Athlon releases its very early SEC predictions for 2012
Very Early 2012 SEC East Predictions
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Key Returnees: QB Aaron Murray, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Michael Bennett, WR Marlon Brown, WR Tavarres King, DL Arby Jones, DL John Jenkins, LB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree LB Cornelius Washington, LB Michael Gilliard, DB Bacarri Rambo, DB Shawn Williams, DB Sanders Commings, DB Brandon Smith
Key Losses: TE Orson Charles, OL Cordy Glenn, OL Ben Jones, OL Justin Anderson, DT DeAngelo Tyson, CB/RET Brandon Boykin, K Blair Walsh, P Drew Butler
The story on offense should be pretty clear heading into 2012 for the Dawgs. Aaron Murray and a host of electric young skill players will return to a unit that has to replace its three best blockers. Can UGA establish the run better with an older, and more mature Isaiah Crowell, and new star Keith Marshall? The offensive line could be the only thing keeping Georgia from the national championship game.
If UGA does have a special season in 2012, it will be because of the defense. Todd Grantham in two short years turned the Dawgs into one of the stingiest units in the nation. And he has 10 starters back with elite level talent and depth at nearly every position. All-American candidates Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo lead the way on the backend.
Special teams will take a big hit for Mark Richt as both kickers and return dynamo Brandon Boykin have moved on. However, the schedule is powerful reason why Georgia is the early favorite to win the East. Richtâs squad misses the three best teams from the West in LSU, Alabama and Arkansas â all of whom could be preseason top-10 teams. Trips to Missouri (to start SEC play) and South Carolina will be the toughest road tests of the year.
2. South Carolina Gamecocks
Key Returnees: QB Connor Shaw, RB Marcus Lattimore, RB Brandon Wilds, WR Ace Sanders, TE Justice Cunningham, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Devin Taylor, DT Kelcy Quarles, LB Shaq Wilson, DB D.J. Swearinger, DB DeVonte Holloman
Key Losses: OL Rokevious Watkins, WR Alshon Jeffery, DE Melvin Ingram, DT Travian Robertson, LB Rodney Paulk, CB Stephon Gilmore, LB/S Antonio Allen, C.C. Whitlock
Dismissing Stephen Garcia in the middle of the season might have been the best decision Steve Spurrier has made at South Carolina. The only disappointment is that new quarterback Connor Shaw didnât get a full year of seasoning. The dual-threat quarterback played his best football down the stretch in 2011 and will welcome back the best running back in the nation when Marcus Lattimore returns to the field in 2012. Replacing Alshon Jefferyâs talent will be virtually impossible, but replacing his underwhelming (at times) production wonât. If the pass protection can improve, this entire offense has an opportunity to be much better in 2012.
Defensively, the front line has some holes to fill with the loss of Melvin Ingram and Travian Roberston, but Devin Taylor is back and Jadeveon Clowney proved his lofty recruiting status was totally justified. Toss in Kelcy Quarles and Carolina will have another stellar D-Line. Replacing some of the key pieces in the back seven, as well as the loss of coordinator Ellis Johnson, will determine if this defense can rank in the top-10 nationally once again.
The real issue with South Carolina, despite coming off its first 11-win season in school history, will be the schedule. The cross-over slate features a trip to LSU and a visit from Arkansas â two of the preseason top-10 teams in the nation. The schedule was the reason Athlon Sports picked Georgia to win the East in 2011 and a repeat decision is likely from Americaâs Premier Sports Publisher.
3. Missouri Tigers
Key Returnees: QB James Franklin, RB Kendial Lawrence, RB Henry Josey (injury), WR T.J. Moe, WR Marcus Lucas, WR LâDamian Washington, DL Brad Madison, DL Sheldon Richardson, DL Brayden Burnett, LB Andrew Wilson, LB Will Ebner, LB Zaviar Gooden, DB E.J. Gaines, DB Kip Edwards, DB Matt White, DB Kenronte Walker
Key Losses: WR Wes Kemp, TE Michael Egnew, OL Elvis Fisher, DE Jacquies Smith, DT Dominique Hamilton, DT Terrell Resonno, LB Luke Lambert, DB Kenji Jackson
The SECâs other James Franklin enters Americaâs best conference with the potential to be an all-conference performer at quarterback. Whether or not his style of play can be effective against the extraordinarily talented SEC front sevens still remains to be seen. The good news is Gary Pinkel has plenty of talent coming back in the backfield and out wide for Franklin to utilize. But a great offensive line is a necessity to succeed in this league and how quickly this new group can gel will have the biggest impact on the offense.
