The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 28, 2012

2012 Southeastern Conference Preview

What else can this conference do to top what it has done in the last six years?  It wasn’t enough that the SEC won the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 national championships.  They had to find a way to do one better, so they decided to send a second team to the title game.  When Alabama and LSU met, it really should have been the second time that this big game had been played between conference rivals that had played a tight game in the regular season.  In 2006, we felt that Michigan and Ohio State should have played for the national championship, because Ohio State’s home field advantage was 5.5 points, and the Buckeyes won by three in the regular season.  Of course, Florida showed Ohio State that the SEC was too powerful.

 

The last time the SEC did not win the title, Vince Young quarterbacked Texas to a last minute win over Southern California, with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White. 

 

With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC needed another bowl contract, so now this league has ten bowl tie-ins.

 

Texas A&M has three other major tie-ins with the SEC.  Three famous SEC coaches had Aggie ties.  General Robert Neyland played football for a season at A&M, before he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy.  Bear Bryant was the A&M coach prior to taking over at his alma mater.  Gene Stallings played for Bryant at A&M and later became the head coach there.  Stallings became the coach at Alabama and won a national championship there.

 

Missouri has one gigantic contribution to not just the SEC but to all college football.  The Tigers were the team that first introduced the option play to football.  Coach Don Faurot, the father of the Split-T offense, first began to use the regular (double option) at Missouri.  The split-t was the forerunner of the veer and wishbone offenses and even today’s zone read option from the spread formation.

 

The SEC media poll featured 222 voters.  Here is how the voting went.

 

 

SEC East

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Georgia

132

1434

(14)

2

South Carolina

72

1358

(6)

3

Florida

12

1045

(1)

4

Missouri

2

797

 

5

Tennessee

4

718

 

6

Vanderbilt

0

598

 

7

Kentucky

0

266

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEC West

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

L S U

139

1449

(129)

2

Alabama

72

1379

(65)

3

Arkansas

6

1093

(14)

4

Auburn

4

827

(2)

5

Texas A&M

0

653

 

6

Mississippi State

0

554

 

7

Ole Miss

1

261

(1)

 

 

 

 

 

Number in ( ) represents votes to win SEC Championship Game

 

The PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings have minor differences, but are not that much different from the media poll votes.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

SEC East

PiRate

1

Georgia

118.6

2

South Carolina

117.3

3

Florida

116.1

4

Tennessee

115.5

5

Missouri

114.3

6

Vanderbilt

110.6

7

Kentucky

95.2

 

   

Rank

SEC West

PiRate

1

L S U

131.4

2

Alabama

126.5

3

Arkansas

119.5

4

Texas A&M

113.2

5

Auburn

111.5

6

Mississippi State

108.6

7

Ole Miss

100.8

 

   

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

SEC East

Vintage

1

Georgia

116

2

South Carolina

114

3

Florida

111

4

Tennessee

109

5

Missouri

108

6

Vanderbilt

103

7

Kentucky

100

 

 

 

Rank

SEC West

Vintage

1

L S U

120

2

Alabama

119

3

Arkansas

112

4

Mississippi State

106

5

Texas A&M

105

6

Arkansas

105

7

Ole Miss

99

 

 

Team

Florida Gators

               
Head Coach

Will Muschamp

               
Colors

Blue and Orange

               
City

Gainesville, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

116.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

17

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

Can year two of the Coach Will Muschamp era in Gainesville replicate the feats of the two previous coaching geniuses at the Swamp?  In Steve Spurrier’s second year, the Gators went 7-0 in the SEC.  In Urban Meyer’s second year, Florida won a national championship.

 

Muschamp returns 10 defensive starters, although one of those (end Ronald Powell) is injured and will not be available until October.  The Gators were stingy last year, giving up 20 points and 300 yards per game, and this group could chop those numbers down to 17 points and 275 yards per game this year. 

 

Up front, Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter form an excellent tandem at tackle.  Floyd does more than protect his linebackers; he gets into the offensive backfield and disrupts running plays.  Ends Lerentee McCray and Dominique Easley both registered 7 ½ tackles for loss last year.  McCray actually played linebacker last year and switches to the “buck” end (part end/part linebacker).

 

Speaking of linebacker, the Gators’ top defensive player returns to the Mike position.  Jonathan Bostic led the Gators with 94 tackles.  He recorded three sacks and 10 total tackles for loss.  Jelani Jenkins can do it all; he can blitz and dump a passer; he can stop a runner for little or no gain; and he can cover a receiver in the underneath zones like a cornerback.

 

The Gators have an excellent group of defensive backs.  All four starters from last year are back, as well as the nickel and the top reserve.  Safety Matt Elam is a smaller version of Jenkins; he can fill up a stat sheet with sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions and passes defended.

 

The offense lacked the oomph that past Gator teams had.  The scoring average dropped to its lowest number since 1992.  In SEC, the Gators failed to average 300 yards per game.  Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis took the Kansas job, and former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease takes over.

 

Pease does not have a Kellen Moore passing to Titus Young and Austin Pettis.  In fact, the Gators don’t even have a solid number one quarterback.  Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are liable to continue competing for the starting job well into the season.  Driskel will start against Bowling Green on Saturday, but he has not secured the spot.  In limited action for both last year, they teamed for 354 yards and two touchdowns against six interceptions.  Neither completed 50% of his passes.

 

With the losses of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, last year’s number three back takes over as starter.  Mike Gillislee actually had the highest rushing average of the trio, as he rushed for 5.9 yards per try.

 

Muschamp doesn’t have a big star among his wideouts, but Andre Dubose made the most of his 16 catches last year.  He averaged 27 yards per reception and scored four touchdowns.  Frankie Hammond, Quinton Dunbar, tight end Jordan Reed and fullback Trey Burton give the QBs multiple above-average receivers, but none of these guys will become all-Americans.

 

The offensive line must deal with an injury to tackle Matt Patchan, but there is enough depth in the trenches to keep the offense moving.  Guards Jon Halapio and James Wilson join center Jonotthan Harrison in the middle.

 

Caleb Sturgis is the top kicker in the league.  He was 100% accurate on PATs, and he connected on 22 of 26 field goal attempts.  Two of those four misses were from 50 or more yards.  He made three from 50 or more, including a 55-yarder.

 

The Gators have a weird schedule this year, because they were saddled with putting both Texas A&M and Missouri on their slate.  UF closes their conference schedule on November 3, and then they play three non-conference games to end the season.  In past years, they always took advantage of playing two patsies prior to the Tennessee game.  Now, they have a trip to Texas A&M the week before heading to Knoxville.  We like this team’s talent and think they could compete for the East Division crown, but the Gators will have a hard time splitting their first four league games.

 

 

 

Team

Georgia Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Mark Richt

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Athens, GA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

10-4

               
PiRate Rating

118.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

6

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-3

 

The Bulldogs lost their first two games and their last two games, but won the 10 games in between last year.  Those four losses came to teams that went a combined 47-6.

