Five burning questions about the SEC West

At last, at long last, we have some real football to cover as teams are finally going to report this week. But there is a lot to do between now and Sept. 3, when South Carolina goes to N.C. State.

As always, the landscape changes between the end of spring practice and now. So we’re going to spend the next few days looking at the most burning questions still surrounding the SEC and ACC as we head into two-a-days.

On the eve of preseason practice, here are my five burning questions about the SEC West:

 

1-The Alabama offensive line is going to eventually grow into a good unit. But will it happen in time for Virginia Tech? Head coach Nick Saban had a wonderful luxury last season. If the game seemed to be getting out of hand, he had the offensive line to just grind on people and re-establish control of the game. With three starters gone, including (Outland Trophy winner) Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell, there is much work to do for offensive line coach Joe Pendry. I really like LG Mike Johnson, who will be the bell cow of that unit. And there is talent there. But the offensive line really has to play with one heartbeat and I wonder how close this group will be on Sept. 5 when the Tide plays the ACC champs at the Georgia Dome?

 

2-What’s the future for LSU QB Jarrett Lee? The quarterback position was pretty much a nightmare for LSU in 2008 but nobody’s dreams were worse than those of Lee, a rising third-year sophomore. You really have to work at it to throw 16 interceptions, seven of which were returned for touchdowns. When I talked to coach Les Miles at SEC Media Days, he insisted that Lee is in the mix with sophomore Jordan Jefferson, who finally grew up and took over at the end of last season. But does Lee really come all the way back from last year’s disaster, especially with highly-touted recruit Russell Shepard waiting in the wings? I think we’ll find out in the first few scrimmage if Lee is going to be a factor.

 

 3. How important is the NCAA’s decision to allow Broderick Green to be immediately eligible to play?  This is huge-literally-for Arkansas. One of the problems a year ago is that the offense had to rely too much on running back Michael Smith, who is generously listed on the roster at 5-7, 176. Smith had 207 carries last season (for 1,072 yards) but by the end of the season he was beat up. Smith was also not a good goal-line option. Green (6-2, 248), an Arkansas native, got 32 carries for 168 yards and three touchdowns at Southern Cal in 2008. The NCAA granted him a waiver (sick grandmother) and last week he was declared eligible to play this fall. Now Arkansas has a power running game to complement Smith, which means that Ryan Mallett’s play-action passing game will be even more effective. This is a very important development for Arkansas, who I think can be a bowl team in Bobby Petrino’s second season.

 

4-What about that Auburn offensive line? Any chance they can stay healthy?  While the whole world is worried about the starting quarterback-because it doesn’t appear that Auburn has one-it ain’t gonna matter much if the Tigers get a couple of offensive line injuries in preseason. The first unit, which includes proven players like LT Lee Ziemba and RG Bryon Isom, can play at the SEC level. But if anybody gets hurt, OC Gus Malhzan told me, then this offense will go into a scramble mode. I watched this happen at Georgia last season after LT Trinton Sturdivant got knocked out for the season early. It is not fun and it’s an aggravation new head coach Gene Chizik does not need.  

 

5-Ole Miss finally cut signee Jamar Hornsby loose. Is that good karma or bad karma going into preseason practice? Hornsby may have set some kind of record by managing to get himself kicked off of two SEC teams in the space of two years. You might remember Mr. Hornsby. He was the guy who took the credit card of the dead girlfriend of Gator Joe Haden and ran up $3,000 in gasoline charges. After Hornsby did a stint in junior college, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt signed him last February. Jamar was so overjoyed at his second chance in life that he proceeded to get arrested on felony assault charges on March 1. Nutt was going to let the legal system run its course, but last Friday Hornsby was indicted on the charges and Ole Miss decided they had better cut their losses. Something like this probably has no impact on the rest of the team. But this summer we have also had a near-tragic auto accident involving RB Dexter McCluster, the Rebels’ most versatile offensive player, and DE Greg Hardy, their best defensive player. Do you believe in bad karma? Just asking.

 

 Tomorrow we will take a look at the SEC East.

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130 comments Add your comment

m

August 3rd, 2009
8:52 am

Tony,

The ACC just announced they have reached an agreement with the Lifetime Channel to air the ACC Championship game! The Lifetime Channel had originally planned to show the Sally Field movie, “I Want My Daughter Back” but after intense negotiations a deal was struck.

