SEC Football Predictions
Without question, the SEC is the strongest conference in all of college football. It certainly backed up that claim with six straight national titles over the past six years. Two SEC teams rightfully played in the BCS Championship Game last season as Alabama defeated LSU 21-0. These two figure to be title contenders once again in 2012.
The SEC has had seven teams finish in the Top Ten over the past two years, including 11 in the Top 25, and both marks are the best of any conference in the FBS. The SEC features the best defenses in the land, and it will also have the top five quarterbacks in total offense within the conference from last year returning. I give my predictions for both divisions below, as well as my SEC champion.
1. LSU – The Tigers certainly caught some breaks last year, but their 13-0 record en route to winning the SEC Championship was no fluke. LSU beat eight ranked teams overall, including three that were inside the Top 3 at the time they played them. They have tremendous depth and talent returning, and should get improved QB play to boot. Plus, the Tigers play Alabama in Baton Rouge, which is the reason I give them the nod in the West.
2. Alabama – After winning a national title in ’09, the Crimson Tide suffered three losses in ’10 as they were trying to repeat. Alabama obviously won the national title again in ’11, and now Nick Saban can use that ’10 experience as a great teaching tool heading into the fall. The offense is in good hands with McCarron at quarterback, and the defense returns five starters compared to the two it had coming back in ’10. A tough road game in Death Valley on Nov 3. will decide the West, and I give the edge to LSU because of it.
3. Arkansas – Had Bobby Petrino not been let go, I would have had no problem picking the Razorbacks to win the West. Arkansas will miss Petrino’s play calling because QB Tyler Wilson and RB Knile Davis are rare talents. The Razorbacks have one of the most underrated defenses in the land year in and year out as well. They get both LSU and Alabama at home this season, so if they were going to break through and win the West, ‘12 is the year.
4. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs went just 2-6 in SEC play last season due to a brutal schedule. While they have just 12 starters back this year, they get a much more favorable schedule and should improve. They have winnable road games at Kentucky and Ole Miss, could be favored in all four SEC home contests, and as many as 10 games overall. A 10-win season is certainly within reach for Mississippi State.
5. Texas A&M – The Aggies were the best 7-6 team in the country last year. They blew double-digit leads in five of their six losses, and could have just as easily gone 12-1. I really like the hiring of former Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin, who unlike Mike Sherman, will get the most out of this team. I expect Texas A&M to top last year’s seven-win total despite their move to the SEC.
6. Auburn – The Tigers managed a solid 8-5 campaign last year despite the loss of almost all of their key players from the ’10 national title team. Auburn was outgained by 92.9 yards per game in SEC play last year, but with 15 returning starters, it has an excellent chance to improve. However, the Tigers have drawn a tough schedule as they get LSU, Arkansas and Georgia at home, and will likely be an underdog in all three. Plus, they face Alabama and Mississippi State on the road. I expect two or three conference wins and zero improvement record-wise.
7. Mississippi – After going 0-8 in SEC play and getting outgained by an average of 174.2 yards per game in those contests, things can’t get any worse for the Rebels. Enter Hugh Freeze, who miraculously managed to lead Arkansas State to a 10-win season in his first year in ’11. He inherits 16 returning starters, and while Ole Miss will be improved, it is clearly the worst team in the West.
1. Georgia – The Bulldogs won the SEC East last season with a 7-1 record while outgaining opponents by an average of 155 yards per game in conference play. Despite the loss of leading rusher Isaiah Crowell, the team’s leading rusher, Georgia will be the team to beat once again in ’12. It has arguably the best QB in the entire conference in Aaron Murray. The Bulldogs avoid Alabama, LSU and Arkansas out of the West, and I have them beating Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 27 to win the East once again.
2. Florida – The Gators will be one of the most improved teams in the entire country after a 7-6 campaign in head coach Will Muschamp’s first year on the job. As with every even year, Florida will only have three true SEC road games. It has 17 returning starters and one of the top five defenses in the entire country. My only concern is uncertainty at the QB position, coupled with the loss of their top two playmakers offensively in Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.
3. South Carolina – The Gamecocks are coming off an 11-win season, which set a new school record in Steve Spurrier’s seventh year on the job. Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Lattimore returns healthy at running back, and QB Connor Shaw is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the land. South Carolina will have one of the best defensive front 7’s in the FBS as well. What will prevent the Gamecocks from winning the East is a brutal schedule that features both LSU and Arkansas from the West.
4. Tennessee – The Vols return the most starters (19) in the SEC and the second-most in the FBS. Tennessee enters its third season under head coach Derek Dooley, who is certainly on the hot seat. This is easily his best team yet and a legitimate title contender in the East. After drawing the toughest schedule in the SEC last season, things get a little easier in ’12 as the Vols avoid both LSU and Arkansas from the West. Tennessee will be one of the most improved teams in the country.
5. Vanderbilt – If there was one deep sleeper in the East that could come out and win the division, it’s certainly Vanderbilt. The Commodores won six games last year, and five of those came by 23 points or more. Five of their seven losses came by 7 points or less, including setbacks against Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee all by 6 points or fewer. With 15 starters returning, the Commodores won’t be an easy out for anyone. They avoid the top four teams from the West and could surprise in ’12.
6. Missouri – The Tigers are in good hands with QB Franklin and company at the skill positions. They are also solid along the back seven defensively. The problem is inexperience and lack of depth along the offensive and defensive lines. That’s not good news for Missouri considering the SEC is known for its dominance in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Missouri draws Alabama from the West, and must play South Carolina and Florida on the road. The Tigers haven’t had a losing conference record since ’04, but that streak comes to an end in ’12.
7. Kentucky – The Wildcats were outgained by 182.8 yards per game last season in SEC play en route to a 2-6 conference record. With just 11 returning starters entering Joker Phillips’ third year, things aren’t looking up for Kentucky. The defense loses its two best players in Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, who combined for 263 tackles, 25.5 for loss and six interceptions last year. I would not be surprised to see the Wildcats finish 0-8 in SEC action, which will lead to the firing of Phillips.
SEC Championship Game Prediction – LSU defeats Georgia
|Texas A&M||Auburn||Ole Miss|
|ACC||Big 12||Big East||Big Ten|
|Conference USA||Independents||MAC||Mountain West|