Take a deep breath… the wait is finally over. Football is here!
Every season, each team earns a clean slate, and 2008 will be no different. However, whether a team likes it or not, everyone earns a reputation and a theme even before the season begins.
With that being said, I’ve pieced together a series of conference previews—with a unique twist.
Call this one a SEC preview set to music, featuring all 12 teams presented in the order of standings at the end of the 2007 season—and the theme song they should be playing in the locker room this week.
SEC EAST PREVIEW
Tennessee Volunteers: “Rock Steady” – No Doubt
“Steady now, stop rocking it...it’s a delicate environment.”
Erik Ainge may be gone to the NFL, but the Volunteers will be just fine on offense, as there are a handful of veterans present, including Arian Foster, Lucas Taylor, and Josh Briscoe. Therefore, the Tennessee offense should be “rock steady” for QB Jonathan Crompton—or “Rocky Top steady,” if you will.
It’s the Tennessee defense that will have to step it up, especially after losing talented players such as Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Hefney. Another New Year’s Day bowl is certainly not out of the question for the Volunteers.
Top Returner: RB Arian Foster (1,193 yds rushing and 12 TDs in ‘07)
Georgia Bulldogs: “Great Expectations” – Styx
“Everybody will be watching just to see what can you do. They’ll be waiting, anticipating for the genius to come through.”
Before you say it, yes, “Who Let The Dogs Out” was the logical choice, but I thought I would go in another direction. I’ll be honest: If I were to rank a team by talent, I would put Georgia at the top of the list—and I’m certainly not alone there.
The question remains, can Georgia live up to these “great expectations”? The schedule isn’t exactly easy, with a road trip to Arizona State added to the mix along with an already brutal SEC schedule that features LSU and Florida in back-to-back weeks. Still, as we all know, one loss can still get you into the title game—heck, even two.
Top Returner: RB Knowshon Moreno (1,334 yds and 14 TDs in ‘07)
Florida Gators: “Torn” – Toad The Wet Sprocket
“I feel nothing besides this pain...please don’t watch me.”
Yes, the Gators are loaded with talent—again. Yet that isn’t the story in Gainesville entering the 2008 season. Instead, it’s the injuries—specifically the five torn ACLs that Florida players have sustained. Among the injured include starting TE Cornelius Ingram and starting safety Dorian Munroe, who are both out for the year.
Overall, the Gators only lost 11 lettermen while notching another solid recruiting class (No. 12 in 2008 according to Scout.com). While health has been an issue, depth likely won’t be.
So does anyone know when Gatorade Ligament is going to be released? Something tells me it will taste the same as all the others.
Top Returner: QB Tim Tebow (3,286 yds passing, 895 yds rushing, 55 total TDs in ‘07)
Kentucky Wildcats: “Down In A Hole” – Alice in Chains
“I’d like to fly, but my wings have been so denied.”
On paper, it looks like this season will be a drop-off for the Wildcats, especially on offense, where only four starters return. Gone are most of the offensive weapons, from almost the entire receiving corps to Rafael Little to star QB Andre' Woodson.
The defense returns eight starters, but in the tough SEC Conference, it may be too much of a hole for Kentucky in 2008.
Top Returner: DE Jeremy Jarmon (62 tackles and nine sacks in ‘07)
South Carolina Gamecocks: “Double Vision” – Foreigner
“I get my double vision, oh, seeing double double...”
This season in South Carolina, there isn’t just one Spurrier calling plays, but two, as Steve Spurrier Jr. is also in the mix. The report during the opener against NC State was that Spurrier Jr. is calling the plays, but the “Ol’ Ball Coach” himself has the right to override any call at any time.
Don’t worry my friends, you aren’t seeing double on the sidelines. Still, the question remains: How will this change affect South Carolina throughout the season?
The QB position features a trio of options, and this team could easily go in either direction as the season progresses.
Top Returner: WR Kenny McKinley (77 rec, 968 yds, and nine TDs in ‘07)
Vanderbilt Commodores: “Gone” – Pearl Jam
“Gonna leave ‘em all behind me cause this time I’m gone… long gone.”
