With the emergence of the Big 12 North, this might be the first year in quite a while that the SEC isn’t the top football conference. That doesn’t mean that the conference doesn’t have national title contenders or conference championship contenders, as seven teams could possibly take home the SEC title.
1. Georgia (11-1, 7-1)
This is a tough pick with the brutal schedule that the Bulldogs have, but I feel they have enough talent to overcome it.
Knowshon Moreno and Matt Stafford make up one of the best backfields in the nation, and Mohammed Massaquoi finally learned how to catch the ball.
The big key will be defense, which was the biggest reason for their success at the end of the year.
In case you have been living without any form of media, UGA has trips to South Carolina, Arizona State, LSU, and Auburn. It hosts Tennessee and plays Florida at Jacksonville.
As daunting as the schedule sounds, I see only one loss to either LSU or Auburn, as I don’t see them losing both those games. I have them losing to LSU for the sake of the story. Florida just doesn’t have enough defense, and South Carolina doesn’t have enough offense.
2. Florida (10-2, 6-2)
Everyone is talking about the improved Florida rushing game, but I don’t see what was wrong with it. Percy Harvin averaged over nine yards a carry, while Kestahn Moore was at 5.6. The Gators just didn’t give them the ball enough.
With Emmanuel Moody added to the mix, as well as most of their receivers, Florida will be even more unstoppable on offense.
The question, however, remains its defense, and I don’t see it getting good enough for a national title run.
The good news for Gator fans is the SEC schedule is easy, considering the conference. A trip to Tennessee should be the only potential hiccup on the road as they have had FSU’s number lately.
The other tough games will be at neutral sites (UGA) or at home (LSU, South Carolina). I have them losing to UT and UGA, but they could win at least one of those games, which should get them to the national championship game.
3. South Carolina (9-3, 6-2)
The Gamecocks have had their struggles under Steve Spurrier after I continually rank them high. However, this year sets up to be the year for SC to make a run, with Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee coming to Columbia. Trips to Florida and Clemson won’t be easy though, and you also have to watch for the unexpected loss that they are used to having. At Mississippi could be that game this year.
With a strong defense returning, the key to their success will be the quarterback play. Spurrier has yet to groom an SC QB the way he did year after year at Florida. If Stephen Garcia is able to play, he may be the one.
Whoever is at the helm will benefit from having a good back in Mike Davis and a great receiver in Kenny McKinley.
4. Tennessee (9-3, 5-3)
It pains me to have my Vols down here, but unlike most people, I am not biased. I think the offense will be the best it has been since 2001, with Jon Crompton throwing to a trio of receivers in Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers, and Josh Briscoe. Gerald Jones is a great talent who will spend some time at QB like last year.
On top of that, the Vols have the best offensive line in at least the conference and a great back in Arian Foster.
Defense will be an issue like last year, especially without Jerod Mayo. The secondary should be better though.
The schedule will just be too much to overcome with trips to UCLA, Auburn, Georgia, and South Carolina, not to mention the home games with Florida and Alabama. They were lucky to beat SC the past two years, and a loss to them will keep the Vols from finishing second.
5. Kentucky (5-7, 2-6)
Without all of those offensive weapons, it will be hard for UK to duplicate the success of the past two years. However, the defense will be good enough to keep them in games and perhaps pull off an upset.
Trips to Florida, UT, and Alabama won’t be easy, and neither will home games against Georgia and SC. The Wildcats will likely need to win one of those games to go bowling.
6. Vanderbilt (3-9, 0-8)
This is probably the worst Vandy team of the past few years. With its luck, it figures that it would work out this way. The schedule sets up horribly for the Commodores as the more winnable conference games (Mississippi, MSU, and UK) are all on the road. Auburn, Florida, SC, and UT come to Nashville, making an upset necessary to get a conference win.
1. Auburn (10-2, 6-2)
There are some high expectations on the plains this year for the Tigers. With a new offensive coordinator going to the spread, Kodi Burns and Chris Todd should combine to have a big year at QB.
