HOOVER, Ala. - Alabama is the overwhelming pick of the media to win the 2011 Southeastern Conference football championship.
The Crimson Tide, who won league and national titles in 2009 before finishing fourth in the stacked West Division last year, received 98 votes Friday in the SEC championship balloting. LSU was second with 29 votes, followed by Arkansas (18), South Carolina (14) and Georgia (4).
"You all are a lot smarter than we are as coaches, because I could never pick who is going to win the SEC," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "From a logical standpoint, I know there are a couple other teams in our division - forget about the league - that have just as many returning starters and their quarterback. So even though I have a tremendous amount of respect for the intelligence level and your ability to prognosticate, which I'm not capable of doing, I don't understand how you come to the decisions that you come to."
Alabama has not won two SEC titles in a three-year stretch since Bear Bryant was coach.
In the West Division race, the Tide were picked ahead of LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, defending national champion Auburn and Ole Miss. Auburn's fifth-place projection is the lowest for a reigning division champ since the league implemented two divisions in 1992.
"It goes back to the fact that it's preseason, and it's preseason talk," Auburn sophomore defensive end Nosa Eguae said. "Come September third, no one cares about preseason talk."
South Carolina, which won its first East Division crown last season, was picked to repeat. The Gamecocks were followed in the voting by Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
"We know that Georgia, Tennessee and Florida were down last year," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "That's what gave us hope and was probably the big reason we won the East last year. Whether or not they'll be down this year, only time will tell.
"We've got enough players to compete with everybody we play, but taking that next step and winning a whole bunch of games and winning the SEC is what we're trying to do. We haven't got there yet."
Alabama led the All-SEC balloting as well with a record nine first-team selections and 16 players on the three teams combined. The Crimson Tide's first-team representatives were Trent Richardson, who claimed tailback and all-purpose spots, center William Vlachos, offensive lineman Barrett Jones, defensive lineman Josh Chapman, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw and defensive backs Robert Lester and Mark Barron.
No other team produced more than three first-team picks with the exception of Georgia, which had six with quarterback Aaron Murray, offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, tight end Orson Charles, punter Drew Butler, kicker Blair Walsh and return specialist Brandon Boykin.
Tennessee had one representative on each team, with defensive lineman Malik Jackson making the first team, defensive back Janzen Jackson the second team and tailback Tauren Poole the third team.