SEC bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff, who's known more commonly as The ATL Kid, will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide who's right.
Today's Take Two topic: If it's not Alabama or LSU, who has the best chance to break through and win the SEC championship in 2012 and why?
Take 1: Chris Low
If Arkansas were not in the Western Division, you could easily make a case that the Hogs would have already broken through and at least played for the SEC championship. But the fact is that they are in the West, and that’s not changing. They’re 1-5 against West kingpins Alabama and LSU the past three seasons, but the good news is that they get both teams at home in 2012. Two years ago, they beat LSU in Little Rock and had Alabama on the ropes in Fayetteville before allowing the Crimson Tide to escape in the second half.
What makes anybody think it’s going to be different in 2012? For one, I’m not so sure that Arkansas has to win both games to get to Atlanta. A split may be enough next season. And with Tyler Wilson returning at quarterback, he’s going to have a better idea of what to expect from both defenses. You can bet that Alabama will be good on defense again next season. I have a hard time believing, though, that the Crimson Tide will be as good as they were in 2011 when they’re losing the likes of Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Josh Chapman and Dre Kirkpatrick. The trip to South Carolina won’t be easy for the Hogs, but they’ve had the Gamecocks’ number. The same goes for Texas A&M.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino does as good a job as anybody in the conference when it comes to developing offensive talent. We’ll see if the defense can take that next step now under new coordinator Paul Haynes. The Hogs took a step backward this past season on defense. They’ll always be a threat playing the caliber of offense they have under Petrino, but he knows as well as anybody that they have to keep improving on defense if they’re going to move past just being a threat and ever win the championship in this league. This may be the year they do that.
Take 2: Edward Aschoff
I like the Arkansas pick, and I agree that if you put the Hogs in the East it's a whole different story. But I'll go in a different direction. How about Georgia? Seriously, if you just look at Georgia's schedule you'd think the Bulldogs would be able to just walk into Atlanta for the second straight year. No Alabama, Arkansas or LSU. South Carolina, Missouri and Auburn are on the road, but losing one of those probably won't cost the Bulldogs the East. Just look at last season.
The Bulldogs return just about everyone on a defense that ranked fifth nationally last season. Add a pretty solid group of offensive players and Georgia has a team with the talent to compete not just for a SEC title, but a national title. Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King are back at wide receiver and the staff is hoping that the addition of Keith Marshall to the backfield will help push Isaiah Crowell even more. Georgia will probably be in a real dogfight (excuse the pun) with South Carolina. The Gamecocks return a loaded defense as well and a healthy Marcus Lattimore is any defense's nightmare, but you have to give Georgia the advantage at quarterback. Connor Shaw ended 2011 on a roll, but Aaron Murray is becoming a better leader and is coming off a year in which he became just the fifth quarterback in SEC history to throw for more than 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns in a single season.
The mental hump might be the biggest obstacle for the Bulldogs. We've seen this before and Georgia hasn't exactly lived up to high expectations in recent history. Remember 2008? There's no question that the Bulldogs have the players to compete for a SEC title, but all eyes will be on Athens this fall and the pressure definitely will be on. Coach Mark Richt did a great job of rallying this team after its 0-2 start last year, but can the Bulldogs afford another season with a slow start? Can this team survive with the target on its back? If Georgia can play with the same mentality it had in its last 10 games of the regular season, the Bulldogs could bring the SEC crown back to the Eastern Division.