The SEC was on a rare down year last season, but be prepared for the conference to bounce back to national prominence. Ok, on with the 2009 Spring SEC Football Preview. This blog will place teams in ranking form and they are in order from where I think they are placed at the beginning of the season.
1. Florida- No surprise here. Urban Meyer and company are back and are looking to win the SEC and repeat as national champions. The team returns all eleven starters on defense and kept all back ups. They also return eight starters on their prolific and high powered offense. They did lose Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy to the NFL, but they still have a loaded core and one of the nations best WR recruits Andre Debose. In addition Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes came back for their senior seasons. The game I look forward to this year is a trip to Baton Rouge to meet LSU in what could be a great game. The Georgia game is also always interesting to watch as well. Florida should be double-digit favorites against everyone else on their schedule.
2. Georgia- Georgia will be a solid team in 2009 but they will have to get healthy and stay healthy if they want to compete with the upper echelons of the SEC. They will have to find a way to replace star quarterback Matt Stafford and star tail back Knowshon Moreno. One of the main questions I have about this team is can the offensive line play better? This is a question that needs to be answered because you no longer have veterans in key places and have a lot of new faces playing important roles this year. If Joe Cox can play well and get to playing in a rhythm early in the season, and the running game can be as good as advertised, there is no reason Georgia can't be as good as they were last season.
3. Kentucky- The last few years have been full of progress for the Cats. The team has some great core players. Trevard Lindley is one of the best cornerbacks in the country and no doubt will be suiting up for an NFL team in the future. Mike Hartline will be given the keys to run the offense in the beginning of the season, but if he can't get the job done, they will give the job to do it all athlete Randal Cobb, who is more fitting as a wide receiver. This team has a rough schedule right out of the gate with rival Louisville followed by Florida and Alabama. After those three games it could be a very good season, and they could possibly finish number two in the East.
4. Tennessee- This season will be a very important one for Tennessee. They have a new head coach in Lane Kiffin who has brought along a monster staff with him. Lane hasn't been too diplomatic with the other coaches in the league to say the least. He called Urban Meyer a cheater because of questionable recruiting methods. Also the team doesn't have a quarterback. Jonathan Crompton will get the job at the start of the year but there could be a change if he plays as bad as he did last season. The team averaged a very low 146 passing yards a game and finished 107th in the nation in passing efficiency. The Vols lost games to UCLA, Auburn, and Wyoming last season, all teams they should have beaten if they had just a little offensive production last season. This team finished 5-7 and I honestly don't see them being much better. I have them going 6-6.
5. South Carolina- Things just haven't panned out for Steve Spurrier since his return to the SEC as the Gamecock's head coach. I think next year will be more of the same if the problematic spots aren't fixed fast. The quarterback situation is a nightmare. Stephen Garcia will get the start, but if he starts playing God awful like he did last season he will probably lose the job. Chris Smelley transferred to Alabama to play baseball. Spurrier is a quarterback shuffler so don't be surprised to see redshirt freshmen Reid McCollum and Aramis Hillary if Garcia begins to play poorly. This team is full of question marks, especially the entire offensive line. This team will need early wins and momentum to have any chance to go to a bowl game this year and a 7-5 record isn't too farfetched, but the safer bet is that this team finishes 5-7 or 4-8.
6. Vanderbilt- Last year was a tale of two seasons. Vandy played like a rabid pit-bull the first half of the season, then played like a neutered poodle the second have of the year. The SEC was not as strong last season as it will be this year so Vanderbilt will have to play more consistently if they want to make it out alive. The offense just needs to show up this year. Last season it was the defense that carried the team. The offensive line will be a key unit for this team even though it was a weakness for it last year. The secondary will need to focus since the unit will be without D.J. Moore, Darlon Spead, and Rashard Langford. The quarterback position is between Larry Smith (Music City Bowl starter) and the athletic Mackenzi Adams. This team should be able to win five games, but it will take some miracles to make them bowl eligible.
