Before I get started, I want to apologize to some of you and to mention a caveat to all of you. First, I apologize to fans of the SEC schools who are not represented in this article. For the purposes of this article, the Big Six consists of those teams who are at the top of the heap in SEC football. That doesn't mean that these teams never lose to the other teams, but that, year in and out, you can count on your SEC champion coming from one of these six schools. You can also count on the fact that when these teams play each other, they receive more media hype than when the other teams play each other or even when one of the Big Six plays one of the other six. ("Other six"...I know, it sounds so derogatory...sorry!)
The only team I can see possibly crashing the party is Arkansas. I believe Petrino will have UA ready to compete at a high level much sooner than many folks expect. His arrival at Arkansas certainly just made the SEC West a lot tougher.
OK, now for the caveat. These are my predictions as of July 22, 2008. I plan to make predictions weekly as the season progresses, and obviously, I'll know more about these teams on October 25th, for example, than I know today. So, just because I'm picking a team to win a game today doesn't mean I'll pick them when game week rolls around.
Right. So, the Big Six consists of Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU, and Tennessee. These teams have won the right to be here based on the current status of their program as well as their history of on-the-field excellence. Once again, this doesn't mean that the other programs are bad; just that these programs are generally considered the cream of the SEC. One of the Big Six teams has won the SEC Championship since 1976, and even then Kentucky shared the crown with Georgia. And like it or not, your 2008 SEC Champion will come from the Big Six too.
So how will these teams fare against each other this year? To find out, let's take a look at the games that will be played amongst them.
Auburn v LSU (September 20, 2008)
Auburn’s offensive coordinator “resigned” (read, fired) and defensive coordinator bolted for Texas. LSU lost some very talented and experienced players in the off-season…some to the NFL, and some for “other reasons,” which will remain unnamed at this time. But the reality is, both programs continue to be immensely talented, albeit very young talent. Without a doubt, this will be the toughest test to date for both teams. I predict this is going to be ugly. No, not a blowout. Come on, this is the Tiger Bowl. This game will be ugly from an offensive standpoint. Both defenses will force several mistakes and turnovers. Auburn will rack up a lot of yards, but not a lot of points in a close win for the home team.
Auburn wins 17-13
UT v UF (September 20)
Last year, evidently, some of UT’s defensive players had an aversion to playing defense, as evidenced by the fact that they let Bama, Florida, Cal, and Kentucky score 41, 59, 45, and 50 points, respectively. They only won one of those games…Kentucky. The good news is that they finished strong, only allowing LSU 21 points in an SEC Championship game loss, and only allowing Wisconsin 17 points in a New Year’s day bowl victory. But, even with an improved defense, and playing at home, it won’t be enough to stop Florida’s version of the Spread. Hopefully this year, Florida will heed to the name of their offense and actually spread the ball around rather than just relying on the Tebow/Harvin show. Florida certainly needs to work on their defense too, but they should have enough defense to win this one. And, if their defense plays up to their potential, this game will only be the beginning of their big wins in 2008.
Florida wins 35 – 21
Auburn v UT (September 27)
In football, timing is so important, and in games against very evenly-matched teams, timing can be everything. For Auburn, this game comes the week after they play their biggest on-the-field SEC West rival, LSU. And, the same could be said for UT who will have just played Florida a week earlier. So, neither team will be caught looking too far ahead to this game. But, by the close of this game, Auburn will find a way to win it. Why? Two reasons: 1) they’re playing at home, and 2) their defense should again be one of the top units in the SEC, and therefore, the country. As an Auburn fan, I know I should pick Auburn to lose this one to maintain a shred of credibility, but I just don’t see it happening on this day.
Auburn wins 24 – 17
UGA v Bama (September 27)
Last year, Bama played Georgia closer than either Florida or Auburn. Pretty impressive. But, I don’t think anyone believes that the Georgia team that Bama played was the same team that annihilated Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Not only was Georgia the SEC’s best team by the end of last season, they probably improved more than any other team in the country over the course of the season. And their offense was as potent as any I’ve seen in a while. What makes their offense so effective? No weaknesses. They do everything well. If they can pick up where they left off, they will win this home game easily. Bama has some top talent coming in to help out this year, but that won’t be enough to win this game. Georgia will be by far the best team those youngsters have ever seen up close and personal.
Georgia wins 38 – 24
UGA v UT (October 11)
This is a revenge game of epic proportions. Last year, Georgia only lost to South Carolina and Tennessee. But against Tennessee, they not only lost, but were utterly humiliated. As I said previously, Georgia didn’t find their groove until about midway through the season last year. And, of all the games they wish they could’ve had back, this is the one. Think about what this game cost them? Tennessee went on to represent the East in the SEC Championship Game. How many of you truly think that LSU would’ve beaten Georgia if they had met in the SEC Championship? Not me. And, assuming Georgia had won the SEC, all other things being equal, they would have played for, and maybe even won, the National Championship. This is why I always tell people that winning a lot of games is nothing if you don’t win the right games. But, this year Georgia should create magic from the opening kickoff. Certainly they’ll be ready to go by the time this game rolls around. Score a huge win for the home team.
Georgia wins 35 – 17
UF v LSU (October 11)
Speaking of missed opportunities…this game never got the billing, but it was one of the greatest determining factors in the National Championship hunt in 2006. If LSU had beaten Florida on the road (again, all things being equal) they would’ve played against Florida again in the SEC Championship Game. Wow! That would have been a good one. Imagine all that speed on that Georgia Dome turf. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but stick with me. If LSU had gone on to win a 2nd time against a two-loss Florida, they would’ve been the SEC team pounding Ohio State into the dirt in 2006. But, as it happened, they had to wait a year for that honor. What does that have to do with 2008? Nothing! Florida’s offense will be too versatile for the 2008 version of the Tigers and they will win yet again at home.
Florida wins 31 – 24
LSU v UGA (October 25)
I know I’ve pretty much been going with the home team, but when teams are as closely bunched as the top teams in the SEC seem to be going into this season, it’s usually the right way to go. But, have I mentioned that Georgia does everything well on offense? OK, I know I have. But, I haven’t mentioned that they also have the most underrated defensive coordinator in the country in Willi Martinez. No glitz or glamour. They just stop offenses as well as any defense in the SEC…and that’s saying something. On top of all that, Georgia features the best quarterback in the SEC. Yes, you heard me right. The best. No one in the SEC plays the quarterback position better than Stafford. He won’t win the Heisman because he’s not a one-man show. But, on this team, he doesn’t have to be. He only has to deliver the ball to his playmakers and let them do their jobs, which is exactly what he’ll do in this game.
Georgia wins 24 – 13
UT v Bama (October 25)
I’m starting to notice that there are a lot of great double-headers in the SEC this year. This is another revenge game. Bama dismantled Tennessee in Tuscaloosa last year, and UT will be looking for a little payback. Bama is going to be a little thin on the defensive side of the ball this year, and it should start to take it’s toll by the end of October. But come to think of it, Bama’s defense will still probably outplay Tennessee’s defense. That is unless UT improves a LOT this year. They will…at least for this game.
Tennessee wins 21-17
UGA v UF (November 1)
This is the game formerly known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Actually I’m glad the schools (or whomever) have agreed to “officially” stop using that designation because public underage drinking amongst college students is a big problem. And let’s just say that Georgia is known for more than its academic credentials and athletic prowess. My youngest brother, a sophomore at Georgia, is living proof of that fact. At any rate, this will likely be the Game in the SEC this year. It will almost certainly determine the SEC East Champion, likely the SEC Champion, and possibly the 2008 National Champion. I think Georgia is the more solid team, but being a Georgia native, I know Georgia fans, coaches, and players fear Florida more than any team they play, though they’ll never admit it. Florida will actually intimidate the Bulldogs and when this one is finished it will be Florida’s turn to celebrate in the end zone.
Florida wins 28 – 24
LSU v Bama (November 8)
I’m just wondering how many inflammatory comments Les Miles will make before LSU meets Bama this year. He’s already given them a little jab, saying that Bama always gets beaten by teams from Louisiana…or something like that. Certainly, he was referring to the fact that Bama lost to Louisiana Monroe last year. I’ve got news for Miles; the team he faces on November 8 won’t be the same team that lost to ULM. By that time, those super freshmen will be growing up and ready to play a tough road opponent. Reluctantly though, I’m giving the nod to LSU; for emotional reasons more than anything else. As much bulletin board material as Miles might provide for Bama, LSU’s players aren’t going to lose to Saban on his first homecoming.
LSU wins 35 – 31
AU v UGA (November 15)
I really believe the Spread offense is exactly what the doctor ordered at Auburn. Over the past couple of seasons, the Tigers have been one good offense away from competing at the highest levels of college football. Auburn’s defense has been magnificent, except for the occasional meltdown…see UGA 2006 and 2007. And, therein lies the rub. Georgia’s offense will be good enough in this one and their defense will prove more effective against Auburn's Spread than any team Auburn faces all season. Auburn fans who reside in the state of Georgia (like yours truly) will be sorely disappointed when Georgia hangs win #3 in a row on the Plainsmen. But look on the bright side; we play them every year. Sooner or later we’re bound to win again…one day….maybe.
Georgia wins 31-24
Bama v AU (November 29)
Now we come to it. UNC v Duke basketball is more fashionable. Yankees v Sox is more melodramatic. Ohio State v Michigan has more national implications. But there is no rivalry that is more bitter than the Iron Bowl. This game goes beyond sport. It represents two distinct cultures in the state of Alabama. Undoubtedly, someone could write a book about it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that someone has already written a book about it. At any rate, Bama has never beaten Auburn at their home stadium. Part of the reason is because the series was discontinued in 1907 and wasn’t resumed until 1948. And even then, the games were played at the “neutral site” of Legion Field. Not until the year 2000 was the game played at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Auburn has won every game played there since that time. So, will 2008 be the year that Bama finally beats Auburn at Bryant-Denny? In a word: Yes. By this point in the season, Bama’s fabulous freshman class will no longer be rookies. They will be battle-hardened SEC players, and they will be able to hold their own against anyone in the SEC, including Auburn. Will this victory signify the end of Auburn’s Iron Bowl dominance? Yes. Saban will win his fair share of Iron Bowl games. Will this victory signify the end of Auburn’s recent on-field success? No. Contrary to popular belief, there is room for two great teams in the state of Alabama.
Alabama wins 20 - 17