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Deke Bellavia

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Deke's SEC Breakdown, Part II: Above the bottom

OK, the last time I wrote something about the Southeastern Conference, I gave you what I thought were the bottom of the league teams.  Now, today I’ll examine the teams that I don’t quite consider at the bottom, but things are going to be hard for these teams to equal, surpass or maintain the level of success they had in 2012 in the SEC.

A quick recap:  Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Auburn and Missouri are the teams I think are at the bottom of the SEC right now.  Now, it’s time to move to the next level just above those five teams.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-5) – OK, no offense to the fine folks up in Starkville, but the truth hurts, doesn’t it?  After a 7-0 start in 2012 the Bulldogs got hammered down the stretch of the season going 1-5 in their final six games.

Hail State did anything but in November last year with their lone win in the last month of the season against the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Now, many of the national media believe that the Bulldogs will take a step back this season.

I would tend to agree.  But I would also caution those that Coach Dan Mullen is one good QB Coach.  Mullen has been around some of the best QB’s in CFB over the course of time and he looks to have his best QB since he has been at state in the return of Tyler Russell.

“It’s nice to have an experienced player back at that position,” Mullen told me earlier this summer.  Russell threw for nearly three thousand yards last season, along with 24 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions.  However, the main number is wins and Russell and the Bulldogs were 1-5 in their last six games of the 2012 season.  

The Bulldogs have eight starters back on offense this season so the offense will be solid again.  The MSU Defense allowed their most points on average since the 2009 season.  If the Bulldogs are going to be a legit threat in the West this season they will have to allow less than 23.3 points per game on defense.

Looking at the MSU schedule:  A 4-3 start after seven games.  But, the last five games set up like this: Back to back road games at South Carolina and Texas A&M, followed by a home date with the Crimson Tide and then the final two games are at Arkansas and the annual Egg Bowl versus rival Ole Miss in Starkvegas.

I think that the Bulldogs can get back to a bowl this season.  But eight wins is a stretch to me and the rival school from the near North is on a hot path right now to take over Hail State!

Ole Miss Rebels (7-6) – If there was one team that could lay claim to being better than their record indicated it would have been the Rebels of Oxford, Mississippi.  The Rebels had the lead in games against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and LSU.  And one could break out the film and argue that the Rebels should have won each of those three games last season.

Coach Hugh Freeze has everyone in the nation buzzing about Ole Miss going into the 2013 college football season.  I’m much bettered served using caution about the Rebels than anything right now.  Sure Ole Miss has 19 starters back in 2013.  And sure the Rebels can say they had a lead for a few seconds on Alabama and could have beaten LSU and A&M.

But folks, that was last season!  The Rebels QB is coming off surgery.  Albeit, Bo Wallace will be just fine to start the season.  Wallace and the Rebels will get either a big wakeup call to start the season or the Rebels will become a top 10 team in the blink of an eye.

The Rebels’ first seven games of the season are as difficult as any team in the land.  A Thursday night road game at Vandy is going to be extremely hard to win.  Then the Rebs are back home to get a win against SE Missouri State.

But after that game, look out.  Ole Miss then has a crucial four game stretch.  A trip to Austin to face one of the nation’s most improved teams in the UT Longhorns, a week off, and then a trip to the RTR land to face the Crimson Tide looms.

After a date with Alabama, the Rebels have a road trip to Auburn followed by homes games against A&M and LSU.  So, to be fair, a 4-3 start is possible.  But I’m betting it will be 3-4.  But after that seven game stretch, the Rebels should be able to win their remaining five games.

A nine win total including a bowl game could happen.  But the Rebels could win just seven games against this season and be much better.  The Rebels have to be better on defense after giving up nearly 28 points per outing in 2012.
With an improved defense, a win over Vandy to start the season and a little luck, the Rebels could be a scary team in the SEC this season!

Vanderbilt Commodores (9-4) – A seven game win streak, a nine win season and a fierce head coach have the folks in Music City USA screaming loud and proud about their team.  No, I’m not talking about eh Grand Ole Opry, I’m talking about the Vanderbilt Football Team.

Nine wins could have easily been ten if not for a season opening four point loss to the Gamecocks.  But hey nine wins is a huge deal in the SEC and an even bigger feat for the Commodores.  Like him or not, Coach James Franklin is on fire in Nashville!
Vanderbilt welcomes back a total of 13 starters this season.  Look for Vanderbilt to rely on the rushing attack on offense led by Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate.  The loss of Zac Stacy hurts, but Kimbrow and Tate are as reliable as a RB tandem in the East going into the season.

QB Jordan Rodgers was a big reason for the Vandy success the last two seasons, but the Commodores defense was the reason for the impressive campaign in 2012.  In the last three seasons, Vanderbilt have gone from allowing over 20 points per game to just that of 18 in 2012.

Vanderbilt again has a monster of a schedule.  But I could see Vanderbilt getting off to a hot 5-1 start to the season.  A huge one to open 2013 comes in the form of a Thursday night game against Ole Miss, and then there is a road trip to Columbia to face South Carolina later in the first month of the season.

But the Doors could be 5-1 when the boys from Athens come to Nashville, as UGA shows up on the schedule on October 19.  Man, if Vanderbilt can win against either SC or UGA earlier in the season, then the Commodores become big-time SEC East Title Contenders and we know where that leads.

The last five games are tough, with dates against A&M and Florida, but the Doors could end the season 3-2 which could lead to another nine win season.  Maybe ten wins in 2013 could happen?  

Agree or disagree?  Sound off below! 

Tomorrow: Deke looks at The Contenders in the SEC!

Yesterday's blog:  Deke: SEC's bottom feeders could rise up in 2013!

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Locations : AlabamaArkansasAthensAustinFloridaKentuckyMississippiMissouriMusic CityNashvilleOxfordSouth CarolinaStarkvilleTennessee
People : Brian KimbrowDan MullenHugh FreezeJames FranklinJordan RodgersTyler RussellWesley Tate

07/17/2013 10:38AM
Deke’s SEC Breakdown, Part II: Above the bottom
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07/17/2013 12:55PM
I understand all of the reasons, but its really not fair to lump Arkansas into the "bottom feeder" category after one unsuccessful year. Arky has never made it to the top, but they have always been better than Kentucky, Vandy, Miss St, Ole Miss, etc....and now go ahead and lump in Mizzou. Regardless of recent trends, these teams will forever be in the SEC cellar until they prove for several years that they have what it takes. If everyone is so quick to take one bad season and forever label a team that way, then why aren't we saying it about other teams?
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