News from the Tennessee Valley Sports
TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2007

Alabama's DJ Hall (22) battles Mississippi State's Derek Pegues (3) for a ball during the 2006 game in Tuscaloosa. Hall, a senior wide receiver, is seen as the Tide's go-to guy this year.
Daily file photo by Emily Saunders
Alabama's DJ Hall (22) battles Mississippi State's Derek Pegues (3) for a ball during the 2006 game in Tuscaloosa. Hall, a senior wide receiver, is seen as the Tide's go-to guy this year.

LSU remains team
to beat in SEC West

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

Wednesday is Aug. 1, baseball is entering its dog days, the major golf season is about to end and the U.S. Open for tennis is right around the corner.

You know what this means? It's time for college football. Well, plus one month.

Preseason practice starts this week for most schools, and after all the hubbub of SEC football media days last week, it's time to see how the SEC West teams stack up. In order of where we think they will finish, of course.


What to watch: How LSU coach Les Miles handles the Nick Saban spotlight. It's pretty simple. If Miles wins the games he is supposed to and LSU defeats Alabama in Tuscaloosa, then the Tigers coach won't have a problem with the former LSU coach and current Alabama coach.

But what if LSU, which is ranked in the top three in most preseason projections, falters and loses to Alabama? Then the goodwill of Miles going 22-4 his first two seasons is erased.

Who to watch: Glenn Dorsey. LSU's big — 6-foot-2 290-pound — defensive tackle could have gone to the NFL after last season, but decided to stick around Baton Rouge. Last season, Dorsey had 64 tackles and led the team with 81/2 tackles for a loss.

A close second is senior quarterback Matt Flynn, who has one start to his credit.

Can he carry on the legacy of 2007 No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell?

Quotable: “I am not in any way derogatory towards Alabama. I look forward to competing with them and their coach.” — Miles on using an expletive to describe conference rival Alabama.

Prediction: BCS bowl. LSU has the talent and the experience to make it to the national championship game. Only a new offensive coordinator in Gary Crowton, a new starting quarterback in Flynn and a tough SEC schedule could derail it. But this is somewhat unlikely.


What to watch: Every time Auburn flies over the radar it underachieves. And whenever it goes under the radar, it overachieves. This year caters toward the latter. Auburn is young, talented and has taken a back seat to Alabama since Jan. 4 when Saban was hired.

While another undefeated season is unlikely, the Tigers could turn heads again.

Who to watch: It’s quarterback Brandon Cox. Now a senior, it’s Cox’s turn to shine. He looked stellar in Auburn’s spring game, appearing nothing like the quarterback who went 4 of 12 for 35 yards in the Tigers’ 37-15 loss against Georgia last season.

It’s Cox’s third year starting and about time he showed some leadership and potential.

Quotable: “I think we are hiding in the weeds to speak. We do a great job of playing under the radar.” — Defensive end Quentin Groves

Prediction: Chick-fil-A Bowl or something comparable.

A BCS game isn’t out of the question, but in the tough SEC west, the Tigers will probably get an upper echelon SEC bowl tie-in.


What to watch: Head coach Saban and how he changes the culture in Tuscaloosa. The new coach is the state’s biggest celebrity: The most-loved man amongst Tide fans and most hated amongst the Auburn faithful.

He has not coached a game for Alabama, and Sept. 1 against Western Carolina will reveal a lot about the team.

Who to watch: DJ Hall. The senior wide receiver set a record in receiving yards last year with 1,056. He also had the second-most receptions in school history with 62. He sits 153 yards shy of Ozzie Newsome’s all-time yardage record of 2,070 and 26 catches away from passing Freddie Milons in receptions with 152.

Hall is a gamebreaker and the go-to guy on Alabama’s offense. As Hall goes, so does the Tide.

Quotable: “In some cases,
you may know more about our team than we do.” — Saban to those attending at SEC Media Days.

Prediction: On the high end, the Outback Bowl. On the low end, the Music City Bowl. It’s just tough to get a read on what Saban can do in one year. But if former coach Mike Shula was still patroling the sidelines, the high end would probably be lower.


What to watch: It will be interesting to see how the soap opera with head coach Houston Nutt plays out during the season.

The man had to cope with his private life becoming public and the departure of both his offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and his prize recruit Mitch Mustain. A year after winning the SEC West, Nutt is squarely on the hot seat.

Who to watch: Junior running back Darren McFadden without question. An explosive runner, McFadden is the straw that stirs the drink for the Razorbacks’ offense.

Last season, he led the SEC with 1,647 yards rushing and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. With McFadden being a year older and wiser, it will be interesting to see what he can accomplish.

Quotable: “One of the things, the reason you’re able to go home at night, look your children in the eye, look your wife in the eye of almost 24 years, is because, see, they know. They know the truth. Our players know the truth. That’s why I’m still here today.” — Nutt on allegations of an affair.

Prediction: Outback Bowl. Arkansas wasn’t supposed to come anywhere near the SEC West championship last year. But after going 10-4 and bringing back a Heisman Trophy front-runner, anything is possible in Fayetteville.

Mississippi State

What to watch: Head coach Sylvester Croom was hired in December of 2003, just one season after he was a finalist for the Alabama job.

Be it vindication or not to Tide fans, but Croom has had a tough time building Mississippi State into a contender. Defensive end Titus Brown indicated that he feels like he is playing for Croom’s job. This year is a make-or-break season for Croom and the Bulldogs.

Who to watch: Quarterback Michael Henig, a Montgomery native, has a powerful arm and a big target in 6-foot-4, 217-pound receiver Tony Burks. The only issue is Henig’s accuracy. He owns a 43.8 career-completion percentage.

Which begs the question of what is the point of having a receiver like Burks if your quarterback can’t find him?

Quotable: “He builds men, and is a great coach and great guy. He will call you into his office and talk to you about life and how classes and workouts are going. I would not want to play for anyone else. He is a great Godly man, and that is what I like about him.” —
Henig on Croom.

Prediction: The best-case scenario for state would be the Independence Bowl. The worst case would be the status quo.

Ole Miss

What to watch: Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron said he does not want to use two quarterbacks. But quarterbacks Seth Adams, Michael Herrick and Brent Schaeffer may leave Orgeron no choice or three choices.

Orgeron said he had issues with last year’s starter Schaeffer’s lifestyle and leadership abilities. This could open time for either Adams or Herrick.

Who to watch: Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Last season Green-Ellis ran for 1,000 yards en route to making the Associated Press’ All-SEC first team

Back for his senior year, Green-Ellis is Ole Miss’ top offensive threat.

Quotable: “I drive to most places I go to in recruiting. I’m going to get the job done. There will never be a complaint about what it is.” — Orgeron on his school’s limited recruiting budget.

Prediction: Orgeron said his team’s goal is to get to the Sugar Bowl. That will probably not happen this season, nor will a trip to any bowl game for that matter.

Unless you count the yearly Egg Bowl matchup with Mississippi State.

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