One look at the NFC playoffs in San Francisco and fans should understand how well Pinkel has recruited the defensive line. The Aldon-Justin Smith combo has proven that Mizzou has been one of the stronger Big 12 teams in the trenches since he arrived in Columbia. Brad Madison and Sheldon Richardson return to lead what should be one of the better units in the East â or at least one that is on par with Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Can they hold up week-in, and week-out against SEC power rushing attacks? Only time will tell, but Missouri isnât entering a new conference empty handed.
Hosting four of its first five conference games will help to ease Missouri into SEC play. However, the maiden voyage through the southeast culminates with three straight road games in three of the most hostile stadiums in the country: At Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M. The second half of the year will likely determine if the Tigers are successful in their first SEC campaign.
4. Florida Gators
Key Returnees: QB Jacoby Brissett, QB Jeff Driskel, RB Mike Gillislee, ATH Trey Burton, WR Andre Debose, WR Quinton Dunbar, TE Jordan Reed, OL Xavier Nixon, OL Jonotthan Harrison, OL Matt Patchan, OL Jon Halapio, DL Sharrif Floyd, DL Ronald Powell, DL Dominique Easley, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins, LB Michael Taylor, DB Matt Elam, DB Josh Evans, DB Jaylen Watkins, DB Cody Riggs
Key Losses: QB John Brantley, RB Chris Rainey, RB Jeff Demps, OL Dan Wenger, DT Jaye Howard
Another year, another offensive scheme. Will Muschamp hired former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease as his new offensive guru. In case you are counting at home, that makes four coordinators in four seasons in Ganiesville. And Peaseâs first order of business is to find a quarterback. Uber-recruits Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will likely compete for the starting job, but how do their skills fit with the new scheme? And can Pease find offensive playmakers to help out â which sounds unfathomable at a school like Florida. How quickly Pease settles into his new office will likely determine if the Gators challenge for an SEC title or lose another five games.
While the offense has huge question marks heading into 2012, the defense has all the potential to be a dominant unit. It finished eighth nationally against the run, allowed only 20.3 points per game (20th nationally) and returns NFL talent at every position. This team has a chance to be very stout in 2012.
There are few breaks, as is the case with most SEC schools, on the Gatorsâ schedule. Muschamp starts the year visiting a rebuilding Texas A&M team and a developing Tennessee squad. LSU also comes to The Swamp in October in cross-over play with a very tough but potentially manageable finish to the year: South Carolina at home, Georgia in Jacksonville and Missouri at home.
5. Vanderbilt Commodores
Key Returnees: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, RB Warren Norman, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Boyd, OL Wes Johnson, OL Ryan Seymour, DL Rob Lohr, DL Walker May, LB Chase Garnham, DB Kenny Ladler, DB Javon Marshall, DB Trey Wilson
Key Losses: TE Brandon Barden, OL Kyle Fischer, OL Logan Stewart, DL Tim Fugger, LB Chris Marve, CB Casey Hayward, S Sean Richardson
Other than Alabama, there might not have been a fan base more excited about its program in 2011 than Vanderbilt. Much of the credit belongs to cult of personality head coach James Franklin â and a host of experienced seniors on defense. Finding a way to replace names like Marve, Hayward, Fugger and Richardson will be key for Franklin.
Ideally, an experienced and developing offense should help mask some of the holes on defense. Jordan Rodgers returns for a full season under center (and back-up Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels is talented as well) and has all-SEC type players to work with in skill talents Zac Stacy, Warren Norman and Jordan Matthews. The offensive line wonât be a strength, but wonât be a weakness either as it is deep and beginning to develop experience.
