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Get those coolers packed up and those grills cleaned, because it's about that time. We are less than two weeks away from the college football season. With the season rapidly approaching, it's time for me to step up to the plate with some bold (and sometimes not-so-bold) SEC predictions. And, don't worry, if they don't pan out like I had planned, I will hold myself accountable at the end of the year.
1. Florida (12-0, 8-0 SEC)
Florida simply doesn't have a weakness. Only a contrarian would pick any team other than Florida in the East. They are that good. Florida will finish the regular season unblemished, will rarely be tested and Tim Tebow will get another invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy Presentation. The loss of Percy Harvin will be felt a little bit, but with the entire defense returning, it will be nothing more than a blip on the radar.
Wins: Charleston Southern, Troy, Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida International, Florida State
2. Georgia (8-4, 5-3 SEC)
The Bulldogs get a tough test right out of the gate, traveling to Oklahoma State. However, facing a Big XII defense might be just what the doctor ordered, allowing first-year starter Joe Cox to get a bit of a comfort level. The next week, however, the Bulldogs face a real defense against South Carolina, who will go into Athens and spring the upset. It's going to be a bit of a bumpy ride for the Bulldogs, but Mark Richt will have them in a New Years Day bowl yet again. The big question is, can much-maligned defensive coordinator Willie Martinez improve upon a 2008 season that saw his defense implode in big games?
Wins: Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Arizona State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Tennessee Tech, Auburn, Kentucky
Losses: South Carolina, LSU, Florida, Georgia Tech
3. South Carolina (7-5, 4-4 SEC)
The Gamecocks have relied on their defense for the last four years. This year will be no different. Senior LB Eric Norwood returns as the leader of a defense that lost six starters, including Jasper Brinkley and Captain Munnerlyn. The Gamecocks will have some ups and downs, taking down Georgia and Ole Miss, while falling to Tennessee and Arkansas. The big question facing the Gamecocks is whether or not Stephen Garcia can maintain a level of consistent quarterback play throughout the year. He will be more consistent than in years past, but not consistent enough to get the Gamecocks to that coveted second spot in the SEC East standings.
Wins: Georgia, Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss, South Carolina State, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Clemson
Losses: N.C. State, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida
4(t). Kentucky (6-6, 2-6 SEC)
Kentucky will have to scratch and claw every week in order to get back to their fourth straight bowl game. The Wildcats suffered a big loss when DE Jeremy Jarmon was ruled ineligible for this season, after testing positive for a banned substance. A big key to the Wildcats season will be Derrick Locke, who is trying to bounce back after undergoing major knee surgery mid-way through the 2008 season. They will take a small step back, but head coach Rich Brooks will land them in a bowl game for the fourth straight year.
Wins: Miami (OH), Louisville, Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State, Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee
Losses: Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Georgia
4(t). Tennessee (6-6, 2-6 SEC)
No new coach in America has made more news this off-season than Tennessee's Lane Kiffin. Thankfully, all the talk will be over when the Vols take the field and try to cash the checks written by Kiffin's big mouth. Eric Berry, who is one of the best football players in the nation, will lead the Vols to another solid year defensively. Once again, the problem will be the offense. The fact that Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens have been battling for the #1 spot for the majority of fall camp should have Vol fans VERY worried. With no experienced receivers and a highly suspect QB situation, the Vols won't show much improvement in year one under Kiffin.
Wins: Western Kentucky, UCLA, Ohio, South Carolina, Memphis, Vanderbilt
Losses: Florida, Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt (4-8, 1-7 SEC)
Vanderbilt rode a wave of momentum to a 5-0 start and a national ranking last season, before struggling down the stretch and barely making a bowl game. This year, they won't get the luxury of getting out of the gate strong, as they travel to LSU the second week of the season. The 'Dores return nine starters on both sides of the ball. Statistically speaking, that could be a problem though. The Commodores finished last in the league in total offense and eighth in total defense last season. Bobby Johnson is a good coach, but the bowl win last year was an aberration, not the start of a trend.
Wins: Western Carolina, Rice, Army, Kentucky
Losses: LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida, Tennessee
1. Ole Miss (11-1, 7-1 SEC)
The biggest question the SEC West this off-season was whether or not Ole Miss could match the hype. The SEC Media didn't buy it during Media Days, voting the Rebels third in the SEC West. I however do buy-in to the Rebels. With LSU's suspect defense and Alabama replacing players at several crucial positions, the Rebels are actually the safest pick to win the division. They get a beneficial SEC schedule, with games vs. LSU, Alabama and Arkansas at home, and Florida and Georgia not on the schedule at all. With a stout defense led by DE Greg Hardy and a the Jevan Snead-led offense that averaged 32 points per game last season, the Rebels will make it to Atlanta for the first time ever.
Wins: Memphis, Southeast Louisiana, Vanderbilt, Alabama, UAB, Arkansas, Auburn, Northern Arizona, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State
Losses: South Carolina
2. LSU (10-2, 6-2 SEC)
LSU is also getting a lot of love this off-season. So much so that one SEC analyst recently picked the Tigers to get a SECCG rematch vs. Florida in the BCS National Championship. I'm not so sure that they'll be THAT good, but they will be much improved. With Jordan Jefferson taking over at QB full-time after Jarrett Lee's abysmal 2008, the offense won't put the defense in as many bad situations in 2009. New defensive coordinator John Chavis will have to replace some talent on defense, including Tyson Jackson and Kirston Pittman. But, serviceable quarterback play will benefit the Tiger D as much as the O. The Tigers go into November contending for the West, but fall to Ole Miss late in the year, costing them a trip to Atlanta.
Wins: Washington, Vanderbilt, UL-Lafayette, Mississippi State, Georgia, Auburn, Tulane, Alabama, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas
Losses: Florida, Ole Miss
3. Alabama (9-3, 6-2 SEC)
The Crimson Tide rode a wave of momentum last season to within one quarter of a National Championship Game appearance. That team was led by a stellar defense that returns nine starters including stud DT Terrance Cody and LB Rolando McClain. The question mark for the Crimson Tide this year will be their offense. With Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell gone off the offensive line and Greg McElroy taking over for John Parker Wilson at QB, the offense will be a work-in-progress early in the season. Alabama will take a small step back this season, but it will be only a hiccup. Head coach Nick Saban has that team poised to be a serious contender for the SEC and National Title contender on an annual basis – just not this year.
Wins: Florida International, North Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, UT-Chattanooga, Auburn
Losses: Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, LSU
4(t). Arkansas (7-5, 3-5 SEC)
Arkansas has some serious firepower on offense, with Michigan-transfer Ryan Mallett taking the snaps for the Razorbacks. They return their top four rushers, add USC-transfer RB Broderick Green, their top five receivers, and nine starters on a defense that is looking to improve upon 2008. On paper, the Razorbacks look like contenders. But, a schedule that includes games at Alabama, at Florida, at Ole Miss and at LSU will prevent them from doing so. This team will be very good, but it won't show in their final record.
Wins: Missouri State, Texas A&M, Auburn, Eastern Michigan, South Carolina, Troy, Mississippi State
Losses: Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss, LSU
4(t). Auburn (6-6, 3-5 SEC)
2008 was a disastrous season for the Tigers, as they lost a coach and failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 1999. But, what people seem to forget is that Auburn had a chance to win virtually every game last season; and, with a little better luck, could easily have been an eight-win team. Of course, a few bad bounces, and they also could have easily been 3-9. With Chris Todd healthy and leading an offense led by new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the Tigers have the chance to make a splash under first-year head coach Gene Chizik. But, with only 75 scholarship players, depth will be an issue for the Tigers. Their first unit on both sides of the ball is capable of competing in the SEC West. But, there is a big drop-off to the second team, which will cost Auburn a few games in '09.
Wins: Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, Ball State, Tennessee, Kentucky, Furman
Losses: West Virginia, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, Alabama
6. Mississippi State (4-8, 1-7 SEC)
The Bulldogs hired former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen away from the Gators, and are looking to bring that type of high-powered spread offense to Starkville. The problem is Mississippi State doesn't have the type of players that the Gators do, and likely never will. That doesn't mean that Mullen won't eventually bring good football back to Starkville, he will just have to be little creative. The Bulldogs, who averaged just 15 points per game last season, will have to have RB Anthony Dixon step up and lead this team following his recent arrest for DUI. Patience Bulldog fans. Give Mullen some time to get his guys on campus.
Wins: Jackson State, Vanderbilt, Houston, Middle Tennessee State
Losses: Auburn, LSU, Georgia Tech, Florida, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Florida over Ole Miss
In a rematch of one of the most memorable games of 2008, the Gators and Rebels will meet in the SEC Championship Game in 2009. The Gators will be playing for a definite spot in the BCS National Championship Game and the Rebels, with only one loss, conceivably could be too. Florida will exact revenge from that 2008 meeting, knocking off the Rebs and advancing to Pasadena; where they will take down USC, and win the National Championship for the third time in the last four years.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter
2009 SEC Predictions – August 22, 2009
SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, Part 5 – August 17, 2009
Spurrier's Swan Song? – August 16, 2009
SEC's Most Indispensable Players – August 4, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 3 – July 24, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 2 – July 23, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 1 – July 22, 2009
SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, Part 4 – July 14, 2009
Meyer Not Going To Notre Dame? – July 13, 2009
Top 5 SEC Non-Conference Games – July 6, 2009
SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, Part 3 – June 16, 2009
Bama Put On Notice – June 11, 2009
Coaches Ballots Should Be Public – May 27, 2009
SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, Part 2 – May 24, 3009
Ranking The SEC Coaches – May 9, 2009
SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, Part 1 – April 26, 2009
Live Auburn A-Day Blog – April 18, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 16, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 12, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 9, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 30, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 26, 2009
Keep The Cocktail Party In Jacksonville – March 23, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 18, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 15, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 11, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 7, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – February 28, 2009
Another Misstep For Lane Kiffin – February 14, 2009
New Rule Could Take Points Off The Scoreboard – February 12, 2009
Kiffin Swings at Meyer … And Misses Badly – February 5, 2009
Playoffs … Be Careful What You Wish For – February 4, 2009
UGA Loses RB Samuel For Spring Practice - January 28, 2009
Alabama Signs Coach Away From Auburn - January 21, 2009
America Deserves a USC vs. SEC Title Game – January 10, 2009
Chizik Putting Together A Solid Staff – January 6, 2009
Click here for the 2008 archive