The winner of the SEC championship game has won the BCS championship for the past four years. (Florida, LSU, Florida, Alabama). This year may be no different.
Whether the SEC is the best conference in college football can be debated by some, but numbers speak for themselves and in the time of the BCS no other conference has been more dominant taking home six of the first 11 BCS titles.
With the Big 12 in shambles, the Big Ten still having not proven to have caught up with the rest of college football, and the PAC-10 losing its biggest threat, USC, to NCAA sanctions, it seems that the trend will continue for the SEC.
With Saban, McElroy, Richardson, Jones, and Ingram back, Alabama seems to be the clear cut favorite in the West, but who could dethrone the kings?
What follows are my predictions for the SEC come 2010.
Believe it or not the SEC East is wide open next year. Tennessee has a new coach and Vanderbilt and Kentucky are never quite good enough even in a wide open year.
South Carolina hasn't proven anything the last few years beyond the fact that they are a good middle of the pack team and Georgia is trying to rebuild from two years ago with yet another new quarterback at the helm. What about Florida? Well, they have to replace All-Everything Quarterback Tim Tebow and most of their starting defense as well as their defensive coordinator.
So who's the favorite this year? I'll let your imagination run with that one, but what follows are my own thoughts on the 2010 version of the SEC East.
Bobby Johnson's retirement doesn't do anything to help with the prospects of the Commodores in 2010. Johnson was 29-66 as head coach of Vanderbilt in his eight years there and possibly the prospect of another tough year in the SEC was enough to make Johnson call it a career.
Whatever the positives were for the Commodores coming into this season left with Johnson. And whatever hope they have in sophomore phenomenon Warren Norman (783 yards in 2009) could be quelled easily by opposing offenses against a fairly inexperienced defense.
Vanderbilt starts out tough with home games against Northwestern and LSU. Vandy may have the hardest out of conference schedule in the SEC this season with Eastern Michigan being the only game against a non-BCS school.
My take on the Commodores for 2010? 1-11 (0-8)
Joker Phillips enters into his first season as Kentucky's head coach at a good time. If he can put together a decent year, hopes might fly high again for Kentucky football in 2010.
If Kentucky wants to be effective next season, they must keep their quarterbacks healthy. However, Morgan Newton did prove that he could come in and play well a year ago and they might need him again this season. Play makers on the offensive side of the ball are hard to come by for Kentucky but Randall Cobb has the ability to be in the right place at the right time but they need more production out of Derrick Locke in 2010 if they want to make any headway in 2010.
With a new coach, it will be hard for Kentucky to seize the opportunities before them, but they could be the dark horse in the SEC East to pull a few upsets this year (especially at home).
Kentucky has won at least seven games in four consecutive seasons for the first time since the same type of run from 1909-1912. If they want to make winning a normality, this season would be a good year to start, they have good experience coming back but not enough to warrant a run in the SEC.
My take on the Wildcats for 2010? 6-6 (2-6)
Tennessee fans may hate Lane Kiffin more than Al Davis did when he coached for the Raiders. Enter Derek Dooley the second head coach for the Volunteers in as many years.
The 42-year-old Dooley has experience as a head coach (17-20 in 3 years at La. Tech), but going from the WAC to the SEC will truly test his coaching prowess. Dooley must first clean the off the field issues up at Tennessee before he can make much head way in the SEC.
The quarterback woes also continue for the Volunteers as they transfer the starting roll to Matt Simms (brother of Chris Simms, son of Phil Simms). Dooley will most likely have to lean on the running of Kevin Cooper and freshman Channing Fugate in order to take pressure off of the first year stater.
The defense is in a similar dilemma with the loss of Thorpe Award winner Eric Berry and most of the rest of a veteran secondary from a year ago. The strength in the defense is up front with Ben Martin, Chris Walker, and LaMarcus Thompson.
Tennessee won't be awful next season, but they will experience growing pains. A bowl is a must to refocus the student body and athletes on success rather than off the field failure.
My take on the Volunteers for 2010? 6-6 (3-5)
If there is a chance for Steve Spurrier to finally break through as the Gamecock's head coach, this is it.
Florida is rebuilding with Brantley and Georgia has another new starting quarterback this year. For all intents and purposes, Garcia is the most experienced quarterback in the SEC East in 2010 and the Gamecocks are also one of the most experienced teams in the SEC East returning fourteen of 22 starters from a year ago.
Garcia has to realize he can't do it all on his own this year and must protect the ball better in 2010. Freshman running back Marcus Lattimore needs to take the pressure off of Garcia and as always the wild card is the offensive line. A more experienced line than a year ago, if they can ratchet up their consistency this could be one of the better offenses in the East in 2010.
