Defense. While an unsettled quarterback situation is huge heading into the first year of a new offense, there is no question that the fortunes of the Tigers this season revolve around the defensive side of the ball. Coach Brian VanGorder takes over a defense with plenty of returning starters and experienced subs, but will maturity and experience allow the defense to make a big enough improvement over 2011 to make a difference? Last season Auburn allowed 208 points in its five losses, an average of 41.6 points per game, with 38 the fewest in the group. That's something that must change in a drastic way if Coach Gene Chizik's club hopes to make a move back into the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference this season.
Can The SEC Do It Again?
The Southeastern Conference has won six consecutive national championships heading into the 2012 college football season with the State of Alabama controlling the last three after Alabama beat fellow Western Division foe LSU in last year's title game.
The West should again have the best opportunity for a team from the league to hoist the trophy as LSU could get back in the hunt once again if quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the answer on offense. With a massively talented running back corps and a very good offensive line, LSU's offense could provide some punch this season. If the Bengal Tigers play defense anywhere close to the level they did in 2011 then Les Miles may have another shot at the big prize this time around.
Who will be the breakout performers in the league this year?
There are several players primed for big performances in 2012 on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball in the SEC. One of those is Auburn senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen. Already a fan favorite because of his success in the red zone, Lutzenkirchen hasn't had the huge year that he's capable of to this point and is coming off a 2011 season that saw him catch just 24 passes for 238 yards. With Scot Loeffler likely to incorporate the tight end position much more in his first season on the job, those numbers should increase dramatically.
With Jarius Wright and Joe Adams gone, Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton is in line for some huge numbers this season for the Razorbacks. With quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis expected to be among the best in the country at their positions, Hamilton may be the deciding factor on how high Arkansas can climb in 2012 if Coach John L. Smith can keep Bobby Petrino's machine rolling. Last season he played third fiddle in the passing game and still managed 34 receptions for 542 yards and four touchdowns.
Lost in the shadow of the Honey Badger and first round NFL Draft choice Morris Claiborne, junior safety Eric Reid quietly had a monster year for LSU last season. Tied for the team lead with 76 tackles, including 53 solo stops, Reid had two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2011. With so much attention on Tyrann Mathieu this season, Reid could become the dominant playmaker in the secondary for the Bengal Tigers.
It's a brave new world for the Aggies and Tigers heading into their first seasons on the job in the Southeastern Conference. The first taste of just how different their lives will be comes this week at SEC Media Days in Hoover as over 1,000 media representatives swarm looking for stories and anecdotes from each team heading into the new year. With both teams coming from the Big 12 that is has been dominated by Texas and to a lesser extent Oklahoma with an occasional flirting from Oklahoma State, Baylor and others, both will soon find out that every week in the rough and tumble SEC is a survival test.
How much impact does scheduling have on Georgia's chances of getting to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game once again?
It's a huge benefit and can be the difference in playing in Atlanta or taking the final regular season weekend off. All you have to do is look back one year to see how much of an impact it played in the SEC East. In week two last season the Bulldogs fell at home to South Carolina 45-42 to get off to a rough start in league action, but without Alabama, Arkansas and LSU on the schedule they were able to run the table the rest of the way and win the division. South Carolina lost to Auburn and at Arkansas to finish a game behind the team it beat head-to-head. Mark Richt's program is poised to use the schedule to its advantage once again in 2012 as the Bulldogs again miss the Crimson Tide, Razorbacks and Bengal Tigers. If Georgia can survive an early trip to Missouri with several key players suspended, the schedule once again could work favorably to have a rematch in Atlanta of Georgia-LSU.