Around this time each year it hits you – college football season is a long ways off. Sure there’s the diversion of spring practice and the annual release of all the preseason publications that never seem to get it right. Mix in a few trips to the beach and more than a few Saturdays of yard work and eventually it does come around again. But on this cold morning in February, football season seems like an eternity from now.
There’s a lot that will happen between today and late summer. Picking who’ll finish where in the SEC next season is a foolish game at best. But considering most preseason publications have already started being written, why shouldn’t we join in on the antics? After all, I won’t charge you $7.99 to hear me get it all wrong. Sure these predictions are early, and I claim now the right to change my mind in June. But on this cold winter day, here’s where I see things finishing up in late November.
1. Alabama - It’s hard to go against the defending champions, especially when they have their quarterback and Heisman Trophy running back returning to the Capstone. With wide receiver Julio Jones coming on strong down the stretch, Alabama has a chance to be better offensively. Defense could be a different story. How they adjust to being the biggest target in the country each week will determine their season.
2. Auburn - With Chris Todd and Ben Tate graduating, there will be plenty of question marks heading into fall camp. Should transfer quarterback Cam Newton live up to his billing, Auburn has a chance to put up Playstation like numbers on offense. Look for Trooper Taylor’s wide receivers to be much improved with more playmakers than a year ago. Don’t underestimate defensive coordinator Ted Roof. Sure the numbers looked bad on paper defensively last year, but when you look at the talent on the field, you realize he did a pretty solid job.
3. LSU - Is this a make or break year for Les Miles? It’s hard to believe he won a national championship only a few years back. Nine losses in two seasons have the purple cat fanbase ready to pounce on the Michigan carpetbagger.
4. Arkansas - Look for Bobby Petrino’s offense to continue to get stronger, especially with Ryan Mallett returning at quarterback. If Petrino can find a defense, they could be the conference sleeper this season.
5. Ole Miss - The Rebels were the biggest flop in the SEC last year. Picked in the top five nationally by most organizations, Houston Nutt laid a huge egg. Now there are rumblings that with Ed Orgeron’s recruits finally leaving, the talent level is starting to suffer.
6. Miss State - Dan Mullin may be the biggest off-season loser. With Urban Meyer deciding to stay in Gainesville for at least another year, Mullin’s star will likely dim in year two at Starkville. Had Meyer kept his word, Mullin would likely be sitting in the Sunshine State today. With tailback Anthony Dixon gone, the Bulldogs will struggle.
1. Florida - Is there life after Tim Tebow? Will Urban Meyer make it through the season? There are more questions than answers in Gainesville today. With more talent than half the National Football League, it likely doesn’t matter. The Gators head into the season with more talent than anyone in the country. Meyer’s humiliation at the hands of Alabama will help drive the Gators all the way back to Atlanta in December.
2. Georgia - See Les Miles. Despite winning two SEC crowns, Dawg fans are starting to get that uneasy feeling about Mark Richt. Beating Auburn and in-state rival Georgia Tech last year should cool the backside a little for Richt, but he knows all that matters now is beating Florida. Good luck on that one.
3. South Carolina - If Steve Spurrier is going to get it done in Colombia, this season is it. He returns 19 starters and most believe another early December bowl will mean his last in the SEC.
4. Kentucky - Little known coach in waiting, Joker Phillips, finally gets his training wheels off. Kentucky always finds a way to win six a year without anyone noticing – unless you were in Jordan-Hare Stadium last October. Look for the status quo again in Lexington.
5. Tennessee - Derek Dooley brings a lot of good will into the season following a stellar recruiting haul. He’s going to need all the love he can get this season. Winning six games may win him conference coach of the year.
6. Vanderbilt - See the past 50 years.