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CFT predicts: the SEC

Nick Saban AP

Home of the last six BCS champions, the SEC will try to make it seven straight this season. The power of the SEC should once again reside in the West with Alabama, Arkansas and LSU all eyeing a trip to Atlanta. The East? It’s a work in progress as traditional powers Florida and Tennessee try to reclaim the glory days. Who knows, maybe Missouri will sneak in and grab a divisional title in its first year.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how I see the SEC shaking out this season:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

East Division

1. Georgia (last season: 10-4, lost Outback Bowl)
After spending a couple of years on the hot seat, Georgia coach Mark Richt, who is as upstanding and genuine as any coach you’ll meet, sold his soul to Satan for a 10-win season and SEC title game appearance. But, karma’s a you-know-what, and the Bulldogs have witnessed an offseason of unusually high player attrition. Sounds like Georgia doesn’t stand much of a chance, huh? Well, you’re forgetting one thing: it’s the SEC East. Plus, picking South Carolina may as well be the kiss of death. Speaking of which …

2. South Carolina (last season: 11-2; won Capital One Bowl) 
Based on the Gamecocks’ inverse theory of expectations*, where preseason high praise and lauding inevitably lead to disaster later, this should be a relatively good sign for Steve Spurrier and Co. Another good one? Running back Marcus Lattimore. He’s back after suffering a season-ending knee injury a year ago. So, by picking South Carolina to finish second in the East, I’m actually secretly projecting the Gamecocks to finish first. I think. I don’t know.

(*see also: Clemson)

3. Tennessee (last season: 5-7) 
Tennessee is the super sexy sleeper pick for the East title. The Vols return a boatload of starters, but I’m not a huge believer in Tyler Bray yet — though in his defense, Bray wasn’t healthy for much of last season. Nevertheless, this is a crucial year for head coach Derek Dooley. Three losing seasons just isn’t going to do it in Knoxville, not when the fan base is used to winning and the program is pouring money into facilities. The Vols do have two outstanding receivers, though: Justin Hunter (when he’s healthy) and Da’Rick Rogers (when his head is on straight).

4. Florida (last season: 7-6; won Gator Bowl) 
The dropoff in the East starts here. I like the move to pick up Brent Pease as the team’s new offensive coordinator from Boise State and the Gators return some key playmakers from a top 25 defense a year ago. The schedule sets up nicely for Florida too with LSU and South Carolina at home, plus Florida avoids Alabama and Arkansas. If Florida can be a little — okay, a lot — more efficient on offense,  it can be competitive in the East.

5. Missouri (last season in Big 12: 8-5; won Independence Bowl) 
This is where it starts to even out in the East division. Frankly, I can see spots 4-6 all being shuffled around easily. I’m going to go with Missouri here because of the health of quarterback James Franklin. Although coach Gary Pinkel has insisted time and time again Franklin will be ready by the start of the season following shoulder surgery, I’m skeptical that he can stay healthy all season. And it’s not like Mizzou has amazing depth behind Franklin, either. The Tigers will do better in their inaugural year in the SEC than Texas A&M, but I still get the feeling there will be a somewhat rude awakening.

6. Vanderbilt (last season: 6-7; lost Music City Bowl) 
I absolutely love what James Franklin is building at Vanderbilt. He’s a relentless recruiter and the university is recognizing what it needs to do to stay competitive by improving facilities. Franklin may eventually compete, and possibly win, an SEC East title … just not this year. But, watch out: Vandy could upset South Carolina in the first game of the season and the Commodores’ toughest SEC West opponent is Auburn.

7. Kentucky (last season: 5-7) 
Hey, at least Mississippi isn’t alone in the SEC cellar. Kentucky’s non-conference slate is manageable, but that’s about it. Ticket sales are lagging too, showing the crowd in Lexington has probably had enough of the Joker Phillips era unless he does something to generate excitement. I don’t think he does, and the Wildcats finish last in the East.

West Division

1. Alabama (last season: 12-1; won BCS championship)
I picked against the Crimson Tide to win the West prior to last season, which turned out to be a somewhat accurate prediction. But, because I’m a well-documented numbskull, I unwisely disrespected the Tide again in the BCS championship game without considering that it’s nearly impossible to beat Nick Saban head-to-head when he has weeks to prepare. Point being, I’m not going to pick against Alabama again this season. I expect much improvement from quarterback A.J. McCarron after watching him make good (or otherwise non-lethal) decisions in the BCS championship game. Replacing Trent Richardson won’t be a big deal, but going on the road to Arkansas and LSU will be.

