Guerry Clegg commentary: Answers to some questions about upcoming college football season

June 22, 2013 

The annual magazines are out, the sports talk shows are moving on from the NBA Finals and the websites keep teasing us daily with even the slightest bit of news or projections.

Sixty-nine days until college football kicks off. It can't get here soon enough.

Time to start contemplating some thoughts.

• What would constitute a successful first season for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn? It can't be hard to improve on three unimpressive wins. But simply winning an SEC game and being competitive won't cut it at Auburn, not even if that constitutes progress. The talent level of last year's team was probably overstated. Still, there was too much talent to be 3-9 and too much talent not to have a winning season. Auburn has certain standards, and those standards are higher than winning six games.

The non-conference schedule is accommodating: Washington State, Arkansas State, Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic. The Tigers need to win three of four against Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Ole Miss. That would be seven wins and a very good rebuilding season. Any upset of Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia or Alabama would be gravy -- this year.

• Will AJ McCarron and/or Aaron Murray be in New York for the Heisman presentation? Both, probably not, just because they play the same position in the same conference. But the odds are favorable that at least one will be invited. McCarron has the edge for two rea

sons. One, Alabama should be better -- and certainly is more nationally recognized -- than Georgia. Two, McCarron stands to post even better passing numbers than last year, while Murray's could drop a tad as the running game develops with a more experienced line and running backs.

• Will Georgia's defense be statistically better, worse or the same as last year? There's a temptation to think there will not be a drop-off because last year's unit underachieved. But they did play much better in the second half of last season. Having to open against Clemson will be a huge test for that defense.

• Can Alabama's running game be as dominant as it was last year? The hit Bama took on the offensive line was just as severe as what Georgia took on defense. If any team has the mental toughness to overcome that, it would be a Nick Saban team. But these are still college kids. The drop-off will be noticeable.

• Who has less margin for error, Georgia or Alabama? I would say Georgia because the Bulldogs almost have to win the SEC to avoid the perception of underachievement. Face it, going 11-1 again and losing in the SEC championship game would feel like a letdown, especially because it is so unlikely that the Dogs would fall just one play short again of a national championship game. So fair or not, anything less than that for the Dogs would be seen as a step backward, especially with Murray being a senior.

At Alabama, the standard is always winning a national championship. But winning three of the last four certainly gives Alabama the right to have a so-called rebuilding season and lose a couple of games.

Think about this scenario: Georgia goes 11-1 but loses to LSU or Texas A&M in the SEC championship, while Bama goes 10-2. Which fan base would be more upset about the respective states of their programs? To me, it would be Georgia.

• By midseason, who will be Auburn's starting quarterback, Kiehl Frazier or Jonathan Wallace (Cebtral)? The only way to hazard a guess is to use your imagination because there is no significant game tape on either player in Malzahn's system. My pick: Wallace, not because he's the local guy but because he has demonstrated better ability to read and respond under pressure.

• Which SEC team is set up for the biggest fall? Texas A&M. Yes the Aggies finished last season on a roll. Many people thought they might be the second best team in the country behind Alabama. And they have so many players back. But remember Georgia in 2007? The Dogs finished second in the country, and many people felt they might actually be the best team in college football at that time. Had most of their players back, including their stars. Began the season number one. Then came the big crash. That team was probably better than this Texas A&M team. And these Aggies play in a tough division.

• Can Jordan Jenkins (Harris County) be better than Jarvis Jones (Carver)? Not as good as -- better. That's saying a lot, considering that Jones was an All-America and maybe the second most dominant player in the SEC behind Jadaveon Clowney. But Jordan might be even more physically gifted. What set Jones apart was his relentless competitive drive and his desire to get better.

If Jenkins can apply what he learned behind Jones, he could be the first linebacker drafted in two years.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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