Marshall: Early Look at 2007 SEC Football

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Southeastern Conference football.

So Nick Saban says he's not going to be Alabama's football coach, huh? That's too bad. Really, it is.

Saban would have made things a lot more interesting in our fair state. But unless he's a bald faced liar, he won't be coming. His statements at his press conference Thursday left no wiggle room, no room for misinterpretation.

So the search goes on at Alabama, and life just keeps getting better for Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.

Few things are more damaging to any college football program than instability, and Alabama has been the picture of instability since Gene Stallings left in a huff at the end of the 1996 season.

Despite the effort a few misguided individuals in 2003, Auburn has been just the opposite. Tommy Tuberville is finishing up his eighth season. He has five straight wins over Alabama and has the upper hand on all of his major rivals.

Someday, schools are going to learn that firing a coach is usually the worst thing they can do. LSU officials were quick on the trigger for a long time. The result was eight losing seasons in 11 before Saban arrived, a woeful run that never should happen at LSU.

Nick Saban

It'll be interesting to see where Alabama goes now, assuming Saban was telling the truth. Maybe Navy's Paul Johnson. Maybe Wake Forest's Jim Grobe. Maybe another NFL coach. Maybe somebody who hasn't been mentioned in previous speculation.

Whoever gets the job will be a good coach. He won't be a miracle worker. Saban wouldn't have been a miracle worker. Nor would Steve Spurrier. Nor would any coach in America.

As I wrote here earlier, Alabama is going to come back. Alabama is going to win again. Alabama is going to contend for championships again. I'd say the same if it was Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU or Tennessee in the same situation.

None of the SEC's big six, however, is likely to dominate for a long period of time. The competition is just too fierce. It's a short fall from first place to sixth place.

Taking an early peek into the future, here's a guess at how I see the SEC next season:

SEC WEST

1. LSU. This could change if Jamarcus Russell decides to leave early for the NFL. The Bayou Bengals are clearly the most talented team in the division, but they also have Les Miles. Oh, well. You can't have it all.

2. Auburn. Fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Cox and a talented defense should show the way. The biggest key is replacing four starters on the offensive line.

3. Arkansas. The Razorbacks have the best player in the league in Darren McFadden, but they have quarterback issues, internal issues and they lose most of their offensive line.

4. Alabama. Whoever is the coach, it's difficult to see how the Tide is going to be a lot better next season than it was this season.

5. Ole Miss. If you believe recruiting analysts, Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron is recruiting well.

6.Mississippi State. Sylvester Croom knew he was taking on a tough job, but it's even tougher than he imagined.

SEC EAST

1. Florida. The Gators are loaded with talent and bringing in more, but they need to be more physical. Can Tim Tebow get it done as the full-time starter at quarterback?

Tim Tebow has contributed to Florida's success as a freshman.

2. Georgia. The Bulldogs have plenty of talent, too. They could push Florida for the top spot.

3. South Carolina. The Gamecocks were oh so close to having an outstanding record this season.

4.Tennessee. The glory days seem further and further away for the Vols.

5. Kentucky. The Wildcats are going to a bowl, but they're a long way from the upper echelon.

6. Vanderbilt. Bobby Johnson has made the Commodores competitive. Others did that before him. Taking the next step has been the problem.

Until next time...


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