The real reason Vandy fans are thinking bowl game for the second-straight season is the schedule. Like Georgia, the Dores miss the big three from the West (LSU, Alabama, Arkansas). However, Franklin and Rodgers will have to be ready to compete right out of the gate as South Carolina visits West End in the Thursday night primetime season kickoff in Week 1. Two non-conference road tilts with Northwestern and Wake Forest will also figure heavily into postseason play.
6. Tennessee Volunteers
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Bray, RB Marlin Lane, WR Justin Hunter, WR DaâRick Rogers, OL JaâWuan James, OL Alex Bullard, OL Marcus Jackson, OL Dallas Thomas, DL Corey Miller, DL Jacques Smith, DL Daniel Hood, DL Maurice Couch, DL Willie Bohannon, LB A.J. Johnson, LB Curt Maggitt, DB Prentiss Waggner, DB Brian Randolph, DB Izauea Lanier
Key Losses: RB Tauren Poole, DE Malik Jackson, DE Ben Martin, LB Austin Johnson
There is a lot on the line for Derek Dooley in 2012. His career hangs in the balance as Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter return healthy as potentially one of the top QB-WR combos in the nation. There is loads of talent, and now experience, along the offensive line, so improving upon the 117th-ranked rushing offense will go a long way to keeping Dooley in Knoxville. Easier said than done.
Defensively, Dooley has an entirely new staff in place as he hired Sal Suneri from Alabama to run his defense. Like the offense, fans can finally point to talented, upside youngsters at key positions. Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson likely had to play too much as freshman, but went along way in accelerating the development process for the future star sophomores. The secondary has a lot of bodies and should be decent, but Sunseriâs ability to develop the front line will likely be the most important aspect of the defense. Maurice Couch and Daniel Hood showed consistency, but Corey Miller and Jacques Smith have the talent to be much better players. It falls to Sunseri, who developed stars like Rolando McClain, Courtney Upshaw and Dontâa Hightower, to turn them into the stars fans thought they would be as recruits.
Missing Arkansas and LSU helps this Tennessee team immensely in 2012, but will still have to face Florida, Georgia and Alabama in its first four SEC contests. The Vols likely have to reach seven or eight wins to save Dooleyâs job and will undoubtedly need to pull one, if not two, upsets throughout the course of the season.
7. Kentucky Wildcats
Key Returnees: RB CoShik Williams, WR LaâRod King, OL Larry Warford, DL Collins Ukwu, LB Avery Williamson, LB Ridge Wilson, DB Martavius Neloms
Key Losses: WR Matt Roark, LB Danny Trevathan, LB Ronnie Sneed, S Winston Guy, DB Randall Burden
This team is in dire need of improvement in all areas. The offense failed to score more than 16 points in any SEC game in 2011 and topped 10 points in only two of eight games. Developing a quarterback will go a long way to making Joker Phillipsâ group competitive once again in 2012. LaâRod King returns as the leading receiver and top offensive playmaker and blocker Larry Warford is a very talented start to building an offensive line.
Defensively, Phillips has to plug massive voids left by Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy. And with one of the toughest schedules in the league, finding defensive play-makers becomes magnified. Road trips to Florida, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee packaged with homes games against South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt does not afford many chances for wins in 2012 for Kentucky.
2012 Very Early SEC West Predictions
Key Returnees: RB Spencer Ware, RB Michael Ford, RB Kenny Hilliard, WR Russell Shepard, WR Odell Beckham, LT Chris Faulk, C P.J. Lonergan, RT Alex Hurst, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Barkevious Mingo, DT Bennie Logan, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tyrann Mathieu, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid, K Drew Alleman, P Brad Wing
Key Losses: QB Jordan Jefferson, QB Jarrett Lee, WR Rueben Randle, LG Will Blackwell, DT Michael Brockers, LB Stefoin Francois, LB Ryan Baker, CB Morris Claiborne, SS Brandon Taylor
A great regular season in Baton Rouge was overshadowed by an awful performance in the national title game against Alabama. The Tigers navigated a difficult regular season slate unbeaten, but that wonât wash away the disappointment from the 21-0 loss to the Crimson Tide in New Orleans. Although the loss still stings at LSU, the Tigers have to be ecstatic about whatâs returning in 2012.
