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OFD 2010 Preseason Preview- SEC

It is that time of year again. In August teams will report for fall camp a month later college football season will officially be upon us. Each July I try to take advantage of the down time by spending a little time taking a look around the country and attempting to get a feel for what everybody has under the hood.

At this point I have scoured the preseason magazines, revisited my 2010 Talent Analysis and have summarized what I expect to see from the various programs around the nation.

I will approach this in the same manner I did last year and run through it by conference throughout July. I will wrap it up at the end with a post on what I anticipate from the 2010 Fighting Irish. In the mean time the fine contingent of contributors here at OFD will continue to keep a close eye on the goings on in South Bend.

I will start by saying that I think this will prove to be a very wide open season. Several traditional powers are in various states of transition and there are plenty of upstarts and sleepers looking to make a move. I can’t wait to watch it all unfold!

With that I will get to it and kick things off with the mighty SEC.

The SEC is widely regarded as the strongest conference in the country and has the numbers to prove it. The SEC has won 5 of the last 7 BCS Championships to include the last 4 which is absolutely sick! As a conference the SEC also continues to dominate the recruiting rankings and collectively sits on a ridiculous stockpile of talent with an emphasis on speed.

SEC East
- What will life be like post Tebow? More importantly what will life be like post Charlie Strong? Strong was one of the best DC’s in the business and now that he has moved on to the HC position at Louisville he has been replaced by former Arizona Cardinals DB Coach Teryl Austin. Gator DB Coach Chuck Heater is technically listed as "Co DC" which is a scenario I am not fond of in any capacity. Keep a close eye on a Gator D that returns 5 starters under new leadership.

On offense the Gators return 6 starters to include 4 offensive linemen so heir apparent QB John Brantley will have plenty of time to get the ball to a scary group of playmakers. At the end of the day the Gators are still coached by Urban Meyer and have the most talented roster in the country. They will remain a factor in the SEC and on a national level.

Georgia- There have been rumors that Mark Richt is on the "hot seat" due to his Schembechleresque track record in Athens. Horn fans are nervous for Muschamp related reasons but I think they will find themselves in good shape come the end of the season. Richt has 10 returning starters on offense to support new QB Aaron Murray. The Georgia Offense will be fine. On defense the Dawgs are in transition. Like Florida the Dawgs have 5 returning starters and a new NFL transplant DC in former Cowboys DL Coach Todd Grantham. Like many other teams Georgia is also transitioning to a 3-4 this year as well. There might be some growing pains there but the Bulldog roster is also stocked with elite talent.

If the defensive transition goes smoothly they have the ability to give the Gators a run for their money. The Dawgs face a tricky schedule with South Carolina and Arkansas on tap in weeks 2 & 3 but if they can come out of that in one piece they should cruise until they face the Gators at the end of October. So yeah, I’m saying there’s a chance…

South Carolina- I still think Bryce Williams Stadium is cursed. Ol’ Ball Coach has 9 returning starters on offense and 7 on defense but it won’t be enough to win an SEC Championship. The Cocks should be feisty but I don’t expect them to be a serious contender in the East. Spurrier is running on fumes and Stephen Garcia isn’t going to look like Danny Whiffle Ball any time soon. The Cocks will remain a pretty good team but will have their hands full with Auburn, Bama, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson. I see them as having an 8 to 9 win ceiling and should be good enough to pull off a couple of upsets that derail someone else.

Tennessee- The remainder of the East is less than impressive. In Knoxville Lane Kiffin did everything short of taking a dump on his desk as he raced out the door for USC. The Vols have a grand total of 9 returning starters on both sides of the ball and a revamped coaching staff. Derek Dooley is an interesting hire, and he did retain OC Jim Chaney. Having watched Dooley at LaTech and knowing Chaney’s Purdue roots I expect the Vols to open it up a bit on offense. Dooley also made an interesting DC hire by picking up Justin Wilcox from Boise State.

I am slightly intrigued by the new Vol staff and with essentially zero expectations they could be decent by the end of the season. The trouble is that they play Oregon, Florida, LSU and Georgia in the first half of the season. They will then take a week off before they face Bama and South Carolina so a 2-6 start is probable. In November I expect they will warm up the checkerboard end zones and run the table to get bowl eligible at 6-6.

