August 14, 2011
Twelve hyper-specific predictions for the SEC in 2011. Wrapping up SEC Week.
• At some point, Alabama will go a full month without allowing a touchdown by an opposing offense. At one point in the Crimson Tide's BCS title run in 2009, the top-ranked defense held Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee out of the end zone for 11 consecutive quarter in October — a three-week stretch in which the 'Bama offense only hit paydirt twice itself despite featuring the eventual Heisman Trophy winner. With ten returning starters and at least four potential first-rounders, the 2011 defense should be at least as nasty as the '09 edition, and may need to be.
• Les Miles will be forced to endure another round of articles about hi job security after LSU drops out of the national title race with two losses in its first six games. The Tigers' front-loaded scheduled gives them plenty of opportunities to stumble against Oregon, Florida and both Mississippi State and West Virginia on the road, but they'll manage to regroup in time to rally for double-digit wins for the fifth time in Miles' seven-year tenure.
• The winner of South Carolina's early trip to Georgia on Sept. 10 will go on to play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game nearly three months later, but the East Division title won't be decided until the Bulldogs narrowly escape an upset bid by Kentucky on Nov. 19. The university will announce a contract extension with coach Mark Richt the following week.
• Steve Spurrier will shuffle South Carolina quarterbacks Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw at random throughout the first half of the season, until Garcia slams the door shut on the starting job by leading a game-winning drive on the heels of a costly turnover by Shaw. "Yeah, Stephen was just a little bit better tonight," Spurrier will say after the game. "He's our guy from out and hopefully he'll play better than he has."
• Arkansas will lead the league in scoring despite breaking in a new quarterback and new tailback in place of All-SEC stars Ryan Mallett and Knile Davis. As usual, Bobby Petrino's offense will ignore the attrition by delivering both a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in up-and-coming starters Tyler Wilson and Ronnie Wingo.
• Mississippi State will obliterate school records for total and scoring offense in a season. Neither bar is very high — just 422 yards and 31.7 points per game, respectively — and ten returning starters from an attack that averaged 29 points on 401 yards per game in coach Dan Mullen's second season should have no trouble clearing it.
• Florida quarterback John Brantley will double his 2010 touchdown total and add at least 20 points to his pass efficiency rating under new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, but will still fail to win over Gator fans, who give hyped freshman Jeff Driskel a standing ovation every time he enters a game. Driskel's performance off the bench in the bowl game will subsequently spark eight months' worth of articles comparing him to Tim Tebow.
• In another cruelly ironic twist, Tennessee will lose a game by virtue of "the Dooley Rule," the new provision that runs 10 seconds off the clock on penalties in the final minute of either half — passed as a direct result of the bizarre finish that cost the Volunteers a win in last December's Music City Bowl. "I never asked for that rule," coach Derek Dooley will say after the game. "Why does this keep happening to us?"
• Auburn will drop at least three games via blown fourth quarter leads. The Tigers rallied for seven wins last year in which they were trailing or tied in the final 12 minutes — including three on the final snap of the game — a feat they won't be able to duplicate minus Cam Newton and the resident closer, clutch kicker Wes Byrum.
• Unsung Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden will break Deuce McAllister and Dexter McCluster's school records for rushing yards, all-purpose yards and touchdowns, but won't appear outside of the "Honorable Mention" category on the postseason all-conference teams. All three marks will belong to Bolden if he matches his production as a junior (976 yards rushing, 344 yards receiving, 17 touchdowns), but it won't be enough to lift his profile above the likes of Marcus Lattimore, Trent Richardson, Michael Dyer or Isaiah Crowell.
• Kentucky's streak of consecutive bowl appearances will come to an end at five. With non-conference dates against Western Kentucky, Central Michigan, Louisville and Jacksonville State, the Wildcats will get to the requisite six wins, but find there's no place at the end of the season for an eleventh SEC bowl team.
• Vanderbilt will shuffle through at least three quarterbacks before settling on one of three true freshmen, Lafonte Thourogood, Josh Grady or Kris Kentera, over the last month of the season. Senior Larry Smith will start at least half of the Commodores' games, and finish as the lowest-rated passer in the conference for the third year in a row.