A Boy Named Sooie is commemorating the return of his weekly column (and exorcising his needling doubts about the upcoming season) by playing a little devil's advocate. Week one focused on the potential problems facing an offense that many believe will be one of the best in the country. Week two focused on the potential redemption of a defense that many believe will be one of the worst in the conference. And week three spits in fate's eye, casting about worst-case scenarios for every game on the 2010 schedule.
And I mean worst-case scenario. For the sake of the thought experiment, I'm living in a world where the Hogs could go completely defeated within the conference. Only one non-conference game is worthy of mention, as losses in any of the others would be fluky and inexplicable and I can't bear to take things that far. No, the most frightening thing about these prognostications is that they're based within the realm of possibility.
Georgia is the most notably "Eastern" of the SEC East teams. There is something patrician and entitled in their manner, something cold in their persistent quality. Every season they manage to convince themselves and others that they will be better than they turn out to be, and every season they fall short of those expectations — which is why, despite his sterling record as head coach, Mark Richt is always on a warming seat. That does not mean their improvement from last year is a lie. A.J. Green remains the best pure receiver in the country, and Georgia returns 10 of its offensive starters from 2010. Historically, the Bulldogs have dominated the Razorbacks, compiling a 9-3 record since the 1969 Sugar Bowl. Getting them early and on the road does not help the cause.
Worst Case Scenario: A sickeningly familiar shootout that doesn't go the Hogs' way. L 41-52
Defense wins championships, and last year it did just that. Nick Saban seems to have willed his young offense to success, but he had the advantage of fielding one of the best defenses in recent history. As should be expected from a team of that caliber, there's been a lot of turnover thanks to the NFL draft. Alabama lost eight starters on defense, most notably at its corners and line. But Saban's a coach in the most basic sense: He's a teacher. His reputation as a masterful defensive mind begins with his ability to coach skills, and primarily those of cover corners. It's likely that the Tide secondary won't miss a beat. And if anything, their down lineman will have the weight and athleticism to stop most running games. Add that to the most battle-tested offense since the 2009 Gators, and you have a team worthy of its ranking.
Worst Case Scenario: A grinding, sputtering, old-school head banger that turns on special teams play. L 14-17
Win or lose, the Hogs are gonna be licking their wounds. I can't decide if this is the worst or the best time to get the bye.
@Texas A&M (10/9/10)
The Aggies have a persecution complex to rival our own, high expectations heading into a wide-open Big 12 and an explosive offensive attack. A quality non-conference win in Dallas could give them the edge come bowl season.
Worst Case Scenario: The most exciting game you see all year, played on the gaudiest stage, culminating in a several-overtime loss. L 56-62
The team-most-likely-to-beat-Alabama is the favorite dark horse of every commentator who can't imagine rooting for Arkansas, and for good reason. Gus Malzahn has about all the tools he needs to realize the offense of his most complicated dreams. Gene Chizick returns eight starters, including five seniors, on defense. If Cam Newton is half the quarterback folks expect him to be, then we've got worries. If Michael Dyer is our undoing, then my head is going to explode.
Worst Case Scenario: Chizick turns the defense around; the shootout everyone expects fizzles into a lopsided loss. L 17-42
Ole Miss (10/23/10)
The Right Reverend has looked pretty desperate in the off-season, and with good reason. The talent Ed Orgeron left behind has thinned out, and before Jeremiah Masoli fell into his lap, Nutt himself was predicting a 6-6 season. Thing is, two or three of those wins would have been against opponents the Rebels had no business beating. We all know Houston Nutt wins games he shouldn't. We all know that he can lean on a player like Masoli to carry his teams. We all know that this game means more than it should to everyone involved. It's like televised therapy, and it will be as long as Nutt coaches in Oxford. We can only hope that most years motivation isn't enough.
Worst Case Scenario: Nutt unleashes Masoli after holding him back all season, the new look on offense gives the defense fits, and the Hogs lose in the final seconds on a blown call. UPDATE: The NCAA denied Masoli eligibility after our press deadline. But Nutt is still just as likely to dig up some form of salvation. UPDATE II: The NCAA is dumb. Now, Masoli is somehow eligible. L 31-33
Oh, who am I kidding?
@South Carolina (11/6/10)
I shared my nightmare about the Gamecocks a few weeks back. They're my darkhorse. Spurrier always manages to turn the offense into a circus, wearing everyone down and causing a late-season swoon. But one year it's all going to click — maybe a year like this one, when they have a returning starter under center — and when it does click, Ellis Johnson's defense will be solid enough to win ball games.
Worst Case Scenario: The veteran Gamecock defense completely disrupts the offense. Turnovers galore, ugh. L 18-21
@Mississippi State (11/20/10)
Dan Mullen did what he could in his first year with the Bulldogs. It will always be hard to recruit the kind of playmakers he needs to Starkville, but he's a talented enough coordinator to overcome his limitations. Florida's offensive production nose-dived after his exit, which tells you just how instrumental he was in that 2008 championship season. Now that he's had a little time to fatten up the playbook and recruit to his needs, he's bound to start winning some games. The rest of the conference can play hot potato with the Bulldogs for a while, but eventually somebody's gonna get burned.
Worst Case Scenario: Mullen keeps the defense confused; all those cowbells drive the offense to just enough distraction. L 31-35
For an utterly engineered rivalry, the Battle for the Boot sure plays out like a real one. It's about raining on parades, and so far it's mostly been the Razorbacks spoiling LSU's Thanksgiving holiday. It's hard to say whether talent will bail Les Miles out this season. The four returning starters on defense just means that John Chavis is going to have eight of his own players to coach. Plus, one of those returning starters is Patrick Patterson, the best corner at this level. The offense is more of an unknown, despite the return of Terrence Toliver and Jordan Jefferson, players who have so far played far below their potential. In any case, the Hogs have always had the advantage of coming into this game the underdog, the aggressor. This year that script might flip.
Worst Case Scenario: The Hogs beat LSU in inspiring fashion, but it's an empty victory in the scheme of things since they've already lost too many games to less worthy (or less well-respected) opponents. W 24-28