One thing we've come to know about the Gamecocks is that they are consistent defensively. They are solid up front and experienced in the back and that should be enough to garner a few tough wins. If the offensive line can perform better than last season you might see Spurrier's first run at an East title in 2010.
My take on the Gamecocks for 2010? 8-4 (5-3)
Many wonder if Urban Meyer simply didn't know what to do without Tim Tebow and maybe that's why he called it quits in December. Meyer might have done more harm than good with his waffelling at the beginning of 2010 but that's not the reason I see a short break in Gator dominance.
My reason has to do with new playmakers and schedule. Tim Tebow is gone and the spread option attack of Florida will as a result look a lot different this season. While John Brantley is definitely a prototype NFL style quarterback, he has little to no experience in big games.
Losing six starters on offense usually makes a team sweat, but the Gators should be okay. They may not be the high scoring offense from a year ago, but they still will be tops in the SEC with players like Deonte Thompson, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps trying to take pressure off of new starter John Brantley.
The defense is where I see the Gators having a few problems. First, they lost six key starters from one of the better defenses in the country a year ago, and not only that but they also lost their defensive coordinator to the head coaching job at Louisville. Make no mistake about it. Florida will still be good defensively next season, but will go through some growing pains throughout the year as well.
With games scheduled at Alabama, against Georgia, and at Florida State next season the Gators will have a tough go of it to remain undefeated going into the SEC championship game for the third year in a row. The small laps on offense and defense is enough (in the competitive SEC) to force Gator faithful to wait until 2011 for the pride to fly high again.
My take on the Gators for 2010? 9-3 (6-2)
I know I will receive countless amount of flack for putting unproven Georgia, with a new defensive coordinator and a freshman quarterback as ahead of the SEC East, but Georgia has the least amount of distractions going into the 2010 season and gets Florida in a supposed "neutral" sight game in Jacksonville Florida.
Mark Richt experienced a down year last season, but this season the schedule breaks right for Richt and his offensive line is more experienced and talented than a year ago.
Washaun Ealey gained over 700 yards as a freshman a season ago and should carry the load in 2010.
Playmaker A.J. Green is the best Wide Receiver in the SEC East and one of the best in the nation as a junior and should be looking at a 1,000 yard season this fall.
It is the offense, which returns eight starters from a year ago that seems ready to make a big step and if Aaron Murray (RFr.) can play much like McElroy did a year ago without making big mistakes and keeping his team in games late.
Murray has had a year to learn the pro-style system and the former four star recruit from Tampa, Florida has a lot to prove to the Gators come 2010.
The real question mark is on a defense that was mediocre at best a year ago and as a result Richt cleaned house on the defensive side of the ball. Richt brought in Todd Grantham who brings a new system (3-4) and a new philosophy from the Dallas Cowboys.
Believe it or not Grantham has a lot of talent to work with on the defensive side of the ball, albeit, unproven and inexperienced talent. The two things that hampered the Bulldogs the most last year were penalties and turnovers, with more experience on offense and a breath of fresh air on defense. Georgia is more than ready to take on the wide open SEC East.
My take on the Bulldogs for 2010? 9-3 (6-2)
The SEC West just might be the best division in the nation if not the SEC. In fact, in any other division Mississippi State might just compete to represent in a major bowl game, not a BCS game mind you but a bowl game none-the-less.
This division has it all, quarterbacks, running backs, defense, and crazy offensive schemes and believe it or not no new head coaches. LSU, Auburn, Arkansas, and Ole Miss will all be vying for top spot in the West, but they will all be chasing Nick Saban and Alabama.
Dan Mullen was handed the reins of a giant project last season and gained a respectable five wins and increased offensive output by 65 percent. That being said, they were still the 65th ranked offense in the nation and 7th in the SEC which means there is room for improvement still.
Mississippi State will be better this year, especially if they limit the turnovers and Chris Relf learns how to read defenses more effectively and pass the ball more efficiently. The loss of Anthony Dixon hurts the offense as well as the loss of some key roll players as well. Be patient Bulldog fans, in another year or two, Mullen will have the Bulldogs bowling.
The defense lost six starters from one of the most porous defenses in the SEC a year ago. Carl Torbush talked a lot of talk last year but failed to deliver on his promises.
Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson though, look to build an actual SEC style defense this season with the help of Pernell McPhee and Chris White in the front seven. Expect to see a lot of blitz packages this from them this season and as a result more forced turnovers from a decent defensive backfield.
My take on the Bulldogs for 2010? 5-7 (1-7)
Houston Nutt exceeded expectations in his first year with the Rebels, and then disappointed a bit the next season when it was thought they could compete for the top spot in the west.
