2009 SEC Preview and Predictions: Gators Are This Years Favorite.

c dockensCorrespondent IJune 26, 2009

MIAMI - JANUARY 08:  Tim Tebow #15 of the Florida Gators looks to pass the ball during the FedEx BCS National Championship Game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Dolphin Stadium on January 8, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Last season was a surprising one to say the least, few people expected Bama to win the west,Auburn and Tennessee replacing two of the best coaches in their respective programs, Georgia coming up short on three occasions, and Ole Miss performing so well under the new leadership of Houston Nutt.

These events sure make this season one of the most anticipated seasons in the SEC in quite some time, we have five teams in the preseason top 25, and top 15 in most polls, three new coaches, and a match up of two SEC greats, Steve Spurrier, and Nick Saban.

The preview will be broken down in order of which teams will finish with the best overall record in coference play.

1. Florida Gators (8-0)

Face it, Superman, Tim Tebow, is returning, as well as all eleven of their defensive starters. The only starters missing will be speedsters Percy Harvin, and  Louis Murphy, and two o-linemen, Phil Trautwein, and Jason Watkins.

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There is more than enough talent at skill positions to take the heat off Tebow even without Harvin and Murphy, and with the Pouncey twins returning their formidable o-line looks no less impenetrable.

They do play all 8 conference games in a row, with a break between Kentucky and LSU. They have two games that may worry fans, those being Georgia and LSU. Lets be honest Georgia couldn't beat Florida with Stafford and Marino so there is no way they beat the Gators without  them.

LSU is coming off a disappointing season, and will be breaking in a relatively new qb, however they will be playing Florida just one week after a trip to Athens to play the dawgs between the hedges yet even more of an advantage for the Gators.

With Tebow at the helm the Gators should be right on target for ye another SEC championship berth and in all probability a BCS championship.

2. Ole Miss Rebels (7-1)

The SEC west is  Houston Nutt's to lose. I believe he avoids the sophomore jinx as a coach and leads the rebels to an SEC championship berth. However to do so he must navigate the waters, between Alabama and LSU both of whom have their eyes on the championship berth. Whom better to steer a ship clear of Bama and LSU than junior qb Jevan Sneed.

Despite a slow start last season, Sneed finished the last 6 games looking like an all-American. The Rebel defense is back, and after proving themselves against Texas Tech, Greg Hardy and the gang appear to be ready to disrupt the status quot in the SEC west. 

There really isn't a conference game the rebs should lose, but with Bama and the Bayou Bengals to contend with a 7-1 record will do just fine.

3. Alabama Crimsontide (7-1)

Bama shouldn't face too many conference challenges, the only two games that should trouble the Tide are LSU and Mississippi. The way I see it Bama beats LSU, LSU beats Mississippi, and Mississippi beats Bama.

However LSU falls to Florida and maybe Georgia leaving Bama and Ole Miss in a tie with Ole Miss having the tie breaking victory in a head to head match. Considering Bama record last year this may come as a shocker but when you replace three starting o-linemen (2 pro-calibre) and are breaking in a new qb (despite the fact that I think McElroy will be better than JPW in the long run) you have to give them time to establish the chemistry needed for a n SEC championship run.

That being said Bama only loses two defensive players, and with Mt. Cody and the one man wrecking crew Rolando McClain returning the Tide is just one or two big defensive plays from 8-0.

4. LSU (7-2)

Les miles continues to show consistency in Baton Rouge. The number 1 recruiting class in the nation give the Tiger's an edge in some of their closer match ups. LSU face Bama, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia, and three of those are on the road. Miles and the Tigers will need all the luck they can get if they hope to run that gauntlet.

Jordan Jefferson appears to be the answer to the Tigers qb problems, however he has thrown just 73 passes.  The loss of Tyson Jackson will be felt on the defensive side of the ball, and replacing a game changer like that is never easy.

Despite some long-shot odds I believe LSU pulls out wins in two of the four top 25 match-ups, beating Ole Miss and Georgia. They have more than just a shot against Bama, but with the Tide's o-line having ample time to jell and with the return of Julio Jones and Mark Ingram the tigers may really miss Tyson Jackson's presence.

Bottom line, Bama in a close one and LSU finishes 7-2 after a close game at Bama and a two score victory over the Dogs.

5. Georgia (7-2)

Despite losing Stafford and Marino, the Dogs have an easier confernce schedule than last season, however non confernce games like Oklahoma State, and Arizona State are bound to wear and tear on the Dogs. 

