Marshall: SEC Football Storylines

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the 2007 Southeastern Conference footballs season.

The preseason polls are in. LSU is the overwhelming favorite to win the Southeastern Conference football championship. Defending national champion Florida is the pick in the East.

But when the lights go on, all those polls and predictions won't mean a thing. The 75th SEC football champion will be decided on the field.

Here are some storylines that could impact how it all ends:

LSU seemingly has more impact players than any team in the league, but how will the departure of offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and offensive line coach Stacy Searels impact the coming season? New coordinator Gary Crowton is a renowned offensive mind, but he's a passing guy from start to finish and always has been. That doesn't often work over the long haul in the SEC.

Gary Crowton, a former head coach at Louisiana Tech and BYU, returns to Louisiana to coach at LS.

Is Florida sophomore Tim Tebow really so talented that his lack of experience won't matter? If he is, with the players around him, Urban Meyer's third Florida team could be a real juggernaut on offense. But even if Tebow and the offense come through, will the young and inexperienced defense be able to hold up its end of the bargain?

Will Auburn's rebuilt offensive line be able to protect senior quarterback Brandon Cox consistently enough for the Tigers to be the kind of offensive team that can contend seriously for a championship? Will Tray Blackmon live up to his immense potential at middle linebacker?

Will Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge overcome the maddening inconsistency that has characterized his career and lead Tennessee back into contention in the East Division?

We've seen all the hoopla, but what will be the real impact of Nick Saban's arrival on this season at Alabama? His record says he, like almost every other coach, is not likely to take a team with ordinary talent and make it a big winner. In 10 seasons at Michigan State and LSU, he never did it. He lost fewer than three games just twice in those 10 seasons and lost five or more four times. And Alabama, overall, would seem to have no better than ordinary talent.

No team can match the Arkansas running back duo of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Fullback Peyton Hillis is a big-time player himself. Marcus Monk is one of the league's top receivers. But what about the significant losses on the offensive line and on defense? What about the turmoil that threatened to consume head coach Houston Nutt in the offseason? Can Casey Dick finally give Arkansas consistent play at quarterback?

Coach Steve Spurrier

Is South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier ready to work his magic with senior quarterback Blake Mitchell? The Gamecocks were ever so close to doing it last season, losing by a touchdown or less to Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Can sophomore Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford continue the torrid pace he set in leading the Bulldogs to three straight wins over ranked teams to end last season? He'll have to do it behind an offensive line that much considered suspect.

Will quarterback Andre Woodson, spectacular in throwing for 3,515 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, be able to lead the Wildcats to a second consecutive bowl game, maybe even into the upper half of the SEC East?

Andrew Woodson is a preseason All-SEC quarterback for Kentucky.

Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett could finish his junior season as the SEC's all-time leading receiver. Quarterback Chris Nickson, a threat running or throwing, was selected on the coaches' preseason All-SEC third team. But considering who they'd have to pass in the East, can the Commodores find a way to win enough games to go to their first bowl game since 1982?

Sylvester Croom is as principled as any coach in the game. Despite winning just three games in each of his first three Mississippi State seasