorable mention JUCO All-America last season. Will Ryan Mallett be able to shake off the rust? Mallett started three games for Michigan in 2007. After sitting out the 2008 season he appears to be starting quarterback for Petrino. “Ryan does a great job of understanding what we want to do,” Petrino said. “As long as he gets his footwork right and sets up right he can be an accurate passer.” Can Arkansas find some help for RB Michael Smith? Smith rushed for 1,072 yards last season but at 5-7, 173 pounds he is simply not big enough to handle that kind of pounding (207 carries) again. Some big backs have arrived to help. Knile Davis (6-1, 209) graduated from high school early. Broderick Green (6-1, 242) is transfer from Southern Cal who must get a waiver to play this fall. His status won’t be resolved until this summer.  De’Anthony Curtis (5-9, 211) had 103 yards in the spring game.


First game:   Sept. 5 vs. Missouri State (Little Rock).



Last season: 5-7, 2-6 SEC.

Starters returning: Offense 7, defense 7, kicker 2.

Coach: Gene Chizik, 5-19 overall, first season at Auburn.

What we still don’t know: Does Auburn have a quarterback who can run Gus Malzahn’s offense? Malzahn ran up big numbers at Tulsa but nobody was overly impressed this spring with Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle. Malzahn said he wants to name a starter early in August if possible because he wants that guy to get the majority of the snaps. But Chizik has said that true freshmen Tryik Rollison and Clint Moseley will be a strong look when they arrive in August. Does Auburn have enough offensive linemen? Three of five starters return but overall the position looks a little thin. “We need more depth there,” Malzahn said. Is the defense going to play with more of an attitude under Ted Roof? Roof, the former defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech and head coach at Duke, spent the entire spring looking for the best 11 football players he could put on that side of the ball. He found a diamond in JUCO transfer Eltoro Freeman, who has apparently earned a starting spot at weak side linebacker. “We are looking for a certain speed, a certain tempo and a certain attitude on defense,” Roof said. “The guys who can do that are the guys who are going to play.”

First game:   Sept. 5 vs. Louisiana Tech.



Last season: 8-5, 3-5 SEC; beat Georgia Tech 38-3 in Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Starters returning: Offense 7, defense 6, kicker 0.

Coach: Les Miles, 70-32 overall, 42-11 in four seasons at LSU.

What we still don’t know: How much better will the defense be under John Chavis? Despite a defense that included DE Tyson Jackson, the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft, DE Kirsten Pittman and LB Darry Beckwith, the LSU defense wasn’t very good last season, finishing ninth in the league (325.5 ypg). That will change this season under Chavis, who was Tennessee’s defensive coordinator for 14 seasons. When Chavis has good athletes, and LSU still has a lot of good athletes, his defenses have usually been near the top of the SEC. Is LSU going to keep Russell Shepard exclusively at quarterback? Shepard, a true freshman from Houston, was considered by many to be the nation’s top high school quarterback in 2008. He was used exclusively at that position in the spring game and could see some action in the shotgun formation this fall. But he will probably also be used at wide receiver because he is such a great athlete. How good is sophomore CB Patrick Peterson? Safety Chad Jones, who also plays for the LSU baseball team, is the best athlete in the secondary. But Peterson is the school’s next great defensive back. He started his last four games as a true freshman and ended the spring game with a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown. This guy is big time.

First game:   Sept. 5 at Washington.



Last season: 9-4, 5-3 SEC; beat Texas Tech 47-34 in Cotton Bowl.

Starters returning: Offense 6, defense 8, kicker 1.

Coach: Houston Nutt, 120-74 overall, 9-4 in his second season at Ole Miss.

What we still don’t know:  What about the left side of the offensive line? LT Michael Oher, a first-round draft choice, is gone as is left guard Darryl Harris. Coming out spring ball the LT position belongs to sophomore Bradley Sowell (6-7, 310). But the Ole Miss coaches are awaiting the arrival of highly-recruited freshman Bobbie Massie (6-7, 345) from Lynchburg, Va. Reid Neely (6-6, 310), a three-year letterman, looks like he’ll win the left guard spot. This is important because the Rebels have the league’s second best quarterback in Jevan Snead. They want to keep him healthy. Ole Miss also wants to be able to run the ball and if the line comes through the Rebels will be very good at running the ball. Brandon Bolden was the team’s third-leading rusher last season but he shot to the top of the depth chart in the spring. With Bolden (542 yards), Dexter McCluster (655), Codera Eason (647), and Enrique Davis (244) the Rebels are very deep at running back. Will Ole Miss be able to handle the hype? The Rebels were the only team to beat national champion Florida in 2008. They capped off a 9-4 season by beating favored Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Now Ole Miss is a sexy pick for the Top 10. It’s a totally different mindset. Ole Miss has a manageable schedule with Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU at home.

