In the last entry, the SEC East was examined. This article will take a look, team by team, at what the SEC West looks like for 2011 and make predictions for records. Teams are listed in order of how they finished in the 2010 season.
Auburn – 2010 Record: 14-0. Returning Starters: 5; 3 offense, 2 defense.
Reasons to Believe: Gene Chizik and company proved they could coach when they took Tommy Tuberville’s leftovers and went 8-5, then added one dynamic player and ran the table all the way to the BCS title last year. They’ve also blazed up and down the recruiting trail the last couple years. That makes Auburn young but very talented.
Michael Dyer is one of the top running backs in the league and he’ll be counted on this year in a major way. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan took a team that barely scored in 2008 and put them near the top of the league in 2009, so there’s little reason to think he can’t find a way to make this group click.
Reasons to Doubt: Inexperience and a tough road schedule means growing pains are in store for Auburn this year. Playing a lot of young guys in key positions bodes well for their future as there’s nothing like game experience to help a young team grow, but it usually means taking few on the chin as well.
Predicted 2011 Record: 6-6. Auburn may pull an upset in there and make it above .500 before a bowl, but the real key this year is going to be getting young guys experience to set up for the future.
Arkansas – 2010 Record: 10-3. Returning Starters: 13; 6 offense, 7 defense.
Reasons to Believe: That offense. Not only is the WR corps the best in the conference but RB Knile Davis is a real threat out of the backfield. New QB Tyler Wilson (who saw limited action last season) will have plenty of weapons to help him ease into the starting role.
Reasons to Doubt: As usual, the defense is the biggest question mark for the Hogs. The unit improved greatly from ’09 to ’10 but they’ll have to be even better if Arkansas has any plans to make it to Atlanta for the championship game.
Predicted 2011 Record: 10-2. Arkansas has a fairly favorable schedule and should put up a ton of points. However, there’s enough defense in the league and on their schedule to probably trip them up a couple of times. So, the Hogs will need some defense of their own if they hope to make plans for Atlanta.
LSU – 2010 Record: 11-2. 15; 8 offense, 7 defense.
Reasons to Believe: LSU won 11 games with virtually no offensive plan last year. So, having a guy like Steve Kragthorpe around to tutor the quarterbacks and at least help architect an attack should show some signs of improvement. LSU is also one of three teams in the SEC loaded nearly three-deep at every position.
Reasons to Doubt: LSU lost some leaders on defense and will have to hope somewhere in all that depth are some new ones. They also have to be much more consistent on offense than they were last year. They’ve also got a really stout out of conference schedule to go along with the regular SEC run.
Predicted 2011 Record: 9-3. LSU will be a solid team but there’s just too much good competition for them to win the West this year. However, Les Miles is by far the luckiest coach in America, so anything is possible.
Alabama – 2010 Record: 10-3. Returning Starters: 16; 7 offense, 9 defense.
Reasons to Believe: It has tons of defense returning including a deep, talented linebacker corps. Alabama’s also great at the safety position, and the corners are highly touted. The offensive line is also strong and RB Trent Richardson has shown signs of brilliance and will be counted on to carry the load on offense, especially early in the season.
Reasons to Doubt: Inexperience at quarterback will be exacerbated by the fact that the top playmaker at WR is also gone. The last time the Crimson Tide broke in a new signal caller, they won it all, but he had a lot of help around him. Whoever gets the nod this year will have to grow up quickly.
Opposing defenses are going to load the box so the development of a consistent passing threat is paramount. Also, the defensive line is largely unknown. For Alabama’s LBs to do their thing, they need a big force up front to emerge.
Predicted 2011 Record: 10-2. Alabama’s loaded with talent but has enough inexperience to get tripped up a couple of times during the season.
Mississippi State – 2010 Record: 9-4. Returning Starters: 15; 8 offense, 7 defense.
Reasons to Believe: Dan Mullen has breathed a real air of confidence in the Bulldogs since his arrival, and his offense has lived up to the billing. Returning starters at QB and RB, and the core from a decent defense should allow the Bulldogs to continue to flourish. The schedule is also pretty good with the toughest road games opening and closing the season.
Reasons to Doubt: For all the offensive balance, at times the unit just is not able to perform in key situations. That’s not a scheme issue as much as it’s a lack of complete talent to run it.
Predicted 2011 Record: 7-5. Every year a team takes a step back from forward momentum and this year it is Mississippi State. They are good enough to beat the teams they should but probably not good enough to take out the upper echelon teams in the conference.
Mississippi – 2010 Record: 4-8. Returning Starters: 14; 9 offense, 5 defense.
Reasons to Believe: Well, a lot of players on offense are coming back including a decent backfield. There’s a lot of hope another JUCO transfer QB will spark the offense. If Les Miles is lucky, then Houston Nutt is sneaky, always seeming to find ways to win when he’s considered out for the count.
Reasons to Doubt: The defense was just downright awful last year, having given up 35 points a game and not being able to get a stop when needed. There’s not much reason to believe it is going to be much better this year as the cupboard hasn’t be stocked with top talent under the Nutt regime recruiting classes.
Predicted 2011 Record: 4-8. Pretty much like last year, the Rebels/Black Bears appear to be the most likely candidates as the whipping post for the SEC West.
That puts Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia as my top teams in the hunt for the SEC Championship Game in December.
These predictions will be revisited at midseason and adjusted accordingly. Until then, let the countdown to the season continue.