Quarterback play was a huge issue in the national title game and will enter 2012 as a question mark. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee depart, leaving Zach Mettenberger as the teamâs No. 1 option entering spring practice. Mettenberger saw limited action in 2011, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. Not helping Mettenbergerâs cause was the departure of receiver Rueben Randle. With uncertainty surrounding Mettenberger, expect the Tigers to lean heavily on the rushing attack once again. Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard combined for 2,338 yards and 30 scores in 2011 and will be helped by the return of four starters on the offensive line. LSU should have one of the top rushing attacks in college football, but Mettenbergerâs development will be crucial to winning a national title.
Despite the loss of a few starters, LSU isnât going to suffer much of a drop-off on defense. The defensive line should be among the best in college football, especially with ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo returning after registering 17 sacks in 2011. Tackle Bennie Logan also returns after picking up 57 tackles last season. Two starters depart in the linebacking corps, but the backups have experience. Morris Claiborne was one of the top cover corners in the nation and may be missed more than some believe. However, the cupboard isnât bare in the secondary, as Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon return in 2012.
Key Returnees: QB AJ McCarron, RB Eddie Lacy, WR Kenny Bell, OL Barrett Jones, OG Chance Warmack, RT D.J. Fluker, DE Damion Square, DE Quinton Dial, DE Jesse Williams, LB Trey DePriest, LB Nico Johnson, LB C.J. Mosley, CB Dee Milliner, S Robert Lester, S Vinnie Sunseri
Key Losses: RB Trent Richardson, WR Marquis Maze, WR Darius Hanks, TE Brad Smelley, C William Vlachos, RG Alfred McCullough, OG Anthony Steen, LB Dontâa Hightower, LB Courtney Upshaw, NG Josh Chapman, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB DeQuan Menzie, S Mark Barron
The Crimson Tide will be replacing a plethora of key players, but is there really any doubt this team will be back in the mix for the SEC and national title?
Quarterback AJ McCarron was a key factor in Alabamaâs national title win over LSU and he will be the focal point of the offense in 2012. McCarron threw only five picks and completed 66.8 percent of his throws in 2011. The junior will have to adapt to a new offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier) next year with Jim McElwainâs departure to Colorado State. With receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks out of eligibility, the Crimson Tide needs Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and Kevin Norwood to become the go-to weapons for McCarron, especially while a talented freshman class learns the ropes. Replacing Trent Richardsonâs production at running back likely wonât come down to one player. Look for Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler to share the initial workload in the backfield, while incoming freshman T.J. Yeldon will have an opportunity to work his way into the mix. The offensive line has to replace stalwart center William Vlachos, but Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker and Anthony Steen are back.
After finishing first nationally in rush, total, scoring and pass defense, itâs nearly impossible to expect a repeat of those numbers in 2012 â especially with the loss of several key contributors. Coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart will have their work cut out for them this offseason, as the defense loses linebackers Dontâa Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, while Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron and DeQuan Menzie all depart from the secondary. Jesse Williams and Damion Square return on the line, but the Crimson Tide needs to find a new nose guard with Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry departing. Thereâs no shortage of young talent, but it may take five or six games for the right pieces to fall into place for this defense.
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg, OG Alvin Bailey, C Travis Swanson, DE Tenarius Wright, DT Byran Jones, LB Alonzo Highsmith, CB Tevin Mitchell, CB Isaac Madison, S Eric Bennett
Key Losses: WR Joe Adams, WR Jarius Wright, OG Grant Cook, OT Grant Freeman, DE Jake Bequette, LB Jerry Franklin, LB Jerico Nelson, CB Isaac Madison, S Tramain Thomas
The Razorbacks are coming off back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since 1988-1989. Now that Arkansas seems to have closed the gap on LSU and Alabama, can it win the SEC West in 2012?
Thereâs a mixture of good and bad news for the Razorbacksâ offense next year. Running back Knile Davis is back after missing all of 2011 due to a leg injury, which should provide a spark for the rushing attack. However, Arkansas must replace three receivers, including playmakers Jarius Wright and Joe Adams. Quarterback Tyler Wilson turned down an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft and he should contend for first or second team All-SEC honors next year. The offensive line struggled at times during the 2011 season but figures to be improved in 2012.