No word on if Lifetime Channel knows where the game is being played.

Ron Mexico

August 3rd, 2009
9:07 am

Serious journalists don’t use the word “ain’t”.

JB

August 3rd, 2009
9:21 am

It’ll be LSU…….Bama has a great defense, but new QB and iffy OL………If that jells, they might win the west, especially with that schedule…….Bama only has about three tough games……

Delusional SEC Fan

August 3rd, 2009
9:27 am

Question 1 is very interesting indeed. For Bama’s offensive line, talent is not the issue. Experience is. I believe the line will hold its own in the first half then wear Va Tech down in the second half. Bama’s defense will dominate Tech’s inconsistent offensive from the start. Bama by 13 as the defensive scores a touchdown.

[...] Tony Barnhart of the AJC has five burning questions about the SEC West. [...]

Got 12?

August 3rd, 2009
9:33 am

Enter your comments here

Got 12?

August 3rd, 2009
9:36 am

JB,

The schedule is the exact reason Bama will win the West. LSU has a killer schedule while Bama and Ole Miss have it easy. Because frontrunner is not a position Ole Miss is accustomed to, the smart money is on Bama.

CharlotteGator

August 3rd, 2009
9:37 am

1. I really hope so in terms of the VaTech game. Offensively, my opinion is that similar to last year, the identity will be based on line play. The smash mouth run game complemented by play action pass to arguably the best receiver in the league depends on controlling the line of scrimmage. Bama’s got the backs, a QB with talent, a stud at WR, but none of that matters if the line doesn’t play well. And Bama doesn’t need to start the season off with a loss and feel like they don’t know what to do offensively. Their D will keep them in the game because VaTech’s O is anemic at best, but for that team’s overall psyche, I think their OL needs to control if not dominate the line of scrimmage.

2. I can’t really a see a scenario where this guy plays much. Jefferson would have to through similar back breaking pick 6’s and then the freshman would have to be horrible before Lee got a shot. Trust me, ultra hyped freshman QB’s are given every opportunity to succeed and more leeway than most. :)

3. Huge. Arkansas will definitely surprise people this year. Last year they gave the Gators problems (esp. M. Smith running crossing routes across Spikes’ face, he couldn’t keep up w/ the scatback). Late TD’s in the 4Q made that score look worse than it was. For the first 3 quarters, the hogs gave UF all they wanted. Mallet is a huge physical upgrade from the last guy who’s name will prevent this post from being allowed. If they can get some defense, they’ll give teams all they want again this year.

4. Doesn’t seem like a legit question. Who knows? If anyone can definitively answer this then I have some LOTTO tickets I need you to get me.

5. Again, who knows. This one seems like a stretch question as well. Nutt tried to help this guy out with a second chance and Hornsby squandered it. It’s a shame because he’s talented, but at the same time, it’s hard to feel bad for someone who knew he should’ve kept his nose clean. Probably shouldn’t waste time talking about guys who don’t care enough to try and get their life in order. Let’s talk about all the players who are working hard and setting a good example.

SEC What?

August 3rd, 2009
9:37 am

Five Question?

1. Who cares?

2. Who cares?

3. Who cares?

4. Who cares?

5. Who cares?

goooo dawgs!

dan

August 3rd, 2009
9:49 am

Delusional SEC Fan,

If Bama is favored by -13 vs. Va. Tech come gametime, I might be inclined to take Va. Tech in that game.

armenchuck

August 3rd, 2009
9:53 am

I was scared this was going to be a repeat article from two weeks ago. It is not! Thanks for the incredible, well written article Tony.

Got 12 but none in quite a long long time ....

August 3rd, 2009
9:56 am

Jefferson and Sheppard….!!

Matt

August 3rd, 2009
10:07 am

Tony:

What LSU is going to do with Lee isn’t even a top 5 question for LSU. Who cares. This guy is going to get buried in the depth chart. He got his shot and messed up. His best option is to transfer to a FCS school. As for Jefferson, yeah, I think we were all “finally growing up” when we were 18 years old. Jefferson just had to do his growing up in front of 92,000 SEC fans.

