The next step in our college football journey takes us to the cream of the crop. As you may have noticed , I have previewed two conferences in each post. One from a BCS conference and one from a non-BCS league. The combining of these two leagues is no coincidence. In the SEC you have the conference that has made clear over the last several seasons, that top to bottom it is the best in the country. The Mountain West has stepped up and made the strongest cases against BCS monopolies. Utah, TCU, and BYU have all been as good as most teams in the country. This conference will play some excellent football again this season. We will start our look today with the Southeastern conference.
PROJECTED SEC FINAL STANDINGS
3. South Carolina
6. Mississippi St.
SEC Championship Game: Florida over Alabama
The SEC East is easy to predict at the top. The Gators with “superman” Tim Tebow are looking at national titles, not conference division titles. Any loss by them will be a tremendous upset. They did lose alot at WR, but that was it. Georgia won’t be as strong this year without Matthew Stafford, but they are still a clear choice for second. Now the fun begins. Most Volunteer fans don’t expect Lane Kiffin to be better than Florida and Georgia right away, but they do expect to beat SouthCarolina. With Stephen Garcia finally getting the reins for the Gamecocks that won’t be so easy. The game on Halloween night between Tennessee and South Carolina will be huge for the two programs. Kentucky is okay, but has to replace alot on defense and OC Joker Phillips needs to get more from the QB position. Vandy had a dream year (for them) last season, but there is no denying the talent deficit they have compared to other league schools. It will always be a challenge for the Commodores. The West is much more interesting and unpredictable at the top. Three teams could win the division race. I give Alabama the edge. Their defense will be stellar, and I expect their recent recruiting to fill the holes on their offensive line. Mississippi is as excited for a season as they’ve ever been. They were the only team to beat Florida last season and pretty much that same team is back for more. QB Jevan Snead gets big time games against Alabama and LSU at home. LSU will be tough, but I am still not sure about their QB play. I think they are just a step behind the elite teams in the conference this season. Some were upset when Auburn hired Gene Chizik as head coach. His two years at Iowa State had been a disaster, but before that he was the hottest coaching prospect in the country. His recruiting has been tremendous and he brought in offensive guru Gus Malzahn to revamp the attack. Arkansas will be improved in year two under Bobby Petrino , but this conference is unforgiving and the improvement might not show up in the record. Mississippi State has a new coach in Dan Mullen. He might make waves in the SEC, but not this year.
Bowl Teams: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn
Offensive MVP: Tim Tebow, QB Florida
I tried to come up with a reason not to pick Tebow. Couldn’t find one.
Defensive MVP: Terrence Cody, NT Alabama
This was tough. It is hard not to pick Tennessee’s Eric Berry or Florida’s Brandon Spikes. But the choice is Cody. His 370 lb body is the key to Alabama’s defense. He clogs the middle and makes it impossible to run on the Tide. IMPOSSIBLE.
Team most likely to be way better or worse than I predicted:
LSU. I have them third in the SEC West because of my concerns about their QB play. I think incumbent Jordan Jefferson and freshman Russell Shepard will both get snaps. I am hesitant to put much faith in them, but if they come through….watch out. LSU returns many skill players and the defense is improved. They could surprise me.
Best TE in the League: DJ Williams, TE Arkansas
They are going to throw alot more in Fayetteville, so expect the Junior to put up big receiving numbers.
Best Coordinator: Charlie Strong, DC Florida
There is some desire to pick Gus Malzahn for what he did at Tulsa last year or Monte Kiffin for his NFL resume, but this is about the SEC. Many marvel at Florida’s offensive stars, but defense is how they have maintained their excellence. They finished fourth in the nation last year in scoring defense and held teams like Georgia and Oklahoma way below their averages.
PROJECTED MTN. WEST FINAL STANDINGS
1. Brigham Young
2. Texas Christian
4. Air Force
5. Colorado St.
7. San Diego St.
8. New Mexico
The Mountain West has three teams that are as good as the second tier of any BCS conference. BYU, TCU, and Utah will battle it out again for the conference crown and a possible BCS bid. I have Utah on the outside looking in because they lose just too much from last years Sugar Bowl squad. Replacing a QB is one thing, but they lost almost every skill position player that contributed to the undefeated season. That leaves the BYU/TCU showdown on October 24th. It’s BYU’s offense versus TCU’s defense. It will be a titanic struggle, but I go for BYU. Off last years disappointing 10-3 year, I think coach Bronco Mendenhall will have the Cougars ready. Air Force is just a notch below the others. Their focus will be more on getting back the Commander-in Chief’s trophy than winning the MWC. Coach Steve Fairchild got Colorado St. back into a bowl in year one. If he can replace his departed QB, he’ll continue the resurgence in 2009. UNLV’s coach Mike Sanford has had enough time to show progress in Vegas. Now in year 5 it is put up or shut up time. The final 3 teams are all sporting first year coaches. San Diego State’s at least has experience. fresh off his big season at Ball State, Brady Hoke takes over the sleeping giant Aztecs. They return alot on offense and could surprise. New Mexico’s Mike Locksley was a recruiting wiz at Illinois, now he brings his skills to the Lobos. It will take a few cycles to have an effect. Wyoming is a moribund program. they are hoping former Missouri OC Dave Christensen is the answer.
Bowl Teams: BYU, TCU, Utah, Air Force, Colorado St.
Offensive MVP: Max Hall, QB BYU
Any BCS bowl hopes at BYU rest on the right arm of Max Hall. He was top ten in passing yardage and had 35 TD’s a year ago. He will need more to navigate the MWC unscathed. I think he’s ready for the challenge.
Defensive MVP: Jerry Hughes, DE TCU
TCU had the number one. Yes , I said number 1 ranked defense in the country last year. That was due in large part to Hughes and his 15 sacks and 6 forced fumbles last season.
Team most likely to be way better or worse than I predicted:
San Diego St.The Aztecs used to be a factor in the MWC and the old WAC. Brady Hoke has been brought in to return to those days. The cupboard isn’t bare. QB Ryan Lindley and a bevy of good WR’s could put points on the board. If new DC Rocky Long can revamp the defense, SD State could be a sleeper.
Best TE in the League: Dennis Pitta, BYU
Last season he caught 83 passes for 1,083 yards and he didn’t even play in every game.
Best Coordinator: Dick Bumpas, DC TCU
He has sent many players into the NFL recently and you can’t argue with only allowing 11 pts and 217 yards a game. Coach Bumpas has made the Horned Frog defense almost impenetrable to the run. They only gave up 47 yards rushing a game, number one in the country last season.
Next we will go local with our preview of the ACC and Independents.