With SEC Preview Week drawing to a close, we thought it would be a good idea to check in with our buddy Chadd Scott of ChuckOliver.net to get his take on what's in store for the conference in 2012.
1. Maybe the biggest story entering 2012 is the arrival of Texas A&M and Missouri. By now we've all talked about it, analyzed it and broken down how the programs will fit in with college football's toughest conference. Now, its time to play some football. With that, how are the other programs – the firmly entrenched SEC teams and their fans – reacting to the addition of two new teams? Are they excited? Disinterested? Somewhere in between?
Scott: 99% of SEC fans are myopically obsessed with their team and perhaps their top rival. I can promise you no LSU, Alabama, Georiga, Auburn, Florida, South Carolina or Tennessee fan has given more than two seconds of thought to how Texas A&M or Mizzou will fit into the SEC culturally, geographically, academically or from a football perspective. For these programs, there's position battles, recruiting and the upcoming season to worry about.
Arkansas fans have more interest in the newcomers because of their history with Texas A&M from the SWC and that their new permanent cross-division rival will be Missouri. I have heard more chatter about what the additions mean from Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans than any other quarter in the league largely because they feel adding a sleeping giant to the West only makes it all that much harder for them to ever win the division.
2. Everything in the East appears to be wide open; by my count, I believe there are five teams that, with the right breaks, can compete for the division. Name one or two of the bigger factors that will decide who wins the division.
Scott: Out of the gate I'm wondering how much Georgia will be impacted by its suspensions for the Missouri game. Should Mizzou beat the Dawgs at home to open the SEC schedule (which I expect), the East will be thrown asunder from the jump with the favorites forced to play catch-up all year. Marcus Lattimore's recovery from a serious knee injury, promising JUCO additions in Knoxville, the Gators ability to develop a quarterback – how these play out will shape the division race.
3. Staying in the East, I'll give you a simple one: Is Derek Dooley the head coach of the Tennessee Vols in 2013? What do you believe he needs to do to ensure his job is safe going forward?
Scott: Yes. Dooley's program needs to show continued improvement. I don't think there's a drop-dead number of games he must win to keep his job. How about this: if Tennessee beats Florida (very doable) and avoids the humiliating blow-out losses it has experienced recently and takes care of its business elsewhere, Dooley will be fine. I hope Dooley keeps his job. I think he's an interesting guy and I enjoy him.
4. Speaking of coaches, one of the most intriguing is actually… John L. Smith? I'd say so, and say that he has the most interesting set of circumstances surrounding him of any coach: No one expects him to be great, but he simply cant be awful either (for obvious reasons). What's your take on John L? And what do you expect in what will likely be his only year in Fayetteville?
Scott: I think Smith's antics will take a good deal of pressure off the team. Instead of focusing on Petrino's absence, media will be laughing or cringing at Smith's latest trick. Smith's job is essentially to handle press conferences – all the assistants and coordinators remain the same and I don't expect a big drop off this year for the Razorbacks.
5. Finally, everyone is looking forward to Nov. 3 when Alabama visits Baton Rouge for a rematch of last year's title game. If the game were played today, who would you like? More importantly, should the winner be favored to get the SEC No. 7 in a row?
Scott: If the game were played today, I'd take LSU because I think it would be difficult for Alabama to get to Tiger Stadium on such short notice. Smart-assedness aside, I like LSU simply because it's at home and the winner will be a heavy favorite to play for No. 7, but USC will have something to say about whether they win it.