SEC Prediction

The votes are all in and once again the winner is apathy. And it might just as well be non-participation since the results of media voters at Southeastern Conference football media days has been less than stellar. In the past decade, the sportswriters and broadcasters who bother to guess at a final champion haven't come close.

For 10 consecutive years the ballots have been counted and the media's pe-season SEC football champion has been a team that didn't even win its division on the field.

Maybe that's why only about 15 per cent of those who attend the event in the Birmingham area each late July take the time to fill out a ballot. The low turnout is not likely the reason for the inaccuracy of the vote, or at least the only reason that the SEC Media Pre-Season Poll is about as accurate as the end-of-the-season People's National Championship ranking.

To be sure, some astute observers don't participate. Yours truly, for instance. But that's because I don't have all the information needed to make an informed guess.

Think about the factors that go into success or failure for a football team.

Quality and quantity of players may be the primary factor. One can have a pretty good idea of this, but who knows when a Herschel Walker will debut?

And also figuring into personnel strength is injury luck, which can't be factored. Some teams will have very good luck, others not so good. It may be that Auburn's extraordinary good run of luck in this area is one reason the Tigers were picked to win this year's SEC title by the media last week. Will that good luck continue yet another season?

Schedule luck is a little easier to judge, at least pre-season schedule luck. Lucky Tennessee! An open date prior to Alabama once again! But it's more than open dates, of which there aren't many to be had this year. (Alabama, Auburn and Vanderbilt don't have one.) It's also when opponents fall on the schedule, and whether the team outside the division one plays is Florida or Vanderbilt.

Some would suggest home field advantage. This is big with gamblers and bookies, who don't care which team wins, but rather with the margin of victory. I've never thought the home field changed the outcome very often. Usually, the better team wins regardless of location.

Another factor sportswriters and sportscasters can't judge (though some try) is the quality of a head coach and/or his staff. Is Steve Spurrier a good coach? Yes. Is he better at Florida than at the Washington Redskins? Well, yes, and how can that be? (Hint: Players.)

Still, one has to believe that when Georgia's Mark Richt goes up against LSU's Les Miles that it's an advantage for the Bulldogs.

And that's why if I had filled out a ballot guessing at this year's SEC race, I would have had Georgia beating LSU for the league championship.

And how did I get those two teams to the championship? I went through the SEC schedule game-by-game and week-by-week, looking at which team I thought had the advantages of personnel and schedule luck each week.

By my calculations, it will be:

In the West, LSU with a 12-0 overall record and 8-0 SEC mark. Having the league's best quarterback in JaMarcus Russell (SEC media voters said it was Florida's Chris Leak) and a stockpile of talent left by former coach Nick Saban should last the Tigers one more year.

Behind LSU I have Alabama and Auburn, both with 10-2 overall records and 6-2 SEC records with Bama taking the tie-breaker on the basis of head-to-head. How can one pick Alabama over Auburn when the Tigers have that modest four-game winning streak? Simple. The sides haven't been even in recent years. This year they will be.

By the way, my ballot had Bama losing to Florida and LSU.

Follow the top three SEC Western Division teams with Arkansas (7-5, 4-4), Ole Miss (7-5, 2-5), and Mississippi State (4-8, 1-7).

In the Eastern Division, it's Georgia with an 11-1 overall record, 7-1 in the SEC (the loss to Auburn), followed by Florida (9-3, 5-3), Tennessee (7-5, 4-4), South Carolina (6-6, 3-5), Kentucky (4-8m 1-7), and Vandy (3-9, 0-8).

It will be good news for some coaches. Both Alabama's Mike Shula and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville get their second seasons of double-digit victories. Tennessee's Phil Fulmer gets back to bowl business. But unlike this year, there could be some new head coach faces when the media gathers in July to try to figure out the 2007 SEC football season. Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Mississippi State are always potential candidates to fire and hire. Arkansas' Houston Nutt will be considered on the hot seat.

And there's always the chance that some coach whose school faces problems and/or where loyalty has been lacking might see a better opportunity. And opportunities do arise, such as potentially one at Texas A&M at the end of this season.


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