 

Coach Mark Richt welcomes back his starting quarterback and five of his top six receivers.  Aaron Murray is one of three potential All-American quarterbacks in the SEC.  He tossed 35 touchdown passes, while completing 59% of his passes for 3,149 yards.

 

Murray has three receivers returning that caught 30 or more passes.  Tavarres King had 47; Malcolm Mitchell had 45; and Michael Bennett had 32.  King and Mitchell can burn a secondary with a quick six.

 

The loss of Isaiah Crowell may end up being addition by subtraction.  Ken Malcome will try to hold off a couple of true freshmen.  Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley were both highly-rated running backs.

 

The one area of concern on this side of the ball is in the trenches.  There are no big stars here, and one of the expected starters (Kolton Houston) cannot gain eligibility because he continues to test positive for a banned steroid used on an injury two years ago during a shoulder surgery.  Two line starters are back.

 

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham did a great job with the defense last year, as UGA gave up just 277 yards per game.  With 12 of the top 13 tacklers returning, the Junkyard  Dogs will continue to bark.

 

Let’s start at linebacker, where the ‘Dogs are loaded at this spot, possibly the tops in the land.  Jarvis Jones frequently made it to the drop back point before the quarterback!  He led the SEC with 13 ½ sacks, and he added six more tackles for loss.  Unbelievably, he was credited with 49 QB hurries.  Michael Gilliard finished third on the team with 65 tackles, and he was a jack of all trades with a pair of sacks, seven TFL, and four passes defended.  A couple of linebackers, Chase Vasser and Alec Ogletree face one game suspensions, but the Bulldogs can beat Buffalo without them.

 

The three-man defensive line returns intact this year.  Nose tackle John Jenkins tips the scale at more than 350 pounds.  He can sit and take up two gaps.  Ends Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington teamed up for nine sacks and 49 QB hurries.

 

The secondary benefitted from an excellent pass rush, and they responded by allowing less than 51%  completions and 176 passing yards per game.  Safety Shawn Williams led the Bulldogs with 72 tackles and four interceptions.  His counterpart at the other safety position is Bacarri Rambo, a first team All-American, is one of a handful of players facing a suspension at the beginning of the year.

 

The Bulldogs are Missouri’s first ever conference game, and they will play at Faurot Field in week two.  It is the only one of the opening five that the Bulldogs could lose.  Game six takes UGA to South Carolina, where the ‘Dogs have a score to settle with the Gamecocks.  This has the look of another double-digit win season between the hedges, and it isn’t impossible for them to settle a score with LSU in the Conference Championship Game.

 

 

Team

Kentucky Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Joker Phillips

               
Colors

Royal Blue and White

               
City

Lexington, KY

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

95.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

67

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

 

The bowl streak ended last year for Coach Joker Phillips’ Wildcats last year.  Kentucky had been bowl eligible for five consecutive years.  The last time UK had a five-year run with a better showing was 1952 to 1956.

 

The trend has been headed the wrong way though, as Kentucky’s records since 2006 have been 8-5, 8-5, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, and 5-7.  Unfortunately for Phillips and his Cats, it looks like the trend will continue in 2012.

 

Kentucky had quarterback issues last year.  Morgan Newton began the season as the starter, and he looked like an SEC quarterback throwing to Division III receivers.  Poor pass protection eventually sent him to the sidelines for the season with multiple injuries.  Maxwell Smith took over, and UK had the same results; the receivers had difficulty getting open, and Smith ate turf too many times.  Eventually, he was forced to the sideline with injuries.  In the finale against Tennessee, Kentucky basically used a single wing offense and ran the ball over 90% of the game.  It shortened the game by about 10 plays, and the Wildcats upset the Vols for the first time since 1984.

 

Newton and Smith both return this year, and they clearly are the weakest quarterback tandem in the league.  The two combined for just 1,612 passing yards and completed just 51% of their passes.  The average yards gained per pass attempt was just 4.9. Smith will get the initial start against Louisville this Sunday.

 

Kentucky’s receivers dropped several passes in almost every game.  As weak as the quarterback talent is when comparing it to the rest of the league, this unit is less talented than many MAC teams.  La’Rod King is the one and only receiver that looked like he belonged on the field last year.  He caught 40 passes for 598 yards and seven touchdowns last year.  The rest of the roster averaged a miserable 7.9 yards per reception.  There isn’t much help coming from any newcomers this year.

 

The running game was not the answer either last year, as the Cats gained just 124.2 yards per game (117 prior to switching to the single wing for the Tennessee game).  The one offensive bright spot on the team, Josh Clemons, was expected to become the next Rafael Little, but he didn’t quite live up to those standards.  He ran all over Central Michigan but he couldn’t get it done against LSU, Florida, and South Carolina.  He suffered a knee injury and needed surgery.  He may not be available for the first couple of games.  CoShik Williams led UK last year with 486 yards rushing, but most of that came against Jacksonville State and Ole Miss.  This is by far the weakest unit in the SEC.

 

The offensive line would be considered the strong point of this offense, but that is like saying that the 1962 New York Mets’ had some good hitters.  Guard Larry Warford is the best player on the team and only one that could end up earning 1st Team All-SEC honors.  Phillips cannot run 40 plays over his blocking hole, and Warford cannot block four pass rushers at the same time.  Look for the Wildcats to continue to struggle on offense this year.

 

The defense was not all that bad last year.  UK surrendered less than 25 points per game, which was an improvement by more than three points from the year before.  Former Cincinnati coach Rick Minter serves as the defensive coordinator.  He probably will see his troops surrender more yardage and points this year, because the offense will not be able to sustain many drives.  Kentucky had to defend 69 plays per game last year, and they could be forced to defend more than 70 this year. 

 

The defensive line returns three starters.  End Collins Ukwu is the top returning man in the trenches.  He finished with 6 ½ tackles for loss and picked up four QB hurries.  Tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph bring the beef up front, as they weigh 328 and 301 pounds respectively.

 

It is an entirely different story at linebacker, where all the key contributors from last year are gone.  Avery Williamson, Miles Sampson, and Tyler Brause will not adequately replace a trio of linebackers that produced a pair of NFL Draft choices.  Kentucky will be much more generous against the run this year.

 

The secondary might be decent if there was any type of pass rush, but we don’t see the Cats putting much fear in the minds of enemy passers.  Safety Martavius Neloms is the leading returning tackler with 71.  Mikie Benton forms a better than average safety tandem with Neloms, but the Cats are really weak on the corners.

 

Everything is relative when you compare teams against each other.  Kentucky’s talent is by far the weakest in the league, but in the SEC, the weakest talent might be able to compete for the Conference USA Championship.  Kentucky will win three games outside of the league, but that is all we can predict them winning.  However, by the time they face Georgia on homecoming on October 20, they will have filled the gym to watch the defending national champions take the floor, and all will be good once again in Lexington, where basketball, bourbon, and babes are the big draws once the horse tracks are closed for the year.

