Alabama Crimson Tide: Bobby Petrino

Just because it's the bye week in Tuscaloosa, Ala., it doesn't mean all is lost. Nick Saban and Alabama have Saturday off, but an astute fan of the Crimson Tide will have plenty to pay attention to around the SEC.

With that in mind, we set out to deliver an Alabama-centric primer for all the weekend's action. Here are six games every Tide fan should watch:
  • No. 7 Texas A&M vs. Sam Houston State: Oh, Johnny Football, you're a never-ending source of consternation these days. Whatever you do, however nonsensical or ill-advised, the cameras will be watching. And so will we. So pay attention Tide fans, but not just to the gimmicks on the football field. Pay attention to the X's and O's, too. The Aggies are next on Alabama's docket. Without former franchise left tackle Luke Joeckel, how will the protection hold up? Without pass-rush specialist Damontre Moore, how will the defensive line perform? And without veteran wideout Ryan Swope, how will the receiver corps look? Say what you will about Manziel's talent -- it cannot be understated -- but the team he returned to in College Station, Texas, this offseason was not the same one he played with a year ago. Watch closely for how he and the offense as a whole perform, and pay even closer attention to the play of the front seven on defense. Alabama's offensive line struggled against Virginia Tech's front seven a week ago. Will the Aggies have the playmakers up front to replicate that success?
  • Tennessee vs. Western Kentucky: Butch Jones couldn't have asked for a better debut against Austin Peay, trouncing the Governors 45-0 at home to start the season. Quarterback Justin Worley threw for three scores and didn't do anything to lose the starting job while Raijon Neal rushed for 141 yards behind what looks to be one of the best offensive lines in all of college football. But there was never much doubt the Vols could handle lowly Austin Peay. And it looked like Week 2 might set up favorably, too, but that was before Western Kentucky upset Kentucky. Bobby Petrino welcomed himself back to the game in a big way, and now he has a chance to make an even bigger splash against Tennessee. Watch for how the Vols offense moves the ball against better competition. After all, UT lost its top three pass-catchers from a season ago. And pay close attention to the secondary, which was one of the worst in the SEC a season ago. Petrino will be balanced on offense, but he'll likely take some shots downfield to see how far the Vols secondary has come.
  • Mississippi State vs. Alcorn State: To put it plainly, Mississippi State's offense looked bad against Oklahoma State in the Bulldogs' season opener. Scoring three points against a team that gave up more than 28 points per game a year ago was underwhelming. Tyler Russell couldn't move the ball through the air, and the offense couldn't finish off drives. And with Russell out against Alcorn State because of a concussion, it remains to be seen how Mississippi State's offense will respond. Dak Prescott will step in under center and might be able to provide a spark for the offense with his ability to move the ball with his feet. If he does, we could be looking at a two-quarterback system come Week 3. Dan Mullen needs to find someone, anyone, who can move the ball downfield. But don't flip channels when the Bulldogs defense comes on the field. Geoff Collins' bunch played well against Oklahoma State, but after losing starting safety Jay Hughes for the season, the secondary, which lost three of four starters from a season ago, has to prove itself more now than ever.
  • LSU vs. UAB: Give Les Miles credit for going to Texas and beating a good TCU team to open the season. The game wasn't always pretty for the Tigers, but the offense looked improved, and the defense showed plenty of promise. Should LSU generate that killer instinct, it could be a dangerous team come SEC play. The one player to watch against UAB is Zach Mettenberger. LSU's senior quarterback threw the ball well against the Horned Frogs and looked like a different player than we saw a year ago -- decisive, efficient, confident. If he keeps that up and progresses into a consistent 200-yard passer, LSU could finally have the type of balanced offense its been in search of for what seems like a decade now. We know the Tigers will be good on defense, run the ball well and have the playmakers on the outside. It all comes down to the play of the quarterback for LSU to take that next step.
  • Auburn vs. Arkansas State: The Gus Malzahn era at Auburn got off to a so-so start in Week 1 against Washington State. There was the good: the running game did well and the defense created turnovers. And there was the bad: Nick Marshall was underwhelming under center, and the defense, while explosive, did surrender plenty of yards through the air. All in all, though, the Tigers looked like a better team than they did a year ago. But Week 2 will be a big test. Not only is it the final game before the start of SEC play, but it's also Malzahn's turn to face his former team, Arkansas State. And make no mistake, the Red Wolves are a dangerous football team. Auburn should be able to move the ball against Arkansas State, but the real test will come on defense. The Red Wolves, who averaged close to 400 yards per game a season ago, put up 62 points in their opener and will have the added incentive of facing a coach that bailed after just one season.
  • No. 11 Georgia vs. No. 6 South Carolina: Whoever wins this game could wind up representing the SEC East in the conference championship, though Florida, obviously, will have something to say about that. Nonetheless, the Georgia-South Carolina game is one to pay close attention to. Georgia, which nearly beat Alabama a year ago, is in a tough position coming off a loss to Clemson to start the season. Starting off 0-2 could crush its title hopes in a hurry. South Carolina, though, is sitting pretty coming off a strong win against North Carolina in Week 1. Steve Spurrier's offense was explosive, the running game was effective, and the defense played well against the Tar Heels. But against Georgia we'll see if that growth is real. South Carolina still has question marks at linebacker and receiver, and while the Bulldogs' defense is young, it's still chocked full of talent. Getting Josh Harvey-Clemons back could be the boost Georgia has been missing.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
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The second week of the college football season is upon us.

Some exceeded expectations in Week 1, others fell short. In the SEC, a few coaches made debuts at new programs, a few key players suffered injuries that will affect their teams and there is buzz, both good and bad, surrounding some of the league’s most visible stars.

Here are 10 things to keep an eye on in the SEC in Week 2:

[+] EnlargeClowney
Gerry Melendez/Getty ImagesAfter his lackluster showing in the season opener, all eyes will be on Jadeveon Clowney when South Carolina faces Georgia.
1. What will Clowney do? South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has endured much criticism after a pedestrian performance in the Gamecocks' season-opening win against North Carolina. After a three-tackle, no-sack performance, some observers questioned Clowney's conditioning and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Clowney was definitely affected by the heat. This week, the No. 6 Gamecocks meet No. 11 Georgia and you can bet people will watch Clowney even more closely as the stakes are raised as each team opens SEC play.

2. What's next for Manziel? Johnny Manziel's return to the field for Texas A&M yielded terrific on-field results (6-of-8 passing, 94 yards, three touchdown passes) as well as a firestorm of media criticism as a result of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he committed and a few celebrations. Whether he likes it or not, all eyes are on him and as Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said, "people want to make a story out of anything that happens on this team right now." Will there be more non-football conversation circulating Manziel after the Aggies play Sam Houston State on Saturday?

3. Jones returns for UF: Sophomore running back Matt Jones returns to the Florida lineup this weekend as the Gators travel to Miami. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones missed three weeks of practice while recovering from a viral infection and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Jones will see plenty of touches in his return, perhaps as many as 25 carries.

4. Familiar foe for Malzahn: Auburn and new coach Gus Malzahn are hosting a team that he's quite familiar with -- Arkansas State. Malzahn spent last year as the Red Wolves' head coach, leading them to a 9-3 record and a conference championship before departing for Auburn prior to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Arkansas State's new coach is former Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who led the Red Wolves to a 62-11 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in his debut. Meanwhile, Malzahn's new team escaped with a 31-24 win over Washington State behind new starting quarterback Nick Marshall.

5. Prescott likely to start for Mississippi State: Starting quarterback Tyler Russell sustained a concussion in the Bulldogs' loss Saturday to Oklahoma State and is doubtful to play this weekend against Alcorn State. That means coach Dan Mullen will likely turn to backup Dak Prescott, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore, to fill in. The dual-threat quarterback brings an ability to run the football to the Bulldogs' offense, recording 131 yards on 32 carries in spot duty last season. Mullen said he's confident in Prescott.

6. Adjustments to be made for Georgia: A season-opening 38-35 loss to talented ACC foe Clemson yielded an injured receiver (Malcolm Mitchell is out for the season after an ACL injury suffered while celebrating a Todd Gurley touchdown) and displayed a struggling offensive line. Quarterback Aaron Murray rarely had time to throw against Clemson and the Bulldogs are facing a talented South Carolina defensive front. But the Clemson loss can be easily forgotten if the Bulldogs open SEC play with a win over a top-10 team and fellow SEC East squad.

7. Can Stoops and Kentucky bounce back? There was a lot of buzz surrounding the debut of new Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops but it was killed by a season-opening loss to Western Kentucky. The Wildcats host Miami (Ohio) and are double-digit favorites. It's imperative to erase the taste of last week's loss with a win this week for UK.

8. Intriguing matchup in Knoxville: Tennessee cruised to a win over FCS foe Austin Peay in the opening week but now get a little bit of a tougher test in Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky squad, which is fresh off its upset of Kentucky. The Volunteers are favored and rightfully so, and they're a higher caliber opponent than Kentucky. It would be a tough task for the Hilltoppers to pull off in Neyland Stadium, but it's worth at least keeping an eye on as Petrino tries to start 2-0 against SEC foes while Tennessee's Butch Jones looks to keep positive momentum going.

9. Ole Miss looking for others to emerge: The Rebels lost guard Aaron Morris to a season-ending knee injury and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche for 4-6 weeks because of a meniscus tear. Though they have an FCS foe in Southeast Missouri State, the Rebels will need others to step up in their absences.

10. Mettenberger looking to build on Week 1: In his first game under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger did enough to guide the Tigers to a 37-27 win over TCU. This week against UAB, he told reporters he has to be a little more accurate than his 16-for-32 showing, which was otherwise solid, yielding 251 yards and a touchdown pass.
In keeping with our March Madness theme, I decided to take a look at one area everyone loves about the Big Dance and translate it to the football field: upsets.

We saw some good ones last year, like Louisiana-Monroe upending Arkansas, Texas A&M knocking off No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Louisville embarrassing Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Since anything -- and everything -- can happen on any given Saturday, we'll probably see some fun upsets yet again this fall.

Here are some potential upsets involving SEC teams to look out for in 2013:

Virginia Tech over Alabama, Aug. 31: The Hokies limped through a 7-6 2012 season, but return nine starters on a defense that finished the year ranking 18th nationally in total defense. With four defensive linemen returning, Virginia Tech could give Alabama's new-look offensive line fits in the opener, while quarterback Logan Thomas could make a few plays here and there inside the Georgia Dome.

TCU over LSU, Aug. 31: The Tigers have a lot of holes to fill on defense, and TCU just happens to bring back nine offensive starters. Plus, quarterback Casey Pachall is back. This game will also be played in Arlington, Texas, which is less than 20 miles away from TCU's campus.

Miami over Florida, Sept. 7: The Gators finally get some more meat on their out-of-conference schedule and you better believe the Canes, who have spent the past few years in the shadow of Florida and Florida State, are itching to pull this upset. The game will be played in Sun Life Stadium, so Canes fans should be out in full force.

Western Kentucky over Tennessee, Sept. 7: Bobby Petrino returns to the SEC with his new team with 13 returning starters, including six on offense. After getting zero love from SEC schools during his job hunt, Petrino will be looking to exact some revenge on the league. The Vols have tons of questions to answer and will be adjusting to a new staff. Also, this is a trap game with Oregon next on the schedule.

UCF over South Carolina, Sept. 28: This would be a major upset for the Golden Knights. South Carolina is clearly the better and more talented team, but this is a road game early in the year. UCF is coming off of a 10-win season and returns 11 total starters, including 3,000-yard passer Blake Bortles and five of its top six receivers. The Gamecocks also have a tendency to play down to their competition.

Ole Miss over Texas A&M, Oct. 12: The Rebels choked away a second-half lead in this game last year, so there's plenty of motivation on Ole Miss' side. This game is in Oxford again, too. The Aggies have to replace five starters in their front seven, and the Rebels' explosive offense, which returns eight starters, could be a bad matchup for a younger defense like that.

Arkansas over South Carolina, Oct. 12: Everything is new in Fayetteville, but the Hogs have won three straight at home against the Gamecocks. A physical Bret Bielema team could catch the Gamecocks off guard, and you know that environment will be rocking.

Missouri over Florida, Oct. 19: The Gators will be coming off of what should be a tough, physical game at LSU, and must stay on the road to play these Tigers. Fatigue could set in and if Mizzou can stay healthy, its offense should be better than what we saw last year. Florida's offense still has a bunch of questions and can't afford to let another road environment rattle it.

Vanderbilt over Georgia, Oct. 19: In 2011, the Commodores came very close to pulling this upset. Last year, Vandy was run out of Athens. And we all know how much James Franklin wants this one. A solid defense returns and with the playmakers Vandy has on offense, this team could put some points up on Georgia's younger defense.

Auburn over Alabama, Nov. 30: Yep. This could happen. Alabama is going to lose again and while most are looking at the Tide's trip to College Station as the most likely loss in 2013, don't sleep on Bama's biggest rival. Auburn will be a better team next year and could be a nuisance late in the season. If that offense gets going, the Tigers could really challenge Alabama on the Plains.

