Alabama, LSU Favored to Contend in Loaded SEC West

Alabama, LSU Favored to Contend in Loaded SEC WestThe SEC West has been a BCS national champion factory. Each of the last three title winners (as well as four of the last five) have come from the west side of the Southeastern Conference. Going into 2012, the oddsmakers are suggesting that trend will continue.

Alabama is favored win the division at 7-5, with runner-up LSU close behind at 8-5. Arkansas (5-1), Auburn (12-1) and Mississippi State (16-1) are also in the mix, with Texas A&M (25-1) and Mississippi (75-1) farther behind.

Arkansas is the lowest of the bunch, as its program has had a tumultuous offseason, starting with head coach Bobby Petrino being fired after a slew of off-field indiscretions. The Razorbacks still have the talent to get the job done — especially with the best offense in the SEC West — but not having the man who rebuilt their program will hurt. John L. Smith was brought on to keep building, but he's a step down from Petrino.

Auburn is a team that could contend just two years removed from a national title. The Tigers were a very young team last season, and their defense, which was a big weakness last season (allowing nearly 29 points per game and 408 yards) could be the team's strength in 2012. Nine starters are back on defense, with seven more returning on offense. This team still has to find a quarterback that can lead the way like Cam Newton did, though. As of now, quarterback is a concern, as Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley are still battling.

Mississippi State could be a sleeper, as head coach Dan Mullen believes he's got a national championship contender on his hands. He's rebuilt the program in a fine way, and this team will be a tough out each and every week, but it needs a lot to go well to win the SEC West. Mississippi State has been oh-so-close to upending Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama and LSU but still has yet to beat any of those teams in the Mullen era.

Auburn and Arkansas — and especially Mississippi State — have little room for error, because LSU and Alabama are fully loaded. LSU just booted one of its best defensive players off the team (Tyrann Mathieu), and nobody is all too concerned. That shows what kind of defensive talent and depth the Tigers have.

LSU went 13-0 last season before losing in the title game to Alabama, but this year the Tigers get eight home games. And even though they've had to make a change at quarterback, former junior college All-American Zach Mettenberger is expected to upgrade the team's passing game. If true, that's a scary thought, as the Tigers already have among the best defensive, special teams and running games in the country.

Alabama's suffocating defense can go toe-to-toe with the Tigers, and they will Nov. 3. That matchup could decide the SEC West.

The Tide are the reigning national champions, and knocking them off their pedestal will be a big challenge. This team is as talented as any in the country and has arguably the best defense around.

But a couple of things could hamper the Tide and open the door for someone else. For starters, their schedule is challenging with No. 8 Michigan (neutral-site contest in Dallas) and No. 5 Arkansas (at Fayetteville) both on the radar in the first three weeks. Also, a slew of young, new faces will be relied upon.

Even so, the Tide still have a significant amount of experience, with a chunk of the roster now having won two titles. Until someone stops them, they'll be the ones to beat in the SEC West and in all of college football.

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