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The SEC's reign over the pigskin realm continued in the 2010 season, this time with Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers ascending the throne. The 2011 campaign will be no different, as the conference has a crowd of candidates vying for college football's crown.
Alabama and LSU are the early favorites, with both ranking inside the top five of the USA Today Poll. Nick Saban boasts another talented Crimson Tide squad, highlighted by running back Trent Richardson and linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Jr. and Courtney Upshaw. Thanks to the fruition of solid recruiting classes, the Tigers are stocked in aptitude as well, flaunting a dexterous defense featuring CB Morris Claiborne. The two West division rivals are scheduled to clash on November 5 in Tuscaloosa.
Yet as Auburn proved last year (ranked 22nd prior to Week 1), the conference's forecasted "middling" teams are capable of vaulting into title contention. Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, Jr. lead an explosive offense for South Carolina, while Greg Childs and Tyler Wilson hope to keep Arkansas's BCS aspirations alive with Knile Davis out for the year. Coach Dan Mullen has quickly guided a revival in Starkville, and with multitalented Chris Relf returning behind center, expectations are high for the Bulldogs. The conference is so deep that historical oppressors Florida and Georgia have relatively slid under the national radar.
With a multitude of multitalented schools, escaping the SEC unscathed may be an unattainable aspiration in 2011.
Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create this SEC Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 19th. What you see in the WIS-SEC Predictions table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.
For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
Dean Legge of DawgPost.com is our Georgia Bulldogs insider:
If the Bulldogs win their first two games of the season - against Boise State and South Carolina - they will be the hottest team in the country. If they lose both, Mark Richt's job will be in serious peril. The season won't be decided by the first two games, but it will dictate the collective future of the program and coach.
For more from Dean Legge and the Bulldogs, check out DawgPost.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Georgia Bulldogs
|1||Boise State Broncos||28||28-34|
|2||South Carolina Gamecocks||47||29-31|
|3||Coastal Carolina Chanticleers||95||59-7|
|5||Mississippi State Bulldogs||57||30-26|
|10||New Mexico State Aggies||95||48-7|
|13||@Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||80||32-20|
The staff writers at GamecockAnthem.com are our South Carolina Gamecocks insiders:
South Carolina returns arguably the best offensive trio in the conference in All-Americans running back Marcus Lattimore, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and quarterback Stephen Garcia. The defense will be anchored by All-SEC standouts defensive end Devin Taylor and cornerback Stephon Gilmore as the nation's consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2012 class Jadeveon Clowney joins the fold. The Gamecocks should be more talented and more experienced than a season ago when they won the school's first SEC East title.
For more information on the Gamecocks, check out GamecockAnthem.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 South Carolina Gamecocks
|1||@East Carolina Pirates||91||39-21|
|7||@Mississippi State Bulldogs||60||30-26|
Cody Jones of FightinGators.com is our Florida Gators insider:
Depth issues on the offensive line could stunt the team's growth in Will Muschamp's first season as head coach, as the offense ended the 2010 campaign searching for playmakers. The defense lost leadership but has young talent waiting in the wings.
For more from Cody Jones and the Gators, check out FightinGators.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Florida Gators
|1||Florida Atlantic Owls||95||38-10|
|5||Alabama Crimson Tide||24||16-28|
|11||@South Carolina Gamecocks||37||23-27|
|13||Florida State Seminoles||27||21-29|
Danny Parker of InsideTennessee.com is our Tennessee Volunteers insider:
A fast start with several wins and an even more productive finish could put the Volunteers in contention for the SEC Eastern Division title since the Western Division is likely to carry the weight of the conference. Tennessee may have the toughest October schedule in the country — Buffalo, Georgia, LSU, at Alabama and South Carolina — to navigate around. Freshmen that earned valuable playing time in 2010 should profit with a full year in a college weight room and with the experience under their belt as seven true freshmen played in every game with four earning All-SEC Freshman team honors.
For more from Danny Parker and the Volunteers, check out InsideTennessee.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Tennessee Volunteers
|8||@Alabama Crimson Tide||8||15-33|
|9||South Carolina Gamecocks||22||19-31|
|10||Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders||87||30-16|
Joker Phillips begins his second season as Kentucky coach and he's not happy that the Wildcats went 6-7 in his first season. He's also demanding that the holdovers and newcomers envision that brighter times are ahead despite the heavy loss of talent.
