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SEC West champ could have 2 losses

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Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn must win on the road at Ole Miss and Bama to make it back to the Georgia Dome. (Source: Auburn Athletics) Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn must win on the road at Ole Miss and Bama to make it back to the Georgia Dome. (Source: Auburn Athletics)
Circle Nov. 8 on your calendar to watch the annual LSU and Alabama clash of titans.  (Source: Alabama Athletics Communications) Circle Nov. 8 on your calendar to watch the annual LSU and Alabama clash of titans. (Source: Alabama Athletics Communications)

(RNN) – In the last four SEC Championship Games an average of 74 points has been scored in each track meet. Blame Steve Spurrier for igniting the offensive fire in the 90s when he coached at Florida. Now Gus Malzahn – the architect of 56- and 59-point Auburn explosions in 2013 and 2010 – is pouring gas on the blaze this decade.

But with a lack of widespread returning star power at quarterback, will SEC defenses return to dominance in a league once known for silencing cocky offensive gurus?

If they do, LSU and Alabama will be the first in the West to solve the offensive riddles. Nick Saban has stars from the line, linebackers and secondary on the media's preseason All-SEC first team. Defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson, linebacker Trey DePriest and defensive back Landon Collins headline the top tier.

LSU's Les Miles has five Tigers on the second and third teams, including ballhawk defensive backs Tre'Davious White, Corey Thompson and Rashard Robinson.

Much-heralded lineman Robert Nkemdiche and defensive back Cody Prewitt give Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze hope that flashy QB Bo Wallace won't have to put up 30 points every Saturday to put the Rebels in the Georgia Dome for the first time.

Auburn's defense, which is known as of late for surrendering comfortable leads, had five of the 36 players named to the three teams, although defensive lineman Carl Lawson, who is recovering from knee surgery, is questionable.

Leading Bulldog tackler Benardrick McKinney and lineman Chris Jones will anchor a defense that returns eight starters for Dan Mullen in forever hopeful Starkville.

Arkansas and Texas A&M provide only one player each among the three teams. But after an 0-8 league mark, plan for a spirited defensive stand from Bret Bielema's Hogs on their revenge tour of the conference. As for the Aggies, yielding 32 points per game in 2014 will just not generate many Ws.

Picking the West

Ole Miss – Freeze knows he can take down a member of the big three in the West. The Rebels topped No. 6 LSU 27-24 in Oxford in 2013. Mississippi could withstand a loss at LSU and win the West, but that would require exacting revenge for some long Alabama nights to take advantage of Ole Miss' best shot at a league title since Manning. Or the Rebel faithful can just pour some iced tea, settle in the recliner and wait for the third generation.

Bama – Florida will try to regain its mojo by beating Bama on Sept. 20, and is a virtual lock to come to Tuscaloosa 3-0. The Tide faces Ole Miss and LSU in unfriendly confines after four straight home contests. Saban hosts MSU and The Gus Bus in Bryant-Denny. Hard to sage better than 10-2 without a proven quarterback.

ARK - The schedule is just hideous, but look for Arkansas to win one game in which they are more than two-touchdown underdogs. A determined coach Bret Bielema takes them bowling at 6-6.

AU - The mantra is that the 2014 edition could be better team than 2013 but finish with a worse record. The schedule is labeled horrific, but that largely depends on how South Carolina enters Jordan-Hare on Oct. 25. An October of LSU and Spurrier at home, and road Mississippi hostilities will challenge a team and coaching staff seemingly poised for a long run. As a reminder, Auburn finished No. 2 in 2013. Hard to be better than that so let's say Gus slows down to 10-2.

LSU – Les Miles faces Alabama and Ole Miss at home and can win the West by holding serve in Baton Rouge and keeping away loses to just one among Auburn, Florida, A&M and Arkansas. But with an unknown quarterback, it's hard to put that kind of confidence in the Tigers. But LSU has three easy wins among its first five games to get a QB ready for stretch run so let's say 9-3.

OM - A perfect home record puts Hugh Freeze in the Georgia Dome. Road games also are manageable at Vanderbilt, A&M, Arkansas and LSU. But Ole Miss lacks a returning big back resulting in too much pressure on Wallace for a prediction of more than 10-2.

MSU – A Sept. 20 tilt at LSU should feature two ranked 3-0 teams. With a veteran quarterback, this is the kind of showdown Mullen must finally prevail in to arrive in Atlanta. A win would set up a headliner against Gus Malzahn on Oct. 11. But the Bulldogs, like Ole Miss, lack the big, speedy back, and that projects them at 8-4.

A&M – An opener against the Gamecocks and a closer against LSU after playing Missouri and Auburn on the road is formidable. Look for a considerable dropoff to 6-6.

SEC West Champ

Who represents in Atlanta will come down to the tie-breaker - who beat who - among Ole Miss, Auburn and Bama.

Can an 11-2 SEC champ that emerges from the brutal SEC West make it to the Final Four? Yes, it's already been done. LSU made it in 2007 with two overtime losses to unranked Arkansas and No. 17 Kentucky, and won the BCS title for Miles after a win in Atlanta and a victory over Ohio State in the BCS finale. But they came into both losses ranked No.1. Take note Bama and AU. History may repeat itself in 2014.

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