 

 

 

 

Team

Missouri Tigers

               
Head Coach

Gary Pinkel

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Columbia, MO

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-4

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

114.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

31

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-5

 

The Tigers may be really glad that the Big Ten did not ask them to join with Nebraska.  The SEC will give their program a much bigger payday by the time the league’s profit-sharing check arrives next year.

 

Missouri will bring excellent programs to the SEC and give the league three terrific TV markets.  Besides the obvious, Kansas City and St. Louis, they get a lot of coverage in Chicago with a lot of Missouri alums living downstate.  Maybe best of all, Tiger fans will bring their great barbecue tailgating to the South and make the SEC the top culinary conference as well.  Note: We are available to test any KCBBS champion tailgater’s food and give it a blue ribbon.

 

Missouri becomes the second team in the league to wear black and gold and treat a man named James Franklin as their savior.  This Franklin is a quarterback, perhaps the best one in the league (don’t yell Arkansas fans).  Last year Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, while completing better than 63% of his passes.  Factoring out QB sacks (the way the NCAA should figure rushing), Franklin topped 1,000 yards rushing and scored 15 touchdowns.  Redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser is built just like Franklin and will become a good QB in his own right in the future, but if Franklin goes down, Mizzou will be miserable.

 

Franklin has a quality receiving corps to play toss with.  T. J. Moe caught 54 passes and gained 649 yards in the Big 12 last year.  Marcus Lucas gives Franklin a big and fast target, and Lucas should double his production this year (23-414 5 TD in 2011).

 

Other than Franklin, the running game is a liability and may be the reason MU has troubles in SEC games.  With star back Henry Josey expected to miss the season due to a second knee operation, the Tigers lose someone that rushed for 1,168 yards and nine scores, while averaging 8.1 yards per try with several big plays.  Kendial Lawrence is a capable back able to rush for 100 yards a game against a team like Kentucky, but he will not beat Alabama or Florida with his running ability.

 

There is a considerable amount of rebuilding to do in the front line, as four starters must be replaced.  The spread offense that Pinkel uses gives his new starters an advantage, because Franklin’s ability to read defenses on the run will overcome some of the line’s liabilities.  Tackles Justin Britt and Elvis Fisher are SEC-caliber blockers.

 

The Missouri defense was good enough to hold Texas to a field goal last year, but it surrendered 45 points to Oklahoma State, 42 to Baylor, and 38 to Oklahoma.  Factor out the big three, and MU gave up a very respectable 18 points and 313 yards per game.  The Tigers will give up more than that in the SEC, but they won’t see Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, and RG3. 

 

If the Tigers can generate a decent pass rush, the secondary will be really good.  E. J. Gaines is a possible all-league cornerback.  Last year, he led the Tigers and finished third in the Big 12 with 18 passes defended.  Fellow cornerback Kip Edwards may miss the start of the season due to a knee injury, and if he is not ready by week two when Aaron Murray comes to Memorial Stadium, Mizzou is going to have some trouble.

 

Andrew Wilson and Zavier Gooden return to the second line of defense.  Wilson led the Tigers with 98 tackles (9 ½ TFL), while Gooden finished third with 80.  Gooden is tough in pass coverage, while Wilson is the better run-stopper.  Middle linebacker Will Ebner is coming back from an injury year, and if he is healthy, he could lead the team in tackles.

 

End Brad Madison needs to step up and enjoy a big senior year.  He led MU with 4 ½ sacks last year, but he needs to double that amount for the Tigers to even think about competing for the SEC East title.  He’s the only returning starter to the D-line, and this could prevent MU from finishing in the upper half of the division standings.

 

The SEC did the new teams a big favor for their first season.  Both new teams get to host one of the national championship participants.  Alabama comes to Columbia on October 13.  The Tigers should be 5-1 or 4-2 heading into that game.  Make no mistake about it’ Missouri will enjoy another winning season and play in a bowl, but moving to the SEC is like being called up to the Major Leagues from AAA.  Expect the Tigers to lose the most games they have lost since 2006.

 

 

Team

South Carolina Gamecocks

               
Head Coach

Steve Spurrier

               
Colors

Garnet and Black

               
City

Columbia, SC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

117.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

114

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

9

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

The “Old Ball Coach” guided USC to its best record since 1982.  The Gamecocks won 11 games and finished in the Top 10.  They begin the season ranked #6 in the polls, and they are considered a strong contender in the SEC East, where they won the division two years ago.

 

The man that makes the offense go is junior Marcus Lattimore.  His two years in Columbia coincided with Spurrier’s Fun and Gun offense taking off and resembling his offenses at Florida.  Lattimore missed four games last year after he suffered a season-ending injury against Mississippi State.  In the six games that he played prior to injury, USC averaged 35.5 points and 416.5 yards per game.  In the seven games that he did not play in (or finish in the case of Miss. St.), the Gamecocks averaged 10 less points per game and 80 fewer yards per game.  Lattimore was on pace to run for about 1,700-1,750 yards and score 20 or more touchdowns.  He must remain healthy, especially early in the season, because his key backups are all banged up. 

 

Connor Shaw took over for good once Spurrier had enough of Stephen Garcia’s off-the-field problems.  Shaw completed 65.4% of his passes with a TD/Int ratio of 14/6.  His yards per attempt fell just short of greatness at 7.7 (anything over 8.0 is considered A1).

 

The Gamecocks have produced a star wide receiver with regularity since Spurrier arrived in Carolina.  They lost a big one in Alshon Jeffrey, but they return some quality talent with the potential to make this the best USC passing game since Steve Tannehill was there in the mid-90’s.  Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington, and D. L. Moore will give Garcia a lot of open looks this year.  Tight end Justice Cunningham will be adequate as a receiver, but he is there to open the off-tackle hole for Lattimore.

 

The only reason why we don’t see the Gamecocks taking the East flag and finishing in the top five in the nation is a weaker offensive line.  Three starters depart, including a first team all-league performer (and NFL Draft pick).  Center T. J. Johnson will open some holes in the middle for Lattimore, but expect USC to give up more QB sacks this year, and if Shaw goes down with an injury, Dylon Thompson will not be able to keep the offense rolling.

 

The Gamecocks won several games with a stifling defense the last couple of years.  They lose their biggest piece of this puzzle—coordinator Ellis Johnson has left to take over at Southern Miss.  Additionally, USC must replace six starters including NFL Draft choices in the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary.  Do not expect USC to repeat their exceptional numbers of last year (18.4 points and 268 yards allowed per game).

 

The front seven will still be formidable but not as strong as last year.  Ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney are top notch.  They teamed up for 14 sacks and 20 ½ TFL, even though Clowney played in reserve for former All-American Melvin Ingram.

