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SEC West predictions

By Compiled by Joanne Korth

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


WESTERN DIVISION

Alabama

COACH: Mike DuBose, fourth season (21-15).

1999 RECORD: 10-3, 7-1 SEC (lost to Michigan 35-34 in overtime in the Orange Bowl).

KEY RETURNEES: FL Freddie Milons (1,430 all-purpose yards); QB Andrew Zow (1,799 yards, 12 TDs); QB Tyler Watts (498 yards, 2 TDs); SLB Saleem Rasheed (84 tackles, 3 sacks); C Paul Hogan; DE Kindal Moorehead (13 tackles for loss); DT Kenny Smith (37 tackles, 3 sacks); DB Reggie Myles (5 INTs, 2 sacks).

KEY LOSSES: TB Shaun Alexander (1,383 yards, 19 TDs); OT Chris Samuels; P Patrick Morgan (40-3-yard avg.); PK Ryan Pflugner (14 FGs).

NOTES: After consecutive losing seasons in DuBose's first two years, 'Bama is back. With 19 returning starters, the Tide is heavily favored to defend its 1999 SEC title. Zow and Watts will compete for the quarterback job in the early season. Milons is perhaps the league's most explosive player. Tailback Shaun Bohanon is a solid replacement for versatile Alexander in the backfield.

Ole Miss

COACH: David Cutcliffe, second season (9-4).

1999 RECORD: 8-4, 4-4 SEC (beat Oklahoma 27-25 in the Independence Bowl).

KEY RETURNEES: TB Deuce McAllister (169.2 all-purpose yards per game); QB Romaro Miller (1,999 yards, 14 TDs); OL Terrence Metcalf; ILB Eddie Strong (72 tackles, 3.5 sacks); RB Joe Gunn (951 yards, 5 TDs); PK Les Binkley (14-16 FGs, 36-36 PATs).

KEY LOSSES: WR Cory Peterson (610 yards, 4 TDs); LB Armegis Spearman (67 tackles); OT Todd Wade.

NOTES: McAllister is a long-shot Heisman Trophy candidate based on his versatility. He led the SEC in all-purpose yards last season as a rusher, receiver, and kickoff/punt returner. After three straight December bowl victories, the Rebels would like to play in a New Year's Day game this season. To do so, the offense will need to live up to lofty expectations, and the defense, ranked seventh in the SEC in 1999, will have to make strides.

Mississippi State

COACH: Jackie Sherrill, 10th season (59-44-2; 164-89-4, 22 seasons).

1999 RECORD: 10-2, 6-2 SEC (beat Clemson 17-7 in the Peach Bowl).

KEY RETURNEES: QB Wayne Madkin (1,884 yards, 10 TDs); OT Pork Chop Womack; CB Fred Smoot (57 tackles, 5 INTs); PK Scott Westerfield (72 points, 18-24 FGs); FS Pig Prather (72 tackles, 2 INTs).

KEY LOSSES: FL Kelvin Love (19.4 yards per catch); P Jeff Walker (42.7 yard average); LB Barrin Simpson (105 tackles); DL Ashley Cooper (76 tackles, 4 sacks).

NOTES: Despite its first 10-win season since 1987, the Bulldogs still are looking for respect. The schedule, a bit weak in 1999, has been beefed up with games at Brigham Young on Sept.14 and against Florida on Sept.30. By adhering to the old-school theory of establishing the run, MSU plays ugly football at times. But it works. The Bulldogs won five games last season by a combined 10 points. If the offense can improve under third-year quarterback Madkin, the victory margins might grow.

Auburn

COACH: Tommy Tuberville, second season (5-6; 30-26, five seasons).

1999 RECORD: 5-6, 2-6 SEC.

KEY RETURNEES: QB Ben Leard (1,423 yards, 12 TDs); WR Ronney Daniels (1,068 yards, 9 TDs); DB Larry Casher (5 INTs); P Damon Duval (42.9-yard average); ROV Rob Pate (3 INT); LB Alex Lincoln (92 tackles).

KEY LOSSES: DT Jimmy Brumbaugh (51 tackles); LB Haven Fields (87 tackles, 3.5 sacks); WR Markeith Cooper (36 catches, 3 TDs).

NOTES: After two years of turmoil, the Tigers are improving under Tuberville's steadying influence. Leard, a senior, has one of the league's most exciting targets in Daniels, the SEC Freshman of the Year. The running game, woeful the past two seasons, should be stronger with the addition of junior college All-America tailback Rudi Johnson (2,224 yards and 31 TDs). But the defense has holes to fill, especially the front line.

Arkansas

COACH: Houston Nutt, third season (17-7; 53-29, seven seasons).

1999 RECORD: 8-4, 4-4 SEC (beat Texas 27-6 in the Cotton Bowl).

KEY RETURNEES: TB Cedric Cobbs (1,056 all-purpose yards); LB Quenton Caver (70 tackles); DE Randy Garner (13 tackles for loss).

KEY LOSSES: QB Clint Stoerner (2,293 yards, 19 TDs); FS Kenoy Kennedy (98 tackles, 3 INT); SE Anthony Lucas (22.2 yards per catch); LB Jamel Harris (77 tackles); TB Chrys Chukwuma (522 yards, 8 TDs).

NOTES: In Nutt's first two seasons he had the luxury of veteran players. That luxury is gone. The Razorbacks have just nine seniors and eight returning starters. The toughest loss is Stoerner, the team's unflappable emotional leader. This season will be the truest test of Nutt's recruiting classes, which are talented but inexperienced. Ill-prepared for the spotlight last season, the Razorbacks are ill-equipped for it this season.

Louisiana State

COACH: Nick Saban, first season (43-26-1, six seasons).

1999 RECORD: 3-8, 1-7 SEC.

KEY RETURNEES: SE Jerel Myers (64 catches, 2 TDs); FS Ryan Clark (110 tackles, 3 INTs); OT Louis Williams; QB Josh Booty (1,830 yards, 7 TDs, 17 INTs); RB Domanick Davis (4.3 yards per carry); WR Abram Booty (26 catches).

KEY LOSSES: RB Rondell Mealey (637 yards, 8 TDs); P Corey Gibbs (43.0-yard average); LB Charles Smith (99 tackles); SS Clarence LeBlanc (68 tackles, 2 INTs); DL Johnny Mitchell (68 tackles, 3 sacks).

NOTES: The Tigers have talent but must rediscover their will to win after a dismal 1999 campaign. As incentive to get the job done, LSU made Saban one of the country's five highest-paid coaches. The offense has potential, despite Josh Booty's school-record 19 interceptions. The biggest strides must come in the running game and on defense, which goes from a porous 3-4 to a traditional 4-3. How quickly the Tigers adjust to Saban's style will be key.

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