Oh, you know the scene. Twenty-five years ago Micheal Douglas’ Gordon Gekko stands up and defends his raid on a paper company in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.”
“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
While one can debate whether the greed of the go-go ’80s was really good in the long run or not, there’s no debating that the SEC is the new Gordon Gekko on the block. How greedy is Mike Slive’s empire? Greedy enough to bring home six consecutive BCS Championship trophies. And the only SEC team to lose a BCS Championship Game during that run… obviously lost to an SEC rival. Now that’s greed.
As a result, the little guys of the sports world got together after last season’s SEC versus SEC title clash and demanded change. Suddenly the playoff that would never come, came. “Details, shmetails, give us some system that might help crack the SEC’s safe,” seemed to be the cry from commissioners across the country.
Well, their new playoff — which in a sign of ultimate power looks a lot like the four-team playoff Slive himself suggested years ago — won’t become a reality until the 2014 season. That means the SEC’s perceived strength and proven track record will continue to benefit the league for two more seasons in the voters-plus-computers BCS system. (It also means you can get ready for “what if we had a playoff this year” hypotheticals from ESPN all season long.)
So if the game’s the same in 2012, who’s to say the SEC’s avarice and gluttony won’t lead to another national crown and another crystal football being gobbled up come January? Here’s a better question, who in the Southeastern Conference is most-likely to capture #7 in a row?
Our feelings regarding each SEC squad heading into the season can be found by clicking the “rest of this entry” link below. The best case scenarios and the worst. Our predictions. Which coaches will surprise and which ones will get the boot at year’s end (or before)?
In keeping with the “Wall Street” theme, Blue Horseshoe loves Alabama. Yes, we’re putting a lot of faith in Nick Saban, but why wouldn’t we? The man has won three BCS championships (two at Bama, one at LSU) and he’s the only coach since World War II to win titles at two different schools. His recruiting has been superb. We suspect a new row of shark’s teeth will move forward to replace the big ones lost from last year’s squad.
Best case: Bama survives early tests away from home against Michigan and Arkansas, sees its confidence grow and continues to follow Saban’s “process” just as last year’s team did. If that happens, don’t be surprised to see the Tide back in the BCS Championship Game again this season.
Worst case: Complacency sets in (as it did after UA’s last national crown) and a group of new starters can’t pick up where last year’s starters left off. AJ McCarron was solid/good in 2011. If he’s called on to be great in 2012, can he be?
We love the Tigers. We love what Les Miles did with his program last season. With the exception of the final, all-important hurdle, he navigated a minefield of potential distractions all season long. But the loss of Tyrann Mathieu hurts. How much? If it’s just one game against Alabama then that could be enough to scuttle the Tigers’ SEC title hopes. (Think back on how his two punt returns completely turned around last year’s SEC Championship Game, if you doubt the size of his loss.) But as Tiger fans know, you don’t always have to win the SEC title to wind up in the BCS title game.
Best case: Zach Mettenberger is everything Tiger fans dream he will be — a solid downfield passer with accuracy who will help to make LSU’s offense two-dimensional. Meanwhile, John Chavis’ defense does what John Chavis’ defense usually does — tear up offenses.
Worst case: Even if Mettenberger falters, injuries appear to the be the only issue that could keep the Tigers out of the national title hunt. If LSU remains healthy — especially along both lines — their clash in Baton Rouge with Alabama could once again be played with the top ranking in the country on the line.
3. South Carolina
We’re not enamored with Connor Shaw’s passing ability and Steve Spurrier talk of running the ball even more makes it sound like Shaw’s not turned any big corners this offseason. We also have concerns about Marcus Lattimore’s rehabbed knee. But on defense, Carolina looks to be wicked. And defense typically rules in the SEC.
Best case: The Cocks have just enough passing game to keep teams honest and their defense wreaks havoc with Jadeveon Clowney leading the way. He’ll be lined up all over the field and the goal is to be more aggressive. Sounds good, but…
Worst case: If Carolina can’t consistently get to the quarterback, its thin secondary could be exposed. That would prevent Lorenzo Ward from being as aggressive as he would like. Oh, and don’t forget about Shaw and that whole passing bit.
