An early line on the SEC in 2011, and UGA is … well, not No. 1

With the SEC having generated the BCS titlist five years running, the moral of our story — if indeed morals apply in this cutthroat conference — is this: Win the league, win it all. But that mightn’t be the case come Jan. 9, 2102. (Though the championship game will be played in New Orleans, smack in the heart of SEC country.)

Oklahoma figures to start next season ranked No. 1, and that would be a departure. The past three preseason No. 1’s have hailed from guess where: Georgia in 2008, Florida in 2009, Alabama in 2010. (As we know, none finished No. 1.) Eyeballing it from this distance, the SEC would appear slightly lessened in 2011, but is the Tiffany League ever truly down?

Herewith we offer a look-ahead, the 12 programs ranked in ascending order:

12. Vanderbilt: The Commodores have a new coach. So they’ve got that going for them.

11. Kentucky: The Wildcats seemed onto something when they played Auburn close and beat South Carolina, but they lost four of their final six games. They’ll have a new quarterback in 2011, and Morgan Newton — who started the BBVA Compass Bowl because senior Mike Hartline was suspended — appears a cut below his predecessor.

10. Ole Miss: Wasn’t it only yesterday — actually, it was 2009 — that this team was hailed as a national contender? Nothing has gone right since. Gambling on quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the defrocked Oregon Duck, enabled the Rebels to win only one SEC game, that against Kentucky. Houston Nutt’s nutty program again appears the least of the SEC West.

9. Tennessee: The Vols have found a quarterback in Tyler Bray, and his emergence enabled them to become bowl-eligible. Now the bad news: Tennessee finished 6-7 and didn’t beat anyone of consequence. Heck, it lost big to …

8. Georgia: Going on returning talent, this ranking is too low. Going on the tenuous state of the program, this ranking might be too high. Some Bulldog fans see Isaiah Crowell, the recruit from Columbus who has yet to commit, as The Next Herschel Walker. I ask: Have we learned nothing in 30 years? There was but one Herschel Walker.

7. Florida: Will Muschamp, the new head coach, is also a rookie head coach. Hiring Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator will help, but Weis hasn’t seemed half as clever since being separated from Tom Brady. John Brantley, the quarterback of whom much was expected in 2010, is considering transferring — and even Gator backers don’t know if that would be good or bad.

Zach Mettenberger: He's a Bayou Bengal now. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Zach Mettenberger, new to LSU. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

6. Auburn: The national champs will surely lose quarterback Cam Newton and defensive destroyer Nick Fairley to the NFL, and they weren’t just the two best players on their team — they were the two best players in the country. And that’s how it works in the better half of this conference: You can go from No. 1 in the land to No. 5 in the SEC West in the wink of an eye.

5. Mississippi State: The temptation is to put the Bulldogs a notch higher, but two factors mitigate: State lost defensive Manny Diaz to Texas, and the sneak-up factor from 2010 will be gone. Still, if the Bulldogs can win at Auburn on Sept. 10, they’ll face LSU in Starkville on a Thursday night in a cowbell-clamorous game that could propel them into the Top 10.

4. Arkansas: The Razorbacks will take a slight step backward — they reached the Sugar Bowl in Year 3 under Bobby Petrino — only because they’re losing quarterback Ryan Mallett to the NFL draft. But Tyler Wilson seems an able replacement, and Petrino can coach quarterbacks. The downside: Hogs must face Alabama and LSU on the road.

3. South Carolina: The Gamecocks achieved their forever-awaited breakthrough by winning the SEC East. They then lost twice in the Georgia Dome by an aggregate 48 points. The key offensive players return, and Carolina hopes Jadeveon Clowney, the in-state product considered the nation’s No. 1 recruit, will take his talents to Columbia and do for the defense as tailback Marcus Lattimore did for the offense.

2. Alabama: Talent-wise, this is the SEC’s deepest program. But losing three key offensive players — quarterback Greg McElroy, tailback Mark Ingram and wideout Julio Jones — has to have some effect. Doesn’t it?

1. LSU: The SEC West will hinge the Tigers’ Nov. 5 game against Alabama, which will be staged in Tuscaloosa. But LSU, which has struggled for three seasons to find a quarterback, might have two: Jordan Jefferson has begun to settle, and Zach Mettenberger, dismissed from Georgia’s program after his arrest, might wind up starting. And there’s  precedent for an SEC champion being quarterbacked by a Georgia native who began at one league program but flourished at another: Cam Newton of Atlanta did it in 2010; might it Mettenberger of Watkinsville in 2011?

By Mark Bradley

332 comments Add your comment

Sherry Dean

January 12th, 2011
11:24 am

Buck Commander

January 12th, 2011
11:24 am

Mark Bradley

January 12th, 2011
11:26 am

Whoa. Sherry Dean noses out Buck Commander. Kudos.

