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2009 SEC Conference (West Division) Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 09/04/2009

While the SEC East has the best team in the conference in Florida, the SEC West has the next three strongest teams overall. Alabama, LSU and Mississippi all have shots at winning the West and none of the three have a significant edge over the other. All three are ranked in the AP Preseason top ten but it is unlikely all will finish there. I give the edge to Alabama based on its strong defense and underrated offense while I believe that Mississippi is overrated until it can prove itself. LSU should be very hungry following a disappointing 2008 season after winning the National Championship the previous year.

Alabama Crimson Tide 12-2 SU, 9-5 ATS, 5-9 O/U

Summary: The Crimson Tide were one of last years big surprises as they went a perfect 12-0 during the regular season before dropping their first game against Florida in the SEC Championship and then losing the Sugar Bowl to Utah. Many will be down on Alabama because of that finish and because it lost a lot heading into this season. Alabama brings back only four starters on offense and must break in a new quarterback as well as three new offensive linemen and that can be a devastating reality for most teams but not the Tide. Looking at the offensive line, it is loaded with experience and class A talent while new quarterback Greg McElroy should be able to flourish right away. Defensively, the Tide finished 3rd overall and 7th in scoring and could be even stronger this season.

Schedule: Alabama will get tested right away as it starts with Virginia Tech in a neutral site game in Atlanta, the same place where is started last season. The Tide has an easy stretch for the next four games before a showdown at Mississippi on October 10th. The next three games are at home including another difficult contest against LSU which is the last roadblock on the slate. Alabama misses Florida and Georgia from the East.

Bottom Line: Alabama comes into the season ranked 5th in the country and while many think that is overrated, I think it is exactly right. The Tide are arguably a better team this season as they are coming off their second straight number one recruiting class in the nation. This team is loaded with depth and while the defense can carry Alabama throughout the year, the offense will be better than the 2008 unit.

Betting Forecast: Alabama is 6-17 ATS as a home favorite since 2005. With the public being anti-Tide, they will get some good value at home despite being ranked high.

LSU Tigers 8-5 SU, 3-9 ATS, 7-5 O/U

Summary: Last year was certainly a disappointing season for the Tigers following three straight years of 11 or more wins including the National Championship in 2007. They started 4-0 before getting pounded at Florida by 30 points and the Tigers could not recover from that. Both the offense and the defense took steps backward in 2008 but both sides will show improvements this season. The offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson who ended last season strong in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, earning offensive MVP honors. He has two playmakers, running back Charles Scott and receiver Brandon LaFell at his disposal. The defense slipped to 56th in the nation in scoring last season and it brings in new defensive coordinator John Chavis, who had the same title for 14 years at Tennessee. Despite needing to replace most of the defensive line, the depth is greater this season and the secondary, which was torched last season, will be much more improved.

Schedule: The schedule is not easy for LSU so it is a gamble putting it second but it has a very good track record against elite teams. The Tigers should start out 4-0 again before their first test at Georgia followed by a home game against Florida the following week. A three week break follows before another tough road game at Alabama and then a third at Mississippi two weeks later.

Bottom Line: LSU had a losing record in the SEC for the first time since 1999 which was a big surprise following the BCS Championship the previous season. After a down year like that, you know that the Tigers will rebound and despite a brutal schedule, it will be a title contender once again. Head coach Les Miles is 42-11 at LSU including a 13-5 record on the road and that is where the season hinges.

Betting Forecast: LSU has had three straight losing season in the SEC against the number and coming off a down year, low expectations means more profits in 2009.

Mississippi Rebels 9-4 SU, 9-3 ATS, 6-6 O/U

Summary: The Rebels finished strong last season with six straight wins including a relatively easy win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Also in the mix was a huge upset at Florida and Mississippi finished the season with a 9-4 record. The Rebels have not won 10 games since 2003 which was quarterback Eli Manning’s final season in Oxford. The AP put Mississippi 8th in the Preseason poll, its highest ranking to open a season since 1970, Archie Manning’s senior year with the team, so it will have a lot to prove this season. Personally I think they are overhyped and while they could put forth a great season, I am not sold until it actually starts out well. A bowl game is a definite but the division title will be a much tougher challenge.

Schedule: The schedule sets up very well for Mississippi and this could be the reason it does win the division. The non-conference schedule is easy with the toughest of the four games being the opener at Memphis. The Rebels begin SEC action with two road games at South Carolina and at Vanderbilt. They get Alabama, Tennessee and LSU all at home and then close the season at rival Mississippi St.

