Thursday, August 28, 2008

2008 College Football Conference Predictions: Southeastern Conference

I'd be remiss not to get up my thoughts on the SEC this year, although admittedly they are being written after two SEC teams have already kicked off their season. (A pretty underwhelming first 10 minutes from South Carolina, at least on offense. Meanwhile Vanderbilt is putting the screws to Miami, Ohio in a game they were actually the underdog in - I'm guessing Bobby Johnson pulled out the Rockne speech before that one.)

Anyway, no reason not to expect this to be another competitive and exciting year in the SEC. There isn't much I need to offer in the way of analysis of who will be good and who won't, you've already read it ad nauseum. I will say that I went through this backward and forward, tried to play devil's advocate inside my own head, even went out of my way to figure out a way to pick against UGA. I couldn't do it. If the Dawgs were kicking off in any of the 12 games on their schedule this Saturday, they'd be favored. Does that mean they'll run roughshod through the schedule? Absolutely not. I believe the Dawgs will lose at least one game in the conference. But I do believe Georgia wins the SEC in 2008.

The Dawgs will have plenty of competition for the title. Tennessee is a scary team in the East, and the Vols are the defending Eastern Division champs. As much as I hate to admit it, Florida should be very good on offense, perhaps even unstoppable at times. LSU and Auburn should stage a tight battle in the West. I give a slight nod to Auburn because they get the Bayou Bengals at Jordan-Hare.

The rest of the conference pecking order should be similar to what we usually see. But make no mistake, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi State, and maybe even Ole Miss this year, have more than enough firepower to scare one of the top teams in the league, and probably will at some point.

Predictions
Eastern Division
1. Georgia Bulldogs (Projected Overall Regular Season Record: 11-1, Projected Overall Conference Record: 7-1)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Arizona State 9/20
Key Conference Game: vs Florida 11/1 (Jacksonville)
Key Players: RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Mohammed Massoquoi, DT Geno Atkins, CB Asher Allen
If you need to know about UGA's personnel, check the archives to your right and click on any of the last 98 days. What I can tell you is that I do not expect the Dawgs to make it through the mid-season "gauntlet" unscathed. I can't quite put my finger on which game it will be, but I know it won't be the Cocktail Party. Let's go with the game in Red Stick. Dawgs lose one, make it to Atlanta needing a win for a trip to south Florida in early January.

2. Tennessee Volunteers (10-2, 6-2)
Key Non-Conference Game: at UCLA 9/1
Key Conference Game: vs Florida 9/20
Key Players: RB Arian Foster, OG Anthony Parker, LB Rico McCoy, S Eric Berry
If Crompton is halfway decent, this team could be hell on wheels. A stud backfield, very good and experienced set of recievers, and plenty of the usual talent along the offensive line. On the other side, their secondary is going to be very good, led by Berry, who might be the best in the nation. They have an issue or two up front, and need to replace Jerod Mayo in the middle, but this group should be solid. The trip to Athens may be the key to both teams' seasons. I expect the Vols to handle Florida in late September, setting up what is always the Vols' game of the year in Athens. If they can get through that one, the schedule sets up well for UT to make a run at a conference title and perhaps even challenge for a BCS berth. Keep your eye on Tennessee.

3. Florida Gators (9-3, 5-3)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Miami FL 9/6
Key Conference Game: vs Georgia 11/1 (Jacksonville)
Key Players: QB Tim Tebow, WR Percy Harvin, LB Brandon Spikes, KR/PR Brandon James
Florida is going to be hell on wheels on offense. Tebow and Harvin are very good. The offensive line, although it has to replace 3 starters, should be good. Losing TE Cornelius Ingram is bigger than anybody in the free world seems to want to admit. Biggest question mark for the Gators is at running back. They had nothing back there last year other than Tebow and the occasional burst from Harvin, but that gameplan almost got both of them killed. USC transfer Emmanuel Moody and true freshman speedster Chris Rainey may be the answer, or maybe Urban Meyer's style just isn't what it takes to run the ball down anybody's throat. Regardless of the offense, it is the other side that will keep Florida from doing what everybody else thinks they will. This group was atrocious last year. They didn't give up a ton of yardage (although a few opponents actually lit them up through the air), but they couldn't keep anybody out of the end zone. Maybe I'll be proven wrong, but I don't see Florida doing much better than the 4 loss season in 2007.

