Will Alabama running back Mark Ingram repeat as a Heisman Trophy winner?
Billy Gomila: It's not reflection on Ingram's abilities, but no, he can't. From a functional reason, chances are his workload only decreases in 2010 as sophomore Trent Richardson's carry number increases. Plus there's a chance Alabama may be forced into relying more on its passing game than it did last season as a green defense finds its sea legs.
Additionally, the conference has been ruling the roost this decade and getting the maximum benefit of the doubt from the major media outlets, and there has to be a backlash eventually. It wouldn't surprise me if this is the year that a one-loss conference champ doesn't get to pass go into the BCS title game, and that sort of backlash would definitely trickle down to player awards as well. Never mind the award's flawed voting process. If somebody as universally popular as Tim Tebow couldn't garner enough support for a repeat, I highly doubt any SEC player ever will. And as great as Ingram was, he only won by 28 points in 2009, one of the smallest margins in Heisman history.
Brian Harbach: Mark Ingram is not going to repeat as the Heisman winner for two reasons or more appropriately because of two players. Ryan Mallett and Trent Richardson are going to stop Ingram from winning a second Heisman for two very different reasons. Starting with Mallett, the Arkansas QB is going to have a more impressive statistical season than Ingram and he is the SEC's best opportunity to keep the Heisman trophy in the SEC for a second straight year. A major reason Mallett is going to have a better year is because there is not a stud behind him taking some of his snaps…Trent Richardson is a stud and is going to take a lot of Ingram's snaps. Not since Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams has any SEC team had as dangerous a 1-2 punch at running back and to keep both Tide backs fresh and bruising for the likely 14 game season the Tide has, they will have to share the load. Sharing will be better for the team, bad for Ingram's numbers but it probably won't bother him a bit if the end result of the season is the same.
Russ Mitchell: Not unless Trent Richardson gets hurt. As the season wore on and Ingram got a little nicked (pardon the pun), Richardson showed he could not only carry the load, but in the eyes of many, carry it better. That's hard to say about a Heisman winner during his Heisman season, but you be the judge. Regardless, he was close enough that one can make such an outlandish statement and not be laughed at, which is close enough to warrant a whole lotta touches come the SJ State Spartans. Touches that will simply eat into Ingram's numbers. Too bad Mark wasn't a junior last season.
Barrett Sallee: No. Contrary to what the vocal minority thinks, Mark Ingram is still the best running back on the Alabama roster. However, Trent Richardson isn't half bad either. You saw him emerge late last season, and his role will continue to expand this year. In addition to Richardson's expanded role, Bama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain will show more faith in Greg McElroy during the regular season. We all saw what McElroy is capable of in the Georgia Dome against Florida in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, and he will have more chances to sling the ball around in 2010. Ingram will still be the centerpiece of that veteran Crimson Tide offense, but the combination of Richardson and McElroy will prevent him from repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner. However, I do expect Ingram to be a finalist in New York.
Who will be the biggest disappointment of the 2010 season?
Russ: Team or Player? Or Coach? We could go with South Carolina, who will once again start hot out of the gate, then wilt (we've been right four years running – why stop now). Or we could go with LSU's entire two deep Defensive Line, which is so young it should have mandatory nap time. Or we could go with Georgia. Just "Georgia" – there are too many possible disappointments to narrow it down to one. Or we could go with Julio Jones, who wet our whistle with his debutante ball, then slumped into mediocrity – particularly against a team with a decent CB. Or we could go with Vandy – a bowl game victory to this?! Or with Tennessee's Bryce Brown, who makes BP look stable/consistent. Or Jones. Take your pick. (Note: If, and it's a big if, Brown actually suits up in road construction orange and gets 20 carries /game, he breaks the 1,000 yard mark with two conference games to go. Tony Barnhart could line up under center for the Vols, wouldn't matter.)
Instead, we're taking the easy way out: LSU's QB Jordan Jefferson will be the biggest disappointment of 2010. All of the pieces are in place in Red Stick, except for a steady signal caller. Jefferson struggled throughout his sophomore campaign in virtually every aspect of the position – coverage recognition, counting down his receivers, accurate passing, too many sacks (we're limited by both space and decorum, or we'd continue.) Yes, he's still a teenager. Yes, there's a learning curve. And yes, to say the Tiger Offensive Line was weak last season is to say Angelina is ‘cute-ish'. But the line wasn't helped by Jefferson's penchant for holding onto the ball far too long, and he actually took a step backwards during the spring game. Make that two steps. Add to that we're beginning to once again lose faith in the Gary Crowton Variety Hour: 3-4 years and a pile of dust. So that doesn't help the kid. At this point there's nothing outside of blind faith to help those on the bayou believe Jefferson will rise to the occasion and lead this talented offense.