2012 SEC regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
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Here we are again talking about another potential national championship for the SEC.

Weren’t we having this same conversation last year, the year before that and the year before that?

In fact, does anybody really remember the last time we weren’t having this conversation?

The BCS Championship Game festivities will again include an SEC team this season, and once again, it’s Alabama carrying the banner for the league.

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The wet, gloomy scene preceding Arkansas’ game with No. 1 Alabama was a classic case of foreshadowing for the Razorbacks.

Rain washed away any really furious tailgating plans, while last week’s overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe expunged most of the excitement and enthusiasm revolving around a program once thought of as a national championship contender.

Adding on to the grim setting in and around the stadium was the fact that starting quarterback Tyler Wilson wasn’t playing, even though he tossed out minute hope that he’d play by warming up in full pads.

That was about the high point, as Alabama routed Arkansas 52-0, handing Arkansas its first shutout in Fayetteville since losing to Baylor 7-0 on Oct. 8, 1966.

It left a fan base despondent and a coach speechless.

“It’s kind of hard to say anything at this point,” John L. Smith said. “That’s about as bad as I can every remember as a football team goes.”

Even with the Crimson Tide not playing close to its best game, Alabama dominated every phase.

And I mean dominated.

With 11:32 remaining in the game, AJ McCarron had long since departed, Bama had 45 points and the Hogs had just 93 yards of offense and four turnovers. By that time, Alabama’s backups’ backups were in -- and scoring -- against Arkansas’ horrendous defense.

A team that had so much promise and real championship aspirations limped out of its own stadium as a squad that has been outscored 79-10 in its past seven quarters -- and one with hardly any confidence.

[+] EnlargeTyler Wilson
Beth Hall/US Presswire"As a leader it sucks to see people not do their jobs and things go wrong," said Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson, who didn't play against Alabama.
This team has been through so much drama, starting with Bobby Petrino’s embarrassing exit, and when it had a chance to stand up and show some guts, it fell flat. Yes, it ran into a battering ram named “Alabama,” but this team looked dazed from the moment Will Coleman tossed his snap over punter Dylan Breeding’s head, leading to Alabama’s first touchdown.

Smith blamed himself for the loss, but Arkansas’ players didn’t do much to help him.

Calling an impromptu news conference after the game, Wilson spoke from the heart and expressed those exact feelings.

Players who don’t play rarely speak to the media, but Wilson approached members of Arkansas’ staff late in the game and told them he wanted to.

Boy, did he.

“First of all, it wasn’t very pretty to watch,” said Wilson, who spoke for almost a minute and a half.

“Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Yeah, absolutely. As a leader it sucks to see people not do their jobs and things go wrong. There have been a lot of people jump off of the bandwagon and it is my responsibility as a leader to keep everyone in this organization, in this team in that locker room together.”

Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, who has seen his defense surrender 1,310 yards through three games, agreed with Wilson’s assessment.

“When you give up big plays at the end and nobody’s around him at all, then you sit there and you may question that,” Haynes said.

Wilson’s words resembled Tim Tebow’s famous speech after Florida's 2008 loss to Ole Miss. The Gators went on to win 10 straight and a national championship, and Wilson hopes he sparks a similar run.

Arkansas likely won’t match Florida, but an SEC title still isn’t out of sight. Still, this team has to band together and fight for something.

When asked if he worried about players hanging their heads or pointing fingers, defensive tackle Alfred Davis was emphatic in his response.

“No, because I know I’m not going to stop working and I’m not going to let the man beside me stop working, regardless of what the outcome of this football game was,” he said.

“We have to get into a place where we’re not quitting in football games, win, lose or draw.”

Getting over Saturday’s beatdown won’t be easy, but it’s all Arkansas can do. The loss of Petrino started this collapse, and the past two weeks have just piled on. If this team is going to rally, it has to grow up and it has to really stand by its coach.

It better do it now, because it didn’t Saturday.

“They’re going to hang together,” Smith said. “They’re going to come in ready to work. They know how to work. I have total confidence in these guys and the seniors are going to pull us together and the rest of the team is going to pull together.”
We're always looking for the next best thing. The coaching world isn't any different.

Who's the next Urban Meyer? The next Chris Petersen? What about another Brady Hoke?

Who's that next great assistant who rises up the ranks and takes over a major program ... and succeeds?

