The season is just a few weeks away and the 2011 teams have reported to get ready for the coming year. Can the SEC continue its streak of BCS championships? Will another surprise team rise from the pack and lead the conference? Can a player from the conference snag a third consecutive Heisman trophy?
The answer to all of the above is, “maybe.” There’s plenty of talent and reason to believe all will happen. There’s also enough talent spread across the conference to think it will not happen as the conference cancels itself out of those opportunities in the midst of stiff competition.
This article will take a look, team by team, at what the SEC East looks like for 2011 and make predictions for records. I will revisit this at the halfway point of the season and make adjustments to the predictions as the season progresses. Teams are listed in order of their 2010 finish.
South Carolina – 2010 Record: 9-5. Returning Starters: 13; 7 offense, 6 defense.
Reasons to Believe: The studs on offense are back for another round. So are some of the leaders from the defense. The Gamecocks also have a pretty favorable schedule in 2011.
Reasons to Doubt: Consistency has never been the hallmark of Steve Spurrier’s teams in Columbia and that was even a problem last year. For all their offensive prowess, the Gamecocks finished in the middle of the conference statistically. They’ll have to do better than that if they plan on a repeat trip to Atlanta.
Predicted 2011 Record: 9-3. The schedule helps a lot and if they are more consistent, the Gamecocks just might earn that return trip. But it won’t be easy.
Florida – 2010 Record: 8-5. Returning Starters: 11; 7 offense, 4 defense.
Reasons to Believe: Florida is loaded with talent. (Remember those three teams I said were virtually three-deep in the SEC? Well, Florida is one of them.) Will Muschamp and that defense shouldn’t really miss a beat and in fact, expect the blitz packages to become much more creative. Bringing in Charlie Weis to run the offense should really help improve what was easily the weakest link in last year’s squad.
Reasons to Doubt: Changing offenses is never easy and though I have faith Weis’ scheme will work, it may take a little time to come around. Florida’s got three of its toughest games in conference on the road as well.
Predicted 2011 Record: 9-3. In spite of a tough schedule and growing pains of a new regime, these Gators should be much improved, right back in the thick of it in the East.
Georgia – 2010 Record: 6-7. Returning Starters: 13; 6 offense, 7 defense.
Reasons to Believe: QB Aaron Murray is considered to be the top signal caller in the league and for good reason. He really stepped up to the plate last year. Georgia also landed a stellar recruiting class after a disappointing season to compliment their young QB. Last year’s defense wasn’t totally bad and having experience on that side of the ball should serve it well.
Reasons to Doubt: The Bulldogs backfield is severely depleted with losses to graduation and transfers which will put the load on a young, talented back in Isaiah Crowell. The Georgia offensive line has struggled for years so this may be a case of addition by subtraction, but I’ll have to see it to believe it.
Predicted 2011 Record: 8-4. Georgia looks like a team right in the middle of things in the East. However, they are probably still behind Florida and South Carolina and need to watch their backs as Tennessee isn’t far behind them at this point.
Kentucky – 2010 Record: 6-7. Returning Starters: 15; 6 offense, 9 defense.
Reasons to Believe: A lot of folks are high on QB Morgan Newton to come in and make the offense click in the post Randall Cobb era. The return of LB Danny Trevathan, who led the SEC in tackles last year, is also a plus.
Reasons to Doubt: There’s just not much else on the roster to get excited about for the Wildcats. If they played in Conference USA or the Big East, they’d probably be in the mix but in the loaded SEC, they are in the hot water week in and week out.
Predicted 2011 Record: 3-9. Kentucky had a good defense and a solid offense last year and still only managed 6 wins. With the offense in rebuild mode, it looks to be a long year for Big Blue.
Tennessee – 2010 Record: 6-7. Returning Starters: 13; 7 offense, 6 defense.
Reasons to Believe: Tyler Bray is a star in the making at QB for the Vols and there are playmakers around him on offense. Derek Dooley proved he could handle adversity last year and the trend in the SEC of late is for second-year coaches to make a big improvement.
Reasons to Doubt: While the offense came around late in the season, the defense was never better than good, and they’ll have to get a lot better if Tennessee hopes to improve on last year’s record.
Predicted 2011 Record: 7-5. The Vols are a team trending upwards and should have enough to get over .500 this season.
Vanderbilt – 2010 Record: 2-10. Returning Starters: 19; 11 offense, 8 defense.
Reasons to Believe: James Marshall is really selling the program to recruits and to the group that’s still intact. That large number of returning starters gives Vandy experience on the field.
Reasons to Doubt: This is still Vanderbilt and this is still the SEC. Having a large number of returning starters is usually a good thing unless both squads finished dead last in 2010. There’s room for improvement because it’s hard to get any worse.
Predicted 2011 Record: 4-8. Even if they are as bad as last year (which I don’t think they could be), Vandy’s experience should buy them a couple more wins but not much else.
Check back later this week for a preview of the SEC West teams.