Barrett: My vote is going to be for Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. It's not because I don't think that he will have a stellar year. As a matter of fact, I think he's going to have an outstanding year. But Mallett is garnering Heisman Trophy talk in Fayetteville, and I don't see any way that Mallett will match that kind of hype. The Heisman Trophy isn't an individual award anymore, it's a team award. It goes to the best offensive player on one of the best teams in the country. That isn't what the ballot says, but it's the reality. So, for Mallett to be considered for the Heisman Trophy, Arkansas going to have to contend for the national title. With a defense that gives up more than 400 yards per game, I don't see that happening.
Billy: Given the expectations laid out, it's tough to believe that John Brantley won't disappoint in some way. That isn't to say that Brantley won't do well, but calling him the second- or third-best quarterback in the league before he's ever even logged a start sets the bar rather high. The Florida passing game wasn't exactly a well-oiled machine in 2009 anyway, and the two most reliable targets, Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper, have moved on as well. Will Brantley be able to perform at an all-conference level with the remainder? How much will the changes to the Gator running game affect him? Will a rebuilding defense also contribute to offensive struggles? Those are a lot of questions, and while Brantley will more than likely be fine, expecting him to be a superstar right away sets him up for disappointment.
Brian: Whichever team finishes third in the SEC East will be the biggest disappointment in the SEC this year and there are really two options for that spot…Georgia or South Carolina. By no means is this a way to straddle the fence and avoid this question but the third place SEC team will be a massive failure and a huge set back for their program. If South Carolina finishes third again with their best team in the Spurrier era, to call it anything but a failure is delusional. All the Gamecock returning starters, all the time invested in Stephen Garica, all the talk of the new and improved offensive line coach…anything less than a second place Eastern Division finish will tell you if Spurrier can win in Columbia or not. From Georgia's standpoint this is a team that is almost as talented as the SEC elite (Alabama, Florida, LSU) but consistently underachieves with those players. If they are jumped by South Carolina this year it will put even more pressure on Mark Richt to win and win in 2011 or the new AD might actually start reading those angry emails and letters from season ticket holders. The most important game in the month of September will be played in Columbia on September 11th…count on it.
If you can only attend one SEC game in September (in-conference or out-of-conference), what game would you attend and why?
Billy: LSU vs. North Carolina. The Tarheels will likely be the highest-ranked non-conference opponent any SEC team plays in September, and with good reason when you look at the veteran talent returning on defense. Of course, both teams had terrible offenses in 2009, so there's no guarantee this game will be pretty, but LSU and UNC will both be looking to show that they are ready to compete for championships in 2010. Will Carolina finally break through and cash in on all that talent, or will the Tigers serve notice that the struggles of the last two seasons are ending?
Brian: Lots of options here but I kind of gave myself up in the previous question because if there is one game not to miss in September it is Georgia traveling to Columbia to face the Gamecocks. Both teams playing their first SEC game of the season, both teams needing to start off with a win, both teams head coaches under immense pressure to win this game and that is where I want to be. Even in the second game a loss will bring out season long questions for the losing team. A Georgia loss brings up if the Bulldogs have been passed by Spurrier's, will this lead to a second straight lower tier bowl game for the Bulldogs? A Carolina loss will start some serious pessimism about whether or not Spurrier can take the next step in Columbia…is it the talent on the field or the coaching on the sidelines. No game in the SEC has the pressure that is wrapped up in this one and there is no game I would rather attend.
Barrett: I can't wait to see LSU vs. North Carolina in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 4. It's strength vs. weakness. The Tarheels are getting a lot of hype this offseason, primarily due to a defense that is littered with NFL talent. Not an easy task for the LSU offense, which was horrifying in 2009. Can Jordan Jefferson handle the pressure? Can the LSU offensive line remember how to block? Will Stevan Ridley, Michael Ford or Richard Murphy step up at running back? All of these questions need to be answered in a hurry, because if the Tigers start off with a loss to North Carolina, things could get ugly quick in Baton Rouge.
Russ: Hm… Sept. 4: LSU v. UNC. Sept. 11: Penn St.@ ‘bama (though this is more for old ghosts, as PSU is rebuilding), Oregon @ Tennessee, and UGA @ So. Carolina (if they're for real the Gamecocks should beat Georgia soundly, even given the history between these two programs). Sept. 18: Clemson @ Auburn, Hogs @ UGA (if that offense is for real, it feasts between the hedges), and Florida @ Tennessee. And Sept. 25: WVU @ LSU, and So. Carolina @ Auburn. Of these? LSU v. UNC. It's hard to pit an entire season on the kickoff game, but if LSU's offense falters – even if the Tigers win with defense – the pressure will ratchet up to unbearable, and it'll likely to be a loooooong season in Baton Rouge. Don't look now, Jordan, but outside of Alabama and Florida, UNC might be the best defense the Tigers face all season.
We hope you enjoyed Part Three of our 2010 SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, please email any of us or all of us with your comments. Also, if there are any questions you want us to answer go ahead and send them our way.