I adopted this format last year out of necessity – I simply couldn’t get a handle on Georgia’s prospects, but didn’t want to give up entirely on handicapping the SEC’s 2011 season. The thing is, it worked out well enough I’ve decided to stick with it. Here’s how I described it the first time:
Rather than give you my predicted records, I’ll list the schools in the order they finished in the conference last year, look at areas of potential improvement and decline and assess in what direction I expect each to go by comparison to 2010.
In other words, pure seat of the pants BS.
In the spirit of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, here I go again. Besides, Missouri’s and TAMU’s fates are mysteries to me.
LSU (13-1, 8-0)
- Pros: As deep a team as any school in the country; continuity on coaching staff; easier schedule than 2011; special teams
- Cons: Loss of best defensive back in the conference; loss of Tyrann Mathieu; questions about passing game and new quarterback
- Outlook: Les Miles broke through the two-loss barrier last year. He looks good for a repeat of that. Mathieu’s departure will hurt, but not as much as the pundit class would have you believe. And Mettenberger won’t matter unless he’s a turnover machine.
ALABAMA (12-1, 7-1)
- Pros: Offensive line; team depth; Nick Saban; experience at quarterback
- Cons: Less experience on defense; loss of Trent Richardson; special teams
- Outlook: Neck and neck with LSU.
ARKANSAS (11-2, 6-2)
- Pros: Plenty of skill position talent; return of Knile Davis; special teams; Alabama and LSU as home games
- Cons: Departure of Bobby Petrino; offseason problems; defense a notch below the elite conference teams
- Outlook: I’m bearish. Petrino meant more to this team than many admit and is almost impossible to replace as a playcaller. There’s no way this defense is as good as Alabama’s or LSU’s. The schedule says the Hogs are a lock to win at least eight; the question is whether the ceiling is nine wins or ten.
AUBURN (8-5, 4-4)
- Pros: Upgrade at defensive coordinator; defensive line; special teams
- Cons: Loss of Malzahn; shaky quarterback situation; loss of Dyer; implementation of new offensive and defensive schemes; Pythagorean expectation
- Outlook: Chizik did a decent job last year, all things considered. But with new coordinators on both sides of the ball, a new quarterback, a power offense that has to find a replacement for its best power running back and a schedule with five of the preseason’s top fourteen teams in the country on it, getting back to eight wins will be a challenge.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-6, 2-6)
- Pros: Coaching stability; receivers; defensive back seven; soft first-half schedule
- Cons: Distraction of NCAA investigation; schedule has Alabama and LSU on the road; offensive line; special teams
- Outlook: MSU should do no worse than come out of the gate 6-1. Then comes a brutal four-game stretch when the Bulldogs are probably looking at going 1-3, and then a finish against Ole Miss.
MISSISSIPPI (2-10, 0-8)
- Pros: Special teams
- Cons: Inexperience at quarterback; coaching staff change; schedule; talent deficiency
- Outlook: If Ole Miss doesn’t win a game before September’s out, it likely won’t win a game all year.
TEXAS A & M (7-6, 4-5 in Big 12)
- Pros: Running backs; offensive line; starting wide receivers
- Cons: New coaching staff and schemes; new quarterback; defensive line
- Outlook: Too many new variables for TAMU to challenge the top teams in the SEC West. If everything clicks, eight wins is doable. If not, no bowl game for the Aggies.
GEORGIA (10-4, 7-1)
- Pros: Coaching continuity; favorable schedule; defense; Aaron Murray
- Cons: Offensive line; special teams; team depth; early season suspensions
- Outlook: If the Dawgs beat Missouri, you can make a reasonable case for an eleven-win season and a return trip to Atlanta.
SOUTH CAROLINA (11-2, 6-2)
- Pros: Steve Spurrier; steadily increasing level of talent; defensive line; Marcus Lattimore
- Cons: Secondary; less favorable schedule than Georgia’s; special teams; replacing Alshon Jeffrey
- Outlook: I have a feeling the ‘Cocks get by Arkansas this year, so the season could come down to how they fare against LSU. Ten wins look likely.
FLORIDA (7-6, 3-5)
- Pros: Defense; special teams; second year for Muschamp; improved schedule from 2011; regression to the mean on turnover margin
- Cons: Quarterback; third offensive coordinator in three years; running back depth; team psyche
- Outlook: Overall, the trend lines are positive, but it’s hard to get excited about the Gator offense. Eight or nine wins look about right.
VANDERBILT (6-7, 3-5)
- Pros: Respectable defense by SEC standards; coaching; running backs; second year in a row of returning a high number of starters; favorable conference schedule; Pythagorean expectation
- Cons: Depth issues in comparison with elite SEC teams; special teams; loss of Casey Hayward
- Outlook: You’ve probably heard by now that Vanderbilt has never played in bowl games in two successive seasons. Can the Commodores do it this year? It’s going to be a close call. They won’t sneak up on anybody, but they get a few favors from the schedule (no Alabama, Arkansas or LSU from the West, for example). And they’re experienced. Depth is the thing to watch. A couple of key injuries and Vandy’s season could unravel.
KENTUCKY (5-7, 2-6)
- Pros: No Alabama or LSU on schedule
- Cons: Passing game; inexperience on defense; offensive line depth
- Outlook: Remember that Seinfeld episode when Elaine is horrified by the realization that she’s turned into George? Well, Kentucky has turned into Vanderbilt. It’s hard to see where the ‘Cats get a conference win, or beat Louisville. Three wins, tops.
TENNESSEE (5-7, 1-7)
- Pros: Easier schedule; return of Justin Hunter; most returning starters in the SEC
- Cons: Coaching staff turnover; preseason turmoil; running game; depth issues at quarterback, linebacker and secondary; transition to new defensive scheme
- Outlook: The schedule alone should make Tennessee bowl eligible. I can see the Vols winning as many as eight, assuming no more implosions are on the horizon. You have to wonder how smooth the change to a 3-4 scheme on defense will be, though.
MISSOURI (8-5, 5-4 in the Big 12)
- Pros: Coaching stability; passing game; linebacking
- Cons: Offensive line depth; running backs depth; schedule; secondary
- Outlook: I want to say eight wins again for the Tigers, but two things hold me back. One is depth. Missouri has issues keeping key personnel healthy. The other is the schedule. There’s only one FCS school and one mid-major on the OOC slate. And with three preseason top ten teams there, the margin for error isn’t that great.