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College Football Breakdown - Early Look at the SEC West

7-04-09

College Football betting is not only fun but profitable, but your must do your homework. The SEC West is probably weaker at the top than its East counterpart, which has the likes of Florida and Georgia vying for its title. However, don't mistake this for the Big 12 North. There are three viable teams sitting at or near the top in Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss, and any of them could conceivably represent this conference in the BCS if the Gators or Bulldogs were to slip.

This division title should be up for grabs. Who's the best?

Let's start out by looking at the numbers from BetUS Sportsbook:

To Win SEC West Division

Alabama +200
Arkansas +650
Auburn +600
LSU +200
Mississippi +200
Mississippi State +1800

ALABAMA (+200 at BetUS) had national title aspirations last season but then dropped the SEC championship game to Florida and was manhandled by Utah in the Sugar Bowl. In John Parker Wilson's successor at quarterback (Greg McElroy),the Tide may actually have an upgrade at the position. Julio Jones ought to contend for All-America honors. As a freshman, the highly-touted wideout had 58 catches, but he'll need someone to take the pressure off him. Mark Ingram, who gained 728 yards in support of Glen Coffee, has the top running back job all to himself. 'Bama will live and die with its defense, and with this stop unit, they'll live a lot more than they die. Nine starters are back, and almost all the lettermen return. The cast includes two of the best in the business at their particular positions, in nose tackle Terrence Cody and linebacker Rolando McClain. Remember that this is a team that allowed opponents to rush for only 74 yards a game last year. Javier Arenas might also be an All-American, and he can make it at either cornerback or kick returner, and he highlights one of the very best special teams units in the country. This team will be formidable again, though offensive development may hold them back. Nick Saban may be a slime, but you can't argue with his success.

LSU (+200 at BetUS) learned how tough it can be last season when you don't really have a quarterback. The Tigers went with Jarrett Lee for most of the season, and he was subpar to say the least (14 TD's, 16 INT's). This year Jordan Jefferson, who was MVP of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Georgia Tech, will be handed the keys, but he had better get his completion percentage above 50%, because he has a deep roster of receivers to throw to. Coach Les Miles caught a real break when Charles Scott decided to stay in school. Scott scored 18 touchdowns and averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season. The offensive line, however, has been a big concern for Miles. Defensively, this team should be tough to run against (3.4 ypc allowed last year). The secondary, which was vulnerable to several opponents in '08, benefits from experience and should be greatly improved. It is still tough to trust Jefferson at QB.

OLE MISS (+200 at BetUS) went from a winless SEC season in 2007 to a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2008, and that is the residue of Houston Nutt's design. Nutt, the former Arkansas coach, did a masterful job of guiding the Rebels to nine wins, including victories over Florida, LSU and Texas Tech. Well, Florida is off the schedule, and Ole Miss has LSU, Alabama and Tennessee at home. Jevan Snead, who threw for 26 touchdowns and 2762 yards, could emerge as a Heisman contender at quarterback. He won't have Michael Oher (an eventual first-round NFL draft pick) to protect him this year, and in fact Nutt must replace three members of the offensive line. There are three players back who ran for over 500 yards, including wide receiver Dexter McCluster, who was running out of the "Wild Rebel," a variation on the Wildcat offense Nutt used at Arkansas (with Darren McFadden) and bled over to the NFL. Peria Jerry, another first-round draft choice, is gone, but the Rebels defensive tackles in Lawon Scott and Ted Paurent who are full capable of all-conference mention. The secret weapon on defense is end Greg Hardy, who can be a real sack master if he can recover from a stress fracture in his foot. In all, eight defensive starters return from last year. With the underrated Nutt at the helm, this is the team to beat in the division.

Things did not go well for AUBURN (+600 at BetUS) last season, and Tommy Tuberville found a scapegoat for it in Tony Franklin, who has had been brought in to ramp up the moribund offense but lasted about a half a season. Then, at the end of the 5-7 disappointment, Tuberville himself was let go. In steps Gene Chizik, who didn't get very much accomplished at Iowa State, who's got a lot to do in order to make this team something for opposing defensive coordinators to worry about. There's no quarterback on the roster who is going to do that, and if it weren't for a defense that is deep and talented and should stay that way (Chizik has a defensive background, and his new coordinator, Ted Roof, is well-regarded) and a pretty decent running back in Ben Tate, the War Eagle would have a hard time making it to a bowl game.

ARKANSAS (+650 at BetUS) has a chance to make some strides in Bobby Petrino's second season. The quarterback position will most likely be manned by Ryan Mallett, a 6'7", 250-pound transfer from Michigan, who simply was not going to fit into Rich Rodriguez's offense. He's much more like some of the people Petrino has worked with in the past. Every one of the best rushers and receivers is back, including real standouts like running back Michael Smith (1072 yards, 5.2 per carry) and tight end D.J. Williams (61 receptions), an all-conference pick. The defense returns ten starters, and Petrino had some interesting recruits. As far as talent and experience is concerned, this is much better than last year's 5-7 edition of the Hogs. The problem is, when the coach lacks character, how can you expect his team to have any?

MISSISSIPPI STATE (+1800 at BetUS) got rid of Sylvester Croom after last season, and not even the NAACP could have made a convincing argument against the firing of the first black coach in the SEC, after his 21-38 record, which included four seasons with eight or more losses, not to mention a horrible 10-30 conference mark. New on the scene is Dan Mullen, who was an assistant to Urban Meyer at both Utah and Florida. He's got a big rebuilding job ahead of him. Tyson Lee is 5'10", which is short for a quarterback, and he produced only 1519 passing yards. He'll have competition as Mullen, who was Florida's offensive coordinator, looks for someone to run the spread offense. Maybe freshman Tyler Russell can do it, and maybe he can't. Either way, it will be a transitional year on offense. The defense lost seven starters, but there was some depth and they do have talent coming back. Otherwise, it would have been a winless year in this conference. It still might be.

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