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2011 SEC West Preview


Yesterday, Power of Dixieland previewed the SEC East. Continuing a week of previews, here’s a preview for the SEC West.

Thanks to three teams that have won national titles in the past four years, the SEC West has become the best division in college football. With the defending national champion and three teams that are being considered as legitimate BCS championship picks in 2011, that won’t change this year. It would appear that the only thing that will keep an SEC West team from playing for the national title in New Orleans is if everyone knocks everyone else out of the race.


Auburn won the national championship in 2010 because it had the best offense in

the country and a defense that wasn’t very good but good enough when it needed to be. Alabama will be the exact opposite of that team in 2011. With 10 starters returning from a defense that was already excellent last season, this year’s version of the Bama D should be truly special. Alabama will have the best secondary in the nation and could have the best linebackers and d-line, as well. Scoring on the Crimson Tide will be a tall order. Even with a great running back in Trent Richardson, the offense will be mostly pedestrian. Alabama hasn’t settled on a starting quarterback yet, and despite how head coach Nick Saban attempts to spin it, that will lead to an inconsistent offense. With no dynamic receiver to keep opposing teams honest, Richardson will be running against plenty of eight-man fronts. The offense won’t score a ton, but it won’t have to with a world-class defense.

Predicted wins: Kent State, at Penn State, North Texas, Arkansas, at Florida, Vanderbilt, at Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, at Mississippi State, Georgia Southern, at Auburn

Predicted losses: none


Before it was announced that running back Knile Davis would miss the entire season with

a broken ankle, Arkansas was suspected to have the best offense in the SEC. The Hogs might still have the conference’s best offense, but losing Davis will hurt. Before making Davis a centerpiece of the offense in 2010, Arkansas scored points, but had a 4-2 record. After allowing Davis to take over games, Arkansas was 6-0 and didn’t score fewer than 31 points in a game. Without Davis this year, the Hogs will not be able to wear down the stout defenses of Alabama and LSU. Speaking of defense, Arkansas’ D has improved each year under head coach Bobby Petrino. The top three leading tacklers from 2010 return in ’11, as do four of the top six sack leaders. Arkansas should be opportunistic and able to get after the quarterback but will continue to give up points in spurts. The Hogs will fall just short of their dreams of playing for a conference title.

Predicted wins: Missouri State, New Mexico, Troy, Texas A&M, Auburn, at Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State

Predicted losses: at Alabama, at LSU


Losing eight starters on offense and defense, including Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, is

reason enough to doubt the Tigers this season. And if there wasn’t such a solid foundation of talent built in the last three recruiting classes, that would be a fair point. Auburn won’t repeat as BCS, SEC or Western Division champions, but the Tigers will be competitive in every game and have a shot at a 10-win season. Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb rushing the ball will take pressure off the passing game, and Philip Lutzenkirchen will be a much needed safety valve in an inexperienced group of receivers. The pass defense will likely be abysmal for the third consecutive year, but the defensive line and linebackers have been well stocked for success against the run. Auburn will surprise in 2011 and be back in the title race in 2012.

Predicted wins: Utah State, Mississippi State, at Clemson, Florida Atlantic, Florida, at LSU, Ole Miss, at Georgia, Samford

Predicted losses: at South Carolina, at Arkansas, Alabama

LSU 8-4 (5-3)

A few weeks ago, LSU was a popular pick to challenge Alabama and Arkansas for the

SEC West title and possibly make a run at its third BCS title in eight years. The Bengal Tigers were supposed to rely on strong defense, as an offense run by Jordan Jefferson did not produce high expectations. After Jefferson and teammates decided to throw down at a Baton Rouge bar, LSU’s offense has become an even bigger question mark. Jefferson was arrested and is suspended indefinitely, leaving Jarrett Lee to run the show. After throwing 16 interceptions in 2008, Lee wasn’t given much of an opportunity in ’09 or ’10. Without many proven playmakers on offense, he won’t be able to sit back and play game manager. If Lee starts throwing the ball around, things will get ugly for LSU’s offense. The defense returns seven starters and should keep LSU in games. However, losing Kelvin Sheppard, Drake Nevis and Patrick Peterson will hurt and those losses will give teams with high-octane offenses a chance to win. LSU wasn’t likely to meet the championship expectations bestowed upon the Tigers this season. With the recent off-field troubles, a disappointing season is more realistic.

Predicted wins: Northwestern State, at West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, at Tennessee, Western Kentucky, at Ole Miss, Arkansas

Predicted losses: Oregon, at Mississippi State, Auburn, at Alabama


Expectations are as high as they’ve been in more than a decade in Starkville. The Bulldogs

are coming off a nine-win season, a second consecutive win over rival Ole Miss and a New Year’s Day bowl win over Michigan. With nine starters returning on offense and seven on defense, things seem to be looking up for State. Vick Ballard at running back, Chad Bumphis at receiver and Chris Relf at quarterback will lead the offense, and while those three are talented, they — and the offense as a whole — are not as talented as a few of their SEC West rivals. Relf is not a great passer, so the Bulldogs will have to focus on running the ball. That won’t be easy in a division with great defensive linemen and linebackers. The defense returns three starters on the line and the entire secondary, but losing Chris White and K.J. Wright will hurt. Breaking in three new linebackers will take some time, but by season’s end, Mississippi State’s D could be one of the best in the league. That won’t be enough to meet the high expectations , but another winning season, a win over Ole Miss and bowl appearance should be on the table.

OLE MISS REBELS 2-10 (0-8)

In the past two years, Ole Miss has suffered steady decline under Houston Nutt. That

decline should reach rock bottom this season, and Nutt could be looking for a new job in the offseason. The Rebel offense was surprisingly good last year and returns running back Brandon Bolden and the entire offensive line. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, the passing game wasn’t a part of that surprisingly good offense, and it will only get worse this year. Randall Mackey will miss Week 1 because of a suspension but is expected to be the starter for the rest of the season. Mackey won’t have the talent or experience that Oregon transfer Jeremiah Masoli had in 2010. Bolden has talent, but without much of a passing game to worry about, opposing defenses will be able to focus almost exclusively on the run. Ole Miss was one of the worst defensive teams in the SEC last year, allowing 35 points and 399 yards per game. With only four starters returning and playmakers like Jonathan Cornell and Fon Ingram missing, the Rebel D won’t be able to stop anyone this season. Ole Miss could find itself giving up 35 or more points per game this season. Houston Nutt has had trouble competing against the rest of the SEC in recruiting during the past few years, and the lack of talent will certainly show this season.