A quick glance at the SEC shows that it would appear the West division is going to be a murderer's row, and perhaps the best division in college football.
The East division, with the exception of Florida, appears to be in rebuilding mode.
So, with that said, here is how I see the SEC shaking out in 2009:
1. Florida Gators
An easy call, I would say, with the most dynamic player in college football returning.
To go along with Tim Tebow, the Gators are also returning TE Aaron Hernandez, who seems primed for a breakout season. They also return a bevy of running backs, but mostly they return not only all 11 starters on defense, but the entire two-deep defense.
If defense wins championships, then Florida has got it all sewn up.
However, it's not as if everything is great for Florida. They did lose perhaps the best player on the team (apologies to Tebow), Percy Harvin. Along with Harvin was the other top receiving threat, Louis Murphy. There are also a couple of key losses along the offensive line.
These losses, however, shouldn't be enough to derail the Gators on their way to back-to-back SEC titles.
2. Ole Miss Rebels
This was a tough decision because there are so many teams I could have gone with in this spot. I went with the Rebels for a couple of reasons.
No. 1: Of the rest of the top teams in the SEC, only the Rebels have an experienced quarterback behind center.
The whole country sat back and watched Jevan Snead make huge strides every single week as a signal caller. He is beginning to fully blossom into the five-star quarterback that he was when he graduated high school.
No. 2: They have a favorable schedule.
Their toughest road game looks to be a Thursday night game in Columbus. They don't have Florida on their schedule, and the other top three teams in the West division, LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas will be home games.
The stage is set for the Rebels to represent the West in the SEC championship.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama has a lot going for it heading into the 2009 season, but they also have a lot working against them.
They should have a very stout defense yet again in 2009. The return of DT Terrance Cody was a huge lift for the Crimson Tide, as he will undoubtedly anchor one of the best defenses in the country.
Unfortunately, we don't really know what to expect from the offense in 2009. This is a team that has lost their starting quarterback and running back. Fortunately, Mark Ingram showed that he is capable of being a feature back.
Still, the lack of experience at quarterback could be an issue for the Tide, but at least whoever is back there will be throwing to Julio Jones, one of the best WR in the country.
4. LSU Tigers
I think the Tigers are talented enough to win the West, but they have some issues with experience and their schedule.
This is going to be a very talented Tigers team, but also a very inexperienced one as well. They have quite a few key losses on defense, as well as on the offensive line.
They have an inexperienced, but talented quarterback. LSU does have the most athletic player in high school football coming in the fall, but their lack of experience will be too much for them to overcome, especially with their brutal schedule.
The Tigers must travel to Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss. Also, of the three top West teams, they are the only ones who have to play Florida.
A nine-win season may be the max for the Tigers this year.
t5. Georgia Bulldogs
Everyone knows about the losses the Bulldogs are having to endure this season.
However, Caleb King and Joe Cox should be good enough to make the Bulldogs competitive in every game.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs not only possess one of the toughest conference schedules in the country with road games at Arkansas, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt, and a neutral site game with Florida, but they must also travel to Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech.
Overall, I see only about seven or eight wins for the Bulldogs in 2009.
t5. Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas definitely has to be the sleeper in the SEC this year. They are the team to most likely repeat the impressive turn around that Ole Miss accomplished last year.
Like the Rebels, they too will have a highly-touted Texan transfer quarterback at the helm. Ryan Mallet, who was the heir apparent at Michigan before Rich Rodriguez came in, was a five-star recruit who has a cannon arm, along with the precision passing needed for Petrino's offense.
To go along with Mallet is a bevy of underclassmen who all took their lumps as starters last year to prepare for this year.
Unfortunately, achieving great success this year is going to have to come without the help of a home crowd, as Arkansas boasts a murderous road schedule featuring Florida, Bama, Ole Miss, LSU, and a non-conference road game at Texas A&M.
Arkansas has the talent, but with their schedule I predict a seven to eight win season, which will be a big improvement from the five in 2008.
Here are numbers 7-12:
7. Vanderbilt Commodores
8. South Carolina Gamecocks
9. Tennessee Volunteers
10. Kentucky Wildcats
11. Auburn Tigers
12. Mississippi Bulldogs
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