Published January 17, 2011 - 12:34pm
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The SEC West in 2010 was as tough a division in college football in recent memory. Five teams ranked at the end of the season. Some dominant bowl games (Miss State over Michigan, Alabama over Mich State) and of course Auburn winning the BCS Championship. What does 2011 look like? Like 2010, the west will be very strong, but we think it will be very different.
Here are the early 2011 SEC West predictions:
1. LSU – LSU is sitting pretty right now entering 2011. Les Miles has stayed true to Baton Rouge, rejecting his old school and more money in order to lead his LSU Tigers in 2011 and in the future. As always, LSU recruiting is hitting on all cylinders. They lose some great players like Patrick Peterson, Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard. They also lost Stevan Ridley who is entering the NFL. With that said, LSU will have a new quarterback potentially in Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger. There’s a lot of hype around this kid, but even if Jordan Jefferson is the QB next year, it means he beat out a tough Mettenberger to get the job. LSU might actually be known as an offensive team in 2011. RB Spencer Ware looked outstanding in the Cotton Bowl and should be able to fill the role nicely without Ridley. LSU just flat out gets athletes and will be able to plug them in where needed. LSU goes all-in on the opener, with a game against Oregon in Dallas to start the season. The winner of this game is immediately in the national championship picture. The biggest problem? Having to play Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Winner of this game will likely win the west. For now, I’m going with LSU, but not by much.
2. Alabama – Alabama will have a new quarterback, lost their Heisman trophy winner in Mark Ingram, and other key players like Marcell Dareus and Julio Jones. With that said, Tide fans can feel confident in Saban’s ability to keep this machine running. The Tide defense will be outstanding in 2011 with studs Dont’a Hightower and Mark Barron coming back for their senior seasons. The defensive line will have some new monsters in Jesse Williams and a load of young talent fighting for positions. A name you might see early on some Heisman boards is Trent Richardson who will now be the featured running back. The nation has seen what Richardson can do, and getting many more carries in 2011, he can put up some serious numbers. Alabama will be an excellent football team in 2011 and if they can knock off LSU at home mid-season, look for the Tide to make a run at the west, the SEC and maybe the BCS.
3. Arkansas – Ryan Mallett is gone, but we saw a glimpse of how good Tyler Wilson can be in the Auburn game from 2010. Wilson will have possibly the best group of receivers to throw to in Joe Adams, Greg Childs, Cobi Hamilton and Jarius Wright. Adams had a miserable Sugar Bowl, but the guy can make some serious plays happen. On the ground, look for Knile Davis to have a killer year after a huge second half of 2010. This guy is the real deal. The bottom line is that the Arkansas offense will put up big numbers, especially with Bobby Petrino doing his thing. If the defense can be respectable, Arkansas will do very next year.
4. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs lost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, but the program has great momentum right now and this should continue into 2011. The bowl win against Michigan shows the this team is a legit football team. While the quality of athlete on the team isn’t as good as some of the other big teams in the division, I think Mississippi State gets over the hurdle and knocks off one of the big boys (something they weren’t able to do in the west in 2010). With that said, they’ll still lose a few games. I like them to repeat with 8 wins, maybe 9.
5. Auburn – While Auburn fans are always quick to point out that their team was more than a one-man show in Cam Newton in 2010 (which is debatable), the team is losing much more than just Cam Newton. Nick Fairley is the other big name who is leaving; he was able to do enough by his lonesome to make the Auburn defense somewhat impactful. Auburn is losing four of their top five tacklers. Worse yet, four starting offensive linemen will be gone. While Malzahn will be able to get his offense to produce (especially with Michael Dyer running the ball), this is just too many losses to win the tough games in 2011. Let’s face it, 2011 will be a rebuilding year to some degree, but it’s not worth getting upset about Auburn fans, after all, you’re BCS champions!
6. Ole Miss – The Jeremiah Masoli experiment was a bust in 2010 with the Rebels having a very disappointing season including a loss against Jacksonville State University. Unfortunately, I don’t see a much better season in 2011 for Ole Miss, especially as the other five teams in the west continue to look solid moving forward. The competition is too fierce. Houston Nutt and the words “hot seat” might start to get used in the same sentence sooner rather than later.