1. Alabama- After an impressive season with a trip to the SEC Championship, Nick Saban will need to really work his team hard if it has any chance of returning to the national title mix. This could be a rebuilding year, but I put Alabama at the number one in the west anyway. This team lost a ton of players and a great deal of talent to the NFL. This could hurt them very badly down the stretch. They lost three starters on the offensive line, they lost star running back Glen Coffee, and they lost their starting quarterback John Parker Wilson. They did return nine players on a very powerful defense, and the schedule isn't too rough for them. They get LSU at home with the hardest road contest at Ole Miss. The team has the talent to go 10-2 and win the west, but I will say they go 9-3.
2. Ole Miss- Houston Nutt took over the head coaching job last season and had a very good year. The Rebels were the only team to beat national champs Florida all season. This season the team needs to refocus its defense. The team was not good against the pass, so bad that they finished dead last in the SEC against it. The major loss for this team is left tackle Michael Oher who will be a top 10 pick in next April's NFL draft. The schedule helps with LSU and Alabama at home with South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Mississippi State on the road. This team can easily go 10-2 if they push themselves but I see them going 9-3 and possibly even 8-4. They are definitely a team on the rise.
3. LSU- You can never really count out Les Miles and the fighting Tigers of LSU. Last season was rebuilding year due too all the losses of important personnel. The Tigers have had major recruiting classes since the 2007 national championship team and with the return of offensive tackle Ciron Black and wide receiver Brandon LaFell, this team is poised to get back into the upper echelon of the SEC. Jordan Jefferson will most likely get the starting quarterback job, but watch out for super true-freshmen Russell Shepard. He is more likely to play receiver because of his athleticism, but can play quarterback if needed. The defensive line is going to be an area of major focus with the losses of Tyson Jackson, Kirston Pittman, Rick Jean-Francois, and Marlon Favorite. Al Woods and Drake Nevis will bolster the line next season. LSU mangled Georgia Tech 38-3 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and if they can keep that kind of intensity up LSU can possibly win the SEC west, but they start at number three for now. I see this team finishing 9-3 or 8-4.
4. Arkansas- Last season introduced Bobby Petrino to the SEC. The Razorbacks went 5-7 and had to learn a new system. Petrino gets another recruiting class under his belt and more guys to play in his pro-style system. The defense should be better with all the experience they gained last season. Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett will probably get the nod as the starting qb. The running back situation is pretty wide open with the small but deadly Michael Smith, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. USC transfer Broderick Green will get some carries and you can expect to see key recruits Ronnie Wingo and Knile Davis as well. Dennis Johnson will also of course be in the mix as he was the second leading rusher on the team last season. I can see this team finish at 7-5 if they play well this year.
5. Auburn- I really wanted to put Auburn at number six but put them at five instead. I believe they will regret hiring Gene Chizik as head coach. He says all the right things but hasn't done one thing as a head coach anywhere he has been. His Iowa State team was pitiful last year in the Big-12 and they didn't even have to play Texas or Oklahoma. He will be on a short leash and better get something done this year. The starting quarterback will be Kodi Burns who showed he can run well but had a horrible time passing the ball last season with two touchdowns and seven interceptions. The receiving corps was a joke last year as was the coaching situation. This is a rebuilding year but you don't fire a guy like Tommy Tuberville (or let him walk) if you don't have winning on your mind. This team will be bad next season and could finish last in the west and the SEC for that matter. I see them going 4-8 and possibly as bad as 2-10.
6. Mississippi State- The Bulldogs have been horrible on offense for far too long. Expect that to change with the hire of former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen who helped the Gators to two national championships in 2006 and 2008. He won't have the players Florida has but I think he can help this team to be better than 115th in scoring and 113th in total offense. It may take a couple of years to get the right personnel to run his version of the spread option system. He will try to adapt to his players and not try to force anything that isn't practical. The quarterback Tyson Lee is a small yet physically tough playmaker who can adapt, but will need serious help from an offensive line that was horrid last season. The 6'4 200-pound Brandon McRae, who led the team in receiving last season, won't be back until fall so that leaves opportunities for JUCO transfer Leon Barry and Delmon Robinson. This team has a brutal schedule, and has one of the toughest home schedules in the country. My expectations are that this team goes 4-8, but they could go possibly go 6-6 or 3-9. They could wind up 5th in the SEC west but right now they will stay at number 6.
This has been another article by Derek Osika the Rising Star.