Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Alabama should edge LSU, Ole Miss in competitive SEC West

Heading into the 2009 SEC football season, there can be no doubting that most of the season's drama will come from the Western Division. Resurgent Alabama attempts to repeat as divisional champion, while LSU and Ole Miss will both field strongly competitive clubs.

It looks like a long and exciting season. Here is how it should shake out:

1. Alabama -- The Crimson Tide has a ton of experienced and explosive talent this year. It begins with a defense that returns eight starters. Nose tackle Terrence Cody is rock solid, and linebacker Rolando McClain is exceptional. Offensively, the big concern is the lack of experience of quarterback Greg McElroy. Many SEC teams struggled last year with shaky quarterback play. If he does not deliver, it may be the Tide's turn to struggle.

2. LSU -- The collapse of the Tigers' defense was one the most shocking SEC stories in 2008. Five times LSU gave up at least 30 points. The addition of long-time Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis should give LSU the necessary kick in the rear end its defense needs. The schedule may be the Tigers biggest foe this year. In addition to playing national champion Florida at home, they must travel to Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss. That will be a daunting challenge.

3. Ole Miss -- The Rebels have been the darling of many preseason publications and was picked as high as sixth in the nation by one of them. Quarterback Jevan Snead is the best SEC quarterback not named Tim Tebow. Sixteen starters anchor a team that has a favorable schedule. The Rebels three toughest conference games are at home (LSU, Alabama, Tennessee). Wins in two of those three games could net Ole Miss a divisional title. The Rebels are the only SEC West team to have never played in the conference championship game.

4. Arkansas -- If there is a dark horse team in the West, it is Arkansas. The Razorbacks have a lot of depth at running back and wide receiver. Also, transfer quarterback Ryan Mallet is now eligible, meaning the offense should be exciting. Some improvement was flashed late last year when the Razorbacks closed out the season with a 31-30 upset of LSU. If the defense improves, Arkansas could be a fascinating team to watch.

5. Auburn -- The Tigers finally settled on a quarterback over the weekend, deciding to go with Chris Todd. Kodi Burns is moving to wide receiver and could see some backfield action in the Wildcat formation. The one thing Auburn has going for it is that eight of its 12 games are at home. This may guarantee a lower-tier bowl berth, but it is definitely a transition year down on the Plains.

6. Mississippi State -- Speaking of transition years, this will be one for the Bulldogs. Running back Anthony Dixon is the only bright spot on offense. New head coach Dan Mullen will attempt to install the spread offense, but the lack of talent on that side of the ball guarantees a lot of growing pains. Mississippi State has a good defense that I believe will be worn down as the season goes along. It will spend too much time on the field.

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