This week our hosts of College Football Classified, NCAA Football and NFL Writer Dory LeBlanc and NFL Draft Analyst and NCAA Football Writer Trey Randall preview the SEC West. Our experts provide not only a consensus power ranking, but their individual insight and opinion on the seven teams currently known as the SEC West.
Dory: The SEC West is far and away the best conference in the nation. In fact, we’re not even talking about the entire Southeastern Conference, just the West Division. LSU and Alabama should be battling it out for number one in the nation all over again; the meeting November 3rd in Red Stick could decide who plays in Atlanta for the SEC Championship in December, and quite possibly the BCS National Championship once again.
Trey: The SEC West is a line of scrimmage type league. Every week competition becomes fierce with LSU and Alabama leading the way. If Arkansas can stay focused then the Razorbacks could be a possible threat in the West. This will be Texas A&M’s first year in the league, the Auburn Tiers will look to get back to their winning ways and both Mississippi State and the Ole Miss Rebels both want to learn from their mistakes from this prior season.
Dory and Trey’s power rankings:
1. LSU Tigers
Dory: Despite losing talented players to the NFL, the Tigers still have one of the best defensive lines and secondaries in the country. Zach Mettenberger takes over as the signal caller and should be able to open up the passing game more consistently than Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee did in 2011. Add in a schedule that features eight games in Death Valley, and LSU should be a force to be reckoned with once again.
Trey: Year in year out the Tigers always seem to have a good amount of talent. The main issue has been at the Quarterback position. Zach Mettenberger will look to help lead the Tigers back to the National Title this season. Mettenberger possesses a big arm that will enable the Tigers to open up the playbook. With the Tigers returning the majority of their defense they look primed for another Title run.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Dory: I’ve seen Alabama at the top of a few power ranking lists, but one of the key losses from their National Championship makes it hard for me to do so. Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw will be adequately replaced with a combination of Nico Johnson and CJ Mosley (OLB) and Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard (ILB). As far as replacing their top offensive weapon from last year, Trent Richardson, I’m not sold it will be as easy. Richardson was a special player who was a major factor of the offense, wreaked havoc on opposing defenses, and dare I say – irreplaceable.
Trey: Coach Nick Saban likes for his players to have an even keel type mind set. Not to high not too low. Yes, Alabama has lost a few players to the NFL Draft but what Coach Saban does best is plug talent into his schemes. If Quarterback AJ McCarron can continue to grow and take care of the ball then the Tide will have a great chance at competing for another National Title in 2012.
3. Arkansas Razorbacks
Dory: In all honesty, I have Arkansas at three based on talent and potential alone. They have an early test week three vs Alabama, and how they look against the Tide will be a good indicator how the rest of the season should play out. John L Smith already has had his hands full since taking the position as interim head coach after Bobby Petrino’s firing following his now-infamous motorcycle crash and affair.
Trey: Arkansas has gone through their share of problems this offseason but there is still talent in Fayetteville to be excited about. As always the defense will need to continue to grow. Both the Offensive and Defensive line will need to be a lot more physical during conference play. If the Razorbacks can be more consistent at the line of scrimmage then Arkansas will finally be able to smile.
4. Auburn Tigers
Dory: Gus Malzahn is now running the show for Arkansas State, so the Tigers hired Scot Loeffler as his replacement at OC. Loeffler spent last season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Temple, and the prior two seasons as the QB coach at Florida. What does that mean? It means the Tigers’ offense shouldn’t change too much from the Spread option they already run. Brian VanGorder replaces Ted Roof as defensive coordinator after Roof left Auburn for Central Florida in December, then a month later left UCF for Penn State. VanGorder spent the last four years as the DC of the Atlanta Falcons. With 18 returning starters on a team that was primarily made up of freshman and sophomores, and a top 20 recruiting class for 2012, so the Tigers have room to grow with their new coordinators.
Trey: The Auburn Tigers has gone through a complete facelift with hiring new Offensive and Defensive Coordinators. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier will try his best at taking the next step forward in his career but losing three starters on the Offensive Line that may be an issue. With most of the Tigers defense returning Coach Gene Chizik has pieces to work with.
5. Texas A&M Aggies
Dory: The new kids on the block will have their hands full with the speedy athletic defenses in their new division. If new head coach Kevin Sumlin installs the same spread offense (Air Raid) he ran in Houston, and doesn’t solidify the defense, aTm will get a quick wake-up call as to how the West is won. They will also be replacing starters at QB, WR, RB, CB, and DE. I just don’t see the Aggies’ inaugural season as successful as many others do.
Trey: Texas A&M will moving from the Big 12 to the SEC (SEC West). The Aggies will have to figure out how to replace Quarterback Ryan Tannehill with a group of young players. A&M may have one of the top pair of Offensive Tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. The Aggies defense will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. The question will be can A&M stand the physical toll of a long SEC season.
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Dory: The funny thing is, I don’t dislike the Bulldogs. In any other division they could be a yearly contender; but this is the SEC and with three of Mississippi’s bordering states recruiting powerhouses, it makes it tough to gain any leeway. Dan Mullen is a competent coach, and will have a nice array of upperclassmen on his roster. SEC Championship Game is probably out of reach, but a chance to extend their bowl win streak to six is within their grasp.
Trey: The Bulldogs Head Coach Dan Mullen’s is a good coach that needs to get consistent play out of his team. With Quarterback Chris Relf gone the Bulldogs will look for a new signal caller in Quarterback Tyler Russell. With Cornerback Johnathan Banks leading the way on defense the Bulldogs still may not have the players to represent the West in the SEC Conference Title Game.
7. Ole Miss Rebels
Dory: I don’t have a ton of positive thoughts about the Rebels, but I will say this: Hugh Freeze has brought a lot of excitement to Oxford. The last two seasons didn’t go so well for Houston Nutt and I can almost understand firing him after going 9-4 back-to-back in 2008 and 2009, but the reality is they play in the stronger division of the toughest conference in the country. I just don’t quite understand what Ole Miss expects from a head coach. In all fairness, they have not always been what we think of them now; Ole Miss is actually in the top 50 of winningest programs in the FBS. Let’s hope they get out of the basement sooner than later.
Trey: Recruiting has been the main problem with the Rebels. Ole Miss can bring in as many Head Coaches as they feel necessary but until they get legitimate talent in Oxford then the Rebels are in for another long season. Ole Miss has a long road to the top but hopefully the program can come together and change things around.
The founder and former owner of MC3 Sports Media, Mike Cardano is the Sr. Business Administrator for RotoExperts and the Executive Director here at TheXLog.com. You may email Mike @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MikeCardano. Listen to Mike on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio with Scott Engel and the morning crew Tuesday mornings at 10am ET.