SEC mailbag: Tigers vs. Tigers

Greetings, SEC friends. It’s here. Practice starts next week. Georgia’s the first to go Monday. Let’s see what’s on everybody’s mind in the SEC mailbag:

Russell in Kirkuk, Iraq writes: Hey Chris. Been reading your work since 2007 and appreciate everything you've contributed to the conference and its fans. Right now, I am almost nine months into my deployment and can't wait to end it on a high note with the last two months filled with football. I should get back in time to go watch my Tigers (the Geaux version) take on War Eagle. Where do you see each squad sitting overall/conference record-wise coming into the contest? Can LSU duplicate its success against Auburn from last year, or were the results merely due to Auburn running out of steam?

Chris Low: Most importantly, Russell, I want to thank you for your service to our country. I can assure you that my family will forever be grateful for the sacrifices made by all of our brave military men and women. As for your “Geaux version” of the Tigers, this is obviously a critical season for Les Miles. I thought their most complete game last season was the 31-10 beatdown of Auburn, which was sort of reeling at that point after losing two in a row to Arkansas and Kentucky. LSU was coming off a bye last season and looked like a rejuvenated football team against Auburn, which was playing its eighth straight game. This season, neither team will have had a bye when they meet on Oct. 23 on the Plains, so there shouldn’t be an advantage on that front. As I look at LSU’s schedule this season, I see the Tigers being 5-2 and 3-1 in the SEC entering that contest. As for the Auburn Tigers, I’ve got them 6-1 and 3-1 in the SEC. Even though last season was the exception, the Auburn-LSU game has just about always been close. It should be again this season. Be safe and thanks again for your service.

Joe in Anaheim, Calif., writes: Hey Chris, longtime reader and fan of the blog. It's all that keeps me going over these long offseasons. I am a recent Ole Miss alum, and have been following the Masoli story very closely. My question is: Why all the mentions of Jamar Hornsby? You mention that it "blew up in our face," but I don't think the two situations are all that similar. Yeah, he did really disappoint, and it did fall through. But I don't think it was a fair comparison. He never suited up, never enrolled and never even made it to campus. Does the rest of the SEC see it differently? I follow recruiting and thought it was a loss when he got arrested, but 90 percent of our fans probably have never heard of him. To me, it was just a recruit picking another school before getting to campus. It had little long-term effect on the program. Keep up the good work!

Chris Low: Even though Hornsby never made it to campus, he’s somebody Ole Miss signed that had been kicked off another team (Florida) for a run-in with the law. Masoli was also kicked off Oregon’s team following multiple run-ins with the law. That’s why I made the comparison. As I’ve said, it’s a gamble any way you look at it, and I realize Houston Nutt needs another quarterback badly. I’ve heard from Ole Miss fans who want no part of Masoli, and I’ve heard from fans who can’t wait to see him in uniform. I hope for his sake and Ole Miss’ sake that the whole thing works out, and in the end, they help each other.

Gerald in Anniston, Ala., writes: What is the situation with Bryce Brown at Tennessee? It doesn’t appear that you have commented on the situation.

Chris Low: I’ve tried not to comment on it because I never thought it was realistic that he would be back at Tennessee, and I don’t think Derek Dooley ever did, either. I guess you’re never amazed by anything when it comes to the passion of SEC football fans, but the fascination over Brown by some of the Tennessee fans has been a freak show. Maybe that comes with the territory when a guy’s rated the No. 1 prospect in the country in some quarters and Dooley’s predecessor builds him up like he’s the next coming of Walter Payton. It’s all about the recruiting hype. In this case, the hype (and it wasn’t all Brown’s fault) far outweighed the performance. There are a lot of Bryce Browns in the SEC, and I think Tauren Poole might end up being a better player for the Vols. Several of his teammates thought so a year ago.

Roger in Little Rock, Ark., writes: Chris, why do you only report commitments for certain SEC teams and not all of them? I know it's not because some are rated higher than others, because sometimes you mention players who are rated lower by ESPN's own recruiting site than others whom you fail to mention. Is there a good reason for this, or is it the result of a personal bias against certain teams?

Chris Low: I promise it’s not a bias of any kind. My best answer is that occasionally a commitment will just simply slip through the cracks. My assumption is that you’re referring to the Hogs’ recent commitment, Jervohnte Riles of Bessemer, Ala. He’s one I did miss this week, and he’s a good one. The 6-4, 225-pound Riles is a receiver/linebacker in high school, but could grow into a tight end in college. He said the Hogs are recruiting him as a receiver. Riles is a four-star prospect, according to ESPN’s rankings. For what it’s worth, five of Arkansas’ 11 high school commitments for the 2011 class are four-star prospects. The Hogs have 13 commitments overall, counting junior college players.

Brian in Greensboro, N.C., writes: OK, Chris, I have to call you out on this one because I know how long you have watched SEC football and you know defense wins championships. You have Arkansas as the second team in the West, but you have them as the 10th-rated defensive line, 11th-rated linebackers and 12th-rated special teams and defensive backs. You have Auburn third in the West, but they have better units than the Razorbacks in every spot except wide receiver and quarterback. In most cases, it isn't even close compared to where they are ranked in your lists. Would you have Auburn third based on schedule or offense or coaching? It just seemed a bit odd to me. Have a great week.

Chris Low: To be honest, I’ve gone back and forth between Arkansas and Auburn on who’s the second best team in the West. I ended up going with the Hogs based on how explosive their offense should be and the fact that I still think Auburn might be a tad thin in the depth department this season. So, yes, it could go either way. And when you start ranking positions, the difference in who’s third, fourth and fifth can be miniscule. On the offensive line, I had Auburn fourth and Arkansas fifth. The same goes for running back, where I had Auburn third and Arkansas fourth. It’s a similar story on the defensive line with Auburn ninth and Arkansas 10th. The Hogs still have to prove it to me that they’re good enough on defense to contend in the West, but Cameron Newton has to prove that he’s ready to lead this Auburn football team in his first season as a starter. In short, I think both teams will be improved and give Alabama something to think about in the West race.

Stephen in Baton Rouge, La., writes: You keep saying that Arkansas will be able to put up big points against anyone. Does that mean you don't think the SEC is built on defense anymore?

Chris Low: No, but there are exceptions and perhaps the Hogs will be better on defense than I’m giving them credit for. If they’re as good as I think they will be offensively, it's not like they have to be second or third in the league defensively to factor into the race. Just eliminating some of the big plays they give up last season will be a good start. If they can finish in the top 50 in the country in total defense, I think they have a good chance to win 10 or more games. They finished 89th last season. There were seven SEC teams that finished in the top 50 nationally a year ago in total defense. That’s the group the Hogs need to be in to make a run.