Sharing My Football Predictions Secrets

This is the time of year when I begin to receive requests to provide an outlook on Alabama football and/or to make a pre-season prediction, usually a Southeastern Conference prediction. Of course, that SEC pick could be pretty important on the national scene based on the past five BCS champions coming from the SEC.



My natural inclination, barring some obvious reason to go in another direction, is to pick Alabama to win the SEC title. That's going with the law of averages if nothing else. Bama has won 22 SEC championships. That's as many as LSU and Georgia, for instance, combined. So there is some history.

I don't limit my "system" to the season. Anytime I'm asked to predict the outcome of an individual Alabama football game, my answer is always "Alabama. I always think Alabama is going to win and I'm almost always right."

Say, then, that I am biased.

I do, however, consider other criteria. Two years ago, for example, I picked Alabama to go 12-0 in regular season play, but that Florida would also go 12-0 and that the Gators and Tim Tebow would defeat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. That proves that I can be somewhat subjective. And also that I can be wrong. Bama brought Alligator tears with a 32-13 romp in the Georgia Dome en route to another Crimson Tide national championship.

Last year I missed, too. I said that the winner of the Alabama-Auburn game would represent the Western Division in the SEC Championship Game. I was right about that, but I picked the Crimson Tide to make it to Atlanta.

It was my privilege to work for Coach Paul Bryant during the 1970s and I remember many things he said about football. Each pre-season he talked about the importance of schedule luck and injury luck.

Six SEC teams having an open date before playing Bama last year might be considered bad schedule luck. A cynic would suggest it was more than bad luck. Regardless, that circumstance probably played a role in the Tide's failure to repeat as league champion.

Mark Ingram, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2009, had knee surgery a week before Alabama started the 2010 season. That would be bad injury luck.

Another thing Bryant gave me to consider didn't have anything to do with Alabama. We were discussing another game and which team might win. "When teams look to be equal, go with the best coach," said the all-time best coach.

Thus, I factor in Nick Saban.

There are all manner of possibilities to examine. How many starters return? What positions do they play (particularly is the quarterback returning)? Are the team colors Crimson and White? Okay, not really that last one.

Most talk about 2011 Alabama centers on the marquee losses. In addition to Ingram, other projected first round draft choices are wide receiver Julio Jones and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. Bama also lost quarterback Greg McElroy and left tackle James Carpenter.

Unlike last year, though, Alabama didn't lose nine defensive starters, six of which played in the NFL last season.

Look at Bama not for what it lost, but for what it returns: Ten starters on defense, four starting offensive linemen plus the tight end, and Saban.

Those are championship ingredients.

And it's not as if Alabama is the only team with a new quarterback in 2011. Most Eastern Division teams return their quarterbacks (not so fast, Stephen Garcia of South Carolina!), but in the Western Division the majority of signal callers will be new.

Saban has stacked top recruiting classes on top of one another in his previous four years at Alabama and the cupboard is full of big, fast players.

Last year Alabama played six games against SEC opponents which had an open date before playing the Tide. This year that number is down to three. Bama plays the top two contenders for the SEC Western Division title, LSU and Arkansas, in Tuscaloosa.

Sparing you the suspense any longer, my prediction is for Alabama to win the SEC West and defeat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.

Although it is very, very difficult to go undefeated in the SEC, my pencil prediction has Alabama going 8-0 in conference games because I think in the pre-season Bama would be the favorite in each of those games.

The Tide's opponents from the East are like from a Chinese restaurant menu – one from Column A (Florida), one from Column B (Tennessee), and one from Column C (Vanderbilt). Compare that to Auburn, which plays the top three contenders in the East, Georgia and South Carolina on the road and Florida in Auburn. The Tigers also play top West contenders LSU and Arkansas on the road. And Auburn's 2010 quarterback, Cam Newton, moves to an NFL payroll this year.

Georgia is the popular pick from the East. The Bulldogs have a top quarterback returning in sophomore Aaron Murray, who threw for more than 3,000 yards last year. That was with A.J. Green at wide receiver. And Georgia's record last year under Mark Richt was 6-7. Still, the Bulldogs play both Mississippi schools, plus Auburn, from the West and have South Carolina in Athens, and that makes them my pick, too.

It probably won't happen this way, but in my projection the bottom spot in the league will be determined on September 17 when Ole Miss goes to Vanderbilt. I think the winner of that game gets its only league victory and the loser doesn't win a conference game.

Here with predicted SEC records are our predictions:

WEST – 1. Alabama (8-0), 2. LSU (7-1), 3. Arkansas (6-2). 4. Mississippi State (3-5), 5. Auburn (2-6), 6. Ole Miss (0-8).

EAST – 1. Georgia (7-1), 2. South Carolina (5-3), 3. Florida (4-4), 4. Tennessee (3-5), 5. Kentucky 2-6, 6. Vanderbilt (1-7).

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