How Significant Will Bobby Petrino’s Absence Be? Arkansas looked like a BCS title contender. Abundant offensive talent returns, including Tyler Wilson (the SEC’s best quarterback). New coordinator Paul Haynes should upgrade the defense. Crucially in the SEC West, Arkansas plays Alabama and LSU at home. Bobby Petrino going hog wild and getting himself fired, however, threw the 2012 season into a tailspin. Arkansas stemmed some of the damage, bringing in John L. Smith who has BCS-conference head coaching experience and served as an Arkansas assistant. The Razorbacks also have the closest thing to Bobby Petrino, his brother Paul, running the offense. Arkansas may only be missing that extra bit of continuity, though that may mean the difference between a BCS title and a solid bowl bid.
How Well Will Alabama Plug its Holes on Defense? The offense must replace Trent Richardson, though it will be the defense that spurs Alabama to a third title under Saban. The Crimson Tide lose Kirkpatrick, Menzie and Barron in the secondary and Hightower, Upshaw and Jerrell Harris from the linebacking corps, but the most important question may be at nose tackle in the 3-4. The Tide lost starter Josh Chapman and his pass-rushing counterpart Nick Gentry. They will rely on Jesse Williams, who played mostly defensive end last year and young depth behind him. Alabama did only drop to seventh nationally in yards per play defense with great turnover in 2010, though two losses by a field a goal or less relegated them to the Capitol One Bowl.
Does LSU Have a Quarterback? The TIgers had two quarterbacks last season. Jarrett Lee was ruthlessly efficient, executing a game plan designed for him not to screw up. Jordan Jefferson encapsulated his career with this play during the BCS title game. This year, Zach Mettenberger receives the reigns. The former Georgia quarterback has a big arm and showed flashes during the Spring Game, but he also made mistakes. LSU almost won the BCS title without a credible vertical passing game in 2011. Adding one in 2012 would make the offense far more dynamic and finally use the NFL-level talent they recruit at wide receiver. The combination with their playmaking defense and field-controlling special teams could be lethal.
Can an SEC East Team Be a Viable ConferenceTitle Contender? SEC West teams have won the last three conference titles and look strong favorites to win a fourth. Can an SEC East team disrupt that trend? The two most promising candidates look like South Carolina and Georgia. The Gamecocks return a stable quarterback in Connor Shaw, a potential Heisman candidate tailback in Marcus Lattimore and one of college football’s best front sevens. Jadeveon Clowney might be removing limbs by the midway point next season. Georgia brings back 10 starters from a Top Ten total defense and a potent QB/RB tandem with a year’s more experience in Aaron Murray and Isaiah Crowell. The Bulldogs also have the easier schedule. They drew Ole Miss and Auburn* from the West. South Carolina drew Arkansas and LSU. Both teams will be favorites to get to the game, though neither look like favorites to win it.
Will Derek Dooley Get Canned? Through two years, Derek Dooley has an 11-14 record. That’s crediting him. He has just a 9-14 record against FBS teams and a 4-12 record within the SEC. The only teams he has beaten in conference are Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Disappointing would be an understatement for his tenure. Tennessee does return 19 starters though they counter that advantage by bringing in 7 new coaches (many of whom jumped ship with lateral moves). Dooley needed a three-year $2.4 million commitment to land Sal Sunseri, who has never coordinated a defense. Any progress rests on the shoulder and the maturity level of quarterback Tyler Bray. Tennessee plays at Georgia, at South Carolina and Alabama, not to mention Florida, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Dooley probably needs to show progress, through a solid 8-4 season, but that may be too much to ask.
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