Armed with an “easy” SEC schedule and high expectations, the Bulldogs are just about everybody else’s favorites to win the East. We like the talent at the top of the depth chart, but the rest of the roster has grown pretty thin thanks to transfers, dismissals and suspensions. A loss to Missouri in what will be a madhouse at Faurot Field and suddenly the East could come down to a head-to-head battle with Carolina for supremacy.
Best case: The Dawgs avoid the injury bug, Malcolm Mitchell can quickly move back to the offensive side of the ball, and Aaron Murray starts improving on his 2-7 record against ranked foes. In other words, what everyone expects to happen actually happens.
Worst case: Injuries force UGA to use more young and inexperienced players than they normally would. Check the history books. That’s not a recipe for championship-winning in the SEC.
SEC coaches have consistently pointed to Bobby Petrino’s “feel” for calling a game on offense. Does his brother have that same ability? We’re about to find out. We expect the defense to improve, but the offense to take a bit of a step back, despite having the league’s top quarterback prospect according to NFL scouts.
Best case: The offense doesn’t miss a beat, new receivers step up for Tyler Wilson, and Knile Davis returns from a nasty ankle injury just as fit as a fiddle. Add to that an improved defense under the leadership of new coordinator Paul Haynes.
Worst case: The team falls at home to Alabama and some on the team start to wonder whether they’d have won with Petrino on the sideline instead of John L. Smith. Expect, “Would Petrino have done that?” questions to linger throughout the season. There’s a greater chance of that being a bad thing than a good one.
The defense should be excellent and Will Muschamp’s crew now know exactly what he wants from them. There are highly-recruited players across the roster, but, oh, that quarterback situation looks worrisome.
Best case: Either Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel emerges from the opening week’s “you get a quarter and you get a quarter” gameplan to grasp the starting job once and for all. Finding a QB is the first step.
Worst case: We’re once again left to talk about a lack of development at the skill positions on offense and Brissett and Driskel continue to flip-flop all season. If UF can’t come up with a solid ground game and a basic passing threat, all the talent on defense could be wasted.
Like Florida and Missouri, the Volunteers could fall just about anywhere in the middle of the SEC East. Derek Dooley has a deeper, more athletic, better-sized team than ever before. He also just lost the SEC’s leading returning receiver and he has a quarterback who worries many UT athletic department employees nearly as much as the now-departed Da’Rick Rogers.
Best case: Tyler Bray’s on-field actions are the talk of Knoxville rather than his off-field choices. If he can zip the ball around the yard — and he has the arm to do just that — then a modest improvement in the run game and a defense that should improve as the year goes on should have UT heading back to a bowl in 2012.
Worst case: If Tennessee comes out of its first three games with one or two losses — to NC State and/or Florida — the wheels could start to come off Dooley’s wagon. His team quit on him last season. With seven new assistants, who’s to rally the troops around the head coach if the Vols start slow?
Better than many SEC fans are giving them credit for being, but not ready to contend for an SEC title. Mizzou can be lumped in with the two East Division teams we slot just a hair above them. Why do those teams get the nod over the Tigers? Check out the size of MU’s defensive linemen and the injuries mounting on its offensive line.
Best case: The Tigers get off to a rousing start with a win over Georgia, gain confidence, and stay healthy. No one thought Petrino’s offense would succeed in the SEC, but it did. If Gary Pinkel’s non-traditional offense can prove problematical for opposing defenses, Mizzou could have a memorable first season in its new conference.
Worst case: Injuries. An injury to quarterback James Franklin who likes to run with the ball. Further injuries on the O-line. Injuries on the D-line that force Pinkel’s crew to go even smaller and lighter in the trenches. Like Georgia, Mizzou desperately needs to stay healthy.
9. Mississippi State
Tyler Russell is expected to do big things, but he was never able to jump past Chris Relf on State’s QB depth chart. Dan Mullen has upgraded the Bulldog program, but just how much upward mobility is there in the SEC West?
Best case: State gets off to a hot start and takes advantage of a laugher of a nonconference schedule to build some confidence. Mullen finally tops an SEC West team not named Ole Miss so that that old line can be forgotten. MSU’s takes a step up the standings board over Auburn and lands in an above-average bowl game.
Worst case: Even with a fleet of veteran receivers, we learn why Russell never unseated Relf. Worse, could an NCAA investigation become an on-field distraction? And if State drops its SEC opener to Auburn, might some on the squad start to think, “Here we go again?”
