DKW 86 6,394 Posted August 23, 2006 Share Posted August 23, 2006 http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/s...0823/west.shtml LSU, AU should fight it out for SEC West championshipLast in a series. THE DAILY looked at the SEC Eastern Division in Tuesday's editions. By Kyle Veazey DAILY Sports Writer firstname.lastname@example.org Ã‚Â· 340-2460 After years of domination by the Eastern Division, the balance of power in Southeastern Conference football has shifted to the West in recent seasons. This year shouldn't be any different. It's a top-heavy division. LSU and Auburn are among the most talented teams in the country, but it's just a matter of which team can nimbly navigate its schedule. Either could contend for a national title, but the winner of that Sept. 16 Auburn-LSU game will have the upper hand for the league crown. It's also a bottom-heavy division, and it also has two teams who clearly seem destined to battle for Nos. 3 and 4. Alabama and Arkansas, which meet Sept. 23 in Fayetteville, appear ready to battle for those middle spots in the Western Division Ã¢â‚¬â€ no shameful place, given the talent up top. Whether Sly Croom and Ed Orgeron, now incumbent coaches at the Mississippi schools, can rejuvenate their programs and make some surprises is suspect at best. Alabama The expectations weren't supposed to be up this early again at Alabama, but that's what a 10-2 season and flirtations with the national title will do. Though still a year away talent-wise from what most insiders think is their chance to win the league, the Tide faces one of its toughest conference road schedules in years. There are so many question marks on this team, too, but the running game isn't among them. Senior Ken Darby will break the all-time rushing mark late this year if he remains healthy. Quarterbacks: John Parker Wilson must deliver as the Crimson Tide's starter, because behind him, the depth produces a severe dropoff. Senior Marc Guillon hasn't proven that he can lead a team, and freshmen Jimmy Barnes and Greg McElroy are suspect and inexperienced. Luckily for Alabama, Wilson has shown poise and ability in his limited work last year and extensive drilling and scrimmaging this spring and fall. Defense: Alabama must find a way to adequately replace seven starters off a unit that was among the nation's top defensive teams the past two years. Austin High graduate Juwan Simpson leads the way on a linebacking corps that is deceptively experienced despite having to insert two new starters. The secondary is green but talented. Depth is a concern at almost every position on Joe Kines' unit, so avoiding injuries will be crucial. Schedule: Alabama must travel to Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Tennessee, hardly the kind of four-weekend jaunt you make with an undefeated record in mind. The only solace is that Auburn will visit Tuscaloosa this November. Luckily for Mike Shula, athletics director Mal Moore schuled three patsies and another probable win, Hawaii, in the non-conference portion of the schedule. No. 4 Auburn Can Auburn do it again? The Tigers are loaded just like they were in 2004, when they made a run for a national title that wasn't rewarded with a shot for the title. Brandon Cox appears poised to become an offensive leader and Kenny Irons isn't too shabby of a back, either. Any way you look at it, these Tigers don't seem to have many holes. Quarterbacks: Cox was named the SEC's second-team quarterback, which isn't a bad accolade for a guy who threw a season's share of interceptions in last year's season-opener. Cox's progression throughout last season is reason to think he's about to emerge as one of the league's elite quarterbacks. Despite the graduation of some of his top receivers, Cox still has weapons to lead Auburn's passing offense out of the middle of the pack and toward the top, where it will find company in the person of the team's rushing offense. Defense: As has been Tommy Tuberville's goal in recent years, speed is the hallmark of this defense. There are some quick pass rushers up front in the persons of Quentin Groves and Marquies Gunn, and David Irons is a first-team all-SEC defensive back. Depth is an issue, and so is the move of Will Herring from the secondary to linebacker. Schedule: The big SEC games Ã¢â‚¬â€ Georgia, Florida and LSU Ã¢â‚¬â€ are at home, just like Auburn's prolific run through the league in 2004. Alabama is on the road, which makes for a potential trap game in late November. But like in 2004, if the Tigers make a run for a national title, that strength of schedule could trip them up. Washington State is the only marquee name on the schedule, and it hasn't done much of anything lately. Arkansas Nearly a year after Houston Nutt had to endure questions surrounding his job, there's reason to think Arkansas could be planting the first seeds of its comeback to the top of the league. The quarterback situation shows promise to the future and Arkansas' young 2005 team enters 2006 with experience. The Hogs were dealt an early blow with Darren McFadden's injury in a bar fight Ã¢â‚¬â€ he was likely the team's best player at tailback. Quarterbacks: There's plenty here. Casey Dick is the returning starter, and he was 53-for-99 passing last year, throwing seven touchdowns to four interceptions. However, Robert Johnson has beaten him out for the job in the preseason. But Nutt sold everything but the deed to Tyson Foods to get prep star Mitch Mustain from nearby Springdale High. His prep coach is coming to run the offense and call the plays, and don't be surprised if Mustain is deemed ready early