As for Bama, the offensive line should grow into a pretty good one. The burning question there though is, will the QB be ready for SEC play or even to face the VT defense. LSU showed last year that replacing a Senior QB like Flynn or JPW is hard to do.

Bama Aaron

August 3rd, 2009
10:08 am

I don’t believe it will take that long for Bama’s O-line to become cohesive. But even if it takes a game or two the defense is strong enough to carry them to wins until it does. ROLL TIDE!

IM4BAMA

August 3rd, 2009
10:11 am

Only 30 more days till college football!!! Hell yeah.

Atlanta Gator

August 3rd, 2009
10:17 am

Comments in response to Tony—-

(1) Nothing like growing up fast. FSU and Miami have often played in early September, in order that the loser could recover its poll rankings with the remainder of winning season. As a result, two of the highest powered offenses in Division I would often degenerate into a slop-fest defensive struggle. Last year’s Alabama-Clemson kick-off game looked like that at times. Point being, three or four games as a starter does make a difference, and Alabama’s young line, while talented, will need a few games to settle into their new role.

(2) LSU will have an excellent defense, and good supporting players on offense. Question is, will the Tigers have a starting quarterback who can carry the team to serious contention in the SEC West . . . my thought: first do no harm. Don’t put to much pressure on the starter, and let the more experienced supporting cast carry the load for a while.

(3) The NCAA has a heart? Who knew? I didn’t expect this waiver, but Arkansas can certainly use the help in the backfield.

(4) Auburn’s offensive line? How about its quarterback, tailbacks and receivers. too? Chizik, his new coordinator, and his starters need to generate some offense. Sure, great defenses create championships, but you must score to win. Hopefully, AU’s dysfunctional offense will show some signs of life under the new regime. The AU fans and powers-that-be need to see some improvement this year . . . .

(5) When Jamar Hornsby was invited to leave Gainesville in the aftermath of running up $3,000 worth of charges on the credit card of his teammate’s dead girlfriend, I wished him luck with his second chance in Mississippi and hoped that he would take full advantage of it. Instead, he’s been charged with felony assault and violation of parole before he even played a down for Ole Miss. Sad, very sad.

Bo Williams

August 3rd, 2009
10:19 am

M, are you going to watch the new reality show airing this fall in which graduates from UGa, Ole Miss, MissState, and Alabama are going to represent the President’s Cabinet in running the country during football season? The seat of government will be in Columbia, SC, where the Confederate Flag will fly high above the temporary Nations Capitol, and Dixie will be blared at both sun-up and sun-down.

Matt

August 3rd, 2009
10:25 am

AtlantaGator:

I have to agree with your assesment of LSU. LSU fans are excited about JJ but we have to remember that he is only a sophmore with exactly 2 starts under his belt. Protecting him is exactly what LSU is going to do. A heavy dose of Charles Scott and Keiland Williams is just what the doctor ordered. Hopefully by October JJ will have this offense rolling.

The Daily Grab Bag | MrSEC.com

August 3rd, 2009
10:30 am

[...] ahead.Tony Barnhart of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does the five questions thing to, but he focuses solely on the SEC West today.Big Ten coaches were had to take a lot of questions about the SEC at their own Media Days event last [...]

mcdawg

August 3rd, 2009
10:40 am

BAMA 3 VT O-don’t think the Offense will matter against VT

Hornsby-some people you simply can’t help

UGASlobberknocker

August 3rd, 2009
10:42 am

This just in: The Lifetime Channel has reneged on their ACC Championship Game agreement. After discussions with focus groups, it was decided that that the average wife beating, man done woman wrong movie on that network had far more heavy hitting than the average ACC game. It was felt that ACC fans couldnt handle any additional violence (especially Tech fans who already have to worry about getting assaulted outside of their stadium).

In a related story,the ACC has entered into an agreement with the Cartoon Channel for their Saturday weekday package..figuring watching football like the ACC plays..now that’s HILARIOUS!

braveswin

August 3rd, 2009
11:08 am

I think LSU wins the west, the defense will be as good if not better under Chavis, and the offense will possibly go into a grind it out mode to protect the young QB. Bama has too much to replace on the O line and Ole Miss may not be quite ready to wear a bullseye all year. Ark will be better but again maybe not ready for prime time.

ThaMan

August 3rd, 2009
11:29 am

How did the fleabags do against the ACC last year? Anyone?