If you’re looking for a blueprint for success, this isn’t it: two new coordinators with two new systems, a new quarterback who seemed to have won the job thanks to his competition’s sore arm, and more issues than Time Magazine when it comes to off-field problems.
Best case: The light comes on for Kiehl Frazier who Gus Malzahn absolutely did not want throwing the football last year. A young offensive line — three new starters in the season opener against Clemson — comes together quickly and provides Frazier with some help in the running game. All the while, Brian VanGorder’s defense improves as it goes.
Worst case: With Clemson in Atlanta and Mississippi State on the road, the Tigers could open 0-2, which might shake the confidence of a young team. Such a start would definitely begin to cause rumblings about the job Gene Chizik is doing. And that’s seldom a good in-season issue to have to deal with.
11. Texas A&M
I’m not so sure the Aggies wouldn’t have been better off entering the SEC with Mike Sherman as head coach. That’s no knock on Kevin Sumlin, but new league, new foes, new recruiting ties to build… and new coaches and systems to learn? That seems to be too much change all at one time.
Best case: Johnny Manziel surprises at quarterback and A&M pulls off an SEC-opening win over Florida to get everyone — team, fans, pundits, etc — behind Sumlin and crew.
Worst case: Christine Michael isn’t back to 100% after his ACL surgery. A strong O-line gets banged up going against rugged SEC D-lines every week. And the Aggie defense falters as the offense struggles. A&M will be fine in the long run, but Season #1 in the SEC could be a bumpy ride.
James Franklin has made all the right moves since arriving in Nashville. He’s recruited like no one at Vandy since the early 1900s. He’s fired up a fanbase that paid no attention to football until last season. And he’s got writers like Matt Hayes of The Sporting News ranking him among the Top 25 coaches in all of college football. Now he’s just got to prove he can keep on keepin’ on.
Best case: Jordan Rodgers develops as a passer — he’s already a gamer — and his young offensive line can protect him long enough to get rid of the ball. In the SEC that’ll be tough.
Worst case: In putting Vandy on the map last year, Franklin also got himself and his program noticed by their longtime rivals. So don’t expect anyone to take the Commodores or their coach lightly in 2012… which could be bad news for Rogers and a so-so defense.
UK enters the season as two-touchdown underdogs to rival Louisville. That should tell you the state of things in Lexington.
Best case: Maxwell Smith takes a step forward at the quarterback spot after showing some flashes of talent last season. A truckload of new starters on defense thrive off of Joker Phillips’ apparent “us against the world” attitude and the Cats actually pull an upset or two.
Worst case: The reality of playing youngsters all over the field sets in on the Wildcats as it has on so many SEC teams before them. The SEC chews up and spits out teams made up of freshmen and sophomores. And that’s exactly what UK is.
14. Ole Miss
Poor Hugh Freeze. He inherited a thin roster with bad grades. He’s turned that into a thin roster with better grades. Unfortunately, the grades thing won’t help at all this fall in the SEC West.
Best case: Bo Wallace or Barry Brunetti steps forward at quarterback and the Rebels can somehow survive the season. Winning back the Egg Bowl trophy might be the best goal for UM in 2012.
Worst case: A young, thin team suffers injuries. The Rebels have already lost some important pieces in camp. Lose anymore, and another two- or three-win campaign remains a real possibility.
Predicted SEC East Finish
1. South Carolina
Predicted SEC West Finish
4. Mississippi State
6. Texas A&M
7. Ole Miss
Coaches On The Hot Seat — Who Stays, Who Goes?
Joker Phillips, Kentucky — When your team is made up of freshmen and sophomores, ticket sales are down, and you actually tell your fanbase, “You’re either with us or against us,” the deck is stacked against you. And that’s all true of Phillips. If he does make it, it will only be because Mitch Barnhart has the power — thanks to his John Calipari hire — to stand beside Phillips through dark times, which he once did with Rich Brooks. Will history repeat itself? We don’t think so.
Derek Dooley, Tennessee — He’ll keep his job, but it’ll be close. In fact, it will likely have more to do with AD Dave Hart’s knowledge that hiring a fourth coach in six seasons might move the Vols all the way back to the starting gate in terms of rebuilding. Dooley’s back at 8-4, but we expect 7-5 and a skin-of-the-teeth survival.