Published August 1, 2012 - 1:45pm
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SEC football gets cranking in less than a month. The wait is almost over. As we flip the page from July to August, practices start to get cranking and position battles are in full force. That leads us into the official start of the season on August 30th when South Carolina visits Vanderbilt.
But before we get things kicked off, let’s take a look at the six biggest questions surrounding SEC football for 2012:
1. Which team will win the SEC’s 7th National Championship in a row?
We are in the golden years for SEC football right now. Coming off of six straight BCS National Championships, what could be better? No. 7? Ah, of course! Let’s get greedy. Realistically, there are six teams that could take home No. 7 for the SEC. Let’s start with the toughest division in the America: the West. LSU leads the pack, followed by Alabama and Arkansas. Obviously any of the three have the players to win it, but LSU is the paper champion at this point. From the East: Georgia is the popular pick, followed by South Carolina and even Florida. And I’ll throw Tennessee in the mix, too, since the East is wide open. Not sure USC or the Gators, let alone Tennessee, can actually win it, but we can entertain the thought anyway. But all of these teams, East and West, minus Arkansas, have one thing in common: stout defenses that will likely keep each team in every game. Arkansas, not known for its defense, has the high-octane offense that can score points in a hurry, similar to 2010 Auburn, minus Cam Newton. LSU probably has the best chance at this point. There is something to be said for young men playing with a chip on their shoulder. And LSU will certainly have that chip after last year’s meltdown against Alabama.
2. Will the talented group of running backs all return healthy?
Marcus Lattimore (knee), Knile Davis (ankle), Christine Michael (knee) and Eddie Lacy (toe) were all injured last year at some point, with Lattimore, Davis and Michael all having season-ending injuries. All four are oh-so important to their teams and the conference. In fact, you could make an argument for any of the four as the top running back in the league. The SEC is known for its dominant downhill running game, and it’s important that these four guys all return healthy and stay healthy to help keep this league on top. Combined, these four backs have carried 1,241 times for 6,954 yards and 79 touchdowns. Can the conference win another championship without these four? Yes, but with these four healthy, it makes the SEC even better.
3. What will the effect be on the conference as Texas A&M and Missouri move in?
Aside from the SEC’s run at another elusive national championship, this very well may be the biggest question everyone wants answered. How will newcomers from the Big 12 – Missouri and Texas A&M – compete in the SEC? Seemingly no one is given either a chance, and those teams have also felt that same assumption as well. Kevin Sumlin recently talked about it, and you have to believe Missouri and their players are feeling it, too. Missouri moves into the weaker East, while TAMU enters the teeth of the toughest half of any division in the country. Folks from around the country – and certainly the Big 12 – will be watching as both teams begin their inaugural seasons in the SEC.
4. Can Alabama overcome such a talent-rich exodus?
With two BCS National Championships in the past three seasons, there has certainly been some talent to come through Tuscaloosa. Four NFL first-round draft picks – could have easily been five – all made big headlines and paydays this past off-season in the NFL Draft. The Tide lost three of four defensive backs, two linebackers and their defensive lifeblood nose tackle, along with offensive stars Trent Richardson, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. That’s a ton of talent to lose and just simply ‘reload’. The good news is the offensive line is one of the most dominant in the country, and AJ McCarron is a veteran ready to have a breakout year. There are holes on both sides of the ball, but the players and talent are on campus right now to fill those needs. Bama fans will hold their breath until they find out if they can reload. Last time the Tide was faced replacing this many players was in 2010, and they lost three games that year. And yeah, the veterans returning are hungry for another championship.
5. Will Zach Mettenberger be the quarterback LSU needs to take them all the way?
It is no secret the main player that has held back the Tigers back in recent years is the quarterback. And they have not had a conventional drop-back pocket passer who has been successful or effective since Matt Flynn. But Zach Mettenberger is going to try and change just that this season. The 6-5, 222 pound Mettenberger looks to be the very piece that has been missing from LSU’s arsenal the last few years. History tells us the last two pocket passers to win championships on SEC teams have been Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy. Each threw for 2,500 to 2,600 yards per season. That is certainly attainable with the powerful running game the Tigers feature, along with several potent receivers who can run after the catch. I like Mettenberger to be the breakout player of the year. He threw for 2,678 yards and 32 TDs in JUCO.
6. Can Arkansas overcome so much off-season turmoil and turnover to win SEC?
This is the question every Arkansas native wants answered. The table was truly set for the Hogs and their head coach Bobby Petrino heading into the off-season. Then, Motorcycle-Gate happened. A senior quarterback, followed up with the return of one of the best backs in the country…the stage was truly set up for a special season. Fast forward to now, and there’s a new sheriff in town in John L. Smith, hired after the Petrino fiasco. Smith filed for bankruptcy, too, in this off-season. If that’s not enough, the Hogs’ No. 2 receiver Marquel Wade, along with two others, have been suspended for the entire 2012 season on burglary charges. A truly forgettable off-season to say the least. But the good news is Arkansas boasts the top offense in the SEC, with weapons at virtually every position led by Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis and Cobi Hamilton. Wilson and Davis have both indicated they are very happy to have Smith take over the team, and all three still have an SEC Championship on the brain. But it will take a magical season and a defensive effort that hasn’t been posted for several years to accomplish their goals. The Hogs host both Alabama and LSU. It could be a script.