Coming off a 5-7 season, the Commodores return only nine starters, including only three on offense. The rest of the starters are long gone. It’s been over 25 years now since Vandy has been to a bowl game, and it looks like the Commodores will be waiting for at least one more year.
Top Returner: CB D.J. Moore (83 tackles and six INTs in ‘07)
SEC WEST PREVIEW
LSU Tigers: “We Are The Champions” – Queen
“We are the champions, my friends. And we’ll keep on fighting, ‘til the end.”
Entering this season, Les Miles and the Tigers have earned the right to say they are the champions. As 2008 approaches, there is enough talent still present to give it another go.
Still, 24 lettermen have moved on, and only 12 starters return on this year’s LSU squad. A midseason three-week stretch at Florida, at South Carolina, and home vs. Georgia won’t be easy either.
With that said, LSU’s talent is going to cause all kinds of headaches for the rest of the SEC.
Top Returner: DE Kirston Pittman (68 tackles and eight sacks in ‘07)
Auburn Tigers: “What You Are” – Dave Matthews Band
“What you’ve become, just as I have...are you and I so alike?”
Over the last few seasons, it seems like Auburn struggles against the weaker teams while excelling against the top teams. Coming off a 9-4 season, the Tigers return 16 starters and have enough talent to take the SEC—if they can keep their focus across the entire season.
In addition, Auburn’s toughest road foes are West Virginia and Alabama, as they host Georgia, Tennessee, and LSU.
Top Returner: DE Antonio Coleman (38 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for a loss in ‘07)
Arkansas Razorbacks: “Crash Burn” – Blues Traveler
“I’m gonna watch you...gonna watch you fall like a tower of cards.”
Bobby Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons and has come to Fayetteville to run the Arkansas program. While Petrino has had success in the college ranks (at Louisville), there are going to be some growing pains in the early going—for a number of reasons.
Petrino and Co. bring an entirely different offense to Arkansas, 25 lettermen have been lost, and only 11 starters return. Most importantly, nearly 3,000 yards of rushing offense are gone to the NFL, as Darren McFadden and Felix Jones have departed. In a tough SEC conference, it likely will be a difficult year for Petrino and the Razorbacks.
Top Returner: C Jonathan Luigs
Mississippi State Bulldogs: “Hey Bulldog” – The Beatles
“Some kind of innocence is measured out in years.”
Mississippi State was a team that crept under the radar in 2007. When they lost to the SEC powers, they were blown out—yet they still managed eight wins, including victories over Auburn and Alabama. Head coach Sylvester Croom also nearly doubled his win total from the previous three seasons combined.
With 14 starters returning in 2008, the question remains: “Hey Bulldog,” who are you going to be this year? Likely not an SEC title contender, but a second straight bowl appearance is certainly not out of the question.
Top Returner: FS Derek Pegues (50 tackles and five INTs in ‘07)
Alabama Crimson Tide: “Dream On” – Aerosmith
“Every time I look in the mirror, all these lines on my face getting clearer—the past is gone.”
Nick Saban certainly has Alabama moving in the right direction, especially after taking the No. 1 recruiting class in 2008 according to Scout.com. Still, as we know, that class will have a more significant impact down the road.
For this season, the Crimson Tide will be a solid team, but title hopes are just a dream for now, especially with the road schedule that Alabama has on its plate—including Clemson (on opening weekend), Tennessee, LSU, and Georgia.
Top Returner: FS Rashad Johnson (94 tackles and six INTs in ‘07)
Mississippi Rebels: “Houston” – R.E.M.
“So a man’s put to task and challenges...”
Houston Nutt takes over the Ole Miss program that once featured Ed Orgeron, who was responsible for recruiting a large amount of Pete Carroll’s former talent at USC. At Ole Miss, Orgeron was able to bring in some talent, yet unable to lead the Rebels to a bowl appearance.
Nutt, who’s had plenty of success at Arkansas, could be just what this team needs to get back on track. A bowl appearance will be tough in 2008, especially with road opponents that include Wake Forest, Florida, Alabama, and LSU.
Top Returner: DE Greg Hardy (64 tackles and 10 sacks in ‘07)