Jeff

August 3rd, 2009
11:41 am

ThaMan- Is that all you can ask- how UGA did “last year” hahahahhhahahah..How does the ACC do against ANY SEC TEAM most years??? anyone??

Joe

August 3rd, 2009
11:43 am

Well, the Jackette’s from the ACC Coastal Swamp are a eye popping 1-7 vs a Dawg from Athens.

Wayne

August 3rd, 2009
11:44 am

Clemsux is 0-1 vs Bama

That was no fluke; Johnson let up!

August 3rd, 2009
11:46 am

dog fans ragging the ACC….short memory…I guess?

Wayne

August 3rd, 2009
11:46 am

I do think in the annual battle of the toothless tigger and the Barnyard Jokers- the toothless tigger does come out on top in South Carolina

Joe

August 3rd, 2009
11:48 am

Short memory??? what is short about 1-7?

This was no fluke either...51-7. Richt DID LET UP...

August 3rd, 2009
11:48 am

Enter your comments here

That was no fluke; Johnson let up!

August 3rd, 2009
11:50 am

keep living in the past…two in a row will be ramblin this fall.

Tech has a Johnson..not a gomer

August 3rd, 2009
11:53 am

Johnson 1.
Dogs 0

Bull Gator

August 3rd, 2009
12:13 pm

As a Gator fan, I am going to thoroughly enjoy watching the SEC West play itself out this season. Personally, I think LSU is going to surprise people, and I anticipate another battle on the Bayou when we travel there in Oct. Whoever emerges, let’s hope for another SEC Championship as memorable as last year’s.

Tide Rising

August 3rd, 2009
12:21 pm

1) This offensive line was able to move the ball with some success during the spring against a D that returns 9 starters from the nation’s number 3 rated defense last year. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

2) If LSU’s qb last year is still right in the mix for the starting job then that tells you that all the hype around Jordan Jefferson is just that. Hype! If this guy can’t create separation in the spring from arguably the worst qb in the west last year than he must not be all that the kool aid drinkers think he is. JJ is a guy after all who is a career less than 50% passer and who is 1-1 as a starter. People forget he lost that game against Arky and that horrific Arky defense last year. Playing decent in one game only against Tech does not a quarterback make.

3)Big addition for Arky as they need a big, good back to complement Smith.

4) Auburn has to be like us last year and have the good fortune of avoiding the injury bug. Their first 22 aren’t bad but after that they are lacking in depth, especially on the O-line. If they and UT just had decent qbs I think both could make some noise, go bowling, win some upsets, etc.

5) Jamar Horsby- This is just a rotten kid. Plain and simple. Its a shame he just threw his life away.

The Blog Referee

August 3rd, 2009
12:26 pm

Tony Barnhart,

Thank you for deleting several of the more juvenile comments posted earlier this morning.

The Ref

Tide Rising

August 3rd, 2009
12:29 pm

Bravesfan,

If you think LSU wins the west you need to look at the schedule. They travel to Athens to play the dogs. Looking at history they haven’t done very well in Athens. They also play Florida. Both Bama and Ole Miss have the good fortune of both not playing either UGA or UF. That’s a huge disadvantage for LSU.

On top of that LSU travels to both Ole Miss and Bama. Even if they were ultimately a better team than both Bama and Ole Miss the schedule alone would do them in. Based on schedule Ole Miss has the advantage. In addition to avoiding both UGA and UF out of the east they get both Bama and LSU at home. Huge advantage for Ole Miss. All things being equal the advantage goes to Ole Miss.

athensdawg

August 3rd, 2009
12:33 pm

whoever has the best record vs. arkansas and old miss will win the west.

Johnny DangerDawg

August 3rd, 2009
12:33 pm

2) Jarrett Lee? Are you kidding me, Tony? The guy is toast. Jefferson is the QB at LSU. I agree with Matt that this is not even an issue. Your next list of “Burning Questions” will probably be “How many games into the season will Tim Tebow lose his starting job?” or “Will Nick Saban leave Bama to become coach at La Tech?”

PTC DAWG

August 3rd, 2009
12:45 pm

BAMA/LSU/OLE MISS in no particular order. Should be interesting.

