It is odd that as recently as three years ago, the SEC East was considered the toughest division in college football. Then a few things happened. Alabama shellacked Florida in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, Dan Mullen left the Gators and began building a powerhouse in Starkville, things got cooking for Bobby Petrino down in Arkansas, Lane Kiffin buzzed through town in Knoxville leaving death and destruction in his wake, and Auburn lured Cam Newton to campus by purely legitimate means. Just like that, the pendulum swung, and the SEC West has, at least temporarily, left the East in its wake. We've already taken a look at the SEC East, as well as some of the big games coming up for the entire SEC this fall. Here is a quick look at how I see the West shaking out this year.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide. The Crimson Tide will reload after last year's somewhat disappointing (for Alabama) 10-3 season. Though there are too many pre-season All SEC players to name, Alabama will be led by RB Trent Richardson, who finally becomes a full time back after sharing carries with Heisman winner Mark Ingram for the past two years. The schedule gods cooperate, with Arkansas and LSU forced to come to Bryant-Denny, though the Tide have a tough tilt at Penn State set for the second game of the year. This is a national championship contender.
2. LSU Tigers. Jordan Jefferson is back for his seventh (or eighth?) season as the Tiger's Quarterback, which means once again we'll be talking about how good this team would be if he was better. A hellacious schedule starts with a heavyweight bout against Oregon on September 3. Still, this team is deep and talented that, as always, will have some wild finishes on the way to what should be a very good season.
3. Mississippi St. Bulldogs. By a nose. Dan Mullen's theme this year, with all apologies to author Jim Collins I'm sure, is "good to great". It is time to see if last year's 9-4 finish (culminating in a 52-14 pasting of Michigan in the Gator Bowl) was a flash in the pan or if the Bulldogs are ready to join the SEC's elite. Chris Relf and Vick Ballard come back to form a super backfield that should eat up a lot of yards in 2011.
4. Arkansas Razorbacks. It is hard to put the Razorbacks this far down, and they could finish fourth in the division and still be a top 20 team. Already faced with replacing QB Ryan Mallett, the Hogs were dealt a crushing blow when the SEC's leading rusher of 2010, Knile Davis, was lost for the season with an ankle injury. With Tyler Wilson already expected to pick up the pieces well at QB, the Razobacks will need someone else to step up in the backfield.
5. Auburn Tigers. Do I really expect last year's National Championship team to fall all the way to fifth in their own division just because they lost Cam Newton? Yep.
6. Mississippi Rebels. There is really no other choice for this spot. Unfortunately for Houston Nutt and Co., they are stuck in a division with 5 very good college football teams, and they don't figure to be one in 2011.
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