Monday, August 13, 2007

Prediction: Unfortunately, Florida will repeat as SEC East champion

I know the college football season is still about three weeks away, but I can't stand it anymore. It's time to take the talk up a notch. Pre-season predictions are as inevitable as summer heat and ESPN's Skip Bayless getting on my nerves, but they are fun to make.

Today, the ball gets rolling with a look at the SEC Eastern Division. First, a bold claim: all six teams in the division will make it to a bowl game. Obviously, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are the jokers in the pack when it comes to this, but they both will get enough wins to qualify.

The other four teams (Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina) could all win the division. That's correct; under the right circumstances, I believe Carolina could win the division. There will be lot of parity, and I expect the divisional champion to have two conference losses.

So, let's look at how I believe things will shake out in this super-competitive division.

1. Florida Gators – It makes me choke to pick Florida, but I guess I am from the old school. I believe the champs are the champs until somebody beats them, and of course, the Gators won the conference and national titles last year. However, they face some big challenges. They only have two starters returning on defense. Plus, sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow now has the burden of being the full-time quarterback. On the bright side (for them), two of their three toughest conference games (vs. Tennessee and Auburn) are at home, but they have to play LSU on the road.

2. Tennessee Volunteers – If the Volunteers young wide receivers and defensive backs mature quickly, then they will be the biggest threat to Florida. If not, things will be more difficult. Tennessee's schedule is a little better this year after last year's brutal one. LSU drops off the schedule and is replaced by Mississippi State. Plus, they get Georgia, Arkansas, and South Carolina at home. The key to the season is quarterback Erik Ainge. Will he have another excellent season like he did last year? Or will the Ainge of 2005 show up in which he was inconsistent and rattled for most of the year?

3. South Carolina Gamecocks – Despite Coach Steve Spurrier's reputation as an offensive genius, it is the defense that gives the Gamecocks a shot at the title. Nine starters from last year's defense returns. The path of their season may well be defined on Sept. 8 when they visit Georgia (a game I believe they will win). In order for them to challenge for the title, they must find ways to steal a couple of wins on the road because that is where the toughest part of their schedule lies. In addition to Georgia, they play road games at LSU, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Ouch.

4. Georgia Bulldogs – The Bulldogs are inexperienced in the offensive line and the defensive front seven. Those are not good weaknesses to have in a conference as physical as the SEC. They finished strong last year, but also suffered losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Who are the real Georgia Bulldogs? We will find out quickly because in addition to their early game against South Carolina, they open the season hosting Oklahoma State in an intriguing non-conference game then visit Alabama on Sept. 22.

5. Vanderbilt Commodores – I have already discussed Vandy in a previous blog entry (see June 12 posting). As I said then, they will go to a bowl. However, their talent level is not to the point where they can finish better than fifth in this division.

6. Kentucky Wildcats – It says a lot about Kentucky's football tradition when they can go 8-5 and win the Music City Bowl like they did last year, and it is considered one of the best seasons in program history. They will finish last in this division, but their schedule is set up for them to win six or seven games overall. Quarterback Andre Woodson may be the best in the conference.

Coming soon: The SEC West will get the same treatment.


Joltin' Django said...

The Vols cannot - will not - win the East unless they can best Florida, right? Here's what I think Tennessee should do to make it impossible for the Gators to win on Sept. 15:

The first time Florida lines up in an obvious pass formation, each and every Tennessee defensive player should gang-up 'round the line of scrimmage. When Florida's QB drops back to pass, the entire Vols defense should pile on top of him with elbows and knees flying. If ol' T-Bow doesn't "stay down," the process should be repeated until he does.

So what if Tennessee gives up a couple of end-zone scores. With Florida's wonder-boy QB out of commission, the Vols'll only need a touchdown and a few field goals to walk off the field as victors!

How do I contact Phil Fulmer to give him my plan?!

BULLDOGS #1 said...

Gator Zone said...

Florida: 39
Tennessee 10

Nate said...

So... the team with the best quarterback, and arguably the most weapons on offense will finish last? There are at least 2 first round draft picks on UK's offense... maybe 3.

How bout.... no.

Kentucky will beat people simply by out scoring them... much like the Hal Mumme days.

Its going to be a wild year in the SEC.

Chris said...

Joltin' Django wrote: "When Florida's QB drops back to pass, the entire Vols defense should pile on top of him with elbows and knees flying."

Kind of reminds me of a Burt Reynolds' tactic in 'The Longest Yard' (though a slight variation). It worked though.

Eddie said...

I agree with you, Nate, on the Wildcats not finishing last, but to think longingly of the halcyon Hal Mumme days is a sad thing.

The guy liked to be known as a gunslinger, but just shooting wildly in the streets doesn't make one fearsome. Well, it does, but more in the hide from the crazy person kind of way.

I remember one year when he tried a fake punt from inside his own 20 on 4th and 19 or some such on the very first possession of the game. My dad turned to me with a look of disgust and said, "Why doesn't he just go to his team and say, 'We're not good enough and we have no chance here.'?" And we're Vol fans.

gen. neyland said...

Hal Mumme's only legacy at UK was that he cheated and got the school put on mucho probation.

2. Florida
3. Georgia
4. South Carolina
5. Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt