ESPN has its preseason bowl projections up, and the SEC is getting its fair amount of love.
Nothing at the top of the conference is too contentious. All three analysts, including SEC blogger Chris Low, have the same five SEC teams playing in the five biggest bowls (National Championship, Sugar, Capital One, Cotton, and Outback) and have Florida playing in the National Championship Game.
It's a bit surprising that all three analysts have Ole Miss appearing in the Sugar Bowl, given the recent track record of both the Rebels and coach Houston Nutt. Although given that Ole Miss is No. 10 in the Coaches' Poll, it isn't much of a stretch.
What's more surprising is the predicted success of downtrodden programs Tennessee, Arkansas, and Auburn.
Each makes at least two appearances in the projections, and Low predicts that all three teams will go Bowling, even though none of the three qualified for a bowl in 2008.
Meanwhile, qualifying for a bowl is no certainty for any of these teams.
Tennessee was the lone team of the three to appear in all three projections, but even the Vols have a lot of work to do if they are to qualify for a bowl in Lane Kiffin's first season as head coach.
Predictions on this site have placed the Vols anywhere from 3-9 to 10-2 this upcoming season, and they aren't so far off. Tennessee has one of the best defenses in the country, but questions on offense and poor quarterback play are capable of derailing this team.
The Auburn Tigers, led by new coach Gene Chizik, face similar offensive woes; if they are to succeed in 2009, they will need to rediscover their running game from the earlier parts of the decade. Auburn doesn't have quite as much upside as Tennessee, but their whole team is also less likely to implode.
Arkansas had the worst year of the three schools, but the Razorbacks at least got their growing pains with coach Bobby Petrino out of the way last year. Many are expecting a fair amount of improvement in Fayetteville this year, so the Razorbacks may be the team that's most likely to prove the analysts right.
Then again, going 6-6 or 7-5 isn't all that tough when you play a couple easy nonconference games, as all three of these teams do.
In the end, I say Tennessee and Arkansas take steps forward and qualify for December bowls, while Auburn comes up just short.