The SEC has won the last five national championships and with Alabama and LSU in the preseason top 5 it looks like they could bring a sixth straight title back to the SEC. The SEC East also looks to gain back respect after disappointing last season with South Carolina, Georgia and Florida all returning to the mix. I take a look at some of the key players and what teams need to improve on for the upcoming season.
Marcus Lattimore is my preseason favorite for
SEC player of the year
1. South Carolina: Steve Spurrier led the Gamecocks to their best season in school history last year and they have the offensive fire power to do it again. Stephen Garcia was recently reinstated and will lead the Gamecocks for the upcoming season. All American WR Alshon Jeffery and RB Marcus Lattimore are at the top of their position and are poised for big seasons once again. On defense they return two All SEC players in DE Devin Taylor and CB Stephon Gilmore and bring in the nations best recruit, DE Jadaveon Clowney.
2. Florida: The Gators are under new management this season after Urban Meyer called it quits from football. Will Muschamp comes in to lead the Gators and his offense will be run by former Notre Dame coach and offensive guru Charlie Weis. Weis has every skill player returning for the his offense and they will be led by second year starter John Brantley. Brantley struggled last season but should thrive with experienced guys around him. Florida has some problems this upcoming season after key loses to the NFL and graduation. The Gators must replace four starters on their line and three starters in the secondary which could mean trouble for pocket passer Brantley.
Aaron Murray will lead a young Bulldog's offense
3. Georgia: Mark Richt is in the hot seat and needs to produce a winner for Bulldog fans. The key to a sucessful season will be on the arm of scrambling sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray. The Bulldogs have the best special teams unit in the SEC with kicker Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler and they also return all four starters in an already strong secondary. The Bulldogs lose several key skill players last season, athletic freak A.J. Green was taken fourth in the draft and they will probably rely on freshman running back Isiah Crowell to carry the rushing load.
4. Tennessee: Derek Dooley was just a couple bad substitutions away from a 8-5 season and looks to improve dramatically on his 6-7 record from last year. The Volunteers have found their guy at quarterback and now have a line that is a lot more experienced and can actually protect him this year. 6'6 quarterback Tyler Bray will be joined by talented running back Tauren Poole but Bray will need help in the passing game after his leading receiver is Poole with only 22 receptions. The Vol's lose their top four receiver. The weak defensive line will be the achilles heel for this team in a run heavy conference.
5. Kentucky: The Wildcats lose their two best players in all american KR/WR Randall Cobb and running back Derrick Locke but will have a semi experienced quarterback in Morgan Newton. Expect the offense to have some jitters for the first few games. The defense, which has usually been the weakness for the Wildcats, will need to carry through the first five or so games, which includes LSU and Florida. Joker Phillips' 2011 Wildcats will have an outside shot at participating in a 6th straight bowl game.
6. Vanderbilt: No team in the SEC return more starters than the Commodores but that doesn't mean they will be able to play with the likes of South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia or the rest of the SEC. Junior RB Warren Norman is the best player on the offensive side of the ball but had a measly 459 rushing yards last season, that tells you how great this offense should be. CB Casey Hayward and LB Chris Marve will lead a defense that should be much better then the offense. The Commodores have one of the best recruiting classes in school history coming in this season so we'll see if that changes anything.
LB Dont'a Hightower looks to get back to his 2009 form
1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide come into the season as preseason favorites in the SEC and should have a good chance at winning another national title but that may rely on the production of first year starting quarterback AJ McCarron. The positive is that he has talent all around him with one of the best offensive lines in the conference, Trent Richardson in the backfield and Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze as prime time targets at receiver. LB Dont'a Hightower and S Mark Barron should led one of the best defenses in the country. The Crimson Tide want to get that Iron Bowl loss out of their minds and they want to bring the title back to Tuscaloosa.
2. LSU: The Tigers lacked an elite quarterback last season and it caused them to falter several times despite having the best defense in the conference. Jordan Jefferson looks to improve his throwing this season after only 1400 passing yards and four touchdowns last year. Jefferson's top targets will be Juniors Rueben Randle and and Russell Shephard while speedy sophomore Spencer Ware will be in the backfield. The defense loses two elite players in Drake Nevis and first round pick Patrick Peterson but they should still be among the best in the NCAA with LB Ryan Baker and CB Morris Claiborne back. I'll be waiting for the match up between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide on Nov 5th.
Knile Davis lead a potent Razorback offense
3. Arkansas: The Razorback lose their quarterback Ryan Mallet but they have a lot of hope in talented young quarterback Tyler Wilson. Wilson shocked the College Football world when he stepped in for the injured Ryan Mallet vs Auburn and put up amazing stats, 332 yards and 4 TD's. Wilson will be joined by his top four receivers in 2011, all had over 600 yards, and 1300 yard rusher in junior Knile Davis. The offensive line will need to replace three starters and the secondary will need two new starters but overall they are poised to reach another BCS game. Arkansas has the skill to contend with LSU and Alabama once again this year even without Ryan Mallet.
4. Mississippi St: Dual threat quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard return this season as seniors and will try to improve a running attack that ranked 16th in the nation last season. The Bullgogs linebacking core should be one to watch watch with five very solid players at the position and it should help them limit the run. If Chris Relf can truly turn into a solid dual threat quarterback then the Bulldogs can hang close with like likes of Bama, LSU, and Arkansas.
5. Auburn: The returning national champs come back in 2011 completely depleted with only five returning starters on the roster. Michael Dyer will be the star of this young team that will need to do a lot of work if they have any shot and being back to back champs. More on the Tigers here: War Eagle Repeat?
Former Texas Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp
will lead the Gators in 2011
6. Ole Miss: Senior RB Brandon Bolden will be the star of an offense that brings back nine starters. Bolden will have a lot of space to run behind a line that returns everyone. The defense has little if any depth and they have already lost some key players due to injuries in the spring. Any other conference the Rebels would make a bowl game this year but in the SEC West it looks like they will fall just short.
Championship Game: Alabama over South Carolina
Player of the Year: Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Defensive Player of the Year: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Coach of the Year: Will Muschamp, Florida
Co-Freshman of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina and Isiah Crowell, RB, Georgia