If the Razorbacks want to close the gap and play for the SEC Championship next season, the defense has to continue to improve. New coordinator Paul Haynes did a good job containing Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, but he will lose some of the unitâs key performers. End Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas will be missed and wonât make Haynesâ job any easier next year. Arkansas still trails LSU and Alabama in defensive strength, but it will be interesting to see how Haynes fares with a full year on the job.
Key Returnees: RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, C Reese Dismukes, DE Corey Lemonier, DE Nosa Eguae, LB Daren Bates, LB Jake Holland, CB Chris Davis, CB TâSharvan Bell, S Demetruce McNeal, S Erique Florence
Key Losses: RB Michael Dyer, RT Brandon Mosley, LB Eltoro Freeman, S Neiko Thorpe
One year after winning the national title, the Tigers slipped back to the pack, finishing with an 8-5 record and a victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia. After losing so many key players from the 2010 team, there was no doubt Auburn was due to for a fall. The Tigers will enter 2012 with new coordinators on both sides of the ball and a roster that is still one of the youngest in the conference.
Gus Malzahnâs up-tempo offense (and Cam Newton) was a big reason why Auburn claimed the 2010 national championship. However, Malzahn departed to be the head coach at Arkansas State, which certainly raises the question of whether or not the Tigers will continue with a similar offensive scheme in 2012. Regardless of scheme, settling the quarterback position is going to be crucial to Auburnâs success in 2012. Clint Moseley, Kiehl Frazier and incoming freshman Zeke Pike will compete for the job in spring practice. With the quarterback position in flux, the Tigers will lean heavily on the rushing attack in 2012. Michael Dyer also departed for Arkansas State, leaving Onterio McCalebb, Florida transfer Mike Blakely and Tre Mason to battle for carries. The offensive line loses tackles A.J. Greene and Brandon Mosley, but center Reese Dismukes is coming off a solid freshman campaign.
Youth and inexperience played a huge role in Auburnâs defensive struggles last season, but this group never really seemed to show much progress throughout the year. The Tigers ranked near the bottom of the SEC in rush, pass, total and scoring defense last season. Coach Gene Chizik made a good move when he decided to hire Brian Van Gorder from the Falcons to coordinate the defense. Van Gorder has some nice talent to work with on the defensive line, as Corey Lemonier, Jeffrey Whitaker, Gabe Wright and Nosa Eguae are all returning. The secondary has been a source of criticism over the last two years, but could benefit from a better pass rush.
5. Texas A&M
Key Returnees: RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, RT Jake Matthews, DE Spencer Nealy, DT Eddie Brown, LB Jonathan Stewart, LB Sean Porter, LB Steven Jenkins, LB Damontre Moore
Key Losses: QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller, DE Tony Jerod-Eddie, CB Coryell Judie, CB Terrence Frederick, S Trent Hunter, K Randy Bullock
2012 represents a new era for Texas A&M athletics. The Aggies decided to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, joining the nationâs toughest conference for college football. While this is a big challenge, Texas A&M has the resources necessary to eventually compete in the SEC West. Could this move help the Aggies on the recruiting trail versus Texas? Only time will tell, but for 2012, Texas A&M has a lot of work to do in order to reach the postseason.
Along with the move to the SEC, the hire of coach Kevin Sumlin has built some positive momentum in College Station. Sumlinâs spread offenses at Houston were among the best in the nation, but the going will certainly be tougher in the SEC. Quarterback is a huge question mark entering spring practice, as Matt Joeckel, Matt Davis, Johnny Manziel and Jameill Showers will compete to replace Ryan Tannehill. With a young quarterback taking over, look for the Aggies to lean on the rushing attack and offensive line. Running back Christine Michael returns after missing the final four games due to a torn ACL. Michael will anchor the backfield, but Ben Malena will be a nice change of pace option. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have a solid group of receivers to throw to, including All-SEC candidate Ryan Swope.