PTC DAWG

August 3rd, 2009
12:46 pm

Oh yeah, Tide Rising makes a great point, LSU has a decided negative in the schedule.

Don Ho

August 3rd, 2009
12:48 pm

Tide Rising

Not nit-picking but Alabama’s D is now at 8 returning starters with the defection of Brandon Fanney, but he was a 14 game starter at the key Jack position and was 3rd on the team in tackles.

Johnson’s loss was big in the secondary & Jackson looks very suspect at corner. We’ll have to see if the Bama D is as stout as everyone thinks.

Atlanta Gator

August 3rd, 2009
12:54 pm

Well, it’s official.

Jeremy Foley did not wait until after the 2009 football season; UAA and Urban Meyer have already completed negotiations and signed a new contract, extending Meyer’s current contract term through 2014.

Meyer is now the highest paid coach in the SEC at more than $4 million per year.

Here’s the ESPN link:

http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=4374311

This was no fluke either...51-7. Richt DID LET UP...

August 3rd, 2009
12:59 pm

quit living in the past???? hahahaha Jackette- 1 year in how many?? no past dude- just a fact WE OWN YOU

Dooley's Cardiologist

August 3rd, 2009
12:59 pm

The only reason there are questions for the West is because there are obviously none for the East. To spell it out for the simple minded; UF wins the East.

Tide Rising

August 3rd, 2009
1:06 pm

Don Ho,

Actually you are correct. But I’m not worried. He only had 1 sack I think it was and Saban requires more production from the Jack position. What it looks like we’re going to do is move Donta Hightower to jack to get more speed and a better player and move up one of our younger linebackers to Donta’s old spot which is easy to learn. Donta started as a freshman and seemed to do pretty well. There are at least 2 former 5 star rated lbs that we want to get on the field jerrell harris and nico johnson. Too much young talent to keep on the sideline.

As for Johnson’s loss we feel really, really good with Robby Green taking over and behind him we have a former 5 star rated sophomore in Mark Barron backing up Green at safety. We’re going to be fine there.

Kareem Jackson did look suspect at corner some times last year but then again when you’re playing against top tier sec competition like AJ Green you will get burned from time to time. We’ve got a former 5 star corner recruit BJ Scott backing him up at cb and we’ve got the nation’s number one corner recruit in 5 star Dre Kirkpatrick coming in the fall to give him competition. We’re locked and loaded there.

What’s really nice is that everywhere where we have questions, o line, db, lb, we’ve got about 7 former 5 star recruits already working as backups and trying to break into the starting rotation. Heck, our weakness is supposedly the O-line and on the O-line we will have 2 massive former 5 star recruits as backups at the tackle positions, 6′7 350 lb Fluker coming in the fall and 6′7, 300 lb Love medical redshirt as a freshman. Just like the O-line the experience may not be there but the talent absolutely is.

DBCOOPER

August 3rd, 2009
1:08 pm

Who’s the guy on this Blog that predicted Texas Tech would kill Ole Miss? Real football expert!

Ole Miss has two things LSU and Alabama don’t have. All tough games at home and most importantly a QB.

Frozen_Gator

August 3rd, 2009
1:09 pm

This is/or should be a put-up or shut-up year for Alabama. They say we have the coach and several highly regarded recruiting classes back to back. The time is now, no excuses.

Tide Rising

August 3rd, 2009
1:10 pm

DBCOOPER,

You are correct. I’m picking Ole Miss to win the west but only provided that they stay healthy. If ever they are going to do it this is the year. They are set up for a great run especially schedule wise.

Tide Rising

August 3rd, 2009
1:15 pm

Frozen_Gator,

Nope. It doesn’t have to be this year for us as we are still extremely young. We just want to be competitive and keep stacking up great recruiting class after class. We’re expecting a great season this year but 2010 is the year we are aiming for a serious run at the national title. By then the 1st of the great recruiting classes will be juniors and every year after that we expect to be in the national title hunt. Not quite there yet though, just a little ahead of schedule.

KR

August 3rd, 2009
1:16 pm

Tide Rising posted: “arguably the worst qb in the west last year” about Jarrett Lee.

I beg to differ. I’m reasonably certain that Auburn’s starting quarterback was the undisputed holder of that title.

I can’t even remember his name because as an Auburn fan, I’m trying to mentally block out last year.