July 25, 2010
Twelve hyper-specific predictions for the upcoming season. Wrapping up the Doc's SEC Week.
• Alabama will solidify its hold on the No. 1 ranking with a convincing home win over Penn State on Sept. 11. But the Crimson Tide's regular-season win streak (currently at 24 games to start the year) will end by midseason at the hands of either Arkansas or Florida, the two SEC offenses most capable of hanging 30 points on a totally revamped 'Bama defense. That would easily exceed last year's season high against the Tide (24 points by Virginia Tech, aided by a kickoff return touchdown), and match the back-to-back 31-point efforts by Florida and Utah that last brought the Tide down in the 2008 postseason.
• Reigning Heisman winner Mark Ingram will break 1,000 yards on the ground, but won't threaten last year's numbers (1,992 total yards, 20 TDs) and won't be anywhere near Manhattan in December after sharing more carries with sophomore Trent Richardson, who will top Ingram in yards per carry.
• Florida quarterback John Brantley will pass for more than 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns as the Gators lead the conference in total offense for the fourth consecutive year, but his pass efficiency rating will be at least 15 points lower than Tim Tebow's national-best 164.2 rating last year, Tebow's worst in three years as a starter. Most of the difference will come from a lower completion percentage and a higher interception rate.
• Auburn will climb into the top 10 by midseason on the strength of high-scoring, double-digit wins over Mississippi State, Clemson and South Carolina in September, propelling prolific new quarterback Cam Newton onto a few darkhorse Heisman lists. Down the stretch, though, the Tigers will ultimately drop three of their last five in SEC play against Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama.
• Tennessee will change starting quarterbacks at least twice during the course of a disastrous 0-5 start in conference play, eventually settling on JUCO transfer Matt Simms for a strong finish against the typically lighter November fare.
• Kentucky's all-dynamo, Randall Cobb, will "hit for the cycle" against one of UK's lesser opponents, accounting for a touchdowns as a rusher, receiver, passer and return man in a single game – and the Wildcats will need them all to win in an all-too-familiar shootout.
• Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett will lead the league in both touchdowns and interceptions, and the Razorbacks will lose multiple games in which he passes for at least 350 yards and three touchdowns.
• Eternally impatient South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier will bench quarterback Stephen Garcia on multiple occasions over the first half of the year, but grudgingly start the redshirt junior in every game when backups Connor Shaw and Andrew Clifford are overwhelmed and/or injured in relief. Garcia will lock down the job for the stretch run by returning to the lineup to lead the Gamecocks to a comeback win over Tennessee on Oct. 30.
• Vanderbilt will improve on last year's two-win total and pull an SEC upset or two, earning turkey-inseminating interim coach Robbie Caldwell a full-time gig. SEC media will universally applaud the promotion, then ignore Caldwell completely for the next five years outside of SEC media days.
• LSU will fail to produce a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver for the second year in a row, but nevertheless improve last year's dismal scoring average (24.8 points per game) by almost a full touchdown – this time without the aid of multiple special teams scores.
• Perpetually lo-fi Mississippi State will come within striking distance of averaging 400 yards per game in total offense despite rotating quarterbacks Chris Relf and Tyler Russell throughout the season in coach Dan Mullen's spread option scheme. The Bulldogs will fall just shy of a bowl game (again), but will pull an upset against one of the three top-25 hopefuls – Auburn, Georgia and/or Arkansas – that come to Starkville.
• Mark Richt's record against Florida will fall to 2-8. But Georgia will ultimately return to the 10-win club and finish the season as one of the conference's hottest teams, using an impressive Jan. 1 win as a springboard to becoming a chic pick to knock off the loaded Gators in 2011.