2. Arkansas (last season: 11-2; won Cotton Bowl) 
Say what you will about Bobby Petrino the man — and there’s a lot to be said —  but the guy could flat out coach a college football team. But, hey, you go for a ride on a motorcycle with your subordinate who you just so happen to be sleeping with, and a couple lies later, you’re out of a job. It happens. Now, the Hogs move on with former assistant coach John L Smith. The guy has a 10-month contract and a team primed to make a SEC championship run. Tyler Wilson should have been in a hospital with the hits he took last year, so there’s no arguing his toughness. Also returning is the explosive, yet oft-injured running back Knile Davis. Arkansas’ defense is stacked with seniors, and while I like the fact that the Hogs get ‘Bama and LSU at home, Smith is the wild card here.

3. LSU (last season: 13-1; lost BCS championship) 
I’m going to go out on a limb with the preseason No. 1 team (in the coaches’ poll). The defending SEC champion will be this year what Arkansas was last year: a talented team (now without Tyrann Mathieu) stuck in a division with two other phenomenal teams. Because of that, I’m going to put the Tigers at No. 3 in the West. I keep hearing that quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the missing piece for the Tigers if they want to win another BCS championship. That’s interesting considering he’s completely unproven. I know, I know, so were McCarron, Cam Newton and Greg McElroy when they won national championships. That trend stops this year.

4. Auburn (last season 8-5; won Chick-fil-A Bowl) 
2011 was a somewhat sobering year for Auburn, which was just removed from a BCS championship and a Heisman winning quarterback. The Tigers lost five games last season by an average of just under 28 points per game. First order of business? A new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder. Second order? Develop some household names on offense not named Phillip Lutzenkirchen in Scot Loeffler‘s more pro style offense. Running back Michael Dyer is gone and he gave the Tigers back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but Onterio McCalebb is back.  So is leading receiver Emory Blake. I’m looking for both guys to have huge years.

5. Mississippi State (last season: 7-6; won Music City Bowl) 
Auburn and Mississippi State could be flipped, but Auburn should win the early-season matchup in Starkville and I like the Tigers’ talent more. Outside of that game, though, the Bulldogs’ first seven games could give them a hot start; it’s the final five games that could give Mississippi State trouble. Save the season-ending Egg Bowl against Mississippi, the Bulldogs’ schedule is backloaded with games against Alabama, LSU and Arkansas — and two of those are on the road. Also, I’m still waiting for a program-defining win from Dan Mullen.

6. Texas A&M (last season in Big 12: 7-6; won Meineke Car Care Bowl) 
Kevin Sumlin made a promise that Texas A&M will “fight its ass off” this season. Awesome. So will every other team. The Aggies may be changing conferences, but the things that win football games don’t. A&M does have the chance to start off right by hosting Florida on Sept. 8, but there’s nothing fun about A&M’s schedule starting Sept. 29. There’s too much turnover for Sumlin and Co. to contend for a West title right away.

7. Mississippi (last season: 2-10) 
It’s going to be a tough first year for Hugh Freeze. I’m not convinced all the JUCO players in Mississippi could help the Rebels, either. A soft non-conference schedule might help build some confidence for the Rebels, but 2012 has the looks of a winless conference record.

CFT’s SEC champion: Alabama

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ‘em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

ACC
Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

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30 Responses to “CFT predicts: the SEC”
  1. kcrobert10 says: Aug 8, 2012 5:56 PM

    What happens if the sec east gets a rude awakening from mizzous high powered spread offense. Just saying they don’t see offenses like this in the sec. Could be a major adjustment. Ps the last team to effectively run a spread in the sec was Fla and they only won national titles with tebow. Not predicting mizzou to win the east but if the beat Georgia at home they will be in the hunt.

  2. gatorword says: Aug 8, 2012 6:43 PM

    kcroberto-

    All I heard about a few years ago was “Florida has never seen an offense like OU’s.” Then Florida’s defense shutdown Bradford and ‘the most prolific offense in the history of college football.’ They put points on the board in the regular season, but that was against Big 12 defenses. Different outcome versus SEC. It’s a whole new ballgame for Mizzou now.

    The difference in the SEC is the speed. Generally, the SEC defenses are just as fast as Big 12 offenses.

    I live in KC and talk to Mizzou fans all the time about how they think they will do. Some are optimistic, some are doubtful and others are sure that they’ll win the division the first year. That attitude is more befitting KU fans, isn’t it? I hope they do well, but I think there will be a few years of adjustment before they get in the hunt. I am glad I get to see some SEC football close by though! Good luck!

    word

  3. sweepthleg says: Aug 8, 2012 7:55 PM

    Kcroberto,

    You statement of spread offenses make sense except for one key fact about the difference between UF’s 2 title seasons and Mizzou’s chances in the east this season……..

