SEC Could Have 2010 Surprise
Realistically speaking, there are only a handful of teams on a national basis with enough talent and depth to play for a national title and maybe just one team in the SEC capable of winning it all. That team is Alabama.
The bottom line is simple. Win the SEC Championship and you will likely play in Glendale. Here is the reason's why Alabama will emerge as the SEC Champion and the reasons why South Carolina–YES, the Gamecocks–will meet the Tide in Atlanta for the championship. When picking a conference champion, particularly in the SEC, depth and talent are vital. Great coaching and injury luck are intangibles that must be present, But the most important thing of all given the fact you have the other four things, is schedule. Indeed, schedule may be the most significant element to winning an SEC title.
I was speaking at the Columbia (South Carolina) Touchdown Club prior to the 2005 meeting between the Crimson Tide and Gamecocks when I was asked a question from a very prominent South Carolina Booster: "Mr. Moore, what does South Carolina have to do to get to the SEC Title game?"
My response was "Buy a Ticket!" As might be expected, that reply got no better than mixed reviews from the Gamecocks faithful. But I was dead serious. I have said numerous times there are some schools that will never get to Atlanta no matter what they do and Carolina has been on that list. (It doesn't take much thinking to guess the others.)
But there's a new day dawning in the SEC and it's been happening slowly over the past several years. The SEC East is no longer as difficult as it once was and with the majority of Florida's team dismantled because of heavy graduation and the NFL, The SEC East can be had for the first time by someone other than Florida, Georgia, or Tennessee. Here is the pecking order in the SEC East for 2010.
1. South Carolina : The Gamecock's return junior quarterback Stephen Garcia who threw for 2,733 and 17 touchdowns and sophomore All-SEC wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. Kenny Miles returns at tailback behind a mostly veteran offensive line. The Cocks get Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas all at home, but must play at Auburn and Florida.
2. Florida: The Gators are still the most talented team in the SEC East and just had the nation's consensus number one recruiting class, but the Gators could be in trouble on defense with nine starters gone. The real blow for Florida is the loss of Tim Tebow and dangerous wide receivers Riley Cooper and David Nelson and All-America tight end Aaron Hernandez. Scott Brantley is a great talent at QB and Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps will give the Gator's high octane speed. The Gators get LSU and Georgia in familiar territory but must play away at Tennessee, Alabama and FSU.
3. Georgia: It's official. Mark Richt is on the hot seat and this could be his most important season since he's been at Georgia. The Dogs have All-America wide receiver A.J. Green and tailbacks Caleb King and Washaun Ealy, The Georgia offensive line returns tackle to tackle and that will be the key, but heavy losses on an already bad defense could make it tough on the Dogs in 2010. UGA plays at South Carolina, at Colorado, and at Auburn and have games with Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia Tech to contend with as well. Logan Gray will get the first look at quarterback for Georgia replacing departed senior Joe Cox.
4. Tennessee: Lane Kiffen left the Vols at the altar, but new Head Coach Derrick Dooley is picking up the pieces nicely. The Vols lost a lot of talent on the offensive line and in the secondary and must find a new quarterback. The Vols are behind the Eight Ball as far as depth is concerned and that will be the goal in spring–finding able bodies until a top 15 recruiting class rolls into Knoxville. The Vols play Oregon and Florida in Knoxville back-to-back, then travel to LSU and Georgia before hosting Alabama. All of this before the end of October.
5. Kentucky: Joker Phillips has a good nucleus of talented people coming back in 2010 and the good news is UK may still be celebrating an expected national title run in basketball. The schedule is always tough when you are Kentucky.
6.Vanderbilt : Same ole story for the Commodores. Solid 22 but no real depth. They don't have the depth or talent to match the other five in their division. This is one year Vandy is very happy it's not in the SEC West.
SEC Western Division
1. Alabama: With a dominant offensive line, the most talented and deep wide receiver corps ever, a fifth year senior quarterback whose never lost a game, a Heisman Trophy winner, and the nation's best back-up tailback, Alabama potentially has its most explosive offense ever. The Tide ground teams into submission a year ago and most of the key players return and the offense is expected to be dominant. Alabama's defense will look like it did in 2008 with lots of questions, but plenty of talent on hand with linebackers Nico Johnson, Dont'a Hightower, and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. The secondary will be rebuilt with quality talent in B.J. Scott, Dre Kirkpatrick and Phelon Jones to join All-America candidate Mark Barron .Kirby Smart got a raise to $700,000 per year and was hired for reasons like this: Reload the defense. Bama goes to Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, and LSU and won at all four places in 2008 by an average of 11 points. The Tide gets Penn State, Florida and Auburn in Tuscaloosa at newly expanded Bryant Denny Stadium With the talent and depth and coaching staff the Tide possesses. Alabama is the team to beat in the SEC in 2010.
2. Arkansas: The Hogs are loaded with 17 returning starters and probably the second best team in the SEC in 2010 and the main competition to Bama for the SEC Championship berth. Ryan Mallet is a big, strong-armed quarterback who has most of his returning arsenal available both at receiver and tailback. The Hogs play at Auburn at Georgia and at South Carolina but get Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU at home. Look for Arkansas to be in the mix for a BCS Bowl berth and at worst the Capital One Bowl in January. September 25 in Fayetteville is the key game on the Tide's schedule in 2010.
3. Auburn: Cam Newton gives Auburn exactly what they need to make a move up in the SEC West in 2010. The 6-6, 247-pound Newton can run it and throw it and Auburn returns a veteran offensive line and a dangerous receiving corps. The Tiger's still have real issues on defense but should be in position to be the highest scoring team in the SEC in 2010. Auburn gets Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas , LSU, and Georgia at home, and must play at Alabama. This schedule gives Auburn a real shot at a 10-win season.
4.LSU: LSU is 8-8 in the SEC the past two seasons despite being ranked in the nation's top 15 during that time. Les Miles is starting to receive criticism for bad clock management and just not performing up to expectations. Other than Florida and Alabama, The Bengal Tigers are as talented as anybody in the SEC. The question is this: What team is going to show up? Which version of LSU are you going to get ? The Tigers are in fact the biggest enigma of 2010 and predicting them is like predicting what's going to happen on Wall Street on a daily basis. LSU returns junior quarterback Jordan Jefferson and talented sophomores Reuben Randle and Russell Shepard,. along with All -EC linebacker Kelvin Shepard. LSU plays at Auburn, at Florida and at Arkansas and gets West Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama at home.
5.Ole Miss: The Jeavon Sneed era ended with yet one more interception and all of the grand expectations for Ole Miss turned out to be the "Grand Illusion." The Rebs are starting over and heavy losses on defense and offense make this a true rebuilding year for The Reverend Houston Nutt. The good thing is this: A Nutt coached team usually excels in this situation. But with road games at Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU, the illusion of a great season in Oxford will be just that. The Rebels are also looking for a mascot that can be a rallying point for all the alumni. This should be the most interesting story in Oxford and could make more news than the latest Redshirted Miss America.
6.Miss State: Got to give Dan Mullen credit for making the dogs competitive, tough and disciplined. Mullen is a quality coach with a quality control problem: Lack of talent. This maybe the least skilled football team in Starkvegas in sometime, and with a schedule that includes at LSU, Houston, Florida, and Alabama, there's not too much to get excited about in 2010.
The SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta is December 4.
Editor's Note: Scott Moore is best known nationally for his entertaining impressions of famous football coaches, but he also a knowledgeable observer of the football scene. He is a contributor to BamaMag.com
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