 

The Gamecocks do not have a star replacement for leading tackler Antonio Allen.  Damario Jeffrey may be able to come close to making the 88 tackles Allen made, but they will be about a yard further down the field.  Shaq Wilson and Devonte Holloman return to the linebacking unit after combining for 103 tackles.

 

Stephen Gilmore may be the hardest star to replace.  Gilmore led SC with four interceptions, but teams often threw away from where he covered.  D. J. Swearinger is the lone holdover in the defensive backfield, and he should contend for all-conference honors this year.

 

The Gamecocks will be tested right off the bat, as they open the season on national television against Vanderbilt in Nashville.  The Commodores will be at full strength and fired up to show last year was not a fluke, so this game will be extremely important for both teams.  A week two game with East Carolina could be a trap game, but we believe USC will start 3-0 after they face UAB.  The week four game against Missouri will determine if Spurrier can keep this team in contention for the SEC East flag.  We believe Carolina will just miss winning the East, but if Lattimore stays healthy and rushes the ball more than 300 times, it is possible that Carolina could make it back to the SEC Championship Game.

 

 

Team

Tennessee Volunteers

               
Head Coach

Derek Dooley

               
Colors

Orange and White

               
City

Knoxville, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

115.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

28

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-5

 

Third year coach Derek Dooley was sitting on a good hand.  He had three-of-a-kind with a king high on offense, and he knew that most of the defenses his Volunteer team was playing against had a pair or worse.  Only one or two defenses had a full house.

 

Then, on the eve of the season, his three-of-a-kind turned into a pair.  Sadly for fans on Rocky Top, what looked like a possible dark horse contender for the SEC East Crown turned into another year of mediocrity.

 

Da’Rick Rogers led the Vols with 1,040 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last year, but he also led the team in suspensions, the most recent leading to his dismissal.  Combined with Justin Hunter, Zach Rogers, and tight end Mychal Rivera, this would have been the top receiving corps in the SEC and one of the top five in the nation.  When Hunter and D. Rogers were both healthy last year (Hunter went down for the count against Cincinnati in game two), the Vols’ offense was nearly unstoppable, and UT would have averaged 35-40 points per game this year.  Without Rogers, expect the Vols to average 25-28 points per game, and that will cost them two or three wins.

 

Tyler Bray had a few disciplinary bumps in the road this summer, but he will not lose any playing time (although pro scouts will take note of his maturity issues).  Bray is one of five fantastic passers in the SEC that should all play in the NFL one day.  He completed just under 60% of his passes last year for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns against just six picks.  His yards per attempt came in just at the spectacular level (8.0), but it was almost 11 when both Hunter and Rogers were playing together.  Bray missed five games last year.  He should top 3,500 yards through the air if he stays healthy this year.

 

Tennessee has not had the pleasure of having a workhorse back the last three years, and this position is still a liability.  Rajion Neal has some potential to take heat off the passing game, but he will remind nobody of Arian Foster.

 

The offensive line is better suited to block for the pass than the run, and that is one reason why the Vols rushed for just 90 yards per game last year.  Six linemen saw considerable starting action, and all six return, so Bray should be able to eat a sandwich and still have time to throw this year.  Tackle Ja’Wuan James begins his third season as a regular and has all-conference ability.  Guard Dallas Thomas will earn an all-conference mention this year.

 

Even in the most recent run of malaise on the hill, the Tennessee defense has performed admirably, giving up just over 21 points per game in the most recent four seasons (23-27 W-L record).  The Vols have produced rather talented defensive backfields, and this year will be more of the same, as five key players return.  Cornerbacks Justin Coleman, Marsalis Teague, and Prentiss Waggner combined to make 85 tackles in 2011.  Waggner led the trio with nine passed defended, two of which were interceptions.  Safeties Brian Randolph and Brent Brewer both return, but junior college transfer Byron Moore will see a lot of time at strong safety as well.  Expect Tennessee to shut down the opposing quarterbacks not named Murray, McCarron, or Franklin, and they will not face one named Wilson.

 

The Volunteers used to be famous for producing All-American linebackers (almost as much as Penn State), but it has been some time since they had a gem.  A. J. Johnson may be the next ruby.  He finished second on the team with 80 tackles as a freshman.  Herman Lathers missed 2011, but if he returns to 2010 form, the Vols will be much tougher to run on than they were last year.

 

The defensive line is not as talented as the secondary or linebackers, and this will be their big problem against the power teams on their schedule.  Dooley is hoping that human eclipse, junior college transfer Daniel McCullers at 6-6 and 377, can be a brick wall in the A-gaps.  Maurice Couch now moves from nose tackle to end, where Dooley can take advantage of his quickness.  The Vols did were not pass rushing monsters last year, finishing with 16 (11th in the league).

 

Dooley will come under fire if Tennessee does not begin to show marked improvement.  We believe he is a capable game manager and mentor, and he inherited a mess in Knoxville when he became the third coach in three years.  Volunteer fans run the risk of becoming another New Mexico or Minnesota if they think they can hire a new coach and return to the way things were in the 1990’s. 

 

As for 2012, the opening game against North Carolina State at the Georgia Dome just became a tossup.  Games against Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and South Carolina will determine if Tennessee flounders around .500 again or wins eight regular season games and returns to a better bowl (Outback or Gator).  We believe 7-5 should warrant Dooley a little insurance.

 

 

Team

Vanderbilt Commodores

               
Head Coach

James Franklin

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Nashville, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

110.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

54

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

 

What Tommy Lasorda did for the Los Angeles Dodgers, James Franklin did for Vanderbilt.  Lasorda took over for Mr. Excitement, Walter Alston, in LA, and the Dodgers responded to his motivational methods.  Franklin came in after Bobby Johnson and his assistant Robbie Caldwell were not the life of the party.  Franklin’s motivational methods were just short of Anthony Robbins.  He also brought in a group of excellent teachers, and Vanderbilt responded immediately.  The Commodores found offense they didn’t have the year before, when Franklin installed the West Coast Offense to replace the spread from the previous three years.

 

It is nice that the Commodores have royal quarterback bloodlines.  Jordan Rodgers can turn to the best quarterback in the world for advice (his brother Aaron), and working with him some in the off-season can only be a big plus.  Rodgers took over as the starter midway through the season, and the Commodores began to move the ball like Jay Cutler was back on campus.  While Rodgers’ numbers were not the best (50% completions and 9/10 TD/int ratio), he proved to be a big scrambler and forced defenses to assign a spy on him rather than drop back into the coverage.  Expect Rodgers to take a giant step forward this year and top 2,500 yards through the air.

