2010 SEC College Football Preview: Alabama still reigns supreme

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 07: Head coach Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate with the BCS Championship trophy after winning the Citi BCS National Championship game over the Texas Longhorns at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010 in Pasadena, California. The Crimson Tide defeated the Longhorns 37-21. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Here’s a quick and dirty look at how I see things playing out in the SEC this season:

#1 Alabama
Led by head coach Nick Saban and Heisman winner Mark Ingram, this is by far the best team in the country. While they don’t come weakness-free, the Tide have the best combination of talent and coaching in all of college football. They play in the nation’s toughest conference so there’s always a chance that they could lose a game during the season, but this is your clear national title favorite. Their defense might be even better than it was a year ago.

#2 Florida
The Gators lost Tim Tebow, Riley Cooper, Aaron Hernandez, Maurkice Pouncey, Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes, Ryan Stamper, Joe Haden and Major Wright from their squad last season. In one word: Ouch. Outside of running back Jeff Demps, they lost their top player at nearly every position, which would usually destroy a program’s chances of competing the next year. But this is Florida – they reload every year. This year’s crop of starters has seen time in either part-time action or spot starts over the last couple of years, so the Gators will compete. Are they a top 5 team? We’ll find out soon.

#3 Arkansas
All right, so I might be drinking too much of the Ryan Mallett Kool-Aid by ranking the Razorbacks ahead of Georgia and LSU. But even though Bobby Petrino is a turd, the man knows how to run an offense (a college football offense, that is) and Arkansas will be explosive on that side of the ball again this year. The question is whether or not their defense will step up so that this team can reach its full potential. As it stands now, it’s probably safe to say that Arkansas is going to have issues slowing teams down this year, but I just can’t stop starring at that offense. It’s like a tractor beam of hotness.

#4 Georgia
Of any team in the conference, the Dawgs may have the best chance to surprise in the SEC. They’re coming off a disappointing 2009 season, but with players like A.J. Green, Washuan Easley, Brandon Boykin and Blair Walsh coming back, they have plenty of talent to challenge Florida in the East. They also have a favorable schedule, as they don’t have to play Alabama and get home games against Arkansas and Tennessee this year. As long as they don’t overlook South Carolina and can get past Florida and Auburn (no small feat), Georgia has a better shot to contend for a SEC title than people think.

#5 Auburn
Even though they faded after a 5-0 start, Gene Chizik did a wonderful job in his first year at Auburn. He also landed the fourth overall recruiting class in the nation, headlined by running back Michael Dyer. Is this team ready to compete with Alabama and Florida? Not yet, but under Chizik, they’re moving in the right direction and I see an improved team from a year ago.

#6 LSU
I’m probably down on LSU more than others, but I just don’t like this team’s talent compared to that of the teams I have listed above. Plus, Les Miles does something stupid every year to make you question how he has been as successful as he has over the years. Still, this isn’t a program that lost a lot of top talent and they’re always hard to beat at home, so don’t rule out the Tigers’ chances for competing with the top dogs in the SEC this year.

#7 South Carolina
Yikes. As if road games against Auburn, Alabama, Florida and Clemson weren’t enough, the Gamecocks also had to suspended both Quintin Richardson and Weslye Saunders indefinitely for two separate violations. Steve Spurrier has put together some solid recruiting classes over the past couple of years and this team has enough talent to challenge in the East, but with a daunting schedule and off-field issues mounting things look bleak in Columbia.

#8 Tennessee
Don’t expect much from the Vols this season, as Derek Dooley and company lost their starting quarterback, their two leading rushers and both starting offensive tackles. They also have to figure out a way to replace Eric Berry, Rico McCoy and Dennis Rogan on the defensive side of the ball, as well as find replacements for injured defensive linemen Ben Martin and Marlon Walls. But despite this being an obvious rebuilding year, Tennessee usually finds a way to be competitive, which is why I have them ranked as high as I do.

#9 Ole’ Miss
Obviously the big news in Oxford this year is the addition of former Oregon Duck Jeremiah Masoli. But while everyone assumes Masoli will eventually be the starter this season for the Rebs, Houston Nutt recently proclaimed that Nathan Stanley would be his quarterback if the season were to start today. Either way, the quarterback position killed Ole’ Miss with turnovers last season, so whoever takes the snaps this year, cutting down on interceptions will be a must. This is a talented team, but I see their schedule giving them problems (i.e. road games at Alabama and LSU) and a quarterback controversy brewing (which is never a good thing).

#10 Kentucky
The offense has plenty of playmakers, but the key is the quarterback position. Can Mike Hartline (who beat out Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski for the starting job) produce? With the uncertainty at quarterback and the offensive line having to replace four new starters, I don’t see the Wildcats turning heads this season. The only saving grace is that they play Ole Miss, Auburn and Mississippi State in the West this year, which is certainly less daunting than South Carolina’s trio of West opponents in Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas.

#11 Mississippi State
It’s hard not to love the Bulldogs’ crop of receivers and offensive linemen, but it’s hard not to worry about their quarterback and running back situation. Their defense has the ability to keep them in most games, but not without a consistent pass-rush. Mississippi State’s roster offers plenty of talent, but this team has to go on the road to play LSU, Houston, Florida and Alabama. Talk about daunting.

#12 Vanderbilt
The defense is definitely something to keep an eye on (especially the secondary) and with running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy leading the way, Vandy should be a better offensive unit. But led by quarterback Larry Smith, the passing game is a huge concern and I envision this defense being on the field a lot.

Check out other 2010 College Football Conference Previews: SEC | Big Ten | Big 12

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