Take the defending national champs, the most powerful coach in sports, a Heisman winner, a gunslinging Heisman candidate, an exiled television thief, a championship coach under fire, the next Tebow, and more speed than an on-campus frat house, and you have another piquant roux of SEC West football. Egos soar like war eagles, fans’ expectations are as unhealthy as the fans themselves, and the fate of people’s lives literally hinge on Saturday’s outcomes. In a word, it’s awesome.
There is hardly a seat left on the Nick Saban Ass Kiss Express (comin’, to yo citaaay), but to turn around a 7-6 team in his first year to a program now riding a 16-game SEC regular season winning streak, and a national title, deserves the accolades…and a bronze statue, of course. Outside of some new faces on defense, the champs remain pretty much intact.
Mark Ingram bids for a second Heisman, but don’t be surprised if backup Trent Richardson has the better season. Should they decide to incorporate the forward pass, QB Greg McIlroy has proven plenty capable at getting the ball to playmakers like Julio Jones. Defensively, there are holes to fill, but this defense will be just like any other Saban brand because that’s his genius. Also, Linebacker Donta Hightower returns from a knee injury and if completely recovered, will prove that he’s better than Rolando McClain. There’s just not much to dissect with a Nick Saban club: they’re all so similarly sound and consistent, that you know what you’re going to get. And it’s good. Who can stop them? Well…
Sked: Random. Love the 9/11 matchup with Penn St. The trip to Duke is puzzling, but a sure win. And poor Bill Curry, that one could end with a fatality or two. Get past the Hogs in Fayetteville, the Gators at home, and the always unpredictable evening in Death Valley, and it’s all hands on the Iron Bowl.
You can approach Auburn’s season from to two angles: QB Cam Newton is Terrell Pryor or Cam Newton is Brent Shaffer. The former Tebow understudy spent last season dissecting the JUCO ranks with his all-american athleticism, but that’s certainly no guarantee for success in the SEC. Running Back U is yet again loaded in the backfield, with Mario Fannin, Ontario McCalebb and super-frosh Michael Dyer, and with a veteran o-line and the whimsy of Gus Malzahan, Newton has every opportunity to cash in his potential. Defensively, things can only improve after allowing the most points in school history last season. The Chiz is a defensive guy and no doubt has made this the number one priority.
Sked: Explosive. Clemson comes to the Plains 9/18, and that one will be fun. And of course, a trip to T-town in what could be one of the biggest Iron Bowls eva.
After a predictable top-ten tumble last season, Houston Nutt is back in his comfort zone, in the role of the underdog. What looked like a potential losing season a few weeks ago has been uplifted by the arrival of QB Jeremiah Masoli from Oregon. Masoli is a proven playmaker who is a threat to run, throw, and steal. If you watched Ole Miss last season, you saw a team that could have gone 6-6 if not for do-ay’thing back Dexter McCluster, now in the NFL. Masoli led Oregon to the Rose Bowl last season and couldn’t be much worse than Jevan Snead, but this aint the Pac-10.
Sked: Safe. Non-con is doughy, but the conference slate takes them to Bama, Arkansas, and LSU.
Les Miles needs this. He needs this really, really bad. Last season was nothing short of shambles for the Hat, who rode a wave of good fortune and testicular thinking to a national championship in ’07, but has cashed in his coonass capital with some blatant mismanagement and significant underachieving on both sides of the ball. If QB Jordan Jefferson doesn’t take a major leap forward, it could be a significant blow to Miles’s future in Baton Rouge. The talent, of course, is there, and so is John Chavis.
Sked: Brutality. Kicks off in ATL on Saturday against the well-paid Tarheels, and they’ll host West Virginia on 9/25. Other highlights: @Florida, @Auburn, Bama, and @Arkansas.
Will Arkansas be this year’s Ole Miss? Pumped full of artificial praise well past the point of possibility? Well, one major difference exists between the two, and that is the man with the PhD in points, Bobby Petrino. We all know about the ability of QB Ryan Mallet, but defense will dictate whether or not the Hogs are destined for a bowl of Cotton or a bowl of Sugar.
Sked: Workable. They get the Tide at home and the only non-con threat is the Texas A&M game, by no means a gimme but certainly winnable.
Dan Mullen not only exceeded expectations in his inaugural season on the pasture, he generated a feeling not felt in Starkville since the Wal-Mart went Super: excitement. But workhorse Anthony Dixon is gone and it might be another season on the backside of .500 for the Bulldogs. Someone in this division has to absorb some losses, and though they’ll keep it close and maybe steal a game or two, it’s hard to expect significant improvement in Mullen’s second year.
Sked: Smart. Last season’s docket was one of the toughest in america, so picking up Memphis, Alcorn St, and UAB is healthy for the W column.
MVP: Trent Richardson, RB, Bama
Best game: Bama @ LSU, 11/6
Official all-time SECW Mascot: Joe Lee Dunn