How the Battle for the West Will be Won // SEC 2011

It's times like these that I'm glad I call upsets in these predictions. Otherwise, I'd be in a difficult place by now, with nothing like the 9-3 record that now seems within reach for LSU. You might have heard about a few, um, disturbances in Baton Rouge, the variety of which generally cause problems for football teams in neutral-site season openers against Top 5 opponents.

But it's not just the Oregon loss that's in those cards. It's also an Arkansas upset and the loss to eventual SEC West champion Alabama. The Arkansas upset actually ends up working out to the right number of losses for the Bayou Bengals. Not that another 9-win season for Les Miles should really be all that disappointing.

And as for Alabama? No, I'm not particularly worried about the losses on offense. Arkansas fans might call foul here, but I would make the following points: Greg McElroy was not Ryan Mallett and Knile Davis did not leave behind a backup named Trent Richardson. Oh, and Nick Saban wins national championships with defense anyway. See: Alabama 2009, Alabama 2010.

Will Alabama really blaze an undefeated path through the season? We could find out early. The trip to Happy Valley, while not as intimidating as it would be in many years, could test a young team trying to find its footing in the harsh glare of the national spotlight. If the Tide avoid the landmine there, then they'll get another test two weeks later in the showdown with Arkansas. And then it's at rip to the Swamp.

Get past all of that, and it shouldn't be that hard to fight through the backloaded portion of the schedule. Not that any November stretch that's likely to include two ranked teams and the defending national champions really qualifies as easy.

LSU has its own challenges early. The tilt with Oregon in Jerry Jones' Deathstar, the bout with Mississippi State that your humble correspondent believes could decide the No. 2 place in the division and the trip to Morgantown, where the Bengals simply hope to leave by anything other than the glow of burning couches. While there's the slightest midseason breather for the Tide, the LSU schedule doesn't really let up from start to finish.

Not that this is going to be settled by schedule-related attrition. Alabama and LSU will decide the division on the field. And, even without all the recent chaos in Baton Rouge, Alabama is simply the better team.

ALABAMA LSU
Place: First in SEC West, SEC Champions
Record: 12-0, 8-0 SEC
Could be: 9-3 to 12-0
Upset Alert: ARKANSAS
Bowl: BCS National Championship Game
Place: Second in SEC West
Record: 9-3, 6-2 SEC
Could be: 7-5 to 11-1
Upset Alert: at TENNESSEE
Bowl: Capital One
9.3.11 | KENT STATE | WIN 9.3.11 | vs OREGON | POSSIBLE LOSS
9.10.11 | at PENN STATE | POSSIBLE WIN 9.10.11 | NORTHWESTERN ST | WIN
9.17.11 | NORTH TEXAS | WIN 9.15.11 | at MISSISSIPPI STATE | POSSIBLE WIN
9.24.11 | ARKANSAS | POSSIBLE WIN 9.24.11 | at WEST VIRGINIA | POSSIBLE WIN
10.1.11 | at FLORIDA | PROBABLE WIN 10.1.11 | KENTUCKY | LIKELY WIN
10.8.11 | VANDERBILT | LIKELY WIN 10.8.11 | FLORIDA | POSSIBLE WIN
10.15.11 | at OLE MISS | PROBABLE WIN 10.15.11 | at TENNESSEE | POSSIBLE WIN
10.22.11 | TENNESSEE | PROBABLE WIN 10.22.11 | AUBURN | PROBABLE WIN
11.5.11 | LSU | POSSIBLE WIN 11.5.11 | at ALABAMA | POSSIBLE LOSS
11.12.11 | at MISSISSIPPI ST | PROBABLE WIN 11.12.11 | WESTERN KENTUCKY | WIN
11.19.11 | GEORGIA SOUTHERN | WIN 11.19.11 | at OLE MISS | PROBABLE WIN
11.26.11 | at AUBURN | PROBABLE WIN 11.26.11 | ARKANSAS | POSSIBLE LOSS

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