I'm moving APP Breakdowns to tomorrow so I can officially get my predictions on the interwebs highway, as well as "Money Making Monday (Thursday Edition)" and the Immersion Effect.
No waiting, full throttle forward - SEC Predictions.
People are hesitant to throw their hat in the ring for the Florida Gators this year due to the still iffy defensive backfield situation. It didn't help that 47 more young Gators got hurt. However, I have one question for you. HAVE YOU LOOKED AT THEIR SEC SCHEDULE? They have 2 toss-ups in a road game at Tennessee and the World's Largest Orson Swindle Party with Georgia. Yes, they do have LSU, but it's in the Swamp, and Florida will be 5-7 point favorites. Thusly, I have the Gators pegged for 7-1 in conference, and representing the East in Atlanta.
With the blinding spotlight fixated on Athens and Gainesville, the Vols are under the radar. This team won the East last year, and was one Aingean toss within a conference title. Pundits and fans alike point to the loss of Ainge and Jerod Mayo, as well as the addition of new coordinator Dave Clawson, as reasons to sell the Vols short. But let me tell you this: while Jon Crompton may not complete 67% of his passes and will have more INTs than Ainge, he'll make that offense more dangerous. He has a bigger cannon than Ainge, a healthier pinky, and has more wheels to make plays happen with his legs. The Vols have a tough SEC road though: v. Florida, @ Auburn, @ Georgia, v. Alabama, @ South Carolina. I expect a 6-2 conference record.
Don't buy the hype. Yes, Georgia is insanely good at the skill positions. Yes, their defense is pretty good, too. However, two things have created a great wall between 3rd in the East and the MNC: the offensive line and the schedule. In the SEC, if you don't have a dominant offensive line, you're in for headaches every week. Think you don't need a line against perennial SEC bottom feeder Kentucky? Yeah, have fun picking yourself up off the grass when Jeremy Jarmon is laying on you. Georgia also has the Orson Swindle Party with Florida, a home game against Tennessee, @ Auburn, @ South Carolina, v. Alabama, and @ LSU. I see 3 conference losses, most likely Florida, LSU, and Auburn. This team has the talent to do what Florida did in 2006, though.
The Gamecocks are the Chicago Cubs of the SEC. "Wait until next year" and "We're going to surprise some people this year" ring through Columbia like it was Wrigley Field. I think the term Lovable Losers fits, too, as Steve Spurrier has become a cuddly ol' ball coach, instead of rude ol' ball coach. The Gamecocks have the defense to win a conference title, really, they do. But they still have issues on the offensive line, they have to replace a very underrated RB in Cory Boyd (Mike Davis doesn't cut it, unless you're playing fridges), and I'm not sold on any receiver behind McKinley. Oh, and they no quarterbacks. None, nil, zilch, nada, nien. I believe the Spurriers will beat either UGA, LSU, or UT in Columbia, I also think they'll stumble at either Ole Miss or Kentucky in back to back road games. I see 4-4 this season, but 5-3 or 3-5 are very much in play.
The short road back to irrelevance starts now for Kentucky. It won't be a total embarrassment, because that defense is actually pretty sick. However, Cat fans need to realize that Andre Woodson, Rafael Little, and Keenan Burton were the best QB-RB-WR trio the school has ever produced, and all 3 are gone. Curtis Pulley is gone, too. The Cats have a good offensive line, and two solid running backs, so we'll probably see a change of offensive pace. The defense is where they'll win some games. The defensive line is their best in who knows how long - Jarmon is a star in the making, Myron Pryor and Corey Peters are formidable in the middle. And they have, in my opinion, a future 1st/2nd round draft pick in cornerback Trevard Lindley. He's 6 feet tall, and as a freshman has 12 pbu, then, as a sophomore, had 11 pbu and 3 picks. His partner on the other side, Paul Warford ain't too shabby, either. Still, the offense will take huge strides backwards, and 2-3 conference wins will be the max.