Kentucky- Mira Joker Phillips is finally taking over as the Head Coach! Whatever. The Wildcats have a total of 11 returning starters but did hook themselves up with non-conference tilts against Western Kentucky, Akron and Charleston Southern which could prove to be a kick save for bowl eligibility.

Vandy- Whipping post. Period.

SEC West
Auburn- War Eagle! I am a big fan of the Auburn coaching staff and they happen to be sitting on a very talented and very experienced football team. The War Eagle/ Tigers have 7 returning starters on offense and 8 on defense. Prior to jumping into the HC job at the quagmire that is Iowa Sate Gene Chizik was a top flight DC at Auburn and Texas. I anticipate marked improvement on defense in Chizik’s second season and the offense should also have its sea legs under the direction of Gus Malzahn.

I have experienced Jordan-Hare first hand and expect that Toomer’s Corner and Cheeburger Cheeburger will be quite lively this fall. I think Auburn will flip the script on Bama come Iron Bowl time and play for an SEC title.

Alabama- Nick Saban is entering year four and it already feels like he has been at Bama forever. Maybe it is because he has already won a national title and there is a statue of him outside the stadium. Saban is definitely a great college football coach but I don’t expect another title run in 2010. Yes he is sitting on a ridiculous stockpile of talent but I think this is the year that his rather pedestrian "never lost a game" QB Greg McElroy will come back to bite him. Reigning Heisman winner Mark Ingram will remain a factor as will his more explosive "backup" Trent Richardson.

McElroy will still hit Julio Jones with the occasional 10 yard curl but the Bama offense remains vulnerable due to being very one dimensional. On defense they essentially lost everybody but the combination of DC Kirby Smart and Saban will have that elite roster ready to play. Bama remains a factor in the West but I don’t see them hoisting another crystal football come January.

Arkansas- The Hogs are a sexy pick this preseason as they have 10 returning starters back on an offense that averaged 36pts/ game in 2009. Petrino, Mallet and company will continue to put up numbers and score points but I remain skeptical about the defense despite their having seven returning starters. I see the Hogs as a true shootout team and that is a dangerous way to live.

The Hogs have a pseudo favorable schedule with three patsies and TAMU out of conference but face Georgia and Bama in weeks 3 & 4. After that they should be favored in every game until they make a trip to Auburn on October 16th. I will keep a close eye on the Hogs as they are a legitimate dark horse in the west and could be riding high by the end of September if they can upset Georgia and or Bama.

LSU- Leslie Miles is marking time. His game management skill set has him entering 2010 as a marked man in Red Stick. The 2010 version of the Bayou Bengals is short on experience but remains stockpiled with talent. The Tigers remain a fringe factor in the west but I think an appearance in the conference title game is out of the question.

Miles does have top flight coordinators in OC Gary Crowton and DC John Chavis who might be adequate arm floaties to buy him another season in Death Valley. In a perfect world Miles will be out of work come December and replace Dick Rod at Michigan. I’m all about "The Hat" letting the clock expire instead of lining up for a last second field goal in South Bend.

Mississippi State- Dan Mullen is a good football coach but he is in a very tough spot in Starkville. The Bulldogs return seven starters on both sides of the ball but I don’t see them as having the firepower to trade blows with Auburn, Bama or Arkansas. They might give LSU some static though. A decent bowl season is in the mail.

Mississippi- Oh how the mighty have fallen. Wait, they weren’t really mighty they were just a preseason media darling. Houston Nutt has 10 total returning starters back and a tough row to hoe. The Grove will be a little less lively this September.

SEC Wrapup- The way I see it the Cocktail Party winner will most likely face the Iron Bowl winner in the SEC Championship with Arkansas lurking as a potential spoiler. It will be very difficult for any of these teams to get into the SEC Championship without picking up a loss along the way. It is a scenario that could ultimately muddy the waters enough to deny the conference a shot at a fifth straight BCS Championship.

What do you think?