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

m

July 14th, 2009
8:50 am

It is a good thing that Utah isn’t in the sec…because they would obviously win the sec west hands down.

sec….floriduh and the 11 dwarfs.

Anonymous

July 14th, 2009
9:02 am

Little “m,”

If I thought you were that clever, I might suspect that you were a Dawg fan with a twisted sense of humor, since you do such a fine job of embarrassing Georgia Tech alumni and fans on the AJC blogs. How does it feel to know you are shunned by your fellow fans of the team you support?

Do you have any sense of just how childish your comments are? Your attempts to provoke Dawg fans and others have reached the level of good, old-fashioned silliness. You are a cartoon.

Miles

July 14th, 2009
9:09 am

Unlike the SEC East, predicting the top team in the SEC West is actally pretty difficult…I’ll go with LSU…Jordan Jefferson is a well kept secret…

Atlanta Gator

July 14th, 2009
9:13 am

Well, with regard to the SEC Western Division, I can say with great certainty, confidence, knowledge and insight that I have absolutely no idea which team is going to win the division in 2009.

I am confident that the West winner will be one of Alabama, LSU or Ole Miss, but would not bet the ranch on any of them. Arkansas has the potential to play the spoiler, but does not have the horses to challenge for supremacy. Auburn is in the first year of a new coaching regime, and has a lot of rebuilding to do. Ditto for Mississippi State, and even more so.

Of the three contenders, LSU has the hardest schedule, playing Florida at home and Georgia in Athens. Ole Miss and its coach have a history of not being able to win the big games win they matter most. Alabama must replace its starting quarterback and any number of key offensive and defensive starters, but has ample young talent. None of these three teams is perfect, none is overwhelmingly dominant, and all have the potential to step up and seize the crown. It’s going to be fun, competitive football to watch.

m

July 14th, 2009
9:13 am

Tony,

Finish the ACC before you start harping on the over-rated SEC and their gomers. What about UConn? Write it down, the Jackets will play UConn in Orlando for the ACCC.

m

July 14th, 2009
9:13 am

Tech’s ACC schedule is so tough that they needed some patsies to play in their non-conference schedule.

So where best to find patsies then the sec….ugag, vannerbilt and mippy pippy st. Too bad we play Jacksonville St. in the other game…it would be nice to drop them and pick up one of the other sec patsies like alabammer or tennnersee or awBARN.

Tech, the only team in the nation to play THREE sec patsies.

45-42….glad it hurts so bad.

m

July 14th, 2009
9:15 am

m imposter alert:

Please note that m at 9:13 is a crybaby imposter.

m

July 14th, 2009
9:15 am

Note that the 9:13 post wasn’t me, just another mutt loser.

MiltonDawg

July 14th, 2009
9:15 am

Ole Miss will be the dark horse in the division. Bama’s QB is unproven and has questions marks all over him, just like LSU. Auburn will have it’s struggles again with new HC & OC. Miss St will upset GT!!
M?? know your conferences buddy. UCONN is Big East GT Genius!!

On Probation??

July 14th, 2009
9:18 am

Tiger fans are excited over the possibility of having one of the most explosive offenses in the nation with Jordan Jefferson at quarterback, Charles Scott, Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy returning as the three featured running backs, and Brandon LaFell, Terrance Tolliver, Trindon Holliday and Rueben Randle as the primary wide receivers. Also, Richard Dickson returns as perhaps the best receiving tight end in the SEC and Mitch Joseph as one of the best blocking tight ends in the conference. Keiland Williams, Trindon Holliday and possible Morris Claiborne will be returning kicks and Chad Jones and Holliday will be returning punts. If the team can cut the interceptions down to half and not turn the ball over with fumbles, the LSU offense will be very good. In my opinion, if Jefferson has the kind of year he is capable of having, the Tigers will be playing in a BCS game next January.

On defense, Tiger fans are looking forward to seeing Chad Jones and Patrick Peterson have break out years. Jones could be one of the top safeties in the SEC, and Peterson could very well be the best cornerback in the SEC. Tiger fans are also looking forward to seeing Harry Coleman play outside linebacker.

LSU’s defensive line is a question mark at this time. LSU will have to replace Tyson Jackson, Marlon Favorite, Kirston Pittman, Tremaine Johnson and Ricky Jean Francois. Rahim Alem will be one of the top defensive ends in the SEC, but after Alem it looks a little scary. Drake Nevis, Charles Alexander, Pep Levingston and Al Woods all look great in uniform, but have been a bit disappointing on the playing field. I expect redshirt freshmen Chase Clement, Cordian Hagans, Chancy Aghayere and Sidell Corley to see lots of playing time early in the season before the start of SEC play. If the above redshirt defensive lineman are not getting the job done, I would not be surprised to see Sam Montgomery and Chris Davenport receive plenty of playing time.

I believe LSU will be stronger at linebacker than they have been in the last six years. I really like Coleman and I expect Jacob Cutrera, Kelvin Shepard, Perry Riley and Ryan Baker to have break out seasons. I also expect Ace Foyil to have a great season as a second team linebacker and a special teams players. I mentioned Jones and Peterson in the defensive backfield as potential stars and I also expect Chris Hawkins, Ron Brooks and Jai Eugene to play very well

LSU Baseball National & SEC Champions

July 14th, 2009
9:18 am

Tigers win SECW

Geaux Tigers!!!

Anonymous

July 14th, 2009
9:21 am

Little “m,”

The sad truth is no one can tell the difference between you and your imposters. Nor does anyone really care, frankly. You and your imposters are equally without redeeming qualities of any kind.

Gen Neyland

July 14th, 2009
9:21 am

Miles is right. The SEC West has a problem the East doesn’t. We have Florida…Chavis’ defenses can play. Last year at Tennessee, his D was on the field for 70% of any given game and I never saw a guy cramp up. They had one of the better D’s in college football and I expect Chavis to use what he inherited at LSU to the fullest extent. CJC’s defenses will bend but it’s hard to break them drive after drive. The LSU offense has had a year to realign themselves and CLM will get her chugging in 2009. Yeah, the West is gonna be a lot of fun to us observers from the East but I’m giving the nod to LSU and not because of a one game show against GT. Yet I will admit, there is a place in my heart to see Ole Miss top the heap.

Otto

July 14th, 2009
9:22 am

LSU’s QB has not proven much and Arkansas’s early schedule is brutal for a young team that had a terrible defense. Ole Miss and Bama fight it out for 1st. LSU, Auburn, and Arkansas fight it out for 3rd.

Otto

July 14th, 2009
9:23 am

Will CJC’s defense bend like the UCLA game last year?

CrimsonRedScarlett

July 14th, 2009
9:25 am

When will all the prognosticators take note that home field is virtually meaningless in the Alabama-LSU and Auburn-Georgia games?
Before a new airport was built, going to Fayetteville was a miserable road game for everybody.

SimpleDawg

July 14th, 2009
9:26 am

Does Georgy Tech have a place for their little morons to go to and post their petty thoughts.

These little pricks seem to have an inferiority complex regarding the SEC in general and UGA specifically.

You little yeller fellers should really get a life.

Bama Aaron

July 14th, 2009
9:28 am

Ole Miss is not the great team that people are making them out to be. I promise you Nutt will lose at least 2 that he shouldn’t. LSU will be Bama’s main rival for the west this year and I don’t think they have the talent to get it done.
Alabama will meet UF in the Dome again this year. The Tide’s question marks aren’t all that much. New QB will step in with more talent than the old one…for those that don’t know he just outshown McCoy, Bradford and others at the Manning QB camp. Once the O-line is set this team will be very, very difficult to beat.

One-Liners For 7/14/09 | MrSEC.com

July 14th, 2009
9:30 am

[...] get a million pageviews and calls from Rebel fans because of it.  Just as he desires.You can read his explanations and team-by-team previews right here, but here’s The AJC’s Tony Barnhart’s picks for the SEC West:  Alabama, LSU, Ole [...]

DawginLex

July 14th, 2009
9:38 am

m’s obsession with UGA continues. Did a UGA guy steal your girl? Oh wait, blow up dolls don’t count……………..

Atl aufan

July 14th, 2009
9:42 am

I like LSU to win the division or maybe Ole Miss will finally get their shot. Meanwhile I don’t think Auburn has a much rebuilding as everyone thinks. Tubbs left the program in decent shape but Tony is right about the QB situation. If we get decent play out of them we could go 8-4 or 9-3.

CJW80

July 14th, 2009
9:42 am

QB play in SEC is huge, almost every team in SEC has great Defense, Rb, Wr were the SEC we get great talent, We found out the hard way after we had to kick our starting QB of the team last year and play a combo of Freshman. Therefore I will say 1. Ole Miss–best QB in the West, lost best defensive player to Falcons, but easy schedule should help
2. LSU– Defense is going to be sick, QB Jefferson has alot of weapons around him and liked his play agaunst GT in peachbowl, horrible schedule.
3. Alabama– great D , to many pieces to replace on offense ( even the great Nick Satan had down years at LSU, Alabama fans are going to find that out and come back to reality)

Nick "Satan" Saban

July 14th, 2009
9:43 am

Thank god we don’t play in Athens this year… damn that blackout was intimidating.