4. South Carolina Gamecocks (8-4, 5-3)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs NC State 8/28
Key Conference Game: vs Tennessee 11/1
Key Players: WR Kenny McKinley, TE Jared Cook, LB Jasper Brinkley, LB Eric Norwood
South Carolina is always very good in certain areas, very bad in others. Put it all together and you have a mediocre team with mediocre results. This year will be no different. The good areas: wide receivers (McKinley, Cook), linebackers (Norwood, Brinkley), and they probably have the best kicker in the league (Ryan Succop.) The bad: quarterback (who knows), running back (Mike Davis is serviceable but not exactly a feature back), and defensive line (decent pass rush but lousy against the run.) South Carolina's season should follow its usual pattern: start out strong (could easily be 6-1 when LSU comes to Columbia in mid-October), and will fade in the end. More of what we're used to seeing, although the 8 wins I'm predicting will be greeted favorably from the Cock faithful.

5. Kentucky Wildcats (5-7, 2-6)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Louisville 8/31
Key Conference Game: vs South Carolina 10/11
Key Players: WR Dicky Lyons, OT Garry Williams, CB Trevard Lindley, DE Jeremy Jarmon
UK had (by their standards) a magical season last year, getting into the Top 10 midseason and pulling off one of the upsets of the season in beating LSU in Lexington. The Cats will be competitive this year, but don't expect a repeat of last year's 8 wins. UK returns only 4 starters on offense, and now really has quarterback issues following the dismissal of Curtis Pulley. The defense brings back 8 starters, but will still likely rank near the bottom of the league. They really had trouble stopping the run at times in 2007. A tough road slate in the conference (Alabama, Florida, Miss State and Tennessee) combined with a trip to Lexington from Georgia, could mean trouble for Rich Brooks.

6. Vanderbilt Commodores (2-10, 0-8)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Miami OH 8/28
Key Conference Game: at Ole Miss 9/20
Key Players: QB Chris Nickson, QB MacKenzi Adams, CB D.J. Moore, S Reshad Langford
After one of the best 3 year runs in school history (14 wins across those seasons), Vandy looks to be headed for a rebuilding year, with just 9 starters returning, only 3 on offense. The 'Dores have to replace their entire offensive line and most of their defensive line as well. Not good. On the bright side, the secondary is one of the best in the league, but shouldn't be enough to help Vandy to duplicate the win totals of the last 3 years. The schedule gives no help. South Carolina, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee come into Nashville. Not many winnable games on this schedule, but this team is young. 2009 and beyond look better for Vandy.

Western Division
1. Auburn Tigers (9-3, 6-2)
Key Non-Conference Game: at West Virginia 10/23
Key Conference Game: vs Georgia 11/15
Key Players: OT Lee Ziemba, RB Ben Tate, DE Antonio Coleman, DT Sen'Derrick Marks
Auburn installs a new spread offense this season with OC Tony Franklin coming in from Troy. They bring back 9 starters on offense, including possible addition by subtraction with the graduation of QB Brandon Cox. The entire offensive line returns. If everyone picks up this offense, Auburn will be very tough. Alot of talent comes back on defense as well, although a new scheme comes in on that side of the ball as well, with former Pittsburgh DC Paul Rhoads. The front 7 are terrific, and the secondary will be fine if they can replace starter Aairon Savage at cornerback, out for the season with injury. Auburn gets LSU at home, which should be the difference in determining the Western Division representative in the Georgia Dome. I think this is the year Alabama breaks the streak in the Iron Bowl.

