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College Football Predictions By Conference: SEC

Jeff DillonCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2009

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 27:  Quarterback Jevan Snead #4 Mississippi Rebels runs the ball during the game against the Florida Gators during the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 27, 2008 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

I know you don't want to hear about the Florida Gators anymore.

I know you're sick of "Tim Tebow Saves the World" documentaries. I know you're going to roll your eyes and yawn when you see the predictions below.

And you know what? I don't blame you. I fell asleep a few times writing them. Seriously.

That's because the Gators have gotten more love recently from the national media than Brett Favre's facial hair, and that's saying something. With all of the "experts" predicting Florida dominance in 2009, you'd think the BCS had already Fed-Ex'd the trophy to Gainesville.

But...that's why they play the game, right? And if you think that's just an old cliche, you might want to check with the 1999 Tennessee Volunteers, the 2002 Miami Hurricanes, the 2003 Ohio State Buckeyes or the 2005 USC Trojans.

All of those teams were pegged as favorites to repeat as BCS champions. None of them did.

So what makes me (and every other non-Big 12 writer in America, apparently) think the Gators will become the first team to repeat as BCS champion?

No, it's not Tim Tebow. No, it's not Urban Meyer. No, it's not even a staunch defense that returns all of its starters.

It's the schedule.

Sure, the SEC is brutal. And as the loss last season to Ole Miss can attest, even the mighty Gators are capable of a letdown.

But outside of a trip to LSU on Oct. 10, every game on the Gators' schedule is very, very winnable. Georgia is always tough, but the Gators crushed them 49-10 last year (and that was when the Bulldogs still had Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno).

And the two next-best teams in the Conference, Alabama and Ole Miss, aren't on the schedule at all.

If Florida wins against LSU, they should cruise into the SEC championship game. And there are plenty of reasons to believe they will take care of business there, as well as in an eventual BCS title game.

Reasons like: Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer and a staunch defense that returns all of its starters.

But you already knew that, right?


SEC

Player of the Year: Jevan Snead... No, no, just kidding. Tim Tebow (QB - Fla.)

Offensive Player of the Year: Jevan Snead (QB - Miss.) I'm serious this time.

Defensive Player of the Year: Eric Berry (DB - Tenn.)


East

1. Florida

(Yawn) You've probably heard all about the Gators' strengths, so let's talk about the potential weaknesses for Florida in '09. It starts with an offensive line that loses both tackles and a guard. Remember how Tebow got stuffed late in the loss to Ole Miss last season?

Also, Florida loses star WR Percy Harvin. There's still plenty of talent at the position, but none are the play-maker Harvin was. In addition, the Gators could have a bit of a dilemma with several defensive back-ups who may be pushing starters for playing time throughout the season.

Do any of these things really matter? Probably not.

Overall: 12-0, Conference: 8-0

2. Georgia

The hype was so big for the Bulldogs heading into 2008, you almost had to feel a letdown coming. Sure enough, Mark Richt's squad lost three games and finished the season far removed from the national championship discussion.

But, outside of the dismantling loss to Florida, the Dogs' losses were hardly bad (Alabama and Georgia Tech). In fact, if Stafford and Moreno would have returned, this team may have gotten some votes to top Florida in the SEC East.

Instead, Joe Cox takes over behind center and Caleb King is expected to get most of the carries at RB (though a recent injury could change that). But the bigger question mark is a defense that allowed 30-plus points on five occasions last season.

9-3, (6-2)

3. South Carolina

If only Steve Spurrier's team could finish. After losing its final five games in 2007 to miss the bowl season, South Carolina lost its last three in 2008, including a 31-10 defeat against Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

The result has been pretty good seasons turned quickly into disappointments.

The reality is, until Spurrier finds a solid QB, the Gamecocks are probably destined for mediocrity. Perhaps Stephen Garcia will eventually be that man, although six TD's and eight INT's in 2008 doesn't exactly scream Danny Wuerffel or anything...

6-6 (4-4)

4. Vanderbilt

Well that was fun while it lasted. The Commodores sprinted out of the gate in 2008, winning their first five games and earning a Top 25 ranking. After that, Vandy couldn't buy a win, losing five of six games by less than two TD's.

The Commodores return 17 starters this season, and there is reason to believe they can turn at least a couple of those losses into wins. The season will likely hinge on QB play, as Larry Smith and Mackenzi Adams are expected to both get significant snaps.

If they perform, Vandy is a sleeper.

6-6 (3-5)


5. Kentucky

Rich Brooks does have reasons for optimism heading into 2009. First, he returns nine offensive starters, including play-making WR Randall Cobb. Secondly, his defense, which ranked sixth in the SEC last season, allowing 22.4 points per game, returns LB Michah Johnson and CB Trevard Lindley.

But questions still surround QB Mike Hartline, who simply has to put up more consistent passing numbers for the Wildcats to compete in this conference.

6-6 (2-6)

6. Tennessee

What? Tennesse got a new coach this offseason? Really? Must have missed that.

I'm starting to wonder if maybe Al Davis wasn't the crazy (or craziest) one in the feud between himself and new Vols coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin spent the off-season making headlines for all the wrong reasons. He will spend the season wishing DB Eric Berry could play all 22 positions on the field.

Because other than Berry, Tennessee is young, inexperienced and unproven. Kind of like their new coach.

6-6 (2-6)

West

1. Ole Miss

Yep, hand over the Kool Aid. I love the Rebels this year. Go ahead and call this pick "bandwagon-jumping" or "a giant Houston Nutt man-crush."

The latter may be true, but tell me this: If I gave you a team that has its league's best (passing) QB, its fourth-ranked defense from a season ago, and told you this team was the only one to beat the national champion a year ago, would you say that team is pretty darn good? Sure you would.

The Rebels lost all three SEC games last year by a total of just 17 points, and they got better as the season went on, winning their final six.

Even if you want to throw out the Florida game as a fluke, beating Texas Tech 47-34 in the Cotton Bowl showed this team is for real.

And the best part? The Rebels get both Alabama and LSU at home in '09.

11-1 (7-1)

2. Alabama 

Nick Saban will undoubtedly have one of the nation's best defenses again in 2009. Players like LB Rolondo McClain and DT Terrence Cody are going to be playing on Sunday in a year or two.

But it's hard to forget what happened to the Tide's offensive line in the Sugar Bowl. Utah dominated the 'Bama line, making J.P. Wilson's night one to forget. Now that line loses three starters, and a new QB takes over in Greg McElroy.

Could the defense be good enough alone to keep the Tide in the SEC title hunt? Yes. But, man, Utah just destroyed that line...

10-2 (7-1)

3. LSU

Mark your calendars for Oct. 10, boys and girls. That's when Florida comes to Baton Rouge. The Tigers, on paper anyway, have the best shot at derailing the Gators' run at an undefeated season in 2009.

But we shouldn't forget the Gators' 30-point drubbing of LSU in Gainesville last season. So, have the Tigers improved enough to win that game, as well as more than the eight total they won in 2008? The answer is...maybe.

There is a ton of talent on offense and in the linebacking corps, but only one starter returns to the defensive line. Oh, and there's that whole QB situation, too.

9-3 (5-3)


4. Arkansas

The Razorbacks ranked fourth in the SEC in offensive yards per game last season. They ranked last in yards allowed per game. That's going to be a problem.

It may simply be a question of whether the Arkansas offense can score enough points to make the poor defense a non-issue. Senior RB Michael Smith and All-SEC TE D.J. Williams will do their best, but can they get some help out there, D?

6-6 (2-6)

5. Auburn

Boy, I'd be pumped if I was a Tigers fan. Heck, you got rid of that lame coach Tommy Tuberville, who won just 85 games and an SEC title in his 10 years at Auburn, and replaced him with Gene Chizik, who won a whopping five games in two years at Iowa State!

That's right, Iowa State—the Iowa of central Iowa!

Okay, maybe I shouldn't be so sarcastic, but I will never understand this coaching move. Unless, of course, the Tigers win the SEC West this year or something.

5-7 (1-7)

6. Mississippi State

As bad as the Chizik hire looks at Auburn is as good as the Dan Mullen hiring looks at Miss. St.

The Bulldogs have to find some offense, and Mullen, who helped create Florida's scoring machine, is the right guy to take a shot at it.

Senior RB Anthony Dixon has shown promise, ranking fifth in rushing in the SEC last season, but a recent DUI makes things interesting. The defense should be decent, though it needs to improve against the run (74th in the country last season).

It may take a few years, but expect Mullen to get this program headed in the right direction.

4-8 (1-7)




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