 

The Commodores are still behind most of the league at receiver.  Jordan Matthews cannot catch 100 passes, so VU needs to come up with two other quality options.  Matthews led Vandy with 41 catches, and he averaged 19 yards per catch.  Look for his catches to go up and maybe approach 70, but his average will drop.  Chris Boyd and Jonathan Krause teamed for 54 receptions and 644 yards.  Boyd has the ability to emerge as a co-leader with Matthews, while Krause is more of a possession receiver.  The return of John Cole could be a factor if Cole can return to his 2010 form.  The West Coast Offense works a lot better when it has a reliable tight end that can split the seams in Cover 3 and flood a Cover 2 zone.  Austin Monahan needs to play a full season without injury if the Commodores are to return to a bowl this year. 

 

Vanderbilt has one of the better running games in the league.  Zac Stacy emerged as a star last year, rushing for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging close to six yards a try.  Former starter Warren Norman tries to come back after missing all of last year and part of 2010.  He was the Freshman Player of the Year back in 2009, but he has been passed in the depth chart by last year’s freshman contributor Jerron Seymour.  True freshman Brian Kimbrow is the Commodores most coveted recruit in over a decade.  He may be as fast as the star back on the other side of the Cumberland River, the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson.

 

The offensive concern this year is in the offensive line, where Vandy’s projected starters are the smallest in the league.  There are no All-SEC blockers in this group.  The left side, consisting of guard Ryan Seymour and tackle Wesley Johnson should do a good job protecting Rodgers’ blind side.

 

The defense improved just as much as the offense last year, giving up 10 fewer points per game and close to 100 less yards per game and finishing in the middle of the pack in the SEC.  Things will not be as golden this year for the black and gold; the top three tacklers have left the building, including a high draft pick.

 

Gone from the secondary is Casey Hayward, who led the SEC in passes defended with 17, including seven interceptions.  Trey Wilson now becomes the main man in the secondary, after the cornerback intercepted three passes and broke up eight other last year.

 

The defensive line loses its top man in Tim Fugger, who led the team with eight sacks and 13 ½ TFL.  Tackles Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter will have to share some playing time with Vince Taylor, while ends Walker May and Johnell Thomas will rotate with a couple of freshman standouts, Caleb Azubike and Darien Bryant.

 

The middle unit is the big concern.  Leading tackler Chris Marve was the glue that held the improved defense together.  He prevented some breakaway runs last year and will not be adequately replaced.  Archibald Barnes and Chase Garnham are serviceable linebackers but not stars.  Karl Butler would be a nice reserve on most SEC teams.  Expect opponents to find the going much easier this year when they try to run the ball on the Commodores.

 

The schedule features two non-conference games against BCS conference opponents (the only team in the SEC to do so).  The Commodores are also the only team to play six true road games (Texas A&M plays five plus a neutral site game).  They absolutely must go 4-0 outside the league to have a real shot at bowl eligibility, and the early road game at Northwestern will be extremely tough to win following the emotional season opener Thursday night against South Carolina.  Vandy rode a 3-0 start to a 6-6 regular season record last year, and we believe they could start 0-2 this season, which will put them in a hole the rest of the year, one they cannot dig out of.  Call it a five win season.  

 

 

Team

Alabama Crimson Tide

               
Head Coach

Nick Saban

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Tuscaloosa, AL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

12-1

               
PiRate Rating

126.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

119

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

2

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-1

 

Alabama fans may be willing to change their coach’s name to “Bear Saban.”  If he can win another national championship with this team, he will deserve to place the hounds’ tooth hat on his head.  Alabama lost enough talent from their 2011 National Championship team to produce a bowl eligible team by itself.  However, Alabama’s second team could have won the ACC Championship last year.

 

One first-teamer returning is quarterback A. J. McCarron.  While he is not Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, or Scott Hunter, McCarron is an excellent manager of the offense, and he has enough talent.  He’s more like a Bart Starr; he’ll do just enough to beat you.  Last year, he completed better than 2/3 of his passes, throwing for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns against just five interceptions.  He gained eight yards per attempt, which places him in the spectacular category.

 

The Tide will miss having one of the most talented receivers in the country, but Duron Carter never played a down for the Tide, so they will get by just fine without him.  Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Amari Cooper, and Christion Jones are not household names, but by December, a lot of defenses will remember this group.  Add tight end Michael Williams and Jalston Fowler, who might line up as a fullback, h-back, tight end, or even in the slot, and the Tide have a very credible group of receivers.

 

Alabama routinely sends running backs into the NFL, and the latest might be the best yet.  Trent Richardson is going to be sorely missed, but don’t cry for the Tide.  Eddie Lacy will top 1,000 yards this year, but only if he can keep true freshman Eddie Yeldon on the bench.  Yeldon should see the field quite a bit this season.

 

How good is the Alabama offensive line?  Oh, we estimate it is about the 27th best in the country; of course the 26 ahead of them are NFL lines.  This line will open holes that an average high school back could average four yards per attempt.  Barrett Jones returns at center, where he won the Outland Trophy last year and is the leading contender to win it again this year, joining all-time greatest college center Dave Rimington as the only back-to-back winner.  Tackle D. J. Fluker could actually be the first player picked in the 2013 NFL Draft, if the team in question does not need Matt Barkley.

 

Alabama’s defense cannot match what it did last year.  The Tide’s stop troops looked more like Coach Bryant’s teams of the early 1960’s, when offenses had not yet evolved.  Alabama held opponents to 8.2 points and 183.6 yards per game!  That sounds like the days when offenses ran the ball 80% of the time and tried to win 13-7.  Nobody will forget what they did to LSU in the title game, holding the Tigers to 92 total yards with no chance to ever score.  In two games against LSU, they kept the Bayou Bengals out of the end zone and held them to 144 passing yards in more than eight quarters.

 

There is way too much all-star talent to replace on this side of the ball, so expect the Tide to give up a lot more points and yards this year.  They could even be generous and allow opponents to score 14 points per game.

 

The secondary returns just one starter, but the three new regulars already make this the top secondary in the league (thanks to one big loss at LSU).  Safety Robert Lester will become a millionaire next year after his name is announced by Roger Goodell at the NFL Draft.  He will team with Vinnie Sunseri to give ‘Bama the best safety tandem in college football.

 

Alabama lost too much at linebacker to repeat the production.  Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw were the two best outside linebackers in the nation.  Opponents had little chance of turning the corner when they ran wide.  Quarterbacks never knew which one was rushing and which was dropping back in pass coverage.  Nico Johnson and C. J. Mosley give the Tide the best inside tandem in the league.

 

Up front, Saban used a lot of defensive linemen last year, so Josh Chapman will be easily replaced.  Look for end Damion Square to become the next big star in the trenches.

 

Usually when a team loses 11 starters off its first team, they will not be as good as the year before.  Alabama is different.  What we see in the SEC is something like a repeat of last year.  We believe the Tide can win 11 regular season games and avoid having to play in the SEC Championship.  Then, if the voters and computers show them to be number two in the BCS, we could have a rematch for the National Championship.  The SEC can do no better than this until the playoffs begin in 2014-15.  Then, they might put three teams in the kitty.  

