THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE
BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
Conference Champ: LSU/Auburn (West) vs. Georgia/Tennessee (East): Can you tell the SEC is a competitive conference? The LSU Tigers lose JaMarcus Russell and LaRon Landry, a pair of top ten picks and remain the most talented team in the SEC. Part of the reason is the return of Glenn Dorsey, who is back to lead a dominating defense. Despite their talent, LSU did not even make it to the SEC Championship in 2006, part of which was due to their loss at Auburn. Those Tigers are 33-5 over the last three years and with the likes of Quentin Grooves, Sen’Derrick Marks and Tray Blackmon leading the defense, they cannot be counted out. In the East, a Georgia squad that grew up late in the season with three straight wins over Auburn (on the road), Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech (Bowl), all in the Top 20, will be even better this year. Meanwhile, Tennessee has not won a conference title since 1998, something the Vol faithful remind Phillip Fulmer regularly. If they play better in the trenches this could be the year they break the streak behind the play of Eric Ainge on offense and Jonathan Hefney on defense. If you are waiting for the Gators, don’t, because they will not repeat as champs. They have talent, but they did lose NINE starters on defense and Tim Tebow must prove he can do more than be a change of pace quarterback. Finally, you don’t get credit for last year, if anything, it makes this season tougher.
The Sleeper: Alabama: I get the feeling that part of the reason Mike Shula was fired after last season is the people at Alabama were afraid he would have good year in 2007. They return nine players on offense, including up and coming quarterback John Parker Wilson, as well as all five starters along the offensive line, led by true sophomore Andre Smith, who has the look of a future NFL left tackle. Adding Nick Saban, one of the top coaches in the college game does not hurt either. Neither does the fact that they play Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU at home. Put a circle around the November 3 visit from the Tigers.
Offensive Player of the Year: Darren McFadden (ARK) vs. Andre’ Woodson (KU): McFadden was the Heisman runner up and this year’s favorite, so it would come as a major surprise if anyone other than the multi-talented Razorback is the best offensive player in the SEC. Not only is McFadden the nation’s top tailback, in the “wildcat” formation he is an efficient quarterback, just as capable of throwing a touchdown, as running one in. He is also one of the top kick returners. If anyone can challenge McFadden, it will be a true Wildcat, the Kentucky quarterback. With JaMarcus Russell off to the NFL, Woodson takes over as the conference’s hulking strong-armed quarterback. Woodson threw for 3515 yards and 31 TDs (7 INTs) as a junior, while completing 63 percent of his passes and finished the season with 1380 yards and 11 TDs (no INTs) in the season’s final four games, including a bowl win over Clemson.
Defensive Player of the Year: Glenn Dorsey (LSU) vs. Jonathan Hefney (UT): Other players will put up bigger numbers than LSU’s Dorsey, however it is doubtful anyone will be better or more disruptive. He will see constant double teams and maybe even some triple teams, as opponents will do anything they can to prevent him from collapsing the pocket. He recorded 8.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2006 and is coming back for more, much to the dismay of the rest of the SEC, who believed he was more than ready to make the jump. Hefney is not quite as hyped, which will happen with the likes of LaRon Landry and Reggie Nelson overshadowing him, but now is the time for this Vol to shine. Hefney has played both corner and safety in his career, but he is best suited to manning centerfield from his free safety position. Hefney recorded 96 tackles and five picks, making him an outstanding two way player.
Breakout Seasons: Rico McCoy (UT), Tray Blackmon (AU), Brandon Spikes (UF): The SEC is stocked with good young linebackers led by Prince Hall (Alabama) who had a big freshman season. Looking to follow his lead will be this troika of fellow second year players. McCoy steps in as the WILL for the Vols and because upperclassman and returning starters Jerod Mayo and Ryan Karl are there, John Chavis can really let the speedy McCoy loose. The Vols will look for him to be an impact player. Brandon Spikes of Florida will have a tougher task. Spikes possesses the talent and the size (6’3”/241) to man the middle, however he will also have to provide leadership to a young linebacking corps and front seven. There may be an adjustment period, but the true sophomore should be up to the challenge. Staying on the field has been the hurdle that Blackmon must overcome. Injuries, as well as disaplinary issues caused Blackmon to miss six games as a freshman, as well as spring ball. Coach Tommy Tuberville evoked the name of Ray Lewis at SEC media day, who he coached at Miami, when talking about Blackmon…that pretty much says it all…doesn’t it?
Best Pro Prospect: Darren McFadden (ARK)/Glenn Dorsey (LSU): I know, I am talking the easy way out, but any team at the top of next year’s draft would do just fine by selecting either one of these prospects. If you need a franchise tailback that can carry the load, as well as break a game open, while providing unparalleled versatility then McFadden is your guy. If your defense needs a strong, stout and agile interior lineman to make life easier for the linebackers behind him and the linemen on either side, then have Roger Goodell call Dorsey’s name. Hey, with Dorsey coming back we have another season to evaluate both prospects and that is about how long it will take to decide between the two. It’s kind of like…who do you want take to take out to dinner, the Maxim cover girl from this month or last month?
College Football Insiders Picks:
Conference Champion: Louisiana St. Tigers: Does it really matter who makes it out of the East? The Tigers are the most talented team and with a solid quarterback in Matt Flynn stepping in, they could go all the way.
Offensive Player of the Year: Darren McFadden (ARK): The only question we have about McFadden’s abilities is “what can’t he do?” McFadden is a strong runner, with breakaway speed, making his versatility a bonus.
Defensive Player of the Year: Glenn Dorsey (LSU): Dorsey could have left for the draft following his junior season and would have been a sure fire first round pick, if not a top ten selection. Big men with his ability are rare.
Check back tomorrow to see CFI’s Next 25 (26-50)