Key Factors Go Into SEC Prediction

An adage in the law profession is that an attorney never asks a question to a witness to which the attorney does not know the answer. That is somewhat akin to a journalism technique of asking a coach or player a question to which the reporter already knows the answer, but wants someone else to go on record with the authoritative answer.

About five years ago, a sports reporter who should have known better asked Alabama Coach Nick Saban, “Do you know what a trap game is?”

“No,” said Saban.

“Uh oh,” I – I mean the reporter – thought. He had been expecting Saban to not only answer the question, but also to define it. The reporter was like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in the pornography decision. He couldn’t define it, Potter said, “but I know it when I see it.”

The reporter was pretty sure he knew what a trap game was. And when he looked up the definition he could understand why Saban wouldn’t have admitted to knowing. It is a gambling term.

What it means, of course, is that a game falls on the schedule in such a way as to be advantageous to the opponent.

In 2010 the question was directed at Saban as the Crimson Tide was preparing to play South Carolina, which everyone had recognized as that so-called trap game for Alabama. And as it turned out, the Gamecocks executed almost to perfection and defeated Bama.

This year, the apparent trap game on the Alabama schedule is against Tennessee on Oct. 24. The Tide hosts the Vols after seven consecutive games to open the season, including a three-game stretch of at Georgia, Arkansas, and at Texas A&M.

Tennessee will come to Tuscaloosa after having enjoyed an open date.

Former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant prefaced his preseason remarks with the observation that two factors which could not be controlled – and which might not be known until during or even after a season – played a great role in success for a team. Those factors were (and are) injury luck and schedule luck.

Injury luck means not losing a key player without adequate depth at the position. An opponent’s bad injury luck can also work into the outcome. Schedule luck involves opponents being stronger or weaker than expected, but also where those games occur on the schedule and whether they are home or away.

In our annual preseason prediction of the Southeastern Conference, we look at several factors. They include the coach, the recent record, the quality of returning starters (if a team gave up 30 points a game last year, it doesn’t get much credit for returning nine starters on defense), the prospects of having good quarterback play and making explosive plays, and, of course, the schedule.

Using Alabama as an example, we look at each team on the schedule. Things may look different in October, but in July there is not a team on Bama’s schedule that would be considered the favorite to beat the Tide. It is very, very difficult to go undefeated in the SEC, so it won’t be a surprise if Alabama suffers a loss along the way. And if we were asked to pull a number out of the hat, we probably would guess 11-1. But in picking the entire schedule, we would also have to pick a game that Bama loses. That goes against the grain when all signs point to Alabama being stronger than all its opponents.

Therefore, in our prediction, Alabama is 8-0 in SEC play and 12-0 overall.

Here’s how we see the remainder of the SEC Western Division, some of which will be vastly different than how others see it:

LSU 7-1 and 11-1

Texas A&M 5-3 and 9-3

Arkansas 5-3 and 9-3

Auburn 4-4 and 8-4

Mississippi State 3-5 and 7-5

Ole Miss 1-7 and 5-7

SEC Eastern Division:

Georgia 7-1 and 11-1

Tennessee 5-3 and 9-3

Florida 4-4 and 7-5

Missouri 4-4 and 8-4

Kentucky 2-6 and 5-7

South Carolina 1-7 and 3-9

Vanderbilt 0-8 and 4-8

This is the prediction we will make for this week’s SEC Media Days in Hoover. We will also be asked to choose a champion and we’ll pick Alabama to defeat Georgia in a rematch of the Oct. 3 game in Athens.

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