Rebel Rouser

July 14th, 2009
9:45 am

Ole Piss will win the west. Alabama will go 0-13.

UGA National Champions 2009!

Git R Done! 5000 people work for me.

RR

Will

July 14th, 2009
9:49 am

I think LSU, Bama and Ole Miss are all right there together. So to me it comes down to schedules. And that clearly favors Bama. So I am going with them as bad as I hate it. The rematch in Atlanta will be a pretty good one.

JaxDawg

July 14th, 2009
9:52 am

Ole Miss is the solid pick to win the west when you take a look at their schedules.

Ole Miss gets Bama, Ark, Tenn,& LSU at home, their road schedule is: Memphis, SC, Vandy, Aub, and Miss St.

Bama is next as they rotate Kent and SC as their changable east teams, get Tenn at home, but do have to play @Miss

LSU has an uphill battle: back to back @UGA, then FL & have to play @Miss. Vandy could be a dangerous game coming after opening at Washington and playing at 10:00pm, very late game & cross country travel could hurt.
LSU has a ton of talent, but with that schedule, I think it will be a two team race between Bama and Ole Miss, but have to give the edge to Miss because of their schedule.

David

July 14th, 2009
9:52 am

Ole Miss, Alabama (may have the best SEC team by the end of the year), LSU, Ark, Auburn, Miss State puppies

JB

July 14th, 2009
9:57 am

My vote is LSU………..Any team that can do what they did to the unbeatable, all world Tech team got my Attention……..Bee’s still trying to heal their stingers…..Dwyer went to end zone AFTER the peach bowl ( chik’n bowl whatever) just to sniff it………

JB

July 14th, 2009
9:59 am

by the way…….i’ve watched the replay of LSU/Tech bowl game twice this summer and enjoyed it both times….It’s a real pick me up for the off season !

MyWhiskeyClear

July 14th, 2009
10:03 am

With a sibling matriculating at the Capstone in the Fall I now feel a loose connection with the University of Alabama. So, with that I feel entitled to an opinion on the SEC West. I believe that Ole Miss is definitely riding high emotionally with the generous preseason ranking and the upset of Florida last season, but with Oher and others gone the line play could suffer. And against some of the best O and D-lines in the country they will need to either find more grown men or some real scrappers to fill those gaps. Being a Tech fan who attended that miserable Peach Bowl I happen to believe that LSU is legit now that they’ve settled on a QB. I do not know if Bama will live up to last year’s success but if they do I will have one very delighted sister and high hopes for the upcoming series that pits them against my Jackets. As far as fanship…I gotta pull for Ole Miss. Call me a lover of underdogs when it comes to title shots. As a longtime Tech fan I come by it honestly.

MyWhiskeyClear

July 14th, 2009
10:05 am

JB, breathe, son. Calm yourself. Who are you so angry at? Tech isn’t in the SEC anymore. And they’re not scheduled to play LSU this year.

Will

July 14th, 2009
10:06 am

Tony-

Good read and I think it will be a toss up between the 3.

George-

Alabama and Auburn virtually play the same schedule except Bama plays #15 Va Tach and au plays #23 West Va. Also the only surprise for auburn is that Chizik will stop his 10 game losing streak sometime this season.

jabster

July 14th, 2009
10:06 am

Auburn and Missy State will play each other for the SECW basement.

JB: Did you actually get all the way to the end of the Peach Bowl before your “happy ending”? I don’t believe for a second you watched it to enjoy a good football game.

joe

July 14th, 2009
10:13 am

oh geez tony…get out of bed with Urban and Nick. To shun Ole Miss is a slap in the face. Give other teams credit instead of the gator-Bama love affair with the media. Sick of it……Who beat Fla last year??? who beats Fla the year after a NC???

JB

July 14th, 2009
10:13 am

Jabster, I just fast forwarded to the good parts….it only takes about 45 minutes to watch it with Comcast DVR…….great stuff……

JB

July 14th, 2009
10:15 am

whiskey….it’s the Rings and m…..hope ya’ll have a good year…….

