Thursday, June 4, 2009

Auburn, Arkansas among projected most improved

In today’s Sporting News Today, Matt Hayes and Dave Curtis each answer the question “Which teams are on the rise?” Matt Hayes offers nothing of interest for SEC fans, citing UCLA, SMU, Colorado, Oklahoma State, and North Carolina State. Dave Curtis though offers plenty of fodder for bloggers across the SEC West.

Let’s start with his pick of Arkansas. Here’s how he views it:
Arkansas +4
2008: 5-7, 2009: 9-4
Here’s why: Where Bobby Petrino goes, wins follow. He’ll be this season’s example of the second-year bump enjoyed at the highest level by Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer, among others. If Ryan Mallett can quit breaking fingers, he’s the best quarterback in the SEC West. Four wins seem a given in the nonconference (Missouri State, Eastern Michigan, Troy, and Texas A&M in Dallas). And the defense will tackle well enough to manage a 4-4 SEC record and a win in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
I happen to agree with him that the Hogs will be much improved. Say what you want to about Bobby Petrino - and I have - but the man wins games. If Ryan Mallett stays healthy and out of trouble, the Arkansas offense should be very solid.

I do take issue with a few of his assumptions though. When Chris Low ranked Jevan Snead the 3rd best player in the SEC, many felt that was too high as he’d only produced for one season, and in all honesty, it wasn’t even until the second half of the season that it all clicked for him. That said, how can you possibly rate Mallett the best QB in the division? He hasn’t started a game since 2007 when he completed 43.3% of his passes and compiled a 7/5 TD/INT ratio. Snead may not have proved it over a extended period of time (yet), but he a better track record than Mallett.

Arkansas’ defense should be better as it returns 79.4% of its tackles from last year, but a 4-4 record in conference is certainly no given. Home games against mittippi tate and Auburn seem gimmes and a home tilt with South Carolina is certainly winnable. The road slate is brutal with trips to Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss, and LSU and a home game against UGA. Right now, I’d hardly count any of those as wins.

And lastly, the comparison of Petrino to Stoops, Tressel, and Meyer is pointless as they all won national championships in their second years at their current employers. Arkansas is not winning a national title this season.

That said, I can see Arkansas winning 9 games before anything he says about Auburn comes to fruition.
Auburn +3
2008: 5-7, 2009: 8-5
Here’s why: Don’t expect another tumultuous season on The Plains. The new coaching staff, with its limousines on recruiting trips and Big Cat Weekend for unofficial visits, has at least unified the program. Tommy Tuberville’s recruits will keep this defense strong, and by midseason, new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will turn one of Auburn’s quarterbacks into a proficient passer.
So, just so I'm 100% clear here, Gene Chizik won 5 games in 2 seasons at Iowa State and now, apparently magically, he’s going to win 8 in a single season? Riiiiiiiiiight...

I will concede that Auburn’s defense should be solid. Tuberville recruited good players on that side of the ball and Chizik’s reputation was built on his accomplishments as a defensive coordinator. But the spread offense failed miserably last year. What makes anyone think that it will work this year with much of the same key personnel? Particularly work well enough to win 8 games?

When I look at their schedule, I can’t find 8 wins anywhere. Home games against Louisiana Tech, mittippi tate, Testacle Tech Ball State, and Furman are most likely gimme wins, but that’s only 4. Squeezing 3 or 4 more wins (depending on how Curtis sees their bowl game going) out of West Virginia, @Tennessee, @Arkansas, @LSU, Ole Miss, @UGA, and Alabama is not going to be easy for this team.

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