Alabama will win the wild, wild SEC West

 

 

This has a chance to be one of the wildest SEC West races in a long, long time. Below is how my five research magazines broke it down followed by my own picks. Give me your projected finish and tell me where I’m wrong.

 

 

SEC WEST

 

Athlon: Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State

Lindy’s: LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State

Phil Steele: Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State

Sporting News: Ole Miss, LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State

The Kickoff: LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State

 

What we learned: The three-way battle among Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss is going to be “Must-See” football this season. Two of the magazines picked Ole Miss to win the division and make its first-ever appearance in the SEC championship game. Two others picked LSU to bounce back from an 8-5 season and make a run to Atlanta. Alabama, the defending division champion, was picked by only one magazine to repeat. Mark your calendars: Alabama is at Ole Miss on Oct. 10. LSU is at Alabama on Nov. 7. Ole Miss hosts LSU on Nov. 21.

 

TONY’S PICKS

Alabama: A lot of assumptions are being made about Alabama. Because the Crimson Tide must replace veteran quarterback John Parker Wilson and three starters on the offensive line, it logically follows that they cannot repeat as SEC West champs. I respectfully disagree. Alabama will be a different team, especially on offense, but will still find a way to get to Atlanta on Dec. 5. Let’s start with the offense. Last season Alabama could pretty much wear opponents down by steamrolling them with that huge offensive line. This season, behind new QB Greg McElroy, Alabama will have to show a little more finesse on offense. There is plenty of talent on that side of the ball if the offensive line comes together. The reason I like Alabama in this division is that that Tide is not going to need that many points to win. The defense is that good. Nine starters return and, yes, Alabama will miss the exceptional leadership of safety Rashad Johnson. But the linebackers (Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower) are great and NG Terrence Cody is now in shape and ready to play his best football.

 

LSU:  LSU went 8-5 last season for two reasons. No. 1, the Tigers could never settle on a quarterback. It took most of the season for freshman Jordan Jefferson to grow into the job and now it appears LSU is set at the position. No. 2, head coach Les Miles made a major mistake by not hiring a proven defensive coordinator to replace the departed (to Nebraska) Bo Pelini. The Tigers finished ninth in the SEC in total defense (325.5 ypg). Miles has corrected that mistake by hiring veteran DC John Chavis. Over the years Chavis has proven that when he has good athletes, particularly up front, his defense is pretty good. LSU has a bunch of really good athletes in its program. The only thing that kept me from picking the Tigers to win the division was the schedule: They have to go to Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss while getting No. 1 Florida at home (on Oct. 10).

 

OLE MISS: The Rebels are getting a lot of love and they should. They have the second best quarterback (Jevan Snead) in the SEC and a bunch of guys who can make plays. They also have the best schedule among the SEC West contenders as Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU all come to Oxford. Florida rotated off the schedule and Tennessee came on. But there are a couple of issues that keep me from jumping on the Ole Miss bandwagon. One is physical. Ole Miss has to replace a first-round draft choice (tackle Michael Oher) on the offensive line and first-round draft choice (tackle Peria Jerry) on the defensive line. Bobbie Massie, a big-time recruit, could wind up at that offensive tackle position.  If Jerrell Powe, who has been waiting in the wings for a long time, can come through at the defensive tackle spot, the Rebels may be okay. The other concern I have for Ole Miss is psychological. Ever since the Rebels upset Florida (31-30) last year in Gainesville they have been billed as the “next big thing” in this league. Ole Miss is pretty much a consensus Top 10 pick in the preseason. This is a different mindset for the Ole Miss football program. How it handles the hype remains to be seen.

ARKANSAS: Despite having the worst defense in the SEC last season (375.2 yards per game),  Arkansas finally started looking like an SEC football team in the second half of 2008. Three of the final four losses in a 5-7 season were by a total of six points to Kentucky (21-20), Ole Miss (23-21) and Mississippi State (31-28). Then the Hogs upset LSU 31-30 to finish the season. There are a couple of reasons I believe Arkansas will make a significant step forward in Bobby Petrino’s second year. The defense will be better because it has to be. Nine starters return and some new talent is coming in to help. The offense will be better because Petrino now has a quarterback (Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett) who knows how to run it. Petrino also went out and got some help for running back Michael Smith, who rushed for 1,072 yards last season but took a considerable pounding to his small frame (5-7, 173 pounds). Arkansas is still waiting to see if Southern Cal transfer Broderick Green (6-1, 242) will be eligible for the fall. The schedule, however, is a bear with trips to Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss, and LSU.

 

AUBURN:  New coach Gene Chizik insists that the program will be built methodically with no short cuts. That is an admirable goal, but it means that Auburn is probably going to take its lumps in the short term. No question that Chizik is trying to shake things up with the hiring of Gus Malzhan as his offensive coordinator. Malzhan’s offense put up huge numbers at Tulsa but I’m not convinced that any of the quarterbacks he had in camp this spring can run the offense as it is drawn up. Will Auburn get frustrated and turn to a true freshman like Tyrik Rollison? The offensive line looks a little thin to me and I don’t see a whole of big plays from the wide receiver position. It doesn’t help that WR Tim Hawthorne broke his foot and will be out for at least four weeks. The defense is still a work in progress but there are some hopeful signs for new DC Ted Roof. Auburn is going to need to play good, consistent defense while the offense tries to figure out what it is doing. Auburn gets a break in scheduling because first four games (Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Ball State) are at home.

 

MISSISSIPPI STATE:  Like Auburn, Mississippi State is trying to install and entirely new offensive system without the proven talent to run it. Dan Mullen, the former OC at Florida, takes over as head coach but there are no Tim Tebows to be found in Starkville. Senior Tyson Lee is the guy until true freshman Tyler Russell arrives in August. Russell was Mr. Football in the state of Mississippi last season and looks like the perfect athlete to run Mullen’s system. But will Mullen entrust the team to a true freshman out of the gate? There also seems to be a dearth of guys who can catch the ball. The defense will be run by veteran Carl Torbush, who will take five returning starters and try to make something of it. Four of Mississippi State’s first five games are against Auburn, Vanderbilt, LSU, and Georgia Tech. It looks like a pretty bumpy first year for Mullen.

 

Programming note: Today I am in Florence, Ala., where Terry Bowden is now the new head coach at Northern Alabama. Later today I’ll be sitting down for a roundtable with all of the Bowden coaches: Terry, Bobby, Tommy, and Jeff. I’ll have a report for you on Wednesday.

Please follow me on Twitter:

http://twitter.com/MrCFB

 

257 comments Add your comment

Kyle

July 16th, 2009
12:27 am

Ill go ahead and say im a big Bama fan to get started. So here we go.

Our first unit o-line looked pretty decent in the spring, and our QB has been in the system for 3 years, and is much more accurate than JPW. No offense to JP, kid was tough as nails and took some shots. I think we see a different kind of offense this year, one with a substantially improved passing game. Hopefully, if someone besides Julio steps up and the running game averages around 160-180 yds a game, we will win the west. But thats a lot that has to fall into place.

On defense, we lost a very smart safety. It will tough to replace Rashad Johnson, but with the talent coming in and Saban coaching them personally, the secondary should improve, after all Rashad was the only member of the secondary to leave. But for it to reach its full potential, we must generate a better pass rush. We finished 7th last year in sacks. Look for some more talented newcomers to step up. Dont even worry about the run defense.

All in all, I dont expect us to win every game. But when I look at on paper, there is no team that we SHOULD lose to.

Kyle

July 16th, 2009
12:36 am

If the past four years are any indication, the ole miss game should be awesome this year. But, it also has the potential to be a blowout. Watch last years game before Cody was injured, the game was not as close as the score.

[...] Alabama will win the wild, wild SEC West Alabama will be a different team, especially on offense, but will still find a way to get to Atlanta on Dec. 5. Let’s start with the offense. Last season Alabama could pretty much wear opponents down by steamrolling them with that huge offensive line. This season, behind new QB Greg McElroy, Alabama will have to show a little more finesse on offense. There is plenty of talent on that side of the ball if the offensive line comes together. The reason I like Alabama in this division is that that Tide is not going to need that many points to win. The defense is that good. Nine starters return and, yes, Alabama will miss the exceptional leadership of safety Rashad Johnson. But the linebackers (Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower) are great and NG Terrence Cody is now in shape and ready to play his best football. [...]

Bama12

July 23rd, 2009
12:10 pm

little m if GT is so powerful then why did they leave the SEC and go to the basement of the ACC? One win over the bulldogs every seven to eight years does not make them a powerhouse. Win the ACC then try to win a National Championship. The SEC has been on top for what six of the last eight years with one year being shunned by the voters (awbarn). It’s one thing to be proud of your school, but let’s not be stupid about it.

Mike

August 1st, 2009
4:40 pm

This is probably the most difficult year to pick the SEC west. Putting Miss. State in the basement is a safe bet. Auburn probably one step up from Miss. State. Other than that it’s going to be a slugfest. I’ll give the edge to LSU, but it’s a four way race IMO.

panther

August 11th, 2009
11:17 am

Amazing. Bama is the only team in the country that starts a new QB, tailback, and replaces an all-star o-line and can STILL win a division title in the SEC. I’m sorry Mr.Football but right now, you sound like you’ve never even heard of football………either that or some sabanite has forced a gallon of the kool aid down your throat.

george smith

August 25th, 2009
12:33 pm

LOL! I read this junk and have to laugh. Alabama will win nothing this year, neither will Ole Miss. Only one team in the SEC has what it takes to challenge Florida and that’s LSU! LSU will win the west, but unfortunately will not win the SEC for as long as the SEC’s nightmare Tebow is at Florida, they will dominate the SEC and will easily win another BCS Title. We may as well accept what is reality and look forward to the 2010 schedule without Tebow around. Predictions are Tim Tebow will win yet another Heisman Trophy this year. Florida will go undefeated and most likely be one of the best teams of all time.