Head coach: Bobby Petrino (5-7 in one season at Arkansas, 46-16 overall).
2008 record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC).
Players to watch: TE D.J. Williams (61 receptions for 723 yards in 2008); DE Adrian Davis (43 tackles, five sacks); RB Michael Smith (1,072 rushing yards, eight touchdowns); QB Ryan Mallett.
Game of the year: Sept. 26 at Alabama. Arkansas is a sleeper team in the SEC this year, but an early test in Tuscaloosa, Ala., should be a swing game to determine whether the Razorbacks are a smart pick or merely a trendy one.
Petrino says: “I really believe that we’ll be a much better football team this year than we were a year ago. We’ve worked extremely hard on having a good attitude and a tremendous work ethic. I feel like our team chemistry is where it needs to be to have a chance to be a special football team.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Arkansas returns tons of talent on offense and could be one of the most explosive teams in the SEC, but the defense was brutal a year ago and will need to take a big step forward for the Razorbacks to have a shot in the competitive SEC West.
Schedule: Sept. 5 vs. Missouri State; Sept. 19 vs. Georgia; Sept. 26 at Alabama; Oct. 3 vs. Texas A&M (in Arlington, Texas); Oct. 10 vs. Auburn; Oct. 17 at Florida; Oct. 24 at Mississippi; Oct. 31 vs. Eastern Michigan; Nov. 7 vs. South Carolina; Nov. 14 vs. Troy; Nov. 21 vs. Mississippi State (in Little Rock, Ark.); Nov. 28 at LSU.
Head coach: Les Miles (42-11 in four seasons at LSU, 70-32 overall).
2008 record: 8-5 (3-5 SEC).
Players to watch: RB Charles Scott (1,174 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns in 2008); WR Brandon LaFell (929 receiving yards, eight touchdowns); OT Ciron Black; DE Rahim Alem (11.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks); QB Jordan Jefferson (282 passing yards, two touchdowns).
Game of the year: Nov. 7 at Alabama. LSU has some tough early tests against the best of the East, but it’s this November showdown against Alabama that could decide the SEC West.
Miles says: “Eight victories and a bowl win was not enough. Our football team’s a little more wanting, a little bit more ambitious.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: LSU has a potentially explosive offense behind Jefferson, but the defense needs to replace some solid players from a unit that struggled in 2008.
Schedule: Sept. 5 at Washington; Sept. 12 vs. Vanderbilt; Sept. 19 vs. Louisiana Lafayette; Sept. 26 at Mississippi State; Oct. 3 at Georgia; Oct. 10 vs. Florida; Oct. 24 vs. Auburn; Oct. 31 vs. Tulane; Nov. 7 at Alabama; Nov. 14 vs. Louisiana Tech; Nov. 21 at Mississippi; Nov. 28 vs. Arkansas.
Head coach: Houston Nutt (9-4 in one season at Ole Miss, 120-74 overall).
2008 record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC).
Players to watch: QB Jevan Snead (2,762 passing yards, 26 touchdowns in 2008); DE Greg Hardy (8.5 sacks); OT John Jerry; RB Dexter McCluster (655 rushing yards, 625 receiving yards, seven total touchdowns).
Game of the year: Nov. 21 vs. LSU. Ole Miss gets its toughest opponents at home this year, which means the Rebels should be in contention for a West title when they host LSU in late November.
Nutt says: “I think our team is on the rise. I think there’s some good things that are happening. We had a very good recruiting class. When you see our freshmen on campus, they don’t look like freshmen. … You just feel like things are getting ready to happen and we’re excited.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Ole Miss snuck up on the rest of the SEC last year, but the Rebels now need to prove they’re as good at being the hunted as they were at being the hunter.
Schedule: Sept. 6 at Memphis; Sept. 19 vs. Southeastern Louisiana; 9/24 at South Carolina; Oct. 3 at Vanderbilt; Oct. 10 vs. Alabama; Oct. 17 vs. Alabama-Birmingham; Oct. 24 vs. Arkansas; Oct. 31 at Auburn; Nov. 7 vs. Northern Arizona; Nov. 14 vs. Tennessee; Nov. 21 vs. LSU; Nov. 28 at Mississippi State.
Head coach: Dan Mullen (first season).
2008 record: 4-8 (2-6 SEC).
Players to watch: RB Anthony Dixon (869 rushing yards, seven touchdowns in 2008); LB Jamar Chaney; QB Tyson Lee (1,519 yards passing, seven passing touchdowns); OL Derek Sherrod.
Game of the year: Oct. 24 vs. Florida. It’s another rebuilding year for the Bulldogs, but Mullen gets his chance to prove he has MSU headed in the right direction when he hosts his former employer.
Mullen says: “I’ll share with you our team goals for this year, what will make this a successful season for me. If you turn on a game film, watch a team, all 11 players on the field on any given snap, play with a relentless effort, play with a passion for the game of football for 60 minutes of that game, we’ll have a successful season.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Mullen mastered the spread offense at Florida, but it’s a lot easier to look like a genius with Tim Tebow and company. Doing the same in Starkville won’t be easy.
Schedule: Sept. 5 vs. Jackson State; Sept. 12 at Auburn; Sept. 19 at Vanderbilt; Sept. 26 vs. LSU; Oct. 3 vs. Georgia Tech; Oct. 10 vs. Houston; Oct. 17 at Middle Tennessee; Oct. 24 vs. Florida; Oct. 31 at Kentucky; Nov. 14 vs. Alabama; Nov. 21 at Arkansas (in Little Rock, Ark.); Nov. 28 vs. Mississippi.