Oct. 15 LSU (home): Considered to be "on the hot seat" entering the 2010 season, Les Miles strengthened his job security with an 11-2 season whose only losses were to BCS teams Auburn (24-17 at Auburn) and Arkansas (31-23 at Little Rock). Counting Friday's 41-24 Cotton Bowl trouncing of Texas A&M, the Tigers averaged 29.7 points per game and allowed just 18.2. They posted 185.7 rushing yards per game and 155.6 passing yards. Key offensive returnees for 2011 include tailback Stevan Ridley (1,147 rushing yards, 4.6 per-carry average, 15 TDs) and quarterback Jordan Jefferson (1,411 passing yards, 7 TDs, 10 interceptions). The key loss is wideout Terrence Toliver (41 receptions, 579 yards, 14.1 yards per catch). Defensively, all-world cornerback Patrick Peterson is sure to opt for the NFL Draft following a spectacular junior season. Two more key losses on defense are linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (116 stops) and tackle Drake Nevis (56 stops, 13 tackles for loss, 6 sacks). The Tigers also are saying goodbye to kicker Josh Jasper (28 of 34 on field goals) and punter Derek Helton (45.7-yard average).
Oct. 22 at Alabama (away): Coming off a 10-3 record in 2010, the Tide could contend for the national title in 2011 if Nick Saban can replace a few key players. Graduation is taking quarterback Greg McElroy (2,987 passing yards, 20 TDs) and tight end Preston Dial (25 receptions, 264 yards). Additionally, the Tide is losing at least three qualify underclassmen to the NFL Draft - tailback Mark Ingram, receiver Julio Jones and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. Ingram won the Heisman as a sophomore, then rushed for 875 yards in an injury-plagued junior year. Jones caught 78 passes for 1,133 yards. Dareus recorded 34 stops, including 11 tackles for loss. A.J. McCarron is the heir-apparent to McElroy after completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 389 yards as the chief backup last fall. Bama shouldn't miss a beat at tailback, where Trent Richardson (700 yards, 6.2 yards per carry) is considered Ingram's equal. Jones will be sorely missed, although Marquis Maze (38 catches, 557 yards) is a quality pass catcher. Based on historical precedent, Saban will have someone just as good as Dareus to plug in at defensive end. The top returning hands on defense project to be linebacker Dont'a Hightower (69 stops) and safety Robert Lester (8 interceptions). Kickers Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley will be back after combining to make 19 of 25 field-goal tries last fall.
Oct. 29 South Carolina (home): The Gamecocks posted a 5-3 league finish en route to a berth in the SEC Championship Game, only to be dismantled by Auburn 56-17. South Carolina's bowl record under Steve Spurrier then dipped to 1-4 with a 26-17 Chick fil-A Bowl loss to Florida State. Carolina scored 30.9 points per game and allowed 23.1 en route to a 9-5 overall record. The Gamecocks averaged 154.4 rushing yards and 238.4 passing yards per contest. Their top three offensive weapons return in running back Marcus Lattimore (1,197 yards, 4.8 per carry, 17 touchdowns), quarterback Stephen Garcia (3,059 passing yards, 64.2 completion percentage) and wideout Alshon Jeffery (88 catches for 1,517 yards and 9 TDs). Defensively, the top returnees are defensive backs Stephon Gilmore (79 tackles, 3 interceptions), Antonio Allen (70 stops, 10.5 tackles for loss), DeVonte Holloman (69 stops), D.J. Swearinger (66 stops) and Akeem Auguste (58 stops). Standout end Cliff Matthews (44 stops, 8.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks) is leaving but fellow end Devin Taylor (46 stops, 13 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) returns. So is tackle Melvin Ingram, who notched 9 sacks among his 28 tackles last season.