Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Prediction: It's LSU then the rest in the SEC West

A couple of days ago I picked Florida to win the SEC Eastern Division. Now, it's time to turn our eyes to the SEC West.

The consensus is that LSU has the most talent in the west, and I agree. The most intriguing battle in this division will be for second place. Arkansas has a lot of horses and can run the ball down the throats of most good defenses. Alabama is in a tizzy about having Nick Saban as head coach but will he be able to turn the Tide around this year? Auburn appears to be on the brink of another excellent season, but will quarterback Brandon Cox be healthy and consistent enough to make that happen?

Let's take a look:

1. LSU Tigers – Obviously, the Tigers have a big hole to fill now that quarterback JaMarcus Russell has gone to the NFL. To ease that transition, they have eight starters back on a physical and fast defense. The schedule also gives the Tigers a break as they play Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas at home. The result is another divisional title.

2. Arkansas Razorbacks – The Razorbacks had a lot of off-field distractions during the off-season (heralded quarterback Mitch Mustain transferred, controversy regarding Coach Houston Nutt's personal life, etc.), but if a team can consistently run the ball in the SEC, they will have a good year. Arkansas definitely has that ability with Heisman Trophy candidate Darren McFadden and fellow running back Felix Jones. A possible red flag is the weakness of last year's passing game. If quarterback Casey Dick does not improve, defenses may successfully stack the line to stymie the running game. The Razorbacks have a critical early season match up when they visit Alabama on Sept. 15.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide – I don't like Alabama. Mark this down for Oct. 20: Tennessee 56, Alabama 2.

4. Auburn Tigers – On the bright side, the Tigers have a senior quarterback in Brandon Cox. On the dark side, they only have one returning starter on the offensive line. In the SEC, a team can have all the experience in the world in the backfield, but if the line cannot deliver, problems will occur. Also, Auburn has a killer road schedule with visits slated to Florida, Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia.

5. Mississippi State Bulldogs – Things are getting better at Mississippi State, but many would argue things couldn't get much worse. To those folks, I would remind them of how strongly State finished last year. They beat Alabama on the road, and had Georgia on the ropes before letting them off the hook. The passing game improved last year with Michael Henig, and if his knee and collarbone injuries are fully healed, that success should continue this year. Plus, there is enough experience on the offensive line to protect him and consistently run the ball. They won't go to a bowl, but State will be better this year.

6. Ole Miss Rebels – The Rebels have a chance to be good on offense with four offensive line starters returning, plenty of depth at running back, and the fact that quarterback Brent Schaeffer can't be any worse than last year. However, with linebacker Patrick Willis gone to the NFL, there is a huge hole on the defense. Expect another losing season at Oxford. If I was an Ole Miss booster, I would be wondering why we fired David Cutcliffe.

Coming next: Who will win the SEC Championship game?


Chris said...

Beware of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. I got my SI college preview in the mail today and Arkansas running back Darren McFadden was on the cover. Beware, I say! Beware!

gen. neyland said...

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Arkansas
4. Auburn
5. Ole Miss
6. Mississippi State