Vanderbilt was actually decent last year. They lost close games against Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee - win one, and they were probably in a bowl. But graduation has left a dearth of SEC starting experience. They have 0 returning starters on the offensive lost, lost their stud wide receiver, and have a QB controversy. Plus, the defense loses leader Jon Goff. Vandy does sport one of the best defensive backfields in the conference - DJ Moore had 83 tackles, 10 pbu, and 6 INTs; Myron Lewis had 12 pbu and 49 tackles; Reshard Langford had 65 tackles, 4.5 tfl, 8 pbu, and 2 INTs; Ryan Hamilton had 68 tackles, 2.5 tfl, and 5 pbu. Still, with only 9 starters returning for the team, they'll struggle to win a game in the SEC.
There has been a very common thread this offseason about Auburn. One person will rank them in the top 12 and/or to win the SEC West, and someone else will scream, "BUT THEY HAVE TWO NEW COORDINATORS AND A NEW OFFENSIVE SYSTEM!" Then I come in and say, "That's a long sentence to scream." Anyway, Auburn was better statistically last season than their final record showed. Their defense has NFL talent at every level, and it's deep. Ben Tate and Brad Lester won't wow you at running back, but that tandem gets it done in workman like fashion. They return every offensive line starter, so with a heavy dose of the running game, Kodi Burns and Chris Todd don't have to win games early on. Their conference schedule shapes up nicely, too. Their 3 toughest conference games are at home: LSU, Tennessee, and Georgia. They do travel to Alabama (where the streak will be broken). Auburn will get revenge at Miss State. Auburn will be 7-1 or 6-2, and as long as they beat LSU, 6-2 will win the West.
It took me a very long time to decide between LSU and Alabama for #2. I go with LSU because I think both teams could finish 5-3, with LSU beating Alabama in Death Valley. Another reason: LSU is more likely to go 6-2 than Alabama is. LSU still has boatloads of talent at every position, and I'm probably overreacting to the Perilloux dismissal. Still, you can't feel comfortable with Andrew Hatch, no matter who you have around him. Oh, and what the hell is with the preseason hype for LaFell and Byrd? Yes, they're good, but they need to prove they're top tier receivers. The Tigers have 3 tough road games: @ Florida, @ South Carolina, and @ Auburn. I think they might lose all 3.
The rebuilding continues, and 2008 will be another stepping stone to the West crown. The freshmen, as undoubtedly talented as they can be, are just that: freshmen. You can't expect new SEC players to win the conference. Hell, probably not in 2009, either, as they break in a new QB. 2010 will be the first season the Tide will be favorites to win the West. They'll show great improvement this year, though. Their record just won't show it that much. They will lose 3 conference road games with a couple landmines at home. Their offensive line will be one of the best in the SEC, and Terry Grant is poised for a breakout season. The defense is the worry, though. They have young talent everywhere, but young defensive players get eaten alive in the tough SEC, so I expect some struggles there. 5-3 is almost certain.
The injury to Greg Hardy makes me seriously hesitate to do this, but I'm sticking to it. Oregeron was a great recruiter, but couldn't capitalize on the talent he brought in. Houston Nutt will change that - instant impact here we come. Jevan Snead, while new, should be serviceable at the very least. Enrique Davis and Cordera Eason are long on talent and short on experience. The offensive line returns 4 starters, so that should really drive their offense. The defense originally returned 9 starters, but Greg Hardy is done for the season - losing 18.5 tackles for loss cannot be replaced. Peria Jerry is a top tier tackle, and end Marcus Tillman can do some things to help curb the loss of Hardy. The linebackers and defensive backs have experience and will lead this team to 3 conference wins.
I originally had the Hogs slated for last, but I think Bobby Petrino will sneak out a win they don't deserve. Their best chances for a conference victory are in Fayetteville against Alabama and Ole Miss, or on the road at Miss State. The 3 returning starters on the defensive line return 24 tackles for loss, which will help the four new starters at DB. The loss of Freddie Fairchild is also bad for this team. I do like Petrino as a coach (not a person), so I think they'll give some defenses fits. 1-7 or 2-6 is their ceiling this year.
It's always funny when I completely disagree with the average joe fan about a team. People are saying, "Ooooo, watch out for State!" Sorry, State isn't going to be very good. They were beneficiaries of a +4 in close games, and were LAST in the SEC statistically. They also still don't have a QB. Dixon is overrated at RB, and the offensive line needs work. Their defense will be very good again, but they won't luckbox their way to a bowl game again. 1-7? I think so.
There it is - the best damn SEC predictions in the land. Come back in December and mock me or praise me.