2011 NCAA Football: A Preview of the SEC (Part 1 of 2)

Editor's Note: There are several players on each roster. The author of this article is the college football writer for this site, however with the thousands of players that play college football, it can be easy to overlook any given player. If there was somebody important left off the list, feel free to include them and give your constructive insight below in the comment section.

Author's Note: This will be my 500th post on SB Nation this morning. I just wanted to thank everyone who has read anything I've written here over the past two years. Although I have not met any of you (as far as I know), I consider a lot of you friends here. Although I may come off as assertive with my opinions sometimes, it does not mean I don't respect yours. I hope that you will continue to read and comment on the posts. Without you all, there would not be a Nation of Niners fans. Enjoy!

The South Eastern Conference has for as long as I can remember been one of the strongest conferences in college football. There have been countless NFL caliber players cultivated out of the south. Many of them have gone on to Pro Bowls and Hall of Fame careers.

It is by most considered the most competitive conference in NCAA Football.

Last years National Championship Auburn Tigers will have their work cut out for them moving forward to repeat as National Champs as they lost a few major key guys on that roster. On the surface, it seems as though the other major school from Alabama and the SEC may be the favorites heading in to the season.

Even though there are three or four teams that will be heavy preseason favorites moving forward, it's quite possible that nearly every team in the conference has a good shot this year. The conference appears a bit more wide open versus previous years.

Here were last years conference standings:

SEC East

1. South Carolina - Conference 5-3, Overall 9-3

2. Florida - Conference 4-4, Overall 8-5

3. Georgia - Conference 3-5, Overall 6-7

4. Tennessee - Conference 3-5, Overall 6-7

5. Kentucky - Conference 2-6, Overall 6-7

6. Vanderbilt - Conference 1-7, Overall 2-10

SEC West

1. Auburn - Conference 8-0, Overall 14-0

2. Arkansas - Conference 6-2, Overall 10-3

3. LSU - Conference 6-2, Overall 11-2

4. Alabama - Conference 5-3, Overall 10-3

5. Mississippi State - Conference 4-4, Overall 9-4

6. Ole Miss - Conference 1-7, Overall 4-8

Here are the top five as I see it heading in to the 2011-2012 Season:

1. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Alabama was supposed to win the conference and division according to most pundits heading in to the 2010-2011 Season. However, there were plenty of tough games on their schedule. Throughout the year they were tried and tested and came up short in a few games. This year however should be a different story.

Alabama will head in to this season with what on paper appears to be the best defense in college football. Nearly every guy on that side of the ball will have a legit shot to turn pro once they declare. They are deep all the way from the line of scrimmage to the secondary.

Up front, defensive end Quinton Dial and nose tackle Josh Chapman will be dominate forces. In the middle Jerrell Harris, Courtney Upshaw, Nico Johnson, and Dont'a Hightower make for what will be the most feared squad of linebackers in the land. It is quite possible that this crew could be the best set of linebackers in the history of college football once all said and done.

In the secondary, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick will be one of, if not the best corner at the college level this year. Safeties, Mark Barron and Robert Lester will be the security blanket for the crazed pass rush that Saban will bring all year long.

On offense, Trent Richardson could be a sleeper in this years Heisman race. The new quarterback, (sophomore) A.J. McCarron will rely on heavy doses of a strong running game to help break him in. Returning receiver Marquis Maze could emerge as this years number one target for the young quarterback.

On paper, the Tide look like they could be the most potent team to deal with this year.

 

2. LSU TIGERS

Although LSU finished 3rd in the SEC West last year, they finished with an 11-2 overall record. They did not lose too many players from last years squad.

Quarterback Jordan Jefferson may wind up emerging as this years version of Cam Newton as he is very versatile on the ground and is very capable of getting it in to his playmakers hands. Running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware may receive a bulk of the carries. Both are very elusive and will present something else for the opposition to prepare for. Russell Sheppard may be the most explosive offensive threat for the Tigers and will undoubtedly help Jefferson in his development and confidence.

Like Alabama, LSU's strength will be on defense. If an NCAA team can put a forceful defense on the field, it is not only rare but it gives your team a very strong chance of success.

The key players on defense will be, but not limited to on any given Saturday, cornerback Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu, linebacker Kevin Minter, and defensive end Sam Montgomery.

 

3. AUBURN TIGERS

While they lost several key guys on offense and a few on defense, the Tigers will still be tough. Some may argue that you cannot put a National Championship team this low a season after but in college football with so many players lost each year, it really is a new slate for certain teams in any given season.

Cam Newton and Nick Fairley were the offensive and defensive leaders last year. You cannot replace either. However, Barrett Trotter looked pretty decent in the spring. With Darvin Adams gone, it will be up to receivers like Emory Blake and Quindarius Carr to help bail Trotter out when the going gets tough.

Running back, Michael Dyer will be relied on a bit more this year considering that Newton, the teams leading scorer on the ground will be gone. Ontario McCalebb will be a nice supplement in taking some of the load off of Dyer as well as he will line up all over the field similar to last season.

Defensively, the Tigers will be strong again but maybe not quite as fierce as they were last season. Auburn won't be as strong up from without Fairley but have two guys in Whitaker and Carter that may be able to push around opposing offensive lines to free up the playmakers behind them.

 

4. ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

Ryan Mallett was able to sit back and pick apart defenses quite well behind the wall of an offensive line that he had in front of him. Knile Davis emerged as one of the top running backs in college football behind that very same line.

Tyler Wilson will give the Razorbacks something they lacked at the quarterback position last year; mobility in the pocket. Greg Childs will be one of the best receivers to throw to in the land this season. Wilson will no question be a better quarterback having a guy like Childs to throw it up to. Having Joe Adams on the other side won't hurt either.

The Razorbacks defense has some holes but they should be able to get it done for the mot part.

Here are some of the guys that should be major contributors on that side of the ball: Nose tackle Bryan Jones, defensive tackle DeQuinta Jones, cornerbacks Darius Winston and Isaac Madison, and safety Tramain Thomas.

 

5. SOUTH CAROLINA

Some may feel that the Gamecocks are the team to beat in the SEC this year due to their success last season. They did not lose many players, so it is not out of reach for them to do so. But for now, I think this ranking is appropriate.

This will be quarterback Stephen Garcia's year to shine. He has shown flashes of being a dominant NCAA quarterback over his years as a Gamecock. He has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal this year and is more than capable of finding any of them.

Running back Marcus Lattimore is coming off of a stellar freshman year. A couple years ago, Mark Ingram from Alabama won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore which was a rare feat at the time. Lattimore will most likely be in the running to repeat what Ingram was able to do not so long ago.

The Gamecocks have an array of very tall wide outs to get the ball to. Garcia will at times just be able to throw jump balls to his each of his targets.

On the defensive side of the ball, South Carolina did not lose many players from last years squad. They have a bunch of upper classmen that will be stronger than they were last year.

Overall, the Gamecocks may once again be underrated. They won the SEC East last year and could easily do so with a much better record this year. 

 

Next week, we will look at my 6-12 team rankings for the SEC.

 

If you have not had the chance yet, head to my new website www.thehometownfan.com and check it out. We have 8 writers (most of which originated from SB Nation sites) that cover the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and UFC.

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