Published June 17, 2010 - 6:00am
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1- Alabama (12-0): Alabama enters the season #1 in just about every pre-season poll and returns 8 starters on offense, including Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. The offense will once again rely on its running attack to control the game. Trent Richardson would start for every other team in the SEC, combine him with Ingram and you see why Alabama has the best backfield in the nation. Greg McElroy returns at quarterback and when hes not handing the ball off to Ingram or Richardson he will be looking for All-American candidate Julio Jones. Alabama will have to replace 8 defensive starters from the SEC’s best defense a year ago. The unit will be led by Dont’a Hightower, who many feel could end up being better than Rolando McClain, the 8th overall pick in this years NFL draft. One of the biggest challenges Alabama, much like Florida last year, will face is enduring the pressure of dominating on a weekly basis and attempting to go wire-to-wire as #1.
2 – Arkansas (10-2): Arkansas is returning 17 starters from last years 8-5 team. The Arkansas offense, led by quarterback Ryan Mallet, returns 10 starters and should be one of the best offenses in the SEC. Mallet will have the luxury of throwing to All-SEC tight end D.J. Williams, as well as his three favorite wide receivers from last year. Broderick Green, a bruising tailback, will be getting the majority of the carries out of the backfield. Defensively, the Razorbacks will need to improve greatly to be considered a top team nationally. The defensive gave up over 400 yards per contest last year, but will benefit from the return of defensive back Isaac Madison who missed last year due to injury. If the Arkansas defense can step up, this has the make up of a sleeper top 10 team.
3 – Auburn (9-3): New Coach Gene Chizik got his team off to an impressive start last year, the goal this year is to finish. With 15 returning starters and a favorable schedule, Auburn has a chance to push Arkansas for the #2 spot in the West. Much of Auburn’s success will rely on the shoulders of ex-gator Cameron Newton, the expected starting quarterback. Newton will have four offensive lineman returning, two of which are on many pre-season All-Sec teams. Mario Fannin, Eric Smith, and Onteno McCalebb will battle it out for the carries after the departure of Ben Tate. On Defense, Auburn returns eight starters but will face challenges with lack of depth. Look for some of the young talent to get a chance to crack the two deep and gain valuable playing time. Auburn has eight home games and, outside of the last game vs Alabama, will face a very manageable road schedule.
4 – LSU (9-3): LSU is a very difficult team to predict. They return only 9 starters from last years team, and lost their leading rusher, receiver, and most of their defense. Jordan Jefferson is expected to keep the starting quarterback job, however Jarrett Lee is at his heels eager to take the job back. Jefferson or Lee will have a talented wide receiver group to throw to, that includes Terrance Toliver, Rueban Randall, and Russell Shepard. On defense, the Tigers lost 7 starters including Chad Jones their best defensive player. LSU does return All-American DB Patrick Peterson, who looks to be one of the best, if not the best defensive backs in the country. Les Miles has recruited extremely well the past few years and will rely on some of the young talent to come in contribute and possibly start. LSU could finish 9-3 or 11-1, their success depends on how well the young talent can replace the 13 starters from last year.
5 – Ole Miss (6-6): Ole Miss has the challenge of replacing Dexter McCluster and Jevan Sneed. Replacing McCluster will be more difficult and most likely be done by committee. The quarterback position is up for grabs between Nathan Stanley, Raymond Cotton, and Randall Mackey. Whoever the quarterback, they will be sure to target Shay Hodge (the only SEC receiver that had over 1,000 yards last year). Markeith Summers will be given the first shot to replace McCluster in the backfield, but he must be able to stay healthy to be a real difference maker. The defense should be solid once again as they return most of their starters. Tyrone Nix’s name was brought up for UGA and UF defensive coordinators job, but elected to stay in Ole Miss. Look for him to find a way to utilize talented 6-8 Juco transfer Wayne Dorsey.
6 – Mississippi St (6-6): Dan Mullen’s second year will prove to be much more challenging than his first, thanks in part to a brutal schedule. MSU plays Florida, LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss and Houston on the road, and gets home games vs Auburn, Georgia, and Arkansas. Mullen also must find someone to replace Anthony Dixon, his power back who rushed for close to 1,400 yards. Miss St will most likely split time at the quarterback position between Chris Relf and Tyler Russell. Russell is the better passer and the QB of the future, but Relf is more mobile and has more experience. The defense must improve drastically to give the Bulldogs a chance to return to a bowl game. The secondary will need to improve the most as MSU finished 11th in pass defense in the SEC.