A Look Into the Crystal Ball
By Jess Nicholas
August 11, 2009
While predictions are often a shot in the dark, it is still fun to look ahead and try to predict the future. Here is our annual look at how the SEC might shape up in the coming year, with the bestowing of our annual “awards.”
SEC Player of the Year: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida. Yes, we just copied and pasted this over from last year’s list. The fact is that Florida without Tim Tebow is a dangerous, talented team, but with Tebow the Gators are championship material. And thus, the definition of a Player of the Year candidate. Runner-up: Jevan Snead, QB, Ole Miss. Ole Miss will ask Snead to be the difference in most of its games this year. Expect the second-year QB to amass impressive statistics.
SEC Coach of the Year: Urban Meyer, Florida. If Florida wins a second consecutive national championship as expected, Meyer will walk away with this award – and he should. Such a feat would also have the effect of elevating Meyer to a position above Steve Spurrier in Florida coaching history, much to the chagrin of some longtime Gator supporters. Runner-up: Bob Petrino, Arkansas. If Arkansas makes a bowl game, which is about a 50/50 proposition, Petrino will feel the love.
SEC Coach with the Hottest Seat: Les Miles, LSU. This is a pivotal year for Miles, whose support at LSU, in the eyes of many, is tied to the relative success of Nick Saban at Alabama whether those fans will admit it or not. Miles and company did a poor job coaching the Tigers in 2008 and another subpar season in 2009 could be too much for him to bear. Miles probably isn’t capable of getting fired in 2009, but a 7-5 season, for instance, would probably make 2010 a make-or-break year. Runner-up: (tie) Gene Chizik, Auburn; and Lane Kiffin, Tennessee. Both are first-year coaches, so their jobs are reasonably safe for at least a year or two. But between the disappointment over Chizik’s hiring among many AU fans, and Kiffin’s propensity to embarrass himself (and Tennessee) in the media, neither man has a long leash.
Player Most Important to His Team: Tim Tebow, Florida. If Florida were to lose Tebow during the 2009 season, it would probably spell the end of the Gators’ title hopes. It’s not that Florida is a one-trick pony, but Tebow has become so critical to not only the Florida offense, but to its psyche as well. It will be interesting to see what the Gators look like after Tebow’s eligibility is up. Runner-up: Jevan Snead, Ole Miss. You could make the argument that Snead is even more important to Ole Miss than Tebow is to Florida, but Ole Miss isn’t thought of as a title contender, so the stakes are lower. If Snead gets hurt in 2009, particularly early on, Ole Miss might not be able to post a winning record.
SEC Team Most Likely to Fall Short of Expectations: Ole Miss. Houston Nutt is much better as an underdog than as a frontrunner, and in 2009, he’s a frontrunner. The media has made Ole Miss its designated darling, but few are looking closely enough at the Rebels’ lack of depth (and pure talent) along both lines of scrimmage and in the linebacker corps and secondary. Success means more than just having Jevan Snead and Greg Hardy. Runner-up: Alabama. So much depends on Alabama’s ability to break in a new quarterback and rebuild its offensive line. The defense is good enough to keep things from hitting disaster level under any scenario, but if the offense sputters, 2009 could look very average – particularly with the Crimson Tide’s schedule set up the way it is.
SEC Team Most Likely to Surprise Us All: Arkansas. The offense wasn’t bad in 2008 and figures to be better in 2009 if QB Ryan Mallett is anything remotely resembling the hype. It all comes down to the defense, which has good speed in spots but not enough size in critical areas, and is lacking in confidence. The schedule is pretty friendly, and if Arkansas pulls a couple of upsets along the way, a nine-win season isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Runner-up: Tennessee. If Lane Kiffin is competent, the defense is good enough to stop most of the teams it will see. But the offense could be a disaster. Anything from four to 10 wins is possible here.
SEC Team Most Likely to Make a Run at a National Championship: Florida. Open up a dictionary to “no-brainer” and this is the definition. Runner-up: LSU. The Tigers have the talent to do it. Big questions remain at quarterback and on the sidelines, although the addition of John Chavis as defensive coordinator should help immensely on that side of the ball.
SEC Team Most Likely to Fall Apart: Auburn. The spread didn’t work last year on the plains, and Auburn still doesn’t have a quarterback to run this offense. The receivers are below average and the defense is shaky in spots. Depth is at its thinnest in years and there is a general lack of playmakers. And by the way, the new coach has a career mark of 5-19 and many observers at his previous job (Iowa State) believe that if he’d stayed at ISU, he would have been fired after this season. Runner-up: Tennessee. UT has plenty of talent and the potential to do good things in 2009, but the Vols also have the potential to implode. It all comes down to new head coach Lane Kiffin and whether he’s really qualified to hold this job.
Newcomer Most Likely to Make a Big Impact: Washaun Ealey, RB, Georgia. With Knowshon Moreno in the NFL and Caleb King not yet living up to his recruiting hype, the path is fairly clear for highly touted Washaun Ealey to make a step up for the starting job. At the very least, he figures to be King’s top backup. Runner-up: James Carpenter, OL, Alabama. With Andre Smith gone, Alabama’s left tackle position is open. Many expect touted freshman D.J. Fluker to grab it, but JUCO transfer Carpenter won the job in the spring and will either start there or at center or right guard.
SEC Offensive Player of the Year: Jevan Sneed, QB, Ole Miss. Tebow may be more important, but Snead will likely get the chance to put up some major numbers just from the amount of opportunities he’ll get. Although Houston Nutt doesn’t like to throw the ball as much as he likes to run it, he might not have a choice. Runner-up: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida. Snead and Tebow are pretty much the default answer to any question regarding offense in the SEC this year.
SEC Defensive Player of the Year: (tie) Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama, and Eric Berry, S, Tennessee. A good year could result in McClain vaulting into the top half of next year’s NFL Draft. And here’s the scary part – some observers feel his teammate, Dont'a Hightower, is even better. As for Berry, . Runner-up: Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss. This one comes with a caveat: whether Hardy can keep his sometimes oddball attitude under control and remain focused.
Most Underrated Player Award: Josh Bynes, LB, Auburn. It’s a good bet that 10 percent of SEC fans outside the state of Alabama have no idea just who this guy is. While most of the press and the SEC football award was fawning over Antonio Coleman or bemoaning the loss of Tray Blackmon, Bynes quietly stepped in and was a dominant force. He looks and plays bigger than his listed 6’2”, 230. Runner-up: Michael Smith, RB, Arkansas. He’s not supposed to be big enough to play in this league, much less dominate, but Smith ran for 1,072 yards in 2008 and proved to be surprisingly durable and tough.
Public Enemy “Don’t Believe the Hype” Award: Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State. This one isn’t entirely Dixon’s fault. But Mississippi State is switching to the spread-option attack, and that doesn’t play to Dixon’s strong suits. Check out the success (or lack thereof) of “traditional” running backs in Florida’s offense under Urban Meyer. Now imagine how it’s going to work at Mississippi State, which has even less talent surrounding Dixon. If ever a guy needed a free transfer, Dixon’s it. Runner-up: Ryan Hamilton, SS, Vanderbilt. Hamilton is a multi-year starter but the problem is his teammates have covered up his lack of speed in the past. Now that D.J. Moore and Reshard Langford have moved on, Hamilton is about to be exposed.