Believe it or not, Ole Miss lost ten starters from their offense a year ago.
The lone returning starter is left tackle Bradley Sowell and they'll need Sowell to be at his best with a new starting quarterback with a new running attack and new offense. Dexter McCluster (A.K.A the Rebels' offense) left after his senior season in which he amassed over 1600 yards of offense alone and single handedly won games against Tennessee and LSU.
Not only that, but Jevan Snead is gone along with his top receiving threat. Ole Miss will see a lot of growing pains this season and unfortunately, they will not meet many people's expectations. Battle to not be in the cellar of the West will be in the annual in-state grudge match against Mississippi State, luckily Nutt's got them at home this year.
My take on the Rebels for 2010? 6-6 (2-6)
Les Miles looks to be a bit on the hot seat in 2010. Nick Saban came back and quickly assumed his role as best coach in the SEC (much to the chagrin of Tiger fans) and Urban Meyer has proven that his success at Utah wasn't because of a weak conference.
This year is a make or break year for Miles, who more often than not makes risky play calls at ill-advised times (such as the debacle against Ole Miss last season). Since becoming the only two loss team to win the national title back in 2007, Miles has gone 8-5 and 9-4 respectively.
The problem over the last two years has most definitely been the quarterback position. Jordan Jefferson is entering into is second full season as starter and as a result should perform better, the loss of Brandon Lafell is significant, but the return of Terrance Toliver could be even more important to a resurgent offensive effort.
The loss of Bo Pelini to Nebraska effected this defense more than thought last season especially in the rushing aspect of the game. The loss of seven starters from a year ago will hurt them even more though as they attempt to rebuild with a bevy of talented underclassmen.
LSU can go one of two ways next year and Les Miles better hope his clutch coaching decisions do as well, but a few more coaching hiccups like Ole Miss last year and Miles could be looking for new employment by the end of the season.
My take on the Tigers for 2010? 7-5 (4-4)
Gene Chizik's hiring, however controversial, was apparently the right one for the Tigers. Chizik came to Auburn with only five career wins as a head coach, in his first season with Auburn he nearly doubled that total with eight in his first season.
Chizik will need to replace Chris Todd at quarterback but Cameron Newton looks prepared to to take the job behind a now veteran offensive line. The senior laden offensive squad should hold about the same abilities as last year's team but expect a bit of a drop off without Todd or Ben Tate to take over offensively. Darvin Adams was three yards away from a thousand yard receiving season in his sophomore year and looks to get at least 1,000 yards receiving in 2010.
Defensively, Chizik needs to improve a lot. For being a defensive coach, he sure struggled to stop anybody last season ranking dead last in scoring defense in the SEC and 68th in total defense nationally.
However, last year's group was young and inexperienced and with eight returning starters and an understanding of Chizik's system the defense should improve just enough to balance off the drop in offensive production.
My take on the Tigers for 2010? 8-4 (4-4)
Ryan Mallet is the best NFL prospect at quarterback in the SEC this season and he wants to show it.
Arkansas returns nine starters from the top offense in the SEC a year ago and Ronnie Wingo Jr. plans to make it more of a dual threat offense. Top receiver Greg Childs is back as well as Joe Adams and outstanding tight end D.J. Williams. With virtually the same offensive line as a year ago Mallett could have a record setting season with the Razorbacks in 2010.
We all know that Arkansas has an offense that can compete with anyone in the nation, but its defense needs more than a little help.
The only thing Arkansas seemed good at last year was taking the ball away. With a +15 turnover margin the Razorbacks ranked sixth in the nation in that category, but ranked no better than 55th in four of the other major categories. If the defense can cut down on the big chunks it gave away last year and continue to force a good amount of turnovers, Arkansas could challenge Alabama in the SEC.
Oh yeah, and they get the Crimson Tide at home this year.
My take on the Razorbacks for 2010? 10-2 (6-2)
Here's a change for you.
Alabama's question marks are almost all on defense in 2010. In fact, the offense looks to be formidable this season. With McElroy (still to experience what loss tastes like) Ingram, Richardson, and Julio Jones back in the fray the offense looks to be more diverse and more potent next season. Did I mention that second receiver Marquis Maze is back too?
Defensively, Alabama lost a lot (ten starters) this year and look to replace the entire defensive unit. The problem for the rest of of the SEC is that the defense should be nearly as good in 2010. Alabama may not rank in the top ten in every major defensive category next season but they should at least rank in the top 20 and that is enough for me to see them as the clear cut favorites to not only win the SEC West in 2010 but the entire SEC.
My take on the Crimson Tide for 2010? 11-1 (7-1)