The running game has the potential to be great with three capable running backs in Ben Tate, Brad Lester, and Mario Fannin. Looking to help the young quarterbacks will be veteran receivers Rodgeriqus Smith and Montez Billings.
Auburn’s defense will be good and fast as always, despite losing some talent from last year.
The schedule shapes up fairly well for the Tigers with three of their toughest SEC opponents (UT, LSU, UGA) at home. Trips to West Virginia and Alabama will determine whether this is a good or great season.
2. LSU (9-3, 5-3)
With the loss of Ryan Perrilloux, this will likely be a transition year for the other Tigers. That doesn’t mean they won’t be good, as there is still plenty of talent on the roster.
Keiland Williams, Charles Scott, and slash player Trindon Holliday will look to help out whoever starts at QB with a balanced run game. Star receivers Brandon LaFell and Demetrius Byrd should also help the transition. Watch out for Terrance Tolliver, who could emerge as the next great WR.
There are also a lot of changes on the defensive side of the ball, both on the field and off. Again, there still is plenty of speed and talent to keep the unit good.
The schedule, however, is no breeze with trips to Auburn, Florida, and South Carolina and a game against UGA in a five-game stretch. If the Tigers can somehow navigate through that with only a loss or two, another conference title is within reach.
3. Alabama (9-3, 5-3)
Things are looking much better for the Tide in year two, even with their top three receivers gone. That is because super recruit Julio Jones will be there for the dependable John Parker Wilson to throw the ball to. I expect to see stats similar to what D.J. Hall has put up in Jones’ freshman year.
The running game returns intact with a strong offensive line and a stable of running backs consisting of Terry Grant, Glen Coffee, and Jimmy Johns.
There were some key losses on defense, but Rashad Johnson returns to lead the solid unit.
A big key this year will be consistency for the Tide. They nearly beat LSU and Georgia last year and smoked UT, but they lost to Louisiana-Monroe and squeaked by Houston.
If they can win those easy games this year, the team should advance to a solid bowl game. Another upset loss could lead to disaster with an opening game against Clemson, trips to Georgia, Tennessee, and LSU, and a home game with Auburn.
4. Mississippi State (7-5, 3-5)
The Bulldogs surprisingly landed in a bowl game last year and should get back in there this year with an easy non-conference schedule.
Wesley Carroll is back at the helm after a decent freshman year, while Anthony Dixon is one of the top running backs around. A less than stellar receiving group has to step up for Carroll.
It was the defense, as normally is the case for MSU, that led the team last year. That will be no different this year as seven out of the top eight tacklers return.
The schedule gives the team some hope as the Bulldogs get Auburn at home and have tough road games at LSU, Alabama, and Tennessee. A final game battle at Mississippi in the Egg Bowl could be for a bowl berth.
5. Ole Miss (5-7, 2-6)
I think the Rebels are a year away from a bowl game and possibly becoming a force under Houston Nutt.
Transfer QB Jevan Snead just needs a year to develop at QB and learn a new style of offense, and he could be dominant. There is zero experience at RB, so Enrique Davis will be thrown into the fire as a freshman. Most of the receiving corps is back, so they will help Snead gain experience.
Nearly everyone returns on defense, making the unit dangerous in 2008.
There are a lot of tough games for the Rebels, but there is a good chance for them to start 3-1 and get the offense some good experience and confidence for the SEC season.
6. Arkansas (4-8, 1-7)
It is going to be a long year for the Hogs. Bobby Petrino brings in a passing offense, and we have seen over the years that Casey Dick can’t pass. If he could, Arkansas would have an SEC championship. Making it even harder for Dick will be a lack of experience at both running back and wide receiver.
The defense will likely have to carry the team, which isn’t a good thing as they are one of the worst in the SEC.
The highlight (or lowlight) of the year will be Oct. 25 when Nutt’s Rebels come to town. A win and it will be a good year, even with a 1-7 conference mark. A loss, and the heat will quickly be on Petrino. Next coach, Bill Clinton?