    YOU DON’T HAVE TIM TEBOW!

    That being said Georgia has a soft schedule this season and we get South Carolina pushed back to early October. Even if UGA loses to USC they will still back into the title game because South Carolina has to play LSU and Arkansas. Georgia will have to stumble against Mizzou, Tenn, or Auburn to not make it to the Dome 2 years in a row.

  4. kcrobert10 says: Aug 8, 2012 8:47 PM

    Nope we don’t have tebow but we do have Franklin who is pretty good in his own right. All I heard last yr was when the big 12 went to the 10 team rotation was how the big 12 south was going to blow away mizzou yet we still got 8 wins. The big 12 isn’t the little sisters of the poor. They are arguably the 2nd best conf and have been for awhile. Prediction mizzou will get to 8 wins again. I don’t see them lossing in the non con and going 4-4 in the sec. I think they will win against Tennessee, vandy, Texas a&m, and Florida to. I would no be shocked and nobody else should be either if the beat Georgia or Alabama at the zou. Remember people this program beat a pretty good Oklahoma team on national tv 2 yrs ago with gameday on campus so they are not some push over team that will just roll over and die against these sec teams.

  5. lokm88 says: Aug 8, 2012 9:43 PM

    Mizzou gets 8-9 wins easy. The Tigers D will love facing these sec east teams. Going from the Big 12 with 4 1st round qbs in the ’12 draft to the qb’s these guys have will be a welcomed change. I can’t wait for Georgia to come to Faurot Field in September and walk away with a big “L”.

    MIZ

  6. suprmous says: Aug 8, 2012 10:25 PM

    Young fellow when you’re shouting You don’t have Tim Tebow I have to laugh because just as they don’t have Tim Tebow OU doesn’t have the likes of Demarko Murry or some more of their top knotched players so there’s no need for you to be screamin. Over the last few years seems like all of the teams have had some good standouts and bless em they’ll have some more again for years to come.

  7. kcrobert10 says: Aug 8, 2012 10:34 PM

    To lokm88,
    Zou… That’s what I’m talking about. It’s hard sometimes being a fan of the tigers but have faith one day our team will win it all and I can’t wait….

  8. kozbee says: Aug 8, 2012 11:01 PM

    I`ve read about these offensives coming into the SEC.West SEC teams are and have been getting their teams ready for Mizzou offense,question are they ready to play in the SEC…Miz get ready for some beat-downs.

  9. Deb says: Aug 8, 2012 11:16 PM

    Wow. You’re taking Arkansas over LSU in the west despite Arkansas losing Petrino? Yes, the Tigers lost their starting QB–and McCarron is the primary reason I’d give Bama the edge in the division. But the Tigers are returning other veterans from an exemplary season, while the Razorbacks have gone through a lot of off-season turmoil. I’d have to put LSU ahead of Arkansas. But that division will be as tough as ever.

    On the eastern side, although my loyalty since birth has been with the Crimson Tide, I hope my alma mater Mizzou makes a better showing than you predict. But no matter what kind of QBs they’ve been seeing in the Big 12, lokm88, when they play Bama this season, it will be about how well the Tigers can take the hits.

  10. gatorword says: Aug 8, 2012 11:41 PM

    from kcroberto-

    “I would no be shocked and nobody else should be either if the beat Georgia or Alabama at the zou.”

    I’m not 100% about the Georgia game, but I would put money on the Dogs. Bama though…I would be ABSOLUTELY shocked if Mizzou won that one. There is no way. Sorry. It will be a beat down like MU has never seen. They will get manhandled. I’m not trying to take anything away from MU, but Bama is that good.

  11. kcrobert10 says: Aug 8, 2012 11:51 PM

    Gatorword,
    Apparently you didn’t suffer through the beat downs Nebraska used to give us back in the 90′s like I did. Bama may be good but these aren’t pros and going on the road is hard for anyone. So I say again I wouldn’t be shocked if when Deb and her Alabama friends come back to the zou they may go home a little sad.

  12. Deb says: Aug 9, 2012 1:42 AM

    @kcrobert10 …

    Won’t be able to make that October trip back to Columbia for my slice of Shakespeare’s. I never count my chickens before they’re hatched, so no guarantees from me other than to prepare for some tough defensive play. But I’m expecting the Tide to have another solid season, and wish Mizzou well in the East.

  13. lokm88 says: Aug 9, 2012 7:59 AM

    Mizzou vs SEC – the history:

    http://www.columbiatribune.com/weblogs/behind-the-stripes/2011/oct/05/missouris-history-vs-sec/

  14. tlmoon2112 says: Aug 9, 2012 8:58 AM

    @kcrobert10 forget Florida and Tebow….you must have forgotten about this guy named Cam Newton at Auburn that ran the spread and won a Nat. Championship? Missouri doesnt have him either.