 

 

Team

Arkansas Razorbacks

               
Head Coach

John L. Smith

               
Colors

Cardinal and White

               
City

Fayetteville, AR

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

119.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

15

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

Poor Razorback fans:  just when it looked like your Hogs had the necessary pieces in place to make a national title run, your coach had to do something really stupid and prove that the male gender sometimes thinks with the wrong part of their body.  Unfortunately, your emergency replacement coach was accused of not being able to think at his prior head coaching stop.

 

When last a head coach in Division 1, John L. Smith was accused of bungling several decisions at Michigan State.  Ask Spartan fans to talk to you about the 2006 game against Ohio State, but be prepared to duck first.

 

Smith finds himself in an impossible position, and he will be blamed when the Razorbacks don’t run the table.  They have possibly the best quarterback in the nation not playing in the Pac-12.  Tyler Wilson thrived last year in Bobby Petrino’s offense.  He picked up where Ryan Mallett left off and passed for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns versus just six interceptions.

 

Wilson lost three outstanding receivers that all heard their names called in the 4th round of the NFL Draft.  Additionally, three other wide receivers expected to either start or see action in reserve left Fayetteville.  That forced Smith to make a big change.  Backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell rarely saw the field thanks to Wilson’s performance.  He was too talented with a lot of athleticism to let ride the bench, so with the endorsement of the entire offensive staff, Mitchell switched to receiver.  He instantly becomes a major asset here, as he will provide Wilson a big target with a lot of speed, and he will be a weapon blocking downfield.  He will team with Cobi Hamilton and true freshman Mekale McKay to give UA the right combination to continue to average over 300 passing yards per game.

 

Can Knile Davis return to his 2010 form after missing all of 2011 with a broken ankle?  That is the big question in Fayetteville this year.  Davis rushed for more than 1,300 yards two years ago.  The Razorbacks have good depth with Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo returning after splitting carries in replace of Davis.  Both could line up in a slot and become receiving weapons.

 

Three starters return to the offensive line, and there is room for some improvement here.  Travis Swanson gets overlooked due to Jones at Alabama, but he is one of the nation’s top centers.  Guard Alvin Bailey rates near the top in the league at his position.

 

Arkansas averaged 37 points and 440 yards per game last year, and those numbers can be duplicated this season.  Now, it will be up to the defense to rise to the occasion and more closely resemble the defenses at the two teams ahead of them in the standings.

 

This defense will not hold opponents under 300 yards and 14 points per game like both Alabama and LSU, but Arkansas could surprise everyone and still sneak in as SEC West champs if the defense could hold the opposition to 20 points and 350 yards per game.

 

Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith looks the part of an all-conference defender.  He paced the Hogs with 12 ½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2011.  Jarrett Lake and Tenarius Wright are not as talented, so Highsmith will need to make 100+ tackles this year.

 

The defensive line is not up to the standards of an LSU or Alabama, or even a Georgia, Florida, or South Carolina.  UA will be breaking in a new pair of ends, neither of whom can compare to Jake Bequette.

 

The secondary will be vulnerable more this season, as there will not be the same pass rush as last year.  Safety Eric Bennett finished with three interceptions and three more passes broken up last year, but he will not be able to take up the slack by the departure of Tramain Thomas.

 

Last year, Arkansas had to play Alabama and LSU on the road, and this year both teams come to Fayetteville.  Road games at Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi State will all be tough.  Any of those six teams can beat Arkansas, so we cannot pick the Razorbacks to challenge in the West this year.  We figure Arkansas will split those six tough games.  At 9-3, Smith may not be welcomed back for a second season.  He did not even get one full year when he signed here.

 

 

Team

Auburn Tigers

               
Head Coach

Gene Chizik

               
Colors

Navy and Burnt Orange

               
City

Auburn, AL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

111.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

45

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

2010 seems like ages ago.  Auburn did not fare so well without Cam Newton.  Now, the Tigers have to go on without offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the mastermind of the spread offense that led the Tigers to the national championship in 2010.

 

Can Auburn win in the toughest division in college football with a sophomore quarterback that would be more suited to playing tailback in an I-formation?  Kiehl Frazier was a five-star recruit when he arrived at Auburn last year, but he was picked to run the Malzahn spread.  Auburn is switching to a pro offense with new coordinator Scott Loeffler.  Frazier is an excellent runner, but just a so-so passer.  It will be interesting to see how he performs under center.  Backup Clint Moseley seems to be the better fit for this offense, but the coaches obviously believe Frazier can make the transition.

 

Frazier will benefit from the return of the top four receivers on this team.  Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen is expected to see a lot more passes thrown his way this year after catching 24 and scoring seven times last year.  Emory Blake will be counted on once again to make big gains out of short passes.  Blake led the Tigers with 36 receptions and 613 yards. 

 

In the backfield, Onterio McCalebb should capitalize on the switch to the new offense.  He rushed for 641 yards and five scores, and he finished second on the team with 32 receptions and 344 yards.  Tre Mason will see significant time in reserve.

 

The offensive line took an unexpected blow just on the eve of the big opening game in Atlanta against Clemson.  Center Reese Dismukes was suspended following his arrest for public intoxication.  That leaves guards John Sullen and Chad Slade as the only two holdovers from last year.  True freshman Avery Young now moves into the starting lineup.

 

The War Eagle defense will be better this season after giving up 29 points and more than 400 yards per game last year.  While nine starters return from 2011, two thirds of them have lost their spots on the first team to other players.

 

One starter that will keep his job is end Corey Lemonier, who finished among the SEC leaders with 9 ½ sacks and 13 ½ TFL.  He was close on several other attempts to sack QBs, and he finished with 15 hurries.  Fellow end Nosa Eguae lost his spot to Dee Ford.

 

Daren Bates led the Tigers with 104 tackles, and he will keep his spot at the Sam linebacker.  Jake Holland and Justin Garrett are the two new starters, while Jonathan Evans goes to the bench.

 

Chris Davis is the only defensive back to keep his starting job.  The corner finished fourth with 60 tackles, but he did not intercept a pass last year.

 

Auburn faces a tough season-opener against Clemson in Atlanta, and we are concerned with Frazier’s inexperience in this game.  Clemson will be out to prove that they can hold an opposing bowl team under 70 points, and they could smother the Plainsmen.  Games against Mississippi State, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, and Alabama look very difficult indeed, and we think Auburn will struggle to make it through the season without losing five and maybe six times.

