Ok let's officially welcome two very good programs from Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. These two schools make the already toughest conference in college football even tougher. The Southeastern Conference once again is slanted to the West as LSU, Alabama and Arkansas could once again be the best three teams in the conference despite being in the same division.
Here is a breakdown of all of the football teams in the conference:
1. Georgia - I was a little concerned last year after the 0-2 start, but the Bulldogs came through with a ten game win streak and won the East. Georgia has a solid QB, and their defense can be just as good. The main question I have… Can UGA lose to South Carolina this season and still win the East? UGA could be 5-0 when they hit the road to face the Gamecocks in early October.
2. South Carolina - The best team in the East (6-0) last season did not even play in the SEC Title game due to two losses to teams from the Western Division. QB Conner Shaw gives Steve Spurrier a proven veteran at the position, and RB Marcus Lattimore is back to beat up opposing defensive units. I expect this team to be 5-0 when they host Georgia on October 6th. That game against UGA begins a tough stretch as after the Georgia game SC faces LSU, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas. SC could very well win all of their games against teams in the East and still not make it to Atlanta again in 2012.
3. Florida - Talk about going from the penthouse to the outhouse, well that's the case in Gainesville with the Gators. Florida has won just 15 games the last two seasons. Gator fans are expecting a better season in 2012, but from a win total standpoint I'm not so sure. Florida should be better this season, but eight wins - maybe nine - is all I see this team winning in the regular season.
4. Missouri - With QB James Franklin at the helm and a solid coach like Gary Pinkel, I think these Tigers can sneak up on some folks this season. Mizzou won't have to wait long to see where they fit in the SEC… as they take on UGA in week two and then face South Carolina in week four. A win over one of those two teams would put the Missouri Tigers in the thick of the SEC East this season. There are also great hopes for incoming freshman WR Dorial Green-Beckham.
5. Vanderbilt - Coach James Franklin has turned the culture around in Nashville. Vandy was tough last season, and they went toe to toe with everyone in the East in 2011. QB Jordan Rogers gives the Commodores a good threat under center, and the Vandy Defense is very aggressive. A Thursday night game to open the season at home against South Carolina could go a long way this season for Vanderbilt. If the ‘Dores could win that game, it would set the tone for the rest of the season. A four game stretch that begins in late September features games against UGA, Missouri, Florida and Auburn. That will be tough, but I think this team will eke out some wins and get back to a bowl again this season.
6. Tennessee - If Derrick Dooley and his Vols finish seventh in the East, he will be fired. Simply put - the Vols at the very least have to get to a bowl. Even that may not be enough for Dooley to keep his job. QB Tyler Bray has arguably the best set of WR's in the SEC in Da'rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. Eight starters are back on offense - and looking at the Vols schedule - if they don't win eight games this season it will be time to send Dooley packing!
7. Kentucky - Can Joker save his job? That all depends on how the Wildcats play this season. I don't expect Kentucky to be a winning team, but if they can hang tough and prove that they are heading in the right direction, that could be enough for Phillips to keep his job. I would say five wins is a good starting point for the Wildcats this season.
1. LSU - The Tigers have a ton of talent on both sides of the football, and they are better equipped at QB than they have been in years. It's hard not to pick this team to win the West, and the Tigers are clearly considered one of the best teams in the country again in 2012.
2. Alabama - Yes I know the Tide lost a lot of players to the NFL Draft, but as you should very well know the Tide just keeps plugging in players that can step in and contribute right away. Alabama has to replace eight starters on defense, but that does not really worry me as the depth of the Crimson Tide is as good as anywhere in the country. The Tide offense will still pound the ball, and I can see this team winning eleven games in the regular season. Who knows? Maybe the Tide get back to the National Title Game again this season! I would not bet against them.
3. Arkansas - The Hogs have a solid QB and a very good RB, but their fearless play calling head coach is no longer around. Can Arkansas overcome the loss of Bobby Petrino? Even with Alabama and LSU both playing the Hogs in their own backyard, that might not be enough. I like this team and think they will be in the BCS conversation this season, but I still see this club several steps behind LSU and ‘Bama again in 2012.
4. Auburn - The Tigers could start off 0-2 this season, and things could get even worse by early October. I can see Auburn beginning the season 2-3 at best but perhaps 1-4. If they stumble that hard out of the gate, the Tigers better win some games on the back end of their schedule. Eight wins is a realistic goal for Auburn this season.
5. Texas A&M - The Aggies will make the SEC even more fun now, as they have already established rival games with Arkansas and LSU over the years. New Coach Kevin Sumlin has his work cut out for him. If he can recruit the state of Texas with success, though, A&M could be relevant in the SEC West for years to come.
6. Mississippi State - The Bulldogs were a sexy pick last season to possibly be a threat in the SEC West, but this team fell apart after a disappointing loss to Auburn early in the season. To me the Bulldogs season comes down to how they start. What I mean is if MSU is going to be a bowl caliber team this season, they need to get off to a hot start. Home games against Auburn and Tennessee in the first half of the season have to be wins for the Bulldogs… if they are going to be better. If MSU can win those games, then this team could be 7-0 or 6-1 before they take a trip to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama. Bottom line, the Bulldogs better get off to a good start as the back end of their schedule has this team taking on Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
7. Ole Miss - Hugh Freeze takes over a program that once looked solid and turned sour in 24 months. Freeze has his work cut out for him, but he does have the fan base excited about change in Oxford. With all that said… anything more than six wins this season would be a great feat for the Rebels to reach in 2012.