First game:   Sept. 6 at Memphis.




Last season: 4-8, 2-6 SEC.

Starters returning: Offense 8, defense 5, kicker 0.

Coach: Dan Mullen, first season at Miss. State

What we still don’t know: Will freshman Tyler Russell challenge Tyson Lee for the starting quarterback job? Mississippi State spent the spring installing the new offense of Mullen, the former offensive coordinator at Florida. But it is possible that Mullen’s starting quarterback is not on campus yet. Lee, a rising senior, completed 59 percent of his passes last season for 1,519 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. But he is expected to get a challenge for his job from Russell, a 6-4 incoming freshman. Russell was Mr. Football in the state of Mississippi last season. He threw for 3,284 yards with 40 touchdowns and only five interceptions in leading Meridan (Miss.) High School to a state championship. Who’s going to play wide receiver? Regardless of the quarterback, the Bulldogs appear thin when it comes to guys who can catch it. Only two receivers in spring camp, Brandon McRae (51 catches) and Delmon Robinson (12 catches) have had any significant playing time. O’Neal Wilder, a track star, caught four passes for 122 yards in the spring game.  Leon Berry, one of five JUCO transfers to earn starting jobs this spring, caught 14 passes for 200 yards in three full-speed scrimmages. Will the special teams improve? They have to because the head coach is in charge of them. Mississippi State was near the bottom of the league in every major special teams category last season. Placekicker Sean Brauchlea and punter Heath Hutchins are JUCO transfers who won their respective jobs in the spring.

First game:   Sept. 5 vs. Jackson State.








121 comments Add your comment


May 14th, 2009
9:38 pm

Atlanta Gator………..I was raised in Frostproof around alot of lakes and the Kissimmee River and they do growl………….TIDE RISING, you should probably watch your LT play a REAL game before you settle them in. Also, you have one great receiver and the others seem to be mediocre.


May 14th, 2009
9:47 pm

I think everyone is being a bit harsh on Miss. St. I saw there spring game and the spread looks great, and Miss. St. has always had pretty good D. Anyone who thinks Mullen made a bad choice just wait he’s young and didn’t have any huge offers an SEC job as you first one is huge no matter where it is. I bet they’ll go 8-5 (winning Liberty Bowl against Tulsa or someone) and going 3-5 in the conference. It may look stupid now but just wait…….


May 14th, 2009
10:03 pm

how is it tide fans answer there inexperience at important positions with bama will be fine, they lack experience but they have talent coming in !? u think lsu dont have as much talent coming in? last year we were way more talented than bama and we all know what happen.


May 14th, 2009
10:06 pm

our offense has the potential to put up huge #’s,and has the last few years. all it takes is chavis is to do his thing and we have way more talent here on defense than hes ever had at tennessee!

armour all

May 14th, 2009
11:48 pm



May 15th, 2009
12:18 am

Vols face reality, rocky top falls an can’t get up, tebow cries twice again, ole miss realizes T tech was grossly overated, big 12 give me a break. GA dogs have tail between their legs, Bama will still be asking what’s a ute? Who even knows how to spell it. U embarrassed the SEC. Ark stays in the pig pen. LSU has the talent and the big chip factor. I’m going with LSU. 1, Ole Miss 2. Suicide rate dramatically increases in Bama land. Saban get’s bricks with notes through window, tries to convince everyone it’s just a game, and we just need to learn how to finish routine. Meyers leaves for ND in middle of the night.

Lord of the Lizards

May 15th, 2009
1:04 am

The West is tough to predict, three really good teams with Bama, LSU and Ole Miss. Maybe Bama and LSU eliminate each other and the Ole Rebs get it done. Don’t think they’ve ever been and their fans deserve it but LSU and Bama…man they’re gonna be a handful. Miles, Saban, Nutt all fantastic coaches. Meyer, Richt, Spurrier, Saban, Miles, Nutt…man how lucky we are in the SEC!! And by the way, Gators DO growl and you don’t want to be anywhere near them when they do!