Bottom Line: With that schedule, the Rebels should be able to take advantage in what could be one of the best season in Oxford in a very long time. There are skeptics and I am one of those. Quarterback Jevan Sneed threw for 2,762 yards last season while completing 56.3 percent of his passes along with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He is good but not good enough in my opinion to bring home a championship.

Betting Forecast: Mississippi has had three straight winning seasons in the SEC against the number, the opposite of LSU. High expectations mean fewer profits in 2009.

Arkansas Razorbacks 5-7 SU, 5-6 ATS, 7-4 O/U

Summary: Last year was supposed to be a year in transition and that it was as Arkansas settled for a losing record in head coach Bobby Petrino’s first season. With 18 starters back, things should definitely improve but I’m not sure how much as the Razorback face the toughest schedule in the SEC. Last season, the offense finished 49th overall but just 91st in scoring so getting more points on the board is goal number one. They will be led by Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett at quarterback and despite this being his first year, he learned the system while sitting out last year. The defense was a disappointing 72nd overall and 93rd in scoring but will be a much improved unit this season.

Schedule: Arkansas opens against Missouri St. and then has a bye so it is almost like having an extra three weeks of practice. After that only two of the first six games are at home and three of those road games include Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. The Razorbacks do get a break after that with four straight games at home, one taking place in Little Rock, before the season finale at LSU.

Bottom Line: Arkansas has the talent and the experience to make it to a bowl game in 2009. The schedule may not allow it however. While there are only four true road games, all appear to be losses while facing Georgia, Troy and South Carolina at home are no easy outs. If it can avoid any upsets, Arkansas will be back in the postseason after a year off. That is a big if however.

Betting Forecast: Arkansas is just 3-8 ATS in non-conference games over the last three years. Texas A&M is right after Georgia and Alabama so it looks like a play against.

Auburn Tigers 5-7 SU, 2-9 ATS, 3-8 O/U

Summary: Auburn entered the 2008 season as a preseason top ten team and closed the season with its first losing record since 1999. Head coach Tommy Tuberville was forced to resign despite putting together a 42-9 record the previous four seasons. A 5-7 record easily could have been 9-3 as the Tigers dropped four games by five points or less. Former defensive coordinator Gene Chizik takes over following two disappointing seasons at Iowa St. He comes into a good situation which is rare when a coach leaves following a rough season. Auburn returns 15 starters for a second straight season but the offense needs to make huge strides for the Tigers to get back into bowl contention. They finished 104th in total offense and 110th in scoring offense and the defense will be asked to carry the team, at least from the start.

Schedule: Auburn opens the season with four straight home games which is a big advantage for a team trying to turn things around. Mississippi St. and West Virginia are the two toughest of the bunch. Three of the next four games are on the road with all three being against teams ranked higher. The Tigers close with three of their last four games at home but two are against Mississippi and Alabama.

Bottom Line: Auburn does fall into a good spot where its season was a big disappointment but could have and should have been a lot better. That usually means rebound the following season and that could be the case for the Tigers but it is not going to be that easy. The problem is the offense still has a lot of problems and the tough SEC schedule does not help matters.

Betting Forecast: Auburn was a horrid 2-9 ATS last season and records that bad usually reverse out the following season so expect a profitable 2009 for the Tigers

Mississippi St. Bulldogs 4-8 SU, 4-7 ATS, 4-7 O/U

Summary: The Sylvester Croom experiment did not work out for Mississippi St. After three straight three-win seasons, in 2007 the Bulldogs made it to their first bowl game since 2000 but a regression last season forced Croom to resign. Mississippi St. hired Dan Mullen who was the Florida offensive coordinator for the last four seasons. That should improve the offense that has averaged more than 18.9 ppg only once since 2001. it may not happen this season since Mullen probably does not have the right players for the job but he is a perfect hire for the Bulldogs. Mississippi St. finished 35th in total defense last season and brings back only three starters but there should not be a big dropoff as there is some solid experience. A bowl is not in the picture this season but Mississippi St. should have a bright future ahead.

Schedule: The Bulldogs open with Jackson St. before opening SEC action with back-to-back road games at Auburn and Vanderbilt. They return home for three straight home games but none are easy as they face LSU, Georgia Tech and Houston. The backend of the schedule is even tougher with games against Florida, Alabama and Mississippi even though all of those games are at home.

Bottom Line: Croom was the SEC Coach of the Year in 2007 so the fact that he is gone is somewhat surprising but our of his five years resulted in losing seasons so this should be a change for the good. The Bulldogs used to be a fixture at the top of the standings and while they won’t make it back up there this season, they should rise once again.

Betting Forecast: We may want to look at Mississippi St. totals again this season as a revamped offense and a strong defense will lead to more low scoring games.

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