I'm not completely sure, but I have a few ideas. Here are some coaches lurking in the SEC who could be on their way to bigger and better things or are ready to take the next step with their current teams:

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Ranking the SEC coaching jobs

July, 10, 2012
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The SEC has the reputation of being the toughest conference to play/coach in. But what is it like to be in charge of one of these high-profile programs?

That's where we come in. As we take a deeper look into programs around the country this week, we're looking at how each program stacks up in every conference. In the SEC, there's always a fierce arms race going on, and getting left behind can be dangerous.

Today, we're ranking each coaching job in the SEC. We considered a lot of factors, including location, tradition, support, fan bases, facilities and recruiting access.

Here's how we ranked all 14 SEC jobs.

1. Florida: For starters, Florida is all about location, location, location. It's in a state that produces some of the country's top talent and it's a state that players around the country will flock to. Thanks to Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, Florida has become a national brand like Ohio State, USC, Notre Dame and Texas. Recent significant facility upgrades and a tremendous fan base have only helped this be the top job in the SEC.

2. LSU: It's one of just a handful of schools around the country that's considered the school in the state. Every football player in Louisiana grows up wanting to play in Tiger Stadium. Louisiana is also extremely bountiful when it comes to producing football players, and Texas is right around the corner. The facilities are top notch and the program has great tradition and a tremendous fan base.

3. Alabama: Talk about extraordinary tradition. Though there were some down years before Nick Saban took over, there's no escaping the success this program has had. Prospects from all over are drawn to Alabama. There's tremendous support inside and outside for the program, and the facilities are some of the best in the nation. This is also a school that didn't hesitate to pay Saban the big bucks when the opportunity arose.

4. UGA: There is so much talent around Athens that it's hard for Georgia not to have a top recruiting class year in and year out. Georgia's facilities are near the top of the conference, and the campus is gorgeous. The tradition and game-day atmosphere would draw anyone in.

5. Auburn: While it's constantly knocking heads with Alabama, Auburn has plenty going for it. The campus is gorgeous, the stadium is one of the best game-day venues in the league and the fan base is extremely passionate. Auburn is in the heart of recruiting central in the Southeast, and the recently updated facilities are a major plus.

6. Tennessee: While the Vols have struggled with consistency on the field lately, this is still an attractive job. Nearly $50 million was spent to build a brand-new football complex, Neyland Stadium has been spruced up over the years and the program does have a rich tradition. Though with the state not being so talent-rich, coaches are forced to target other areas in the Southeast to recruit.

7. Texas A&M: The Aggies' tradition is well-known in college football. The game-day atmosphere is one of the best in the country, there is a great alumni base, their home state is filled with elite talent and the school is huge. Now Texas A&M can sell playing in the SEC to Texas athletes. But one thing that does hang over the program is that it's still playing second to the Longhorns.

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SEC post-spring power rankings

May, 18, 2012
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We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.

2. Alabama: The defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, but coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.

3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), and senior Akeem Auguste coming back after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There’s a reason Alphonse Taylor stands out on a football field.

When a player stands at 6-foot-5 and carries around 340 pounds of muscle, he’s bound to catch your eye.

So when Taylor, the largest player on the University of Alabama roster, was suddenly lined up along the offensive line and not across from it on Wednesday, people took notice -- not that he didn't look the part.

Taylor, who was one of eight early enrollees at UA, may be as green as a shamrock, but he certainly doesn’t show it. In a sea of 300-pounders, the 20-year-old with a smile as wide as his biceps is a natural fit. He’s agile and picks up the game quickly, according to starting left guard Chance Warmack, who referred to Taylor simply as “big man.”

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Early 2012 SEC power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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We officially said goodbye to the 2011 season Monday night and crowned the Alabama Crimson Tide as college football's new champions. Now, it's time to shift our focus to 2012. Here's to hoping the Mayans were wrong:

1. Alabama: The defense will get hit the hardest by graduation and the NFL draft, but Alabama's offense should be better. While it's almost a forgone conclusion that junior running back Trent Richardson will declare for the NFL draft, Alabama returns a veteran offensive line, has a good set of up-and-coming receivers and has some pretty talented running backs to work with, including pounder Eddie Lacy. Oh, and that quarterback ain't too bad, either.

2. LSU: The Tigers might have come up short in the big one, but it's not like LSU is going anywhere. That defense that ranked second nationally was made up by a slew of youngsters. LSU returns double-digit starters next year, including most of its front seven. A major bright spot for this team is that former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger will now get his chance, and has skill that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee lacked.