Lord of the Lizards

May 15th, 2009
1:16 am

Atlanta Gator

May 15th, 2009
7:11 am

“Atlanta Gator Your comment is awaiting moderation. May 14th, 2009. 8:17 pm.”

Tony Barnhart—-Just for fun, I posted three video links last night of “growling gators,” and 11 hours later that post is still awaiting “moderation,” whatever the heck that means.

Given all the vile garbage that the AJC sees fit to permit some bloggers to post, this seems, well, a little bit inconsistent. Can you please explain what the AJC’s current “moderation” policy is, please, so everyone on your Mr. CFB blog understands? Did the Youtube video links, harmless though they clearly are, trigger some sort of automated censorship function?

Atlanta Gator

May 15th, 2009
7:28 am

Atlanta Gator

May 15th, 2009
7:28 am

Atlanta Gator

May 15th, 2009
7:28 am

Atlanta Gator

May 15th, 2009
7:29 am

Tide rising—-There you go, “Gator fan”:

Those sound dangerously like “growls” to me, and these aren’t even the big ones. The third clip shows a bull gator doing his mating call and literally is making the water dance off his back.

Grrrr, baby.

Atlanta Gator

May 15th, 2009
7:33 am

Guys, I apologize for the duplicate posts. When the “moderator” clears my previous attempts to post the video links above, there will be two others with the same links.

The “moderation” software filter on the blog will apparently allow us to post one video link at a time, but if you attempt to post three or more, some automated censorship function is triggered. Very weird.

Enjoy the “growling gator” videos, guys.


May 15th, 2009
7:57 am

You heard it here first; GA and ALA will disappoint this year. After last year, Bama can’t help but do so. And while I expect the Dawgs will hang tough, I think they could easily lose 5 or 6 this year. AJ Green will be neutralized by double coverage, production from the running game will fall off significantly, and the defense will not be as improved as folks are expecting. And special teams ? Puhleeze.


May 15th, 2009
10:35 am

I think Ole Miss wins the West. They have the coaching to make them live up to the hype.

1. Ole Miss
2. LSU
3. Auburn
4. Alabama
5. Mississippi State
6. Arkansas


May 17th, 2009
8:35 pm

Dan – you are probably the most objective fan that has posted. You would think that all schools would support the SEC. Some of you who continue to downgrade Miss. State each time – is pathetic. Are we a football school – no. But give the guy time – heck he may surprise you. For those of you to say – why would you ever go to Starkville to Dan Mullen. Maybe he saw something – like hungry fans that are willing now to give more money to the Bulldog Club and support the team. Heck, they had 31,000 at the Spring Game, up from 6,000. I’m tired of the negative comments. Support all SEC schools until they play your team. You all had no problems saying positive things when Croom was there – such as, “oh – he is putting leaders on the field, and inherited a mess -I hope success for State.” I look forward to the day that all Bulldog fans speak out when they win – they will be alot more classy than some of you!


May 18th, 2009
12:34 am

Honored, yes i am honored that yall have thought so highly of LSU.
it is gonna be a real tough year for the tigahs. but, i am PROUD to be a tigah.
i am PROUD to be in the SEC, and i am PROUD of all our sec opponents.
NONE will be easy. We will not overlook miss. state, vandy, ark, ga, fl, al, au or ol miss.
i am honored and humbled to be in this conference of great universities. SEC, SEC….

Nic Gerz

May 19th, 2009
10:37 am

Auburn will challenge Miss State as the worst team in the SEC

[...] SEC West: Will Ole Miss challenge Bama, LSU? ALABAMA: Can the defense carry this team until the offense grows up? Three very good starters (including Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith) are gone on the offensive line. The Tide will have a new quarterback in Greg McElroy. Alabama still needs a big-time receiver on other side from superstar Julio Jones. The good thing is that the defense, which was third nationally (263.5 ypg) last season, returns nine starters. LB Rolando McClain becomes the de facto leader with the departure of FS Rashad Johnson. NT Terrence Cody has now had a year’s worth of conditioning. [...]

george smith

August 25th, 2009
12:49 pm

Alabama and Ole Miss are alot of hot air. LSU will run rampid over both teams with their only loss coming at the hands of the dreaded Tebow and the Gators.