College Football Analysis: Arkansas and Vanderbilt Overrated Headed into 2012?

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We continue with our SEC Football Q & A sessions by taking a look at some of the teams that could show the greatest improvement over last season, and which teams may be overrated.

We are once again joined by our panel of SEC football experts, including Kevin of College Football Zealots, a college football blog with a bit of a southern lean. Lisa Cornwell of So Fried Sports, a blog 100% focused on SEC sports. And John Pennington from the very popular SECcentric blog MrSEC.

Question # 3. Which team do you believe will show the greatest improvement over last season? Which team is overrated (not nearly as good as they are being made out to be)?

Kevin – College Football Zealots: In terms of win-loss I would look at Ole Miss. They only won two games last year and I think they have an excellent chance of starting the season 3-1. From there they have eight straight SEC games and it wouldn’t be crazy to say they win two of those and win five games for an increase of three. I would also look at Tennessee. I think they could easily get to seven wins this year which would be a two game improvement over last year.

In terms of on the field improvement that might not be seen in the win-loss column look at Auburn and Florida. Auburn was very young last year and will continue to get better. Florida is in the second year under Will Muschamp and he’s weeded the “bad seeds” out and there is a much more positive vibe coming out of Gainesville this year. I don’t know that those teams will increase much in the win column but they will play much better on the field.

Who is overrated? Would it make sense if I said Vanderbilt? I think people are expecting the same team from last year and I think they will be good offensively but defensively they lost their four best players. For Vandy, that’s the equivalent of Georgia losing it’s entire starting eleven. Vandy will still be gritty and gutty but when you lose your best two defense backs, you best pass rusher and your stud linebacker…you are going to take a big step back on that side of the football.

I am also going to lump Arkansas in this category. I really like what Arkansas brings back on offense but I don’t think they will be any better this year on defense and they lost their head coach and replaced him with John L Smith. I still see them being the third best team in the West but I don’t think they will be the Top 10 team that most are predicting.

Lisa – So Fried Sports: Most Improved: Surprisingly, I’m going to go with Tennessee as the most improved.  I think Tyler Bray has one of the strongest arms in the country.  He also has two proven receivers in Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers.  Before Hunter tore his ACL/MCL last season, he was averaging 18.5 yards per catch.  Bray also missed several games with an injury (thumb) and the Vols offense imploded.  The offensive line should be improved and actually make the ground game relevant after ranking near the bottom of the barrel nationally last season, which will only open up Tennessee’s passing attack.

Overrated: There’s a lot of hype surrounding James Franklin and Vanderbilt after last season.  But, don’t forget, despite the hype the Commodores still only won two conference games.  The good news is Vandy returns quarterback Jordan Rodgers and All-SEC rusher Zac Stacy plus four out of five starters on the offensive line.  But defense still wins championships in the SEC, and I don’t see Vanderbilt having enough big bodies in its front seven to keep moving up the ladder in this conference.

John – MrSEC: With 20 starters back (including kickers), Tennessee stands out as the SEC’s most veteran club.  Now, those guys are returning from a 5-7 squad, but in the SEC, experience usually counts for quite a bit.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Volunteers produce a three-game improvement in their record this season.

Arkansas might be the squad I’d list as overrated.  Yes, they could compete with Alabama and LSU in the West if everything goes to plan (though most hasn’t gone to plan in Fayetteville this spring, obviously).  But there’s talk of a possible national title in the Natural State these days and that seems just a tad too much to ask of an interim coach and a new D-coordinator in the toughest division in college football.

The Saturday Edge: Looking at it from a college football fans perspective, I would have to agree that Tennessee looks like a team that could show a lot of improvement this season and Arkansas may be getting a little too much hype from the media.

However, from a handicapping perspective, Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee are four teams that could be undervalued this season. All 4 teams had losing records ATS last year, and all 4 teams figure to be improved. Alabama, LSU and especially Vanderbilt may be overvalued, at least early in the season. All three teams had terrific records ATS last year. Alabama was 9-3, LSU was 10-3 and Vanderbilt was 8-4. Those are spectacular ATS records and the chances of them, or any team repeating that two years in a row is usually not very good.

Join us tomorrow as we continue our SEC football Q & A and look at how the two new additions to the SEC will perform this season.

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