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs might return more starters next year than LSU. After surpassing expectations and challenging LSU for the SEC title, the Bulldogs should enter next fall as the favorites in the SEC East. Stud quarterback Aaron Murray returns and so do most of his weapons. With arguably the easiest schedule (again) in the SEC, Mark Richt will be expected to take his Dawgs back to Atlanta.

4. South Carolina: There won't be any sleeping on the Gamecocks in 2012. After getting 11 wins for only the second time in school history, South Carolina should compete for the SEC East for the third straight year. The Gamecocks return a slew of talent, especially on defense, and saw tremendous improvement in quarterback Connor Shaw. Also, running back Marcus Lattimore should be back and healthy after his devastating season-ending knee injury.

5. Arkansas: The Razorbacks will lose a lot of key players that have helped Arkansas get to where it is under Bobby Petrino. Defensively, five seniors will say goodbye, while the offense will lose three NFL wide receivers. However, that offensive line, which grew up as the season progressed, will be much better and star running back Knile Davis should be back and healthy. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is back, so there shouldn't be much dip in the passing game even with some new faces at receiver.

6. Auburn: Those youngsters on the Plains will be more mature and much improved in 2012. That has to be a scary thought for other SEC members. Auburn doesn't lose much from its 2011 team and gets a great addition to the defensive side of the ball in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Offensively, there are weapons everywhere, but the key will be finding the right quarterback ... again.

7. Florida: Will Muschamp's first year as the Gators' head coach didn't go as planned, but there is still a lot of talent in Gainesville, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Florida loses just one starter on defense and should have one of the fastest, most aggressive defensive units around the SEC. Getting that offense going will be key to Muschamp's second year, but with all that turnover, it should be a fresh start for this unit.

8. Missouri: This new group of Tigers enters 2012 as a factor in the SEC East. Missouri returns nearly everyone from 2011, including quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, who both put up solid numbers in 2011. The Tigers will no doubt hit some snags as they transition into their new home, but with all the talent that returns, Missouri won't be a pushover in its first year in the SEC.

9. Tennessee: Derek Dooley has the pieces in place on both sides of the ball to compete in the SEC East. That young defense won't be so young in 2012 and quarterback Tyler Bray returns with his deep-threat sidekicks at wide receiver. With a solid offensive line, the next step for Tennessee is to find a consistent running back to help take the pressure off of the passing game. There's a lot of pressure on Dooley to get things done, and he has the talent to in 2012.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the pleasure of entering the SEC as a Western Division team. That's not exactly a warm welcome. It doesn't help that Texas A&M is losing a ton from its 2011 team. There could be six NFL draft picks who won't be back in College Station next season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and top safety Trent Hunter are gone, and so is receiver Jeff Fuller. Christine Michael should do well as Cyrus Gray's replacement at running back, but the core of this team will be gone.

11. Vanderbilt: Year 1 of the James Franklin era was a success and there shouldn't be a lot of drop-off for the Commodores next season. Vandy loses top defenders Chris Marve, Tim Fugger and Casey Hayward, but a lot of veterans return on that side of the ball. Jordan Rodgers is back at quarterback, Zac Stacy returns at running back and wide receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews will be back. Running back and specialist Warren Norman should be back too and the offensive line returns four starters.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lose a lot on both sides of the ball in 2012, but should have a top cornerback combo in Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Losing Fletcher Cox up front will leave a hole on the defensive line and saying goodbye to linebacker Brandon Wilson won't be easy. Tyler Russell will probably get the first crack at quarterback for the Bulldogs, but he will be without his safety net in running back Vick Ballard. The good thing is that the receivers are back, but this team will have to grow up in a hurry.

13. Kentucky: The offensive line will have some missing pieces in 2012 and the defense loses six starters, including star linebacker Danny Trevathan. Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton will battle at quarterback, but with how 2011 ended, Smith might have the advantage. This team struggled mightily on offense and the problem was that there wasn't a lot of improvement throughout the year. The offseason should be dedicated to find ways to get this offense moving.

14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze steps into a tough situation at Ole Miss. His first order of business needs to be improving the discipline on this team. It was awful in 2011, and if Ole Miss wants to improve it has to clean that up. The defense should get a boost with leader D.T. Shackelford returning from his season-ending knee injury and offensive playmakers Jeff Scott, Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell are back. The offensive line loses some key components, and the quarterback situation is far from figured out.

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