 

 

 

 

Team

Louisiana State Tigers

               
Head Coach

Les Miles

               
Colors

Royal Purple and Gold

               
City

Baton Rouge, LA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

8-0

Overall

13-1

               
PiRate Rating

131.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

120

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

1

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

8-0

Overall

13-0

 

Through the 2011 regular season, LSU looked like one of the top college teams of all time.  The Tigers faced a difficult schedule and came through unscathed, defeating Oregon, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, all of whom were ranked when they played them.  Then, with multiple weeks to prepare for the game, Nick Saban figured out how to stop LSU cold, and the Tigers had to settle for the consolation prize.

 

No competitor wants to go home with a year supply of Rice-a-Roni, and LSU returns this year with a chip on its collective shoulder and a mean streak ready to prove to the public that they are not satisfied with being number two.

 

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger assumes controls of the attack unit.  He saw limited action as the number three man behind Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson.  Stephen Rivers, younger brother of Phillip, will be ready to go if Mettenberger fails to live up to his hype.  We are not totally sold on this unit, but whoever ends up playing the most under center, his principal assignment will be to hand the ball off and fake the handoff and throw off play-action. 

 

The Tigers have enough quality running backs to switch to the old full-house T-formation and ram the ball through the defense like Ohio State did in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford,  and Spencer Ware will all see time in the backfield.  This quartet rushed for 2,338 yards and 30 touchdowns last year (5.3 avg per rush).  Now, add a new wrinkle to this mix.  Coach Les Miles moved big defensive tackle J. C. Copeland, at 280 pounds, into fullback, and he will personally escort the running backs through holes with much less interference.  Miles even plans to give Copeland a rushing attempt every now and again.  LSU could rush for 225-250 yards per game this year.  Woody Hayes would be smiling.

 

Receivers Odell Beckham, Russell Shepard, James Wright, Jarvis Landry, and tight end Chase Clement make up a decent group of pass catchers.  They may not catch as many passes as the receivers at Arkansas, but their yards per catch could be better.  Defenses will have to go to great lengths to stop the running game, so the receivers should exploit the fact that there will be more open space when they run their routes. 

 

LSU’s offensive line is almost as good as Alabama’s.  Four starters return, led by tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst, who could both vie for 1st Team All-SEC accolades.  This unit paved the way for the runners to perform like they did, and they weren’t too shabby as pass blockers, except against Alabama.

 

The Tiger defense was one of the best in the nation last year, but only second best in this division.  LSU gave up just 11 points and 260 yards per game.  The Tigers may be vulnerable at times this year due to the loss of six starters from this side of the ball, including the “Honey Badger,” Tyrann Mathieu.  Mathieu tied for the team lead with 76 tackles.  He made 7 ½ tackles for loss, and he had 11 passes defended.  He also scored two touchdowns on punt returns.  However, he decided that synthetic marijuana was more important, and it cost him.  He is now in rehab with the hopes of coming back in 2013.  We wish him luck.

 

The defensive line is where LSU will dominate in 2012.  Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo teamed up for 17 sacks, 28 ½ tackles for loss, and 12 QB hurries.  They are both juniors, but they could be 1st round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.  Bennie Logan is a pro prospect at tackle.

 

Kevin Minter is the stud of the second line of defense.  The middle linebacker made 61 tackles.  Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow round out this unit, but this trio is not as talented as the line.  Expect true freshman Deion Jones to eventually take over as a starter.

 

Replacing Mathieu will be difficult, but LSU has other talented players on the back line.  Eric Reid tied with Mathieu in tackles with 76, and he picked off two passes.  However, Miles is replacing the Honey Badger with a true freshman, Jalen Mills, and there will be a drop-off in talent here.  Note: while defensive backs finished one-two in tackles, this was not a sign of a weak defense.  LSU rotated defenders up front, so the number of tackles was more spread out.  Also, opposing teams had to try to pass the ball, so there were fewer opportunities for the line and linebackers to make a lot of tackles.

 

LSU’s non-conference schedule will allow the new players to gel and be ready for SEC play.  Easy wins over North Texas, Washington, and Idaho will allow the Tigers to invade Auburn and come away with a win.  A breeze game against Towson State will allow them to prepare for Florida at The Swamp.  If they beat the Gators, they would have two more tough games before “The Game.”  South Carolina at home and Texas A&M on the road will be tough games, but we believe LSU will wear both down.  At 8-0, they would then get a week off to prepare for the big one, while Alabama is forced to play Mississippi State.  We believe LSU can win that one and then knock off the two Mississippi teams and Arkansas to run the table in the regular season once again.  Could we see another LSU-Alabama national title match?  It isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

 

 

Team

Ole Miss Rebels

               
Head Coach

Hugh Freeze

               
Colors

Cardinal and Navy

               
City

Oxford, MS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

100.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

70

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

 

Last year, Hugh Freeze produced a conference champion in his first year as a FBS head coach.  Of course, that happened at Arkansas State.  He takes over an Ole Miss program that has never been able to duplicate what Johnny Vaught did for a quarter century.  Houston Nutt guided the Rebels to back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins in his first two seasons, but the best he could do in conference play was 5-3.  His last two years saw Ole Miss fall into last place with 1-7 and 0-8 league marks.  Freeze takes over a program that will require a large remodel.  He wants to implement the same no-huddle hurry-up offense with a 50-50 run/pass mix, but his roster was recruited to run the spread running game.

 

Nutt used three quarterbacks last year, and two return this season.  However, one of the two is now a running back.  Big-time junior college recruit Bo Wallace was supposed to come in and take over command in the pocket, but last year’s number three man Barry Brunetti earned the starting spot.  Brunetti completed 19 of 35 passes for 144 yards last year.  He is a decent runner, and that may help keep him from being clobbered too many times trying to set up with a weak blocking wall.

 

Ole Miss was not much of a passing team last year, completing just 13 passes per game, so there were not a lot of receptions to be had.  The receiving contingent welcomes back five of the seven players that caught 10 or more passes last year.  Donte Moncrief led the Rebels with 31 receptions and 454 yards.  Ja-Mes Logan added 20 receptions and 274 yards.  Tight end Jamal Mosley caught a dozen passes for 166 yards.  Expect this trio to more than double the 63 combined passes caught this season. 

 

Freeze will use a platoon at running back with Jeff Scott and former quarterback Randall Mackey seeing an equal amount of reps.  Both are speedy backs without much power.

 

The offensive line is weaker than the line at Kentucky, so that tells you why Ole Miss will struggle to move the ball and score in the SEC.  Two starters are left from last season, and neither will earn all-league recognition.  These linemen were brought in to block for the spread and are not the best pass blockers, so expect a rough transition this year.

 

The Rebels will improve on defense first, but the statistics may not show the improvement, because Ole Miss will be forced to defend for five to 10 more plays per game this year.

 

Middle linebacker Mike Marry is the best player on this side of the ball.  Marry led Ole Miss with 81 tackles last year.  Of course, a good many of those tackles came after opponents gained four or five yards.  Aaron Garbutt and converted defensive back Dehendret Collins join Marry at linebacker.  At 200 and 175 pounds, they are well undersized to stop the run, but quick enough to defend the short zones.