I suspect they will fall to the Gators, and to LSU, however the ability of the dogs pass rush to disrupt Jordan Jefferson's rythem could greatly change the outcome of what I see being a 9 point loss.

Besides those two, there aren't many other conference games they should lose but keep an eye out for the South Carolina game, if Stephen Garcia has matured enough we could have a fight on our hands, but in all probability Georgia goes 7-2.

6. South Carolina (4-4)

Excluding the top 5 the SEC will be a craps shoot this season with three new teams breaking in new head coaches, and Arkansas drawing the hardest schedule, playing all 5 top 25 ranked sec teams, this leaves Vandy, Kentucky and South Carolina vying for the fifth spot.

I don't think UK can turn things around drastically enough to improve from 2-6 to 4-4 much less 5-3. South Carolina will have phenom Steven Garcia under center this season, and despite throwing 6tds and 8 ints last season there is a lot of expectations for this young man.

If Moe Brown and Jared Cook can provide him with a couple of steady targets I see little reason why the Game Cocks should compile at least a .500 record considering they play Bama, Florida, Mississippi, ad UGA the gamecocks have little room for error if they hope to finish at least 4-4.

Put their game against UGA on upset watch and don't count the Ol' Ball coach out against Florida, despite the beating the Gator's have given South Carolina, the Ol' Ball coach may still have a trick or two left up his sleeves, and with nothing to lose nobody can guess to what lengths he may go.

7. Auburn Tigers (3-5)

Despite being a Bama fan I like to see Auburn win, mainly because if they win it looks better when we beat them, or if we lose it wouldn't look as bad. However, Auburn is bringing in a new coach and in the SEC any most all conferences a new coach may mean a down season. 

The major problem for Auburn is that their recruiting has been for Tuberville's War Eagle offense, and not for Chizik's spread. Also it seems as though Tubby who usually kept plenty of skill position player on the roster may have slipped a bit before "stepping down".

This means Chizik and Malzahn will run a spread with many non-spread players and a depleted receiving core. Auburn has four weaker SEC teams on their schedule and they should eat three of them Miss State, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The remaining team, Arkansas usually would be no problem, and depending on if Auburn can find a full time solution at qb they may not be an issue but for the time being Arkansas has th edge.

8. Vandy (3-5)

Vandy really overachieved last year, according to most, but I predicted them to have a winning record. Vandy is a team that greatly intrigues me, as they could dominate in a weaker conference, but year in and year out they scrape together some wins in the toughest conference in college football.

This being said I think Vandy finally beats Tennessee, after failing to last season, and they beat UK, giving them two wins, they also play Miss St. which should make for an easy win three.

I really dont see Vandy going much further in conference wins, they have a shot at South Carolina, but I believe that last year's Cinderella season may be to far gone in the rear view mirror for the Commodores.

9. Arkansas Razorbacks (3-5)

Their record is indicative of their opponents. The Razorbacks play LSU, Bama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida, not to mention South Carolina. That leaves the razorbacks with what appears to be just two winnable games Auburn and Miss State.

Petrino will have to find a replacement for former qb Casey Dick, perhaps Ryan Mallett could step up and fill the void. Whichever qb they chose to go with Arkansas has a long way to go to get to the top.

10. Tennessee Volunteers (1-7)

It isn't that Tennessee is that bad,they did go 3-5 in conference last season, ad that would appear to be the ceiling for them this season.

In order for the Vols to get three conference wins they would need to beat Kentucky, who I have them beating, and then the easiest two opponents left on their schedule is Auburn and Vandy, both of those games should be close however Vandy holds a slight edge for once, since they still have their coach Bobby Johnson.

No to mention their momentum from last season. While Tennessee is projected to finish 1-7 they could just as easily finish 3-5. However Lane Kiffen isn't making friends in the SEC and they may now have a rivalry game with South Carolina, meaning a schedule with 4 rivalry games, which will take a lot out of Vols players.

11. Kentucky (1-7)

They had 2 conference wins last season and should do the same at best it isn't unreasonable to have them with no confernce wins either. So taking the middle road and giving them a win over Miss St. Despite Tenn. having a new coach there is just too broad of a talent gap for the wild cats to make it up, the same goes forSouth Carolina too. The only other game UK might when is Vandy.

12. Miss State Bulldogs (0-8)

In short they couldn't beat Auburn who they held to 3 points last season. Miss St. has had an alrite defense, but no offense to help out or give the defense any rest, and until they can ecruit some players they will contenue to have lackluster seasons.