on. Defense: Usually stout defensively, the Razorbacks finished 10th in the overall league standings in that category last year. Linebacker Sam Olajubutu, who seems to be just about everywhere, returns to lead the unit back to prominence. The Hogs, though, placed just one more player on the all-SEC preseason team: defensive lineman Keith Jackson Ã¢â‚¬â€ of Little Rock, not ABC Sports. Schedule: Does anyone think the Hogs can beat USC at home on Sept 2? Probably not, but it's worth watching. An upset there could start something special. The Razorbacks also play Utah State, Southeast Missouri State and Louisiana-Monroe. Arkansas gets LSU, Alabama and Tennessee in Fayetteville, but must travel to Auburn. No. 8 LSU Last year could be called a what-might-have-been if the Tigers hadn't had to deal with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Given the devastation both caused, though, few regretted the football-only ramifications of those storms. The Tigers face a tougher schedule this year, if only because it must travel to play its most crucial games. But there may not be a more talented team in the league than Les Miles' LSU squad. Quarterbacks: A decision over whom he will start chased Miles all the way to a USO trip to Baghdad and even into the bedroom with his wife. It still chases him today. Miles will likely start returnee JaMarcus Russell, but Matt Flynn's performance in the Peach Bowl and Ryan Perrilloux's potential doesn't make it a slam-dunk. Either way, LSU should be fine under center. Defense: LaRon Landry, a first-team all-SEC guy, is the real deal. He'll lead a defense that includes linebacker Ali Highsmith and lineman Chase Pittman, both among the league's top players. Last year's LSU defense was second to Alabama's in the league standings (explaining that 16-13 overtime win in Tuscaloosa) and it could leapfrog the Tide this fall. Schedule: Arizona and Fresno State highlight the non-conference schedule, if that could be called a highlight. The Sept. 16 game at Auburn could decide the league title in the early going. LSU also travels to Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas, meaning that this year's schedule may not bode well for the Tigers. Mississippi State So this is the year, right? Sylvester Croom, entering his third season in Starkville, finally thinks his team has the requisite talent and attitude to build his program. His problem is that his team last season couldn't score any points. Its main offensive weapon from last season, Jerious Norwood, is gone. Its quarterback, Michael Henig, didn't impress much of anyone. Not exactly the kind of formula that breeds success. Quarterbacks: Henig, the Montgomery product, has been selected as the starter for the Bulldogs, but it's not clear whether this is a good or bad thing. Henig was at the helm for a portion of last season, which saw Mississippi State finish next to last in points per game and last in passing offense. Defense: The Bulldogs return a quality player in the person of Quinton Culberson, a senior linebacker. The secondary should be solid, too. The defense figures to emerge into the top half of units in the league, but, given this team's poor offensive output of last year, it might have to score points on its own to win games. Schedule: If Mississippi State can open with a Thursday night win at home over South Carolina, the bowl chances of this team will be scrutinized from the first day. A curious road trip to UAB on Sept. 23 could be a trip-up, and an even more curious home game against West Virginia could be a blowout. But the Bulldogs have five imminently winnable games Ã¢â‚¬â€ vs. Tulane, at UAB, vs. Jacksonville State, vs. Kentucky and at Ole Miss Ã¢â‚¬â€ so the team's stock could be rising as the season progresses. Ole Miss Year two of Ed Orgeron's tenure in Oxford begins with the usual Ole Miss storylines Ã¢â‚¬â€ a lack of depth and skilled players in relation to the rest of the SEC. But in quarterback Brent Schaeffer and linebacker Patrick Willis, Orgeron has two possible stars that could lead this team back in the right direction. Quarterbacks: There's Brent Schaeffer, and then there's nobody. Literally. Asked at SEC Media Days about his quarterback situation, Orgeron all but said he'd be in trouble if Schaeffer didn't show up. Luckily for him, Schaeffer's flight landed in Memphis a day or so before the Rebels opened preseason practice. That's a reason for optimism in Oxford, since Schaeffer, all of his past troubles aside, is the SEC-caliber quarterback this team has lacked since Eli Manning. Defense: With linebacker Patrick Willis returning, the Rebels have a big-time playmaker on defense. This team was middle-of-the-pack in defensive stats last season, giving Ole Miss fans hope that Orgeron's defense will be a strong point despite the lack of offense. Trumaine McBride returns as a senior in the secondary, leading an experienced group that could become one of the league's best units. Schedule: The Rebels have an interested schedule, but it's one that could conceivably have them reaching the six-win level in order to qualify for a bowl game. The first two games, both out of conference, are critical Ã¢â‚¬â€ Memphis visits Oxford on Sept. 3 and the Rebels travel to Missouri on Sept. 9. Ole Miss gets Wake Forest and Northwestern State at home in the non-conference schedule. As for league games, the Rebels travel to Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and LSU and host Vanderbilt, Georgia, Mississippi State and Auburn. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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