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Spring Has Sprung, So Now How Far Can Your Favorite SEC Squad Go In 2012?

With Texas A&M wrapping up its spring practice over the weekend, the SEC has officially moved into summertime mode.  (For those Aggies and Tigers who are new to the conference, we call this period “Court Season” as it’s the time we unfortunately have to write more and more about off-field arrests.)  With spring behind us, today we look at which SEC schools are legitimate contenders for the BCS crown, for the SEC title, for division titles or for bowl eligibility in the coming season.

According to at least one set of futures lines, the usual league suspects litter the BCS Championship field — LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina are listed among the 12 best bets to capture next January’s crystal football by most sportsbooks.

Over the weekend, The Kansas City Star – long known for its in-depth knowledge of Southeastern Conference football — even put forth its predictions for the SEC’s final standings board next season.

So it’s time to look ahead.  Below, we’ll do just that.  Here is what we believe your favorite team should be looking forward to in 2012:

 

Alabama 

Last Year:  12-1 overall, 7-1 in SEC, BCS Champions

Projected Starters Returning:  13

3 Toughest Games:  Michigan (neutral), at Arkansas, at LSU

Should Contend For:  The BCS Championship.  Bama followed up its last national crown with a 9-3 season and in the SEC, that kind of stumble is possible once more.  But Nick Saban has two more recruiting classes under his belt since that last attempt at a repeat. The Tide should be better suited to make another title run this time around.  Make a note, though — the three games that look to be toughest for Bama on paper are all away from Tuscaloosa.

 

Arkansas

Last Year:  11-2 overall, 6-2 in SEC, Cotton Bowl Champions

Projected Starters Returning:  15

3 Toughest Games:  Alabama, at South Carolina, LSU

Should Contend For:  A BCS bowl game.  It’s been a turbulent few weeks in Fayetteville and there’s no telling how the team will rally around new/old interim boss John L. Smith.  But the Hogs would be rolling into the 2012 season just as they did last year — as the dark horses behind Bama and LSU in the West — even if Bobby Petrino had kept his job.  So much of the Razorbacks’ hopes ride on new coordinator Paul Haynes and what he can get out of UA’s defense in his first year.

 

Auburn

Last Year:  8-5 overall, 4-4 in SEC, Chick-fil-A Bowl Champions

Projected Starters Returning:  18

3 Toughest Games:  LSU, Arkansas, Alabama (also Clemson at neutral site, at Georgia)

Should Contend For:  A bowl bid.  Gene Chizik said last week that he’s still one recruiting class away from getting AU’s foundation stabilized.  This year he’ll be breaking in a new offense and a new defense which undercuts the fact that the Tigers will have so many starters returning.  Maybe we don’t see him, but it doesn’t look like another Cam Newton has walked through the doors at Jordan-Hare just yet.  Eight or nine wins would be a good season considering the Tigers’ meaty schedule.

 

Florida

Last Year:  7-6 overall, 3-5 in SEC, Gator Bowl Champions

Projected Starters Returning:  18

3 Toughest Games:  LSU, South Carolina, Georgia (neutral) (also at Texas A&M for SEC opener and at Florida State)

Should Contend For:  The East Division title.  The Gators have a lot of people back, their depth should be better, and their systems — even with the departure of O-coordinator Charlie Weis — should remain very similar to last year’s.  They also have plenty of 4- and 5-star recruits on the roster, as usual.  Those are the pluses.  But there’s still no real experience at quarterback.  And no one knows which of Urban Meyer’s old players will still be on the roster — or in jail — come fall.

 

Georgia

Last Year:  10-4 overall, 7-1 in SEC, Outback Bowl Losers

Projected Starters Returning:  15

3 Toughest Games:  at Missouri for SEC opener, at South Carolina, Florida (neutral)

Should Contend For:  The SEC Championship.  On paper, Georgia has the scheduling advantage over South Carolina.  For that reason, we believe they should capture the East and reach Atlanta once again.  But traveling to Missouri for that school’s first-ever SEC game will be a bigger challenge than most seem to think, especially with a suspension-riddled Bulldog secondary.  The key thing for UGA fans to remember — football isn’t played on paper.

 

Kentucky

Last Year:  5-7 overall, 2-6 in SEC, No Bowl

Projected Starters Returning:  13

3 Toughest Games:  South Carolina, at Arkansas, Georgia

Should Contend For:  A bowl bid.  At best.  The Cats don’t return a lot of starters from a team that was disappointingly bad on offense a year ago.  But if UK can get off to a good start with a win at Louisville and if offensive coordinator Randy Sanders can get the most out of quarterback Maxwell Smith, there’s no reason to think the Wildcats can’t get back to .500 and make a postseason appearance.  Aside from Georgia and South Carolina, there just aren’t many sure things in the SEC East.

 

LSU

Last Year:  13-1 overall, 8-0 in SEC, SEC Champions, BCS Championship Game Losers

Projected Starters Returning:  14

3 Toughest Games:  South Carolina, Alabama, at Arkansas

Should Contend For:  The BCS Championship.  Les Miles has beaten Alabama during the regular season in each of the last two years.  If Oklahoma State hadn’t been upset by Iowa State last season, there’s a great chance Miles would have avoided a rematch with Bama in January and captured his second crystal football.  Once again the SEC looks to be headed toward an all-the-marbles showdown between the Tigers and the Tide… and this year the game’s back in Baton Rouge.  The key for LSU: Can new quarterback Zach Mettenberger bring more consistency to the Tiger offense?

 

Miss. State

Last Year:  7-6 overall, 2-6 in SEC, Music City Bowl Champions

Projected Starters Returning:  13

3 Toughest Games:  at Alabama, at LSU, Arkansas

Should Contend For:  A bowl bid.  Two years ago, State surprised.  Last year, State disappointed.  With a small number of starters back and with Tyler Russell taking over as full-time quarterback, will the Bulldogs be closer to the 2010 club or the 2011 club?  Just looking at the strength of the SEC West, we’ll lean toward last year’s club.  But with the easiest, laugher of a nonconference schedule in the SEC — Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama, and MTSU — the Bulldogs should be plenty good enough to bang out six or seven wins and go bowling.

 

Missouri

Last Year:  8-5 overall, 5-4 in Big 12, Independence Bowl Champions

Projected Starters Returning:  13

3 Toughest Games:  Georgia, at South Carolina, Alabama

Should Contend For:  A bowl bid.  Will quarterback James Franklin be healthy in time for the season?  Will a quarterback who runs so often be able to remain healthy in the rugged SEC?  How quickly will top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham develop into a playmaking receiver?  And how will the Tigers’ defense stack up in a ground-and-pound league, as opposed to the wide-open Big 12?  Despite all the questions, Mizzou should benefit from a so-so East Division in which several teams could all go bowling with either six or seven total victories.

 

Ole Miss

Last Year:  2-10 overall, 0-8 in SEC, No Bowl

Projected Starters Returning:  17

3 Toughest Games:  at Alabama, at Arkansas, at LSU (also at Georgia)

Should Contend For:  Last place in the SEC.  The Rebels are breaking in a new, young coach with little head coaching experience.  Much of his staff has come from smaller schools as well.  He’ll face Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU all on the road.  And he’s got a nonconference date with Texas in Oxford tossed in for good measure.  Hugh Freeze, you’ve got your work cut out for you… and our best wishes.

 

S. Carolina

Last Year:  11-2 overall, 6-2 in SEC, Capital One Bowl Champions

Projected Starters Returning:  14

3 Toughest Games:  Georgia, at LSU, Arkansas (also at Florida, at Clemson)

Should Contend For:  The East Division championship.  Ah, the schedule.  That’s the only reason we’re not listing Carolina as competing for the SEC title… their road to Atlanta looks tougher than Georgia’s.  That said, Steve Spurrier has turned USC into a solid football program.  After two good years, he can’t afford to take a step back and lose any of the momentum he’s created.  We don’t think he will so long as Connor Shaw can develop into a better passer and Marcus Lattimore can return to his pre-injury form.

 

Tennessee

Last Year:  5-7 overall, 1-7 in SEC, No Bowl

Projected Starters Returning:  20

3 Toughest Games:  at Georgia, Alabama, at South Carolina (NC State in opener at neutral site)

Should Contend For:  A bowl bid.  Two years ago, Derek Dooley inherited a total mess at Tennessee.  In his first season, his squad had no depth.  In his second year, his squad had no veteran leadership.  Now he’s got a roster filled with returning starters and better players.  He hasn’t shown anything to date to make anyone think he’ll be as successful as his daddy once was, but experience means a whole lot in the SEC.  Remember, Petrino’s first Arkansas’ squads were slapped around pretty good.  The last two years — with experience on their side — many of those same players were doling out the slaps.  If UT can win its opener in Atlanta against NC State, seven or eight wins are possible.

 

Texas A&M

Last Year:  7-6 overall, 4-5 in Big 12, Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas Champions

Projected Starters Returning:  16

3 Toughest Games:  Arkansas, LSU, at Alabama

Should Contend For:  A bowl bid.  And that’s likely being generous.  The Aggies need to find toughness on defense in a hurry, something they lacked last season in the pass-happy Big 12.  They also need to find a quarterback who can run Kevin Sumlin’s own pass-happy system.  Dropped headfirst into the toughest division in college football, 2012 could be a rough wake-up call for Aggie fans who were begging to “SEC-ede” from their old league.  We suggest they buy heavily into the following word: Patience.  A&M made a smart long-term move in joining the SEC.  But we don’t expect that move to pay dividends overnight (aside from the  school’s bank account, anyway).

 

Vanderbilt

Last Year:  6-7 overall, 2-6 in SEC, Liberty Bowl Losers

Projected Starters Returning:  18

3 Toughest Games:  South Carolina, at Georgia, Florida

Should Contend For:  A bowl bid.  Once again James Franklin will be coaching a core group of veteran players.  As we mentioned just two schools up, experience often means, oh, so much in the Southeastern Conference.  There’s energy around the VU program.  Now Franklin must capitalize on it.  If Jordan Rodgers is able to become a bit more consistent as a passer, there’s no reason to think the Commodores can’t match last year’s success and possibly go bowling in back-to-back years for the first time in school history.  Yes.  For the first time in school history.

 


3 comments
CDarwin
CDarwin

It's hard to be optimistic about Tennessee with the last four seasons, and the transition to a new system on defense may bite us, but it really seems like all of the legitimate reasons we had for being bad for the past two years are gone now. If Dooley is in fact a good coach and zany injuries don't happen, I'd put 8 wins as a minimum for next season. That mark is conceivably possible without a single upset, depending on who ends up favored in the Florida, Missouri, and MSU games. Sweep those three and/or throw in one big upset and we could have a (relatively) great, though still I believe reasonably possible, season.

TheN8tureBoy
TheN8tureBoy

You've got to give Tennessee more credit. The Vols were a force to be reckoned with until their first drive in Gainesville.

Chuck23
Chuck23

Auburn doesn't play Clemson at home. We play them in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game in ATL

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