The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.
LSU or Alabama: Who Will Win the SEC West in 2012?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Alabama’s win in the national championship game was so dominant, it almost makes LSU’s 9-6 win during the regular season look more like a fluke than a defensive struggle. Really, that makes more sense with the way one close, contested play – the Eric Reid interception wrestled away from Michael Williams – settled the first matchup. Given the turmoil at Arkansas, the SEC West may end up being a one-game grudge match between LSU and Alabama again and fodder for a constant debate between now and Nov. 3. LSU’s defense could be just as good as it was last season, and the Tigers’ offense could be more consistent if Zach Mettenberger is the real deal. I’d expect Alabama’s defense to take a step back – as in from the most dominant defense in the country by a wide statistical margin to merely elite. In the national title game, A.J. McCarron proved himself as more than a caretaker for the offense, rather as a quarterback who can put a game on his shoulders against another top-notch defense. Even without Trent Richardson, Alabama should still be able to run the ball behind a stout offensive line. Now, McCarron gives the Crimson Tide more balance. Even with the game in Baton Rouge, I’m going to pick Alabama to win the rubber match of the last two seasons.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This will be a heated debate for the next six months until November 3 rolls around. That is the day, of course, that Alabama must head down to the bayou to face the LSU Tigers in a third straight battle for national — and conference — supremacy. On paper, LSU has the best roster in America. The Athlon editors are dead split on who should be the pick in the West and Les Miles appears to be the only reason for the debate. If Nick Saban and Miles were to magically switch positions, the Bayou Bengals would be the clearcut, no doubt pick to win not only the SEC but also the National Championship. Removing the taste of the BCS championship game performance by Miles from my mouth is virtually impossible. LSU was the most horribly prepared team for a championship game in (at least) the BCS era and The Hat's inability to make any semblance of in-game adjustments simply cannot be forgotten.
Saban's team isn't without its own flaws, however. A huge chunk of that legendary defense needs to be replaced and Trent Richardson is no longer running the football. While LSU can boast the best roster in the nation, Alabama may be a close second — even with the losses. Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and freshman T.J. Yeldon will fill in admirably for T-Rich. In fact, the offense should be better in 2012. The Tide boasts the top offensive line in the nation and quarterback A.J. McCarron will only continue to develop. This, after he led the SEC in completion percent last fall (66.8%). And despite losses at wideout and tight end, the pass-catchers will actually be more explosive and talented this season. On defense, the line should be just fine and a pair of juco covermen, Deion Blue ad Travell Dixon, appear to have solidified a secondary that still has Robert Lester. Nico Johnson, CJ Mosley and Trey DePreist are no slouches filling in for the lawfirm of Hightower, Upshaw and Harris as well. Needless to say, they got some athletes at The Capstone.
Until proven otherwise, I have to stick with Saban and the Tide as the team to beat in the SEC. However — and no one outside of the Sunbelt wants to hear this — but that game down in Baton Rouge on Nov. 3 could be meaningless once again in 2012 as both LSU and Bama could find their way back to the title game no matter who wins the first meeting. LSU-Bama IV on South Beach? It's got my blood going already.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This question is easily the most difficult of the preseason debates. LSU beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but was handled easily by the Crimson Tide in the national championship. So which result should we believe?
LSU could be better than it was last year, provided Zach Mettenberger lives up to the hype at quarterback. The Tigers will have one of the top defenses and rushing attacks in college football, but won’t repeat as SEC champions if the quarterback play doesn’t improve. Although the defensive line is one of the best in the nation, there are concerns about the linebacking corps and finding a cornerback to replace the cover skills of Morris Claiborne.
Alabama has a lot of losses on defense, but there’s no shortage of talent waiting to step into playing time in Tuscaloosa. While the Crimson Tide may take a step back on defense, the offense should be better, especially with the return of quarterback AJ McCarron. Yes, Trent Richardson will be missed at running back, but Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart, T.J. Yeldon and Jalston Fowler is a capable group to carry the workload. Assuming there’s no drop-off from Jim McElwain to Doug Nussmeier at offensive coordinator, McCarron could contend for All-SEC honors.
Expect another tight battle to decide the SEC West, but it definitely helps LSU’s case that the game is in Baton Rouge this year. However, by November, Alabama’s defense will be back among the nation’s elite. And even though Les Miles has led LSU to two victories in the last three matchups against Alabama, I trust Nick Saban just a little more. I think the Crimson Tide finds a way to pull out a close win against LSU, which will clinch the SEC West title for 2012.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll take the Tigers to repeat in the SEC West. Les Miles’ roster is loaded, and the only real question looming in Baton Rouge is how quarterback Zach Mettenberger will fare against SEC defenses. LSU has the best pair of tackles in the country in Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst, and that offensive line will pave the way for a crew of talented running backs. The defense will be stellar once again, led by Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan up front and Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid on the back end. Alabama will be a contender because of elite recruiting and top-notch coaching, but there will be some tough roles to fill with the loss of four first-round picks. The Tide offensive line should be excellent, and quarterback AJ McCarron showed his potential in the BCS Championship Game. The losses on defense are significant, but Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will field another talented unit even with some inexperience. Both SEC powers will be in the national title hunt in 2012, but I’ll take LSU to be the league’s top team once again.
Where will LSU and Alabama finish in the 2012 SEC standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.
Other SEC Spring Preview Content:
Georgia or South Carolina: Which Team Will Win the SEC East in 2012?
Ranking the SEC's Running Backs for 2012
Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012
Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012
Missouri or Texas A&M: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?
College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat