Larry Burton (Panama City Beach, Fl) With the new recruits all signed up and ready for fall, it's time to peruse the SEC landscape and see who the likely winners and losers will be for 2010.
Apparently recruits didn't mind if Urban Meyers takes a holiday. Florida reeled in the SEC's best class of recruits. Combine this was past top classes and Florida is still the king of the SEC East.
Everyone thinks life without Tim Tebow will take them back to the wilderness but they underestimate his replacement as much as they did Alabama's last year. John Brantley will be a fine replacement and you may in fact see the passing numbers go up.
This and the lack of anyone else being able to step up in the East puts Florida the team to knock off the mountain.
With Florida's tough schedule, Georgia could get in the mix for the East's top spot with a little help from their SEC brothers, but Georgia may have to do some heavy lifting itself and lately they seem up to the task.
Bulldog fans are getting a little tired of always being "just a year or two" away from getting it all together and this could be a year that finally puts Mark Richt on a hot seat with yet another disappointing season.
Sure wins include Louisiana, Mississippi State, Colorado, Vandy, Kentucky and Idaho State. That gets them to six wins and an automatic bowl bid. A probable win at South Carolina gets them seven and that only leaves tough but doable games against Arkansas and Tennessee to claim second place in the SEC East.
An easier than Florida schedule could help and Georgia could easily be number two in the East and still be the fifth best team in the SEC.
Joker Phillips takes over from Rich Brooks and it won't be an easy first year. They could easily slide out of bowl contention and finish next to last in the SEC East only thanking God for Vanderbilt.
With major holes to fill on both sides of the ball and having Florida, Ole Miss, Auburn, South Carolina (who has beaten them 10 straight years), Georgia and Tennessee on the schedule, things aren't looking so great.
I see all six of those games as losses leaving them to have to beat Mississippi State, (who is improving) and Louisville (who is down) to make it to the six win margin to get to a bowl at all. Four cupcakes really help though.
University of South Carolina
Steve Spurrier drags the Gamecocks through another mediocre season and may miss even a lower bowl appearance. Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson won't make it easy to make a bowl this year.
To get six wins he'll have to beat the three cupcakes on the schedule, beat a harder than you think Troy team, Kentucky and one of the teams I said won't be easy.
After this many seasons, it's apparent the Spurrier magic won't work there and now people are beginning to wonder whether to warm up a seat for him on the coach's hot seat list.
A sane new head coach will certainly help the Volunteers, but to give Lane Kiffin his due, he did leave more talent than he found. Now the question is, can Derek Dooley do something with it?
Akron, UAB, Memphis and Vandy should give them four sure wins. Kentucky and South Carolina are probable wins, that gets them bowl eligible. The only other game I see them possibly winning is Georgia, but with the way Tennessee travels, they'll get a bowl nod.
Right now there is no way you could put Oregon, Florida, LSU or Alabama in a possible win column for the Vols, but should they steal just one of those, it will be a great rebuilding year for Tennessee.
Bobby Johnson is such a good coach at such a tough place to win you almost feel sorry for him. Northwestern, Connecticut, LSU and Ole Miss will start them off 0-4. They have a chance against Eastern Michigan and Wake Forest, but that's about it.
They could steal another game somewhere, but look for this to be a dark year for poor little Vandy.
SEC East Projected order of finish
Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky and Vandy
Just like in boxing, you're the champ till somebody knocks you down. This won't be the year that will happen. Though Alabama faces a tougher set of teams in the SEC with others improving after an overall down year in the conference, they still haven't caught Nick Saban and the Tide just yet.
With replacements as good as the departees, Alabama is simply reloading, not rebuilding. Could they run through the first three year back to back perfect season in years? Yes, it could happen, but this is the SEC, where anything can happen.
Tough games against Florida, LSU, and a resurgent Auburn could spell a loss, but it's not likely at this point. Truly, it's great to be the King.
With Ryan Mallet returning for his senior season, the Hogs have a chance to finally overtake a few teams in the SEC West pecking order, that is, if the defense comes around and stays put.
Sure wins include Tennessee Tech, UL Monroe, Vanderbilt, UTEP and Mississippi State. That gets them to 5-0. A probable win against South Carolina gets them bowl eligible and now they must one more against tough but possible win opponents like Ole Miss, Auburn and Georgia.
Arkansas is my sleeper for a second place SEC West finish, but it's a long-shot at best.
Even alphabetically, Auburn is always second to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Could this be the year they wind up second in the SEC West also?
Sure wins include Arkansas State, Mississippi State, Louisiana Monroe, Kentucky and UT Chattanooga. That's five almost sure wins.
Probable wins include South Carolina, Ole Miss and Georgia. That gets them to eight wins. If they could sneak just one win in from either LSU or Arkansas, they could be second banana in the SEC West this year and prove that maybe they weren't so crazy after all bringing in Gene Chizik who is seemingly doing everything he's supposed to do.
Is this the year the Bengal Tigers decide that LSU stands for Les Seems Unqualified? Another mediocre year, more blown games due to his lack of clock management of simple game-day coaching skills could land him on the hot seat for good.
Vandy, Mississippi State, McNeese State, UL Monroe, are the only sure wins on the schedule. That only gets them to four wins. I don't see any probable wins, so that leaves them with having to win at least two games against a good North Carolina team, a West Virginia team that looks good, an improving Tennessee team, Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas which always seem to play LSU tough, just to get bowl eligible.
There is so much squandered talent at LSU that they may struggle to be the third best team in the SEC this year.
With all the expectations off Ole Miss and Houston Nutt anything could happen. The only thing you can count on is Nutt folding under the pressure of being a potential front runner. As an underdog, he's dangerous.
Jacksonville State, Tulane and Vandy should get them off to a fast start. Other sure wins are Kentucky, UL Lafayette and Mississippi State which gets them to six wins and a bowl.
They could beat Fresno State, Tennessee and LSU to get them to nine wins, but right now I can't see them winning all three of these.
The record last year didn't do justice to the good work and many steps forward that Dan Mullen brought the Dogs forward. He had them competitive in most of their games, but was still too rebuilding too less depth and too less talented to finish pulling them off.
Much the same could be said about this year. They should beat Memphis, Alcorn State and UAB for three wins. They could upset Houston and Kentucky for wins four and five, but the rest are long-shots.
I will make one prediction in their behalf, they will snake bit somebody they weren't supposed to beat and they are capable of doing to almost anyone.
SEC West Projected Finish
Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU, and Mississippi State
Losses to Auburn and Alabama are a certainty right now as far as anything can be certain in college football. Should Auburn stumble, Ole Miss could wind up second in the SEC West.
SEC Projected Winner - Alabama