It will be interesting to see how Texas A&Mâs defense transitions to a 4-3 under coordinator Mark Snyder in 2012. After running the 3-4 under Tim DeRuyter, the switch may take a year or two to get the right bodies in place. Losing end Tony Jerod-Eddie is a tough blow for the line, but Spencer Nealy and Eddie Brown Jr. earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season. The coaching staff needs to decide if Damontre Moore fits at end or linebacker, especially after he recorded 8.5 sacks in 2011. The linebacking corps should be a strength, as Jonathan Stewart, Sean Porter and Steven Jenkins return. The secondary was a weakness in 2011 and will be losing cornerbacks Terrence Frederick and Coryell Judie and safety Trent Hunter. Even though the SEC has struggled to get great quarterback play across the board, the secondary is going to be under fire early and often in 2012.
6. Mississippi State
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, WR Chad Bumphis, LG Gabe Jackson, DE Kaleb Eulls, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, LB Deonte Skinner, CB Johnthan Banks, CB Corey Broomfield, S Nickoe Whitley
Key Losses: QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, LT James Carmon, RG Quentin Saulsberry, RT Addison Lawrence, DE Sean Ferguson, DT Fletcher Cox, LB Brandon Wilson, SS Charles Mitchell, FS Wade Bonner
The Bulldogs have emerged as a solid bowl team under coach Dan Mullen, but can the program take it to the next level? Mississippi State has yet to beat any SEC West team outside of Ole Miss under Mullenâs watch, which is something that has to change if the Bulldogs want to contend for a spot among the top three in the division.
While Mississippi State has made progress under Mullen, the going wonât get any easier in 2012. With Texas A&M joining the SEC West, the Bulldogs have another difficult obstacle to get bowl eligible. And there are a lot of question marks for this team going into spring practice. Quarterback play was an issue in 2011, with Chris Relf and Tyler Russell both getting significant snaps. Relf has expired his eligibility, leaving Russell as the teamâs No. 1 quarterback. Running back Vick Ballard must be replaced, but LaDarius Perkins has averaged 5.3 yards per carry during his career and should be a solid replacement. Additionally, three starters must be replaced on the offensive line.
The Bulldogs allowed only 20 points a game last season, but ranked seventh in the SEC in rush defense, allowing 153.5 yards per game. The defense was dealt a blow when tackle Fletcher Cox decided to leave for the NFL, but fellow tackle Josh Boyd is back for his senior year. The Bulldogs caught a break when cornerback Johnthan Banks decided to return for his senior year, but the secondary must replace safety Charles Mitchell. This unit shouldnât suffer too much of a drop-off, but could struggle to stop the run without one of its key defenders on the interior of the line.
7. Ole Miss
Key Returnees: RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Nickolas Brassell, LB Mike Marry, LB D.T. Shackelford, FS Charles Sawyer, P Tyler Campbell
Key Losses: RB Brandon Bolden, LT Bradley Sowell, RT Bobby Massie, DE Kentrell Lockett, S Damien Jackson
A disastrous 2011 season brought change to Oxford. Out is Houston Nutt as the Rebelsâ coach and in is former Arkansas State head coach (and Ole Miss assistant) Hugh Freeze. The new coaching staff has a lot of work to do to get the Rebels back in a bowl game and considering the returning personnel, it may be a year or two before that happens.
Three quarterbacks received snaps in 2011, but none performed well enough to claim the job entering spring practice. Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti all return for 2012, but will face competition from incoming JUCO Bo Wallace. Jeff Scott is the teamâs top returning rusher (529 yards), but at 5-foot-7, the Rebels donât want to give him 250-300 carries. The receiving corps has some promising youth returning, as Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell â both freshmen last year â ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in catches last year. The offensive line will be a concern next year, especially with Bradley Sowell out of eligibility and Bobby Massie declaring for the draft.
As if the offensive struggles werenât enough last year, the Rebels were one of the worst in the SEC in defense. New co-defensive coordinators Dave Wommack and Wesley McGriff have to figure out ways to generate a pass rush after the Rebels averaged only one sack a game in 2011. Linebacker D.T. Shackelford missed all of 2011 due to a knee injury and his return should add some much-needed punch to the run defense.
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