"Our challenge to our players -- our veteran players and our young players -- is to try to fill the void of some of the departure players we just lost," Phillips said at Southeastern Conference media day festivities on July 21. "We lost a lot of production out of this past class. We have challenged our present players and our new players to make sure they are filling that void."
Junior Morgan Newton takes over as the quarterback and fall camp will be used to determine who the key skill players will be.
Star linebacker Danny Trevathan is back after accumulating 144 tackles last season and will once again be one of the top defensive players in the SEC.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Kentucky Wildcats
|1||@Western Kentucky Hilltoppers||86||31-16|
|2||Central Michigan Chippewas||69||25-19|
|6||@South Carolina Gamecocks||5||15-34|
|8||Jacksonville State Gamecocks||95||45-8|
|9||Mississippi State Bulldogs||13||16-32|
Don Yates of VandyMania.com is our Vanderbilt Commodores insider:
A bevy of returning starters coupled with the arrival of innovative new head coach James Franklin will spell improvement for Vanderbilt. The days of punting at the opponent's 35-yard line are long over. The Commodores were inundated with injuries to key players last season and will likely fair better in that department this season. Vanderbilt will show significant improvement in 2011 and then begin to contend for bowl bids in ensuing seasons as the excellent recruiting pays dividends.
For more from Don Yates and the Commodores, check out VandyMania.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Vanderbilt Commodores
|4||@South Carolina Gamecocks||5||15-36|
|6||@Alabama Crimson Tide||5||10-38|
|8||Army Black Knights||57||21-19|
|13||@Wake Forest Demon Deacons||48||23-22|
Kirk McNair of BamaMag.com is our Alabama Crimson Tide insider:
Scout.com publishers selected Alabama as the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference, and the SEC winner has won five consecutive BCS championships (including one by the Crimson Tide in 2009).
Last year Bama was at a schedule disadvantage with six SEC opponents having an open date before the Alabama game. The Tide also had serious injury bad luck (notably returning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram having knee surgery just before the start of the season).
Coach Nick Saban, who has won BCS titles at two different schools (LSU and Alabama), has stockpiled talent with outstanding recruiting classes. He returns both kickers and nine starters on defense, and the offense is built around having four returning starters in the offensive line, the tight end, and an outstanding tailback in Trent Richardson, who is no longer in Ingram's shadow.
Bama's toughest games are expected to be against Arkansas and LSU, and both are in Tuscaloosa.
For more from Kirk McNair and the Crimson Tide, check out BamaMag.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Alabama Crimson Tide
|1||Kent State Golden Flashes||95||37-7|
|2||@Penn State Nittany Lions||80||31-19|
|3||North Texas Mean Green||95||45-10|
|11||@Mississippi State Bulldogs||75||31-22|
|12||Georgia Southern Eagles||95||62-6|
Jordan Jefferson remains a glaring x-factor for the Tigers, and their aspirations of contending not only for an SEC but a national title hinge on improved play at that spot. Jefferson, who earned a starting role as a true freshman late in the 2008 season, has a 20-7 career record as a starter, but threw for only 1,411 yards last year and had more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (seven).
One key factor in Jefferson's favor: The Tigers look to have enough weapons he isn't going to have to carry an overwhelming burden of the offense. They are particularly strong up front, where four starters return, and are young but deep at running back. Sophomore Spencer Ware is coming off a big game in the Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M.
Two other sophomores, Alfred Blue and Michael Ford, and redshirt freshman Jakhari Gore will push for time in the backfield. Wide receiver is a bit thin, but juniors Reuben Randle and Russell Shepard both have big-play potential, and senior DeAngelo Peterson is a returning starter at tight end.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 LSU Tigers
|2||Northwestern State Demons||95||60-6|
|3||@Mississippi State Bulldogs||58||28-25|
|4||@West Virginia Mountaineers||56||27-25|
|10||@Alabama Crimson Tide||38||25-27|
|11||Western Kentucky Hilltoppers||95||44-12|
Clay Henry of HawgsIllustrated.com is our Arkansas Razorbacks insider:
Following the school's first BCS trip, the Razorbacks should be a contender in college football's best division, the SEC West. Tyler Wilson steps in for Ryan Mallett at quarterback in an offense that may have the most returning weapons in the SEC. Arkansas has five star wide receivers. If replacements blossom at offensive tackle, look out for this offense. It's the best defense of the Bobby Petrino era and all of the key specialists return, too. The defensive line may be the best since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992.
