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2011 A-U Pre-view: SEC, BlogPoll predictions

Part 3 of 5, I promise you. Previously: the offense, the Season of What is Possible

Last year, it was cool knowing that thanks to the SEC’s ascension to the throne of skulls, Golden Flake bags, and discarded JoePa spectacles from which it rules as the sport’s 700-pound gorilla, Auburn was always going  to play for the crystal football if they went undefeated.

This year — when seven of Auburn’s conference opponents are ranked in the preseason polls and every one of them legitimately deserves to be — it’s a little less cool. Lighten up, FranSECes.

Anyways, you can hear my predictions for the SEC in a CBS podcast hyah, or you can read on for the text version (with one change):

WEST

1. Alabama. Trust me, I don’t like it any more than you do. And the passing game is going to cost them the game they should have dropped in 2009 somewhere along the line. But their defense is going to be the best unit in the nation — either side of the ball — and they get both LSU and Arkansas in Tuscaloosa. Blecch.

2. Arkansas.  I really don’t understand why people think losing Ryan Mallett is a big deal. It’s not about Tyler Wilson having looked good in his cameos, though (as all we Auburn fans know) he has. It’s about Bobby Petrino. Bobby Petrino. The guy is not going to put a quarterback on the field — especially one who’s been in his system for three years now — who’s going to be less than outstanding. And the receivers are tremendous, and for the first time at Arkansas Petrino’s defense won’t suck. (In fact, it might be pretty damn good.) This is your best hope for seeing someone other than Alabama win the conference.

3. LSU. This is the third straight year I’ve expected LSU to collapse like the house of cards they always seem to be under Miles–for the late-game magic to finally run out, for the team to finally pay for their offensive ineptness, for Miles’s fourth-down gambles to finally come up snake eyes. But now that he’s got a running game with Spencer Ware and a defense that’s only going to be a shade down from the Tide’s, there’s only so far even a collapse can drop them.

4. Auburn. I said fifth in the podcast linked above, then actually played things out and we ended up edging MSU on the tiebreaker won at home.

5. Mississippi State. As has been noted by writers more clever than I, the Bulldogs have been handed the SEC’s most all-or-nothing schedule. Pull out a couple of major upsets at home, ride out a couple of not-quite-so-major challenges on the road, and they could be in the mix to win the division. Fail to take advantage of those home games, don’t survive on the road, and Ole Miss could leave them in the basement. It’s going to be a fascinating season for Dan Mullen. (Though by virtue of ignoring the Miami job, he’s kind of already won.)

6. Ole Miss. Once again, people are trotting out the “Houston Nutt does his best when expectations are low” card here and there, despite the fact expectations were low just last season and his team still managed to underperform. I do think the Rebels are better than last year, since Bolden and that line will give them a ground game to hang their hat on. But not that much better.

EAST

1. Georgia. Look, Carolina has the better team (assuming Spurrier doesn’t hit the self-destruct button on his quarterback position, anyway, which he may be doing) but this is how things are going to shake down: 1. Georgia is going to lose to Boise 2. Richt, his staff, and his players prepare for Carolina realizing that Richt’s job really is on the line this time 3. They beat Carolina at home to open up de facto two-game East lead 4. While Carolina loses at Arkansas in their West crossover, UGA beats Ole Miss, creating three-game lead 5. Georgia goes 4-2 against Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Auburn, and Florida (if not 5-1) 6. The Bulldogs go to Atlanta.

2. South Carolina. Spurrier said it himself at Media Days: as much as the ‘Cocks achieved last year, they still finished seventh in the league in both total offense and total defense. Playing Auburn twice had something to do with that, but still: this team wasn’t great a year ago, and heard all offseason how great they were/are anyway. Now Spurrier’s threatening to play musical quarterbacks again, Jeffery really does look like he spent most of the offseason at the Columbia Krispy Kreme, and Lattimore’s felt (over)confident enough to discuss his own Heisman chances. The vibes, man, the vibes are bad, bad, bad.

3. Florida. Monstrous defensive line. Nice stable of backs and tight end-like substance. Too bad there’s question marks hanging over everything else save the defensive coaching, which may take a year to take hold anyway. I’ll believe the “new man” chatter regarding Brantley when I see it.

4. Tennessee. Derek Dooley’s an … interesting quote, to say the least, so I’m glad he’s around. I just haven’t seen him do anything yet — in coordinating hires, recruiting, on-field achievement — that makes me think he’s destined to restore the Vols to their Fulmer salad days. And this team is still the youngest in the conference this side of Auburn.

5. Kentucky. They’ll go 6-6 again, I guess. Now that Cobb and Locke are gone, this is easily the least-interesting program in the conference right now.

6. Vanderbilt. James Franklin sure has a lot of enthusiasm, doesn’t he? Being the Vandy head coach will beat that out of him soon enough. (Though if it doesn’t …)

So that’s my SEC thoughts. As a foundation for my nationally-based opinions, here’s my ballot for the preseason BlogPoll:

 

Yep, Boise State No. 2. The guess here is that they beat Georgia, run the table, and wind up in the national title game when every BCS-conference team absorbs a loss somewhere.

Oklahoma, Stanford, Nebraska. Like Carolina, they all appear on this year’s SI preview cover, which is seriously bad news if you’re not an out-and-out powerhouse. So they’re all lower than you’ll see them elsewhere. (Though I’ve still got the Huskers winning the Big Ten despite a rotten schedule, so they can’t complain too much. That league is going to have, like, five teams with three losses each.)

Notre Dame? I probably need to have my head examined, given that 1. they’re Notre Dame 2. they have a schedule with literally no gimmes on it. (When your easiest date of the season is at Wake Forest, that’s a tough schedule you’ve built.) But I’m still a Brian Kelly believer, and if Crist stays healthy, they’re going to be outstanding on both sides of the ball.

Texas? The issue for me with the ‘Horns has been about two things: 1. sorry, sorry offensive coaching 2. the lack of a standout running back on which to key the ground game. In Bryan Harsin and Malcolm Brown, I think they’ve solved both of those problems this offseason, and losing Muschamp really isn’t so big a deal when you’ve got Manny Diaz and Texas talent to work with.

And Auburn No. 25. The defending national champions belong in the poll, period.

The end. Will get the defense previewed and a final schedule/record prediction done before kickoff. Pinky swear.

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