BY RAFAEL GARCIA
LSU- The Tigers are not only the favorites to win the SEC West but also the SEC Championship. To top that off, they are a favorite to make the BCS Championship as well. First, they must replace JaMarcus Russell – that task falls on senior Matt Flynn. The young backs get a change after Alley Broussard abruptly quit the team. Wide receiver Early Doucet gets to start and the Tigers are expecting big numbers from him. He also happens to be a good return man. The offensive line needs to give Flynn the time to make good decisions when passing and they need to improve on the run game. All- American DT Glenn Dorsey -- the top player at stopping the run in the conference, leads the defense. He likes to bring it on every play and will be a first round pick in the 2008 draft. They are strong at the linebacker position, but they are looking to replace All-American safety LaRon Landry. Put it all together and the Tigers look like the beast of the SEC and maybe the college football world.
Auburn- The Tigers enter this season trying to win their sixth West title in Coach Tommy Tuberville’s nine years (a few were co-champs). Brandon Cox has a career 59 percent completion rate but has only one returning starter on the offensive line. Brad Lester was supposed to give the Tigers a solid running game, but his status is in question. On defense, they return future pro defensive end Quentin Groves, who is four sacks shy of the school record. They will be a bit soft at linebacker with Tray Blackman the only proven talent. The secondary is one of the best at covering the field. They did lose their punter and place kicker, from an important special teams. The Tigers led the SEC and placed fourth in the nation with a 26-yard average on kick returns. This team may not win the division but they won’t go out without a fight.
Alabama - Alabama and Nick Saban together at last. He is expected to win and win now. Say what you want about the guy but make sure you say he’s a winner, his track record proves it. Quarterback John Parker Wilson has bought in to the system, while Jimmy Johns and Terry Grant take over for Kenneth Darby in the backfield and DJ Hall is set to become the school’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. The defense makes the switch from 4-3 to the 3-4. It will all depend on the middle to see it work with the ends also doing their part as well. All-SEC corner Simeon Castille anchors the secondary. Saban is trying to implement a new mindset of consistency and domination on every play. Let’s see how long it takes them to turn the tide.
Arkansas- They are the defending West champs, still they lost to Florida in the SEC title game and to Wisconsin in the Liberty Bowl. Quarterback Casey Dick tries to develop under offensive coordinator David Lee and his new NFL style offense. Making that easier will be Heisman runner up Darren McFadden, who has all the skills from blocking to receiving. Oh by the way, his running mate Felix Jones had 1168 yards on the ground last year. The offensive line comes back strong and ready to help McFadden become the first Heisman winner in school history. They will feel the loss of end Jamaal Anderson, as they lack experience on the defensive side of the ball. The chances of a repeat in the West don’t look bright, but they weren’t supposed to win it last year either.
Ole Miss- Down in Rebel country the theme is offense baby. This unit was ranked 111th in the nation (261.5 yards per game) and that will keep you at or near the cellar in the West. Rumor has it that Brent Schaffer will move from quarterback to receiver, either way the job is Seth Adams to lose. They have a 1,000-yard back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, yet that didn’t get them too many points in 2006. On defense, they lost all three starting backers, the secondary had only three interceptions last year, which all adds up too another long season for Ole Miss.
Mississippi State-The Bulldogs have won less than 20 games the last six years. Now their hopes rest on quarterback Michael Henig. He came on strong in the second half of last year fighting through injuries. Anthony Dixon provides stability in the backfield. The defense lost some key players and may not have enough to make an impact this season. The schedule does not help with only six home games. The goal is to get to .500 and build from there.
So as we can see this is a league of speed, agility as well as ability. It’s where NFL players are made. In this league there are no weeks off – here you man up and fight to the last yard. Welcome to the SEC ya’ll!