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SEC Football Preview

 

The Southeastern Conference is unquestionably the nation’s premier football conference. The league has earned that distinction by capturing the last five BCS national championships with wins over teams from the Big Ten, Pac-10, and the Big XII. The league’s perception is not likely to change this year - the 2011 landscape features several teams, especially in the SEC West, that could once again contend for the national championship if they manage to survive the grind of playing one another first.

The battle for the SEC West will be determined by which team most effectively answers its lingering questions at quarterback. Despite the loss of Patrick Peterson to the NFL, LSU remains loaded on defense. How far it goes in competing for the SEC and national titles will depend on whether or not new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe can generate more offense and better play from quarterback Jordan Jefferson. The erratic LSU signal-caller seemed comfortable in the spring and if he is similarly smooth in the fall, the Tigers will be as formidable as any team in the country. On their heels are two other teams with questions at quarterback: Arkansas and Alabama. Nick Saban and Alabama have loads of defensive talent stockpiled in Tuscaloosa, plus one of the nation’s best backs in Trent Richardson. The quarterback question was unsolved in spring ball, and that lingering weakness is all that stands between Alabama and another run at a conference title. Arkansas lost Ryan Mallett to the NFL, but, Tyler Wilson appears poised to do what all Bobby Petrino-coached quarterbacks do: put up gaudy statistics. Whichever team gets the most consistent production from its offense should win the west and possibly be a national title contender. Mississippi State and coach Dan Mullen return much of last year’s Gator Bowl team, but losses on the defensive staff - coordinator Manny Diaz shuffled off to Texas - could interrupt the continuity that helped make the Bulldogs such a feared team in 2010. Ole Miss and Auburn also have lingering quarterback battles but lost so many pieces from last year’s teams that it’s difficult to imagine them competing for the West title.

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The SEC East is nowhere near as stacked. In fact, it’s accurate to say that three, perhaps four, teams from the West would be large favorites to win the East. South Carolina should be the favorite to repeat as East champs with the return of receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Marcus Lattimore, but the discipline issues with senior quarterback Stephen Garcia cloud any optimism that might be connected to the Gamecocks. Florida is in the midst of a transition from spread option offense to a pro-style look under new head coach Will Muschamp. While there is certainly talent on hand in Gainesville, it’s always difficult to win at an elite level in the first year under a new coach. Georgia returns sensational sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray, but it must try and find offense without standout receiver A.J. Green. The Bulldogs have the advantages of getting Florida on a neutral field and hosting South Carolina. If weapons on the edge develop, the Bulldogs might return to Atlanta for the first time since 2005. Tennessee should be improved in its second year under coach Derek Dooley, but a lack of depth due to the previous coaching transitions in Knoxville remains an issue. Vanderbilt and Kentucky struggled in 2010 and both lost significant pieces from last year’s team. Both could miss the postseason in 2011.

 



 

By Matt Zemek
CollegeSports-fans.com Staff Writer

 

 


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