The SEC West should be renamed to the Dirty South Division, because it’s just plain Nasty. Five out of the six teams are top 25 teams. Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU are the top contenders for the division. Mississippi State is also in the picture as well as Auburn with a longshot chance. Ole Miss is the only weak team, but they still brought in a top 25 recruiting class. I believe the winner of this division will once again play in the BCS national championship.
Alabama returns ten starters from a stout defense that only allowed 13.5 ppg last season (4th overall). Safety Robert Lester was second in the FBS in interceptions last season with eight and he is just one of many talented players coming back on defense including linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron. The question mark for the Crimson Tide is at quarterback, but they do return on offense playmaker tailback Trent Richardson (6.3 ypc) which reportedly bench presses 460 lbs and runs a sub 4.4 in the 40 yard dash. Coach Saban also brought in top recruits on both sides of the ball with Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix at Safety and Cyrus Kouandjio (6’7 325lbs) at offensive tackle.
The Hogs come into this season with the most feared offense in the SEC. Quarterback Tyler Wilson looks to continue their offensive success after the departure of Ryan Mallett to the NFL. They bring back the top SEC rusher Knile Davis (1322 Rush Yds) and a stacked stable of wide-outs in which five receivers each had 600 yards or more last season (4 of 5 return this season). Coach Petrino also recruited 3 four star offensive linemen including Brey Cook (6’6 295lbs) which will need to contribute right away after losing much of last year’s O-line. The Razorback defense will also look to continue its improvement with eight starters back from last season’s Top 50 defensive squad (23.4papg) anchored by DE Jake Bequette.
LSU will have a strong defense and rushing offense which led to most of their success this past season. Despite losing Patrick Peterson, the Tigers still boast an elite secondary coming into 2011 led by hard hitter Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Clairborne (5 ints last yr). Even though the Purple & Gold Cajuns return experienced quarterback Jordan Jefferson (7tds 10ints last yr), his ability to be a successful QB is questionable. Running back Spencer Ware played good during the spring and had a breakout game in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M with 10 carries for 102 yards. Coach Miles also managed to haul in another top 10 recruiting class with high rated recruits in DT Anthony Johnson and OT La'El Collins.
As for the other possible division contenders, Dan Mullen will have the much overlooked Bulldogs well prepared for another successful season. Mississippi State brings back eight starters on offense including dual threat quarterback Chris Relf (1789 pass yds & 713 rush yds last yr) and returns seven starters from a top 25 defense last season (19.8 papg). Auburn will have to overachieve this season in order to have anywhere close to the success of this past season. The Tigers bring back the fewest returning starters of any FBS team (7 total), but brought in a slew of elite recruits for this season including a five star and 15 four star recruits according to ESPN. Ole Miss returns nine starters on offense and recruited some talent in the off season. However, they still have more improving to do after a 1-7 finish in the SEC and the competition is only tougher this year.
The SEC West should once again produce a national championship finalist. Brian Fremeau projected on ESPN.com that “it isn’t likely” that a SEC team will go undefeated. That may be true, but he also projected that only one team, Alabama, would have a double digit winning season in both divisions. I very much doubt that since four teams had 10 or more wins in a very competitive SEC West division last year. But looking closer at this year’s schedules, the West will have some challenging non-conference games on top of tough conference games. Despite all the teams beating up on each other, I still expect to see multiple SEC teams highly ranked at the end. The real question is not will the SEC West make it to another BCS championship, but will any team be able to beat the Dirty South in the BCS Championship?
Top Out of Conference games to Watch for the SEC West:
Sept 3: LSU vs Oregon at Arlington, TX (Cowboys Stadium)
Sept 3: BYU at Ole Miss
Sept 10: Alabama at Penn State
Sept 17: Auburn at Clemson
Sept 24: LSU at West Virginia
Oct 1: Ole Miss at Fresno State
Oct 8: Arkansas vs Texas A&M at Arlington, TX (Cowboys Stadium)
Here are a few links:
ESPN blog with a SportsNation poll on “which of these teams is most likely to win the SEC in 2011?”:
Fan poll on College Football Universe for “will a team from the SEC win the 2012 BCS championship?”: http://www.collegefootballuniverse.com/page14.html
"Undefeated SEC champ? Not in 2011" by Brian Fremeau from Football Outsiders on ESPN.com: http://insider.espn.go.com/ncf/insider/news/story?id=6533481&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fncf%2finsider%2fnews%2fstory%3fid%3d6533481
I also posted this blog at http://www.hogblog.org/.