    By the way, we DID suffer through beatdowns against Nebraska in the 1990s. 1995 Nat. Championship game mean anything to you?

    Ive got NOTHING against Mizz but you are talking out of your rear for someone who has not played a single game in the best conference in America yet. PUT IT ON THE FIELD.

  15. fcmlefty1 says: Aug 9, 2012 9:21 AM

    Its possible that the SEC West has 3 of the 5 best teams in the country. What a beast of a division!

    The East is really a toss up. You could legitimately make a case for 5 of the 7 (not A&M or Kentucky) winning the East, but also come up with an argument as to why any of the 5 could potentially finish 6th behind A&M.

    Should be another fun season of SEC football to watch.

  16. bigdinla says: Aug 9, 2012 9:46 AM

    Ben,

    You rankings lost a lot of credibility when you say Arkansas has a stacked defense. The Hogs have never had a stacked defense and the loss of Bequette and Franklin does not make it stronger.

  17. northgateag says: Aug 9, 2012 10:06 AM

    I’d swap SC to #1 SEC east and move Georgia to #2. The rest makes sense.

    As for the SEC west….
    LSU losing to Arkansas? Really? Not gonna happen. Move A&M up to 5 with a shot at 4 if Auburn has problems with defense.

    One thing is certain, Aggies are excited about having Florida and LSU at home. Hotels are sold out for a hundred miles around College Station. If your planning a road trip and dont have reservations, bring a camper.

  18. sinnermike says: Aug 9, 2012 11:59 AM

    How deep is the Mizz team? How will they look after the physical beating of an SEC schedule. Drag down tackles don’t exist in the SEC, it is collision after collision. Ask Ohio State and OU.

  19. foreverlsu says: Aug 9, 2012 12:03 PM

    Truly laughable. The fact that LSU had the greatest regular season in the history of college football last season with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee at QB was remarkable. Yet Ben Kercheval does not believe Zack Mettenberger will make a difference.

    Hey Ben, did you realize that LSU averaged 41 points per game against teams other than Alabama (with Jordan Jefferson at QB)? Have you seen the talent that LSU returns on offense, defense, and special teams? Be prepared to catch heat on the pathetic research you performed to put this together.

  20. northgateag says: Aug 9, 2012 12:11 PM

    foreverlsu,
    Uh, greatest regular season in history?
    That is like saying A&M was the greatest 1st half team ever under Mike Sherman.

  21. foreverlsu says: Aug 9, 2012 12:14 PM

    Still laughing at image of Pigtrino flipping off Les Miles after Miles opted to kick a field goal with 3 minutes left, up 38-17. Oh, but I’m certain John L will have that defense much improved with returning players that were so great last year.

  22. foreverlsu says: Aug 9, 2012 12:18 PM

    yo, northgate. Who was better? The fact was LSU beat the national champion on and also beat the crap out of the Pac 10 and Big East champs – all on the road.

  23. northgateag says: Aug 9, 2012 12:25 PM

    foreverlsu,
    LSU was the best team right up until that last game. You have to have enough grip to finish the fight…. and LSU did not.

  24. foreverlsu says: Aug 9, 2012 12:48 PM

    @northgateag – what part of “regular season” do you not understand?

  25. northgateag says: Aug 9, 2012 1:04 PM

    I understand words clearly.

    “If you aint first your last,” Ricky Bobby

  26. foreverlsu says: Aug 9, 2012 1:08 PM

    Quoting Ricky Bobby is perfect …for you!

  27. northgateag says: Aug 9, 2012 1:24 PM

    foreverlsu,
    Ricky Bobby is a poet and a philosopher. His wisdom is beyond you.

  28. seclsufan says: Aug 11, 2012 9:55 AM

    So let me see if I understand correctly, you predict LSU to finish 3rd in the west and Arkansas 2nd. But CFT also predicts LSU 4th in your current poll and Arkansas 15th. How does that work exactly?

  29. rprante says: Aug 13, 2012 6:10 PM

    As an SEC fan, I’m excited to have these new teams in the conference this year! I think that A&M and Mizzou will fit in well and I predict they’ll do better than most fans suspect. I don’t think they’ll win a division their first season, but I expect they’ll do well.

    I can’t wait to get this season started!

  30. hoggeek says: Aug 19, 2012 1:18 PM

    Love all the hate. We’ll see if you dorks check back in at the end of the season. We’ll be offering your crow grilled, baked, and of course, deep-fried.

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