For more from Clay Henry and the Razorbacks, check out HawgsIllustrated.com.
2011 Arkansas Razorbacks
|1||Missouri State Bears||95||57-7|
|2||@New Mexico Lobos||95||44-8|
|4||@Alabama Crimson Tide||31||23-31|
|5||@Texas A&M Aggies||49||30-31|
|10||South Carolina Gamecocks||38||27-29|
|12||Mississippi State Bulldogs||62||29-27|
No longer is Mississippi State the underdog. Not that the Bulldogs would trade last year's nine-win, January bowl season for the alternative, but their success last year presents a new set of trappings for the team and its coach, Dan Mullen.
"It will be no different for us this year as we get ready for this season, is to find a way to win the SEC West," Mullen said. "That is something we can control. That is something we will continue to pursue, find a way to get to Atlanta. Mississippi State has been there before. We need to get there again and find a way to win in Atlanta and get that SEC title for the people of Mississippi."
If that's the goal, then the Bulldogs will once again find solace in their underdog role. Offensively, State returns its two centerpieces in running back Vick Ballard, who set the school record for rushing touchdowns last year, and quarterback Chris Relf, the dynamic two-way quarterback who might just be in the upper tier of league quarterbacks this fall. The production is there, but the two anchors of the offensive line, left tackle Derek Sherrod and center J.C. Brignone, are gone.
On defense, the Bulldogs' most pressing replacement is Manny Diaz, who left as defensive coordinator to take over the same role at Texas. Chris Wilson now leads the defense, which has to replace essentially its entire linebacking corps but should be solid in the backfield and up front.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Mississippi State Bulldogs
|4||Louisiana Tech Bulldogs||85||37-21|
|7||South Carolina Gamecocks||40||26-30|
|11||Alabama Crimson Tide||25||22-31|
The staff writers at autigers.com are our Auburn Tigers insiders:
The Tigers must replace eight starters on offense and eight on defense after losing 24 seniors from the national championship team. Auburn has recruited very well the past two seasons and will have plenty of talent, but much of it is in the freshman, redshirt freshman and sophomore classes so lack of experience could be an issue. Auburn also faces a demanding schedule in 2011 with road tests at Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia.
For more information on the Tigers, check out autigers.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Auburn Tigers
|1||Utah State Aggies||91||33-17|
|2||Mississippi State Bulldogs||33||25-30|
|4||Florida Atlantic Owls||95||40-13|
|5||@South Carolina Gamecocks||25||23-32|
|13||Alabama Crimson Tide||9||17-31|
Ole Miss yielded a school record 35.2 points per game last season, a year in which it was expected to excel on that side of the ball. To make matters worse, it lost a handful of veterans and watched as D.T. Shackelford, the team-leading junior linebacker, was lost to a knee injury in spring practice.
It's not all gloom and doom, though. The offense should be able to move the ball, thanks to an offensive line anchored by all-SEC tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie. Third-team preseason all-SEC running back Brandon Bolden returned for his senior year after flirting with the NFL Draft. He was 24 yards shy of 1,000 last year and seems primed for a productive senior season.
The quarterback position is the Rebels' biggest question mark in terms of which name will fill the top slot, but not in terms of talent. Houston Nutt feels as if he has the three most talented quarterbacks he's had at Ole Miss in junior Randall Mackey, junior college transfer Zack Stoudt and sophomore West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Mississippi Rebels
|1||Brigham Young Cougars||36||24-29|
|2||Southern Illinois Salukis||95||51-6|
|5||@Fresno State Bulldogs||50||30-30|
|7||Alabama Crimson Tide||5||15-36|
|11||Louisiana Tech Bulldogs||64||31-27|
|13||@Mississippi State Bulldogs||31||23-34|
Joel Beall is the assistant content manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.