 

Freeze moved a former fullback and tight end over to the defensive side, and E.J. Epperson was impressive enough to become one of the starting defensive ends.  C. J. Johnson and Epperson will give Ole Miss some athleticism on the outside.  True freshman Isaac Gross will start immediately at tackle.  This group will have its moments, but they are going to be generous against the good teams.

 

The Ole Miss secondary gave up just 194 passing yards per game last year, but the weak run defense was mostly responsible for the low amount.  Unfortunately, the one star on the back line will not play until October at the earliest.  Safety Charles Sawyer is out with a torn quadriceps muscle. 

 

It is going to be a long year in Oxford, but Rebel fans will be entertained with a more wide open offense.  Texas A&M comes on to the schedule, while Kentucky goes off.  Out of the league, games with UTEP and Texas will be tough.  We’ll give them the game against the Miners plus wins over Central Arkansas and Tulane.  3-9 will be a minor improvement over 2-10.

 

 

Team

Mississippi State Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Dan Mullen

               
Colors

Maroon and White

               
City

Starkville, MS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

108.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

106

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

42

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

What was the difference between Dan Mullen’s great 2010 season and so-so 2011 season?  Their opponents were improved last year.  In 2010, Mississippi State beat Georgia and Arkansas; last year they lost those two games, because Georgia was much better than the year before and Arkansas was much tougher at home than in Starkville.

 

The schedule becomes easier again this year, as the Bulldogs do not have to play Georgia and South Carolina from the East (and avoid Florida).  They keep Kentucky and get Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas at home.

 

Mullen welcomes back a seasoned veteran at quarterback this year.  Tyler Russell split time at QB with Chris Relf, and he now gets full control.  Russell took over at halftime of last year’s UAB game, when the Blazers went to the locker up 3-0 at the half.  Russell led the Bulldogs on three touchdown drives in the second half and became the starter for most of the remainder of the season. If for some reason Russell does not move forward this year, Dak Prescott will take over.  There isn’t that much separating the two.

 

The Bulldogs have a decent group of receivers this year, as the top three guys return.  Arceto Clark, Chad Bumphis, and Chris Smith teamed for 90 receptions and 1,111 yards last year.  Marcus Green and Brandon Hill will try to replace Malcolm Johnson, who suffered an injury earlier this summer.

 

State loses 1,000-yard rusher Vic Ballard, but they return two quality backs that could combine for more yards than Ballard.  LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin averaged better than five yards per attempt.

 

The offensive line needs some rebuilding, but there is adequate talent here.  Guard Gabe Jackson made the all-SEC second team last year.

 

MSU has three rather talented units on the defensive side of the ball; of course, rather talented is not great in a division that has dominating defenses.  Linebacker is the top unit; top tackler Cameron Lawrence (123 stops).  Lawrence recorded six tackles for loss and defended seven passes.  Deontae Skinner made 69 tackles with nine going for negative yards.

 

In the trenches, tackle Josh Boyd had 4 ½ sacks last year and finished with 51 tackles.  Ends Kaleb Eulls and Denico Autry need to step up quickly to replace the production lost by Fletcher Cox’s graduation.

 

The Maroons have a pair of quality cornerbacks in Johnathan Banks and Corey Broomfield.  The duo teamed up for 130 tackles.  Banks picked off five passes and batted away nine others.  Broomfield may actually split time with Darius Slay.

 

As we discussed before, we believe Mullen will guide this team to a better record than last year, if only because the schedule is much more favorable.  This is a team that could sneak into the Cotton Bowl.

 

 

Team

Texas A&M Aggies

               
Head Coach

Kevin Sumlin

               
Colors

Maroon and White

               
City

Nashville, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

113.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

46

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-5

 

The Aggies gave up a lot when they lost their rivalry with Texas.  However, annual games against LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas will more than make up for that loss.  The gigantic check the school receives will place this move over the top in the positive column.

 

Kevin Sumlin takes over at head coach after leading Houston to a spectacular season last year.  On the plus side, SEC fans will love watching his teams play their wide open style of football.  On the minus side, Case Keenum does not get to come too.

 

Sumlin is going with a freshman as his new quarterback.  Johnny Manziel redshirted last year, while Ryan Tannehill threw for almost 300 yards per game.  Behind Manziel on the depth chart are two untested sophomores.

 

SEC fans will quickly get to know Ryan Swope.  The senior wide receiver led the Aggies with 89 receptions, 1,207 yards, and 11 touchdowns.  Uzoma Nwachukwu added 50 catches. 

 

A&M loses their 1,000-yard rusher, Cyrus Gray, but the Aggies return backup Christine Michael, who rushed for 899 yards with a higher average per carry than Gray.  Michael should top 1,000 this year.

 

Four starters return to a blocking wall that opened holes for the offense to run for more than five yards per carry and gave up just nine sacks all year.  The Aggies are exceptionally strong at tackle with Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel returning.

 

Texas A&M might have been the Big 12 Champions last year if their defense had been better on just one or two plays in their six losses.  They blew big leads to Oklahoma State (20-3), Arkansas (35-17), Missouri (28-17), and Texas (13-0), and they lost all five games!  They could have been 8-1/11-1 and won the league.

 

The Aggie defense gave up 28 points and almost 380 yards per game, and these five blown leads cost Mike Sherman his job.  This year, the Aggies will be no better defensively, but their numbers might improve in a more conservative league.  Instead of blowing leads and losing 42-38 to quality teams, they will lose 27-23.

 

The Aggies are strongest at linebacker, where all three 2011 starters return.  Jonathan Stewart led A&M with 98 tackles.  Steven Jenkins contributed 61 stops, and Sean Porter finished with 79.  Porter was the big star, leading the Big 12 with 9 ½ sacks and adding another 7 ½ stops for loss.

 

End Damontre Moore finished just behind Porter with 8 ½ sacks, and he added nine more stops for loss.  Spencer Nealy proved to be a big play defender with eight TFL.  Gavin Stansbury and Kirby Ennis become the two new starters in the line.

 

This will be a double transition season for the Aggies—a new coach and a new league.  While there will be growing pains, we feel like there is enough talent on board to sneak through with a winning record and bowl bid. 

 

Unfortunately for the Aggies, Hurricane Isaac has forced the postponement of their opening game.  They will now play Louisiana Tech on October 13, meaning their home opener with Florida will be their first game, but Florida’s second.  This puts them at a huge disadvantage, because college football teams improve the most between their first and second game.

 

Coming Wednesday, August 29: We reveal the PiRate Ratings for all 124 FBS teams and the lines for week one.  Then, on Thursday, we will take our “just for fun” look at beating the spread.

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1 Comment

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    Comment by CarsonMortgage — October 3, 2014 @ 5:50 am


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