Luigi

January 12th, 2011
11:26 am

Luigi

January 12th, 2011
11:26 am

Mark Bradley

January 12th, 2011
11:26 am

And Luigi completes the podium.

Buck Commander

January 12th, 2011
11:27 am

Better than coming in second to rawdawg.

SmyrnaMan

January 12th, 2011
11:27 am

The Vols have UGA at UT this year. Vols get 7 or 8 wins

Mark Bradley

January 12th, 2011
11:27 am

I’m worried about rawdawg. Not like that individual to go missing

BJ Washington

January 12th, 2011
11:31 am

rawdawg’s mom took his computer away. Sadly, AJC wasn’t the only site he was visiting….

Michael

January 12th, 2011
11:31 am

2102? Did I miss something?

Mr. Clean

January 12th, 2011
11:32 am

In 2011, Interim Coach Mark Richt will take our Beloved Bulldogs all the way the Bowl -

The TOILET BOWL!

Flush this guy already!

Paul H

January 12th, 2011
11:32 am

I agree. Just hope UGA surprises some people.

Paul H

January 12th, 2011
11:34 am

Mark, how big would a victory over Boise be in getting people to believe in Richt again? Too little too late or a glimmer of hope?

juvenal

January 12th, 2011
11:35 am

uf, ua, au, ut, lsu, uga-all top ten in fan base, talent, $…which one has not played in the nc championship game the last 10 years(or so)?

Lets Go Bravos

January 12th, 2011
11:37 am

MB, you are such a UGA hater and are the worst journalist ever. Wait a minute, you are a columnist so you can put opinions out that area meant to stir up the masses. Why don’t you try writing a column asking why other SEC programs like LSU and Auburn see nothing wrong with recruiting JUCO quarterbacks that were kicked off other teams for serious offenses. The reason you will not is because you are a hypocrite. You skewer CMR for the offenses happening in the first place but it is ten times more awlful to recruit a player knowing he was bad enough to get kicked off the prior team. You will not answer my question because you only answer questions from someone giving you praise or agreeing with you. That makes you a hypocrite and a coward.

nemov

January 12th, 2011
11:38 am

Florida has way too much talent to be 7. This is coming from a Georgia fan.

ICMIII

January 12th, 2011
11:38 am

Switch Georgia and Tennessee and I think you’re about right.

Sandman053

January 12th, 2011
11:38 am

Paul H I think it is a double-edged sword much like Va Tech found out. You win, they are over-rated and you were supposed to and if you lose….well you lost to someone who plays on blue carpet

Buckeye

January 12th, 2011
11:39 am

Mark,

How about a change up? UGA football gibberish is starting to wear.

Marion Campbell

January 12th, 2011
11:39 am

Fran Tarkenton hates Interim Coach Richt?

FRAN ???

What the * H * kind of name is “Fran” for a grown man who played pro football ?!?!?

nemov

January 12th, 2011
11:40 am

juvenal, I wouldn’t consider Auburn in the top 10 fan-base/$. Well, unless by $ you mean paid players?

DawginLex

January 12th, 2011
11:42 am

Zach Mettenberger, who has NEVER taken a college snap, is going to beat out Jordan Jefferson, the MVP of the Cotton Bowl who appears to have finally figured it out?????

Good Lord.

NewnanDawg

January 12th, 2011
11:44 am

“Going on returning talent, this ranking is too low.”

Other than Murray, what returning talent do you mean? The other top 6 players on this year’s team will be gone next year.

With 18 returning starters, 2010 was the Bulldogs’ year. Somehow, because we had a redshirt freshman (aka sophomore) QB this year, everybody said our team was “young”.

Mark Bradley

January 12th, 2011
11:45 am

Ealey’s a good player. Orson Charles is a good player. Sturdivant is a good player. And let’s not forget Marlon Brown and Branden Smith and Abry Jones and Rantavious Wooten. They were big-time recruits, were they not?

Matthews Dawg

January 12th, 2011
11:46 am

That the way to stir it up again! Time will tell if any of this comes true or not! Now let the bashing of CMR start again! Talking about beating a dead horse! How about trying (if possible at this stage, finding something positive?)Go Dawgs!

Sandman053

January 12th, 2011
11:47 am

MB what do you think would happen if we were to get Jenkins to plug our anemic D-line?

mcg dawg

January 12th, 2011
11:48 am

TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL FRAN

Buck Commander

January 12th, 2011
11:49 am

I think UGA is ranked too high myself. They had returning talent this past season and the past several seasons and look where they ended up. Also, I have heard that line of crap for so long about the next coming of Herschel Walker until I’m sick of hearing it. I guess thats what Auburn will be looking for the next 30 years, the next coming of Cam Newton. UGA has major problems and its not returning talent as far as players but the returning non-talent in other areas but I guess thats beating a dead horse.

jumbeauxtiger

January 12th, 2011
11:49 am

I wish you would not have picked LSU as the best Mark, Kind of like the SI curse. That said the Tigers have a tough schedule. They open with Oregon in Dallas and play West Va on the road later in September. Then we have the SEC schedule which includes Alabama, Florida, Auburn, Ms State and Arkansas. Our hands will be full and we can’t afford any slip ups.

As the sharp bloggers on here know, there is a fine line in many instances between winning and losing in the SEC and chips have to fall your way.

There will be some surprises in the SEC in 2011 as there always is.

JMac12003

January 12th, 2011
11:50 am

Mark, swap UGA and UT, and you might be on to something. The Vols should win at least as many as the pups this season. As far as “Fran” goes, it is about as good a grown man’s name as “Marion”.

Ted M

January 12th, 2011
11:51 am

James Wilder, Jr is the next “almost” Herschel Walker. “Almost” is usually pretty far off though.

juvenal

January 12th, 2011
11:51 am

nemov, trying to be nice-must hurt that much more…..top 20, then…….

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

January 12th, 2011
11:52 am

i hope the mettenberger thing doesn’t work out…would hate to see another UGA recruit leave out of state and become a star. UGA had to dismiss him, no question but not to go on to another SEC school. I think UGA will improve a lot…Richt knows his butt is on the line.

atltiger15

January 12th, 2011
11:53 am

Sandman

Coming from a Auburn subscribe site, Jenkins took AU off list- down to UGA, Fla and and another school i forgot. But the writer said he is almost certain afetr talking with Jenkins, he will definitely be a Dawg. Good luck next year, you’ve got a winner at QB

Memphis Mike

January 12th, 2011
11:53 am

Let us repeat together the UGA mantra:

1. We beat Tech!
2. We’re in the SEC!

That being said, what all the UGA folks are going to discover is where they’re lagging is in the area of coaching. Don’t Boise State and South Carolina play Georgia in the first two games next season? Anyone honestly think Georgia will win those games?

Marion Campbell

January 12th, 2011
11:54 am

Interim Coach Richt!

Get off my lawn!

atltiger15

January 12th, 2011
11:54 am

James wilder is the next Richard Samuel (RB to LB).. I hope Samuel does well at LB, outstanding young man, will make a helluva citizen in the real world

Sandman053

January 12th, 2011
11:55 am

Thanks atltiger…that IS good news. I think he is the key to our season next year..more than Crowell Rome Swann or anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to recruit and recruit well, but this 3-4 ain’t gonna work with what we got. They say he is like Mt. Cody but more athletic (doesn’t that sound dangerous?)

Marion Campbell

January 12th, 2011
11:57 am

Interim Coach Richt!

Did you still my prune juice?

Forget all ya’ll, and the sorry AJC, too!!!!

Mark Bradley

January 12th, 2011
11:57 am

In other news: My mail just came. First time this week.

Herschel Talker

January 12th, 2011
11:58 am

MB:

You have us way too high. As long as Mark Richt is our coach, you can stick us in the basement. Keep hammering that clown. Your work lately has been excellent.

FIRE MARK RICHT

HT

Sandman053

January 12th, 2011
11:58 am

@ MB yeah they didn’t take that neither sleet nor hail nor dark of night part very seriously huh?

atltiger15

January 12th, 2011
11:59 am

we definitely wanted him but uga has the perfect defensive scheme for that big ol” joker. Definitely makes running up the gut almost impossible. He would be joining in the summer because he has more work to do in the classroom ( work wise, no grade issues)

Sandman053

January 12th, 2011
12:00 pm

I think his size, skills, and work ethic with Grantham’s demeanor will make an interesting match.

Dawg A

January 12th, 2011
12:00 pm

Georgia will get it figured out sooner or later! Auburn will get back to where they spend most of their time and that is very average!! I don’t see another SCAMpionship in your future!

Common Sense

January 12th, 2011
12:01 pm

The way the Georgia line blocks, and the way plays are called, a running back is NOT going to hugely impact the Georgia program at this time. Sure a Herschel type back could do this, but GA fans need to get over this delusion. That was a once in a lifetime thing. VD was lucky to be the coach at the time.

Not Don Waddell

January 12th, 2011
12:01 pm

I am pretty sure that Auburn will fall further than 5th.

Need you be reminded that Chizik is a hack coach and Ted Roof has spent his career as a middling defensive coordinator. Malzahn is the brains behind the operation, but without Newton, that was a 7-5 team this year, and they are losing all the starters on offensive line, DL, most of the secondary and linebackers and their best WR could declare early.

Sandman053

January 12th, 2011
12:02 pm

plus Samuels and Jones at ILB will make it difficult to run between the tackles. And it should free up the DE’s more than we did this previous season.

Ted M

January 12th, 2011
12:03 pm

The offensive line is the key. Will it be any good? I have no idea.