2. Louisiana State Tigers (10-2, 6-2)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Appalachian State 8/30 (Seriously. This may be their toughest non-conference game.)
Key Conference Game: at Auburn 9/20
Key Players: WR Demetrius Byrd, OG Herman Johnson, DE Tyson Jackson, DT Ricky Jean-Francois
LSU has developed as much depth as any program in the country in recent years. It rarely matters how many starters they return. Same goes for 2008. The difference for LSU this year is the situation at quarterback. Before dismissing QB Ryan Perrilloux, this may have been the #1 team in the country. The fact that they are now a borderline Top 10 team, tells you how much the impact of the QB situation may have on this squad. It looks like Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch will start against Appalachian State. Cornerback is a bit of a concern on defense, but once again, Les Miles just plugs in another blue-chipper, puts on his non-fitting hats, and acts like a crazy kook. Look for LSU to lose at Auburn and drop another one along the way due to the quarterback deficiences.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide (8-4, 5-3)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Clemson 8/30
Key Conference Game: vs Auburn 11/29
Key Players: OT Andre Smith, QB J.P. Wilson, LB Rolando McClain, S Rashad Johnson
Wilson returns for his 14th and final year under center in T-town. I see this year developing for him much like Mike Bobo's senior year at UGA, when things finally click for him. Whether that translates into more wins for Alabama remains to be seen. This group needs to find a go-to receiver, and true freshman Julio Jones might be that guy. 4 offensive linemen return, this unit should be a strength. Believe it or not, the defense may be a weakness (not what you usually expect from Alabama or a Nick Saban coached team.) If they can come together and perform with what you typically expect from an Alabama defense, this squad could challenge for a West crown. The schedule isn't favorable (Clemson at a neutral site, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU all on the road.)

4. Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-5, 3-5)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Georgia Tech 9/20
Key Conference Game: vs Arkansas 11/22
Key Players: RB Anthony Dixon, QB Wesley Carroll, S Derek Pegues, LB Jamar Chaney (former UGA signee)
2007 was a great year for Sylvester Croom and the MSU program. It bought Croom the time he deserves, and now he can work on taking the next step. It won't be easy, but with a more experienced backfield in Carroll and Dixon, along with a serviceable defense (the secondary is easily the best in the conference), should equal another bowl bid for the Maroon Dawgs. If MSU can upset Auburn in Starkville early in the season, this could be a better year than I'm predicting.

5. Ole Miss Rebels (5-7, 2-6)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Memphis 8/30
Key Conference Game: vs Mississippi State 11/28
Key Players: OT Michael Oher, RB Enrique Davis, DE Greg Hardy, DT Peria Jerry
Houston Nutt takes over in Oxford, and some experts actually think the Rebs could make some noise in the West this year. He gets 16 returning starters, including 9 on defense. Those numbers don't even include incoming Texas transfer Jevan Snead, who has been very impressive in offseason drills. Davis is a former Auburn signee that will fill in admirably after the loss of BenJarvus Green-Eliis, who went for over 1100 yards last year. The schedule doesn't do them any favors with trips to Florida, LSU and Alabama, but this team should get close to their first bowl since 2003. Nutt is going to have Ole Miss moving up the SEC standings in the coming years.

6. Arkansas Razorbacks (4-8, 1-7)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Tulsa 11/1
Key Conference Game: vs Ole Miss 10/25
Key Players: C Jonathan Luigs, OG Mitch Petrus, DT Ernest Mitchell, LB Freddie Fairchild
Bob Petrino's first season in Fayetteville could be a struggle. Petrino is an offensive genius, but even he won't be able to work enough magic to make this offense potent. Quarterback has long been a question mark for this program, and while Casey Dick should be better in his senior year, he still isn't exactly what Petrino needs to make things run to his liking. The Hogs also have to replace about 3500 yards rushing from last season with the loss of McFadden, Jones and Hillis. The outlook at receiver isn't much better, with 5 of the top 7 WRs gone. This defense should struggle, having to replace all but one starter in the back 7. Ole Miss looks like the best (and maybe only) chance for a conference win. Non-conference games with Tulsa and Texas could mean the wins are hard to come by in Petrino's first campaign.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will go with GA over Alabama in a rematch. I enjoyed reading this.