Jeff

July 14th, 2009
10:16 am

Yeah Tony….how about the UTES!!! to take a note from the arragant bama fans…..what was it at the half??????????????????????????????????????? hmm…bama made the SEC look soooooo good didnt they. Pick em “Mr. College football”….hahahaha a titale that’s almost as funny as what Utah did to bama on national TV

Bamafan

July 14th, 2009
10:16 am

LSU and Alabama will fight it out for the SEC west title. If Alabama’s
offense line can get better as the season goes on the crimson tide can
win the west and give the gators a dog fight for the title.

bank walker

July 14th, 2009
10:18 am

I have to disagree big Tone. I am liking LSU, Ole Miss, and then Bama in the West. I think LSU will have a good defense under Chavis.

War Eagle Beagle

July 14th, 2009
10:19 am

Arkansas will finish no worse than 3rd in the west. I could even see a better finish for them if all the chips fall right. Petrino is going to have that team ready to play. The defense is going to be alot better, and the offense will be one of the best in the country. It is going to be a long year for my Tigers, but Arkansas fans have alot to look forward to. Houston Nutt will choke like he always does when he is actually picked to do something. The tide will probably win the West but watch out for the Hogs.

MyWhiskeyClear

July 14th, 2009
10:23 am

I’m right there with you on ‘m’…As for the bowl rings that had the ‘HATE game’ score engraved inside them by vote of the Tech seniors as kind of a highlight of their season, well, I don’t think it hurt anyone….especially you. Thanks for the well wishes on the season. I’d love to see the day that a rivalry like Tech-Ga or AU-UA is a top 5 match-up. Of, course that means each team has to have a great season.

JB

July 14th, 2009
10:29 am

thanks whiskey……by the way….i’ve never seen a post from a Tech person say, ‘hope ya’ll have a good year”…..you could make history and be the first ?

KR

July 14th, 2009
10:29 am

Since all of the amateur prognosticators are weighing in, I’ll give it a shot.

Mississippi State will have moments of glory, but they still have a firm grip on the bottom of the list.

Arkansas is a genuine middle of the pack team. Ole Miss isn’t as good as their hype would have you believe. Auburn isn’t as bad as they are made out to be. It’s a toss-up between these three teams for positions 3, 4 & 5.

Alabama and LSU are toss-ups as well. However, Bama’s softer schedule makes them the favorite to win the SEC West.

WAR EAGLE!

WTF???

July 14th, 2009
10:29 am

HAWGS & DAWGS IN THE DOME……

Not really, but it’s a thought…

[...] Barnhart picks Alabama to win the SEC West. Barnhart writes, “The reason I like Alabama in this division is that that Tide is not going to need that many [...]

Paddy

July 14th, 2009
10:31 am

ANYBODY but Arkansas. You know “that coach” still lives down there. Hope they lose them all until he leaves. Which could be anytime and for sure in the middle of the night.

Jake Adams

July 14th, 2009
10:34 am

If I understand you correctly, Tony, you are picking Alabama and LSU over Ole Miss because you don’t think Ole Miss can handle the “hype”?

http://www.theolemissblog.com

gdawginkalamazoo

July 14th, 2009
10:44 am

“The defense will be better because it has to be”. Tony, good one. Ranks right up there with “let’s win one for the gipper”.

I see LSU winning the West now that they have the QB settled and as the General said Chavis running the D. He has always had good defenses and LSU in recent years has always had the talent. That Florida game will be one wild atmosphere. I just don’t see the love for Bama and Ole Miss with all the replacements. Especially Bama at QB. No matter the “talent” that is one tough position to show up in and make progress your first year. Look at Stafford and Tebow when they first stepped in. Give the Bama QB a year to adjust then put them back up there.

Tony Barnhart

July 14th, 2009
10:45 am

Jake Adams,

As I said in my comments, the ability of Ole Miss to handle being a favorite, a new position for the Rebels, is just part of it. Losing two first-round draft choices, one on each line, is also a factor. I would love to be wrong on Ole Miss, because I have a great deal of respect for Houston Nutt and for the school. But right now that’s the way I see it.

TB

Aaron Henderson

July 14th, 2009
10:45 am

So far, Ole Miss’s car accident can play major havoc with their team, and basing their season on a big bowl game seems a bit premature. So, I’d say they’d finish 3rd.

The Alabama/LSU dogfight is for 1st…. and quite honestly, the team to beat is Alabama. They had some tough losses in personel – it’s college football, everyone has losses! but what they have coming back can more than make up for it. Their defense will be just as stout, and it’s not like Greg McElroy is just in off the cotton fields… he’s been in the system, he knows what he needs to do, and having a big stable of running backs will help, as well as having the best receiver in the SEC in Julio Jones… he put up numbers last year when he knew he was going to be double teamed…. and look how good he was… this year, the sky’s the limit for him.

And, I would love to see the rematch of Bama/Florida….. It would be time for the Tide to roll…..