Mattihardhead’s 2010 SEC Picks We are three weeks away from every southern sports fan’s nirvana – the beginning of the college football season. Here are the Mattihardhead picks for the SEC, ACC, and Conference USA season. Remember, you heard it here first.
The “chalk” picks from all the analysts is, of course, Florida. They lost nine players, including “walk on water” quarterback Tim Tebow, and still garner a pre-season no. 3 ranking in the USA Today/Coaches poll. My friends all know that “it’s great to be a gator hater” is Mattiharhead’s favorite cheer, so I have to fight against my UGA loyalty and think logically about this. I do believe that whoever wins the October 30th showdown at the event formerly known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” will be the Eastern Division Champs. Let’s look at the teams.
Florida – Loaded. Urban Meyer. Those two phrases should be enough to make Florida an unchallenged pick to win the East. As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.” The key question is, can John Brantley fit into Tim Tebow’s “Superman” leotard? The rest of the SEC is closing the talent gap, and in the past 3 years Tim Tebow put the Gators on his back when times got tough. With 6 offensive and 7 defensive starters returning Florida seems to be the consesus pick. The defense will feature big, fast, athletic linebackers and should be formidable (even without Charlie Strong’s brilliant scheming). The offense will have a more pro-style look with Brantly under center, and the special teams appear solid. Road games at Tennessee and Alabama, as well as the annual showdown with the Bulldogs increase the chances of a Florida drop-off. Throw in Urban’s “heart” problems (as in change of…) and the stars are aligned for the dethroning of the defending SEC East Champs. With that said, logic says it’s still Florida – by a whisker. Prediction 11-1, first in the East (7-1 conference).
Georgia – Mark Richt seems to be channeling Vince Dooley. He has been extremely understated about his team and its chances this year. That may be dangerous for the rest of the SEC East. In the years that expectations were high, Georgia has been a disappointment…and vice versa. This year the pre-season expectations are tempered by having a Freshman quarterback and a complete overhaul of the defense. Aaron Murray will benefit from playing behind one of the nation’s best and most experienced offensive lines. Washaun Ealy and Caleb King form a solid backfield and he has A.J. Green as a target. I believe he will be better than expected. New Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 is, I believe, better suited to stop the spread offenses that seem to be the trend in the league (especially in The Swamp). The kicking game is in capable hands, and I sense a renewed intensity for special teams excellence. The Dawgs also enjoy a favorable schedule, avoiding Alabama and LSU. I’m picking Georgia to finish second – with an asterisk – if Aaron Murray starts strong out of the gate the Bulldogs could be raising the SEC East trophy come November. Prediction 10-2, second in the East (6-2 conference).
South Carolina – The Evil Genius has almost become likeable at USC. It’s probably because his Gamecocks haven’t strung together a winning streak against my Dawgs. South Carolina has some key home games, the problem is that one of them is against pre-season Number 1 Alabama. They also travel to the Swamp – a tough place for an ex-Gator to visit. If Stephen Garcia can stay on his feet – the Gamecocks have been around the bottom of the SEC in sacks allowed the past few seasons and last in rushing the past three – they have some weapons. Most notable is monster Sophomore Wide Receiver Alshon Jefferey. The defense seems to be lacking in the same area as the offense – the line. The lack of a consistent pass rush will put the best of defensive backs on an island far too often, and could result in big plays from the Gamecock’s opponents. The kicking game is average, and they could have a weapon in Marty Markett, a walk-on with world class speed and good size. Georgia, Tennessee, and even Alabama at home is a positive…but I see no higher than a third place division finish for South Carolina. Prediction 8-4 (4-4 conference).
Tennessee – Lane Kiffen’s hit and run season left new coach Derek Dooley with a partially bare cupboard. This season’s likey starter at QB quit and left the position in the hands of either a junior college transfer (Matt Simms) or mid-term enrolle Tyler Bray. The O-line will also have five new starters, making Tennessee a great “under” pick. Justin Wilcox brings a strong defensive strategy from Boise State, but the lack of depth – especially in the line – could be trouble. The kicking game is a little shaky and the Vols travel to both Georgia and South Carolina. If there were no Kentucky or Vanderbilt, Tennessee would be lower – prediction 6-6, fourth in the East (3-5 conference).
Kentucky – The Wildcats feature two of the SEC’s most dangerous offensive weapons in RB Derrick Locke and WR Randall Cobb. Whoever Joker Phillips selects as his QB must simply get the ball into their hands. Question marks abound on the defensive side – particularly along the front seven. Kentucky can’t stop the run and this is still the SEC – ’nuff said. Cobb and Locke will give opposing special team’s ccoaches nightmares and the kickers should be solid. A light non-conference schedule could make Kentucky bowl eligible, but their win total will only include 3 – maybe 4 – conference wins. Prediction 6-6, fifth in the East (2-6 conference).
Vanderbilt – I know my ACC -loving buddies are gonna kill me for this, but Vandy belongs in the “eggheads and hoops” league. The defense will be aggressive , and has enough playmakers to keep them in most games. Heavy hitter Sean Richardson (strong safety) and linebacker Chris Marve will work behind a deep defensive line. The offese feature a pair of sophomore running backs who are skilled enough. They just won’t find many holes opened up by the Commodores decimated offensive line. Special teams feature a quality return man and kicker ,but will be breaking in a new kicker. The non-conference ischedule is tough (for Vandy) and they travel to Georgia, Arkansas, and Kentucky. My prediction 4-8, last in the East (1-7 conference).
Alabam is the odds-on favorite to repeat as Western Division champs. After the Tide is a tightly packed group vying for second place. I don’t believe that Arkansas, LSU , or Auburn can catch Alabama – but it will be an interesting season as they bump each other off.
Alabama – Mark Ingram is coming off a Heisman season and could be displaced as the team’s leading rusher – Trent Richardson is that good. Greg McElroy returns to distribute the pigskin among the RB’s and AllSEC receiver Julio Jones. yep the Tide is LOADED! The defense suffered major losses and should drop all the way to…8th or 9th in the country. Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator will be the next head coach at some lucky school. The special teams will lack experience and depth, but the plethora of offensive talent should give the defense time to grow up. An early date with Penn State could knock the wind out of their sails, but ‘Bama has an easy schedule – with Florida at home, no less. My prediction, if they get by Penn State early and Auburn late, 12-0 with an SEC West, SEC, and National Championship all added to Lou Saban’s resume ( 8-0 conference).
Auburn – Gene Chizik is not quite the one-liner after his first season brought an 8-5 record to the plains. Mario Fannin, whose fumblitis seems to have ben cured in the Srping, looked strong filling in for Ben Tate last year. He will be running behind one of the top o-lines in football. Darvin Adams heads up a deep receiving corps with big play ability. Lack of experience at QB is a concern, but the ample weapons should ease the way for ex-Gator Cameron Newton. The Tigers appear deep across the defensive front and in decent shape at LB. With their fast paced offense, the defense may just need to slow the opponents down. Special teams are a potential disaster with coverage and consistency issues. The schedule is favorable (though the last two rivalry games could trip up a championshio run). My prediction 9-3, second in the West (6-2 conference).
Arkansas – Ryan Mallet returns to run coach Bobby Petrino’s offensive juggernaut. I’ll put my personal feelings on Petrino aside (after what he did with the Falcons). He and Mallet will enjoy depth at wide receiver, tight end, and running back – and the o-line looks strong. The Hogs defense was big on takeaways last year, but also subject to giving up the big play. If the secondary doesn’t show a big improvement, Arkasas could find itself in several shootouts this fall. The special teams are suspect also, which could cost them a game or two. They have Alabama and LSU at home, but travel to Georgia, Auburn, and South Carolina. My prediction 8-4, third in the West (5-3 conference).
LSU – The Tigers look to emphasize the running game and be more physical this fall. In the third season removed from a BCS title, LSU is depending on QB Jordan Jefferson to continue his solid – if not spectacular – play. Steven Ridley leads a group of fairly inexperienced backs and the receiving corps is mostly untested. The defense will feature a lock down corner in Patrick Peterson, a revamped line, and a solid group at linebacker in a typically aggressive Chavis scheme. Inexperience could be the biggest problem, and an opener against North Carolina could expose that weakness. Special teams are average to good and the schedule is loaded heavy at the front end. My prediction 7-5, fourth in the West (4-4 conference).
Mississippi State – Can the Bulldogs parlaya season ending rompover their in-state rival into success in 2010? Chris Relf, who ripped up the Rebels is ahead of Tyler Russell on the QB depth chart, but both should see playing time. There is not a lot af depth, talent , or experience in a “running back by committee” backfield. There is not a lot of depth at wide receiver or the offensive line. New defensive co-coordinators Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson will implement an aggressive, attacking style. The Bulldogs may have the talent for it, with DE Pernell McPhee anchoring an impressive defensive line. Coach Dan Mullen will benefit from steady linebacker and secondary play. The special teams also appear to be solid. Thse schedule appears to be formidable, with road games at LSU, Florida, Alabama, and Ole Miss. My prediction 5-7, fifth in the West (2-6 conference).
Ole Miss – Rebel head coach Houston Nutt is faced with the task of virtually rebuilding his entire offense. There is almost no experience among the three QBs fighting for the staring position. Returning back Brandon Bolden only gained 614 yards last season, and the receiving corps is untested. The o-line is also lacking depth and experience. The defenseis anchored by a strong line. Future NFLers Jerrel Powe and Kentrell Lockett are the most notable. The linebackers and d-backs are experienced and talented. The Rebels are breaking in a new kicker, but the special teams should be ok. Solid play early coupled with 4 of the opening 5 games being at home, but the remainder of the season is a gauntlet of good and/or improving teams that could be dangerous to navigate. My prediction 6-6, sixt in the West (0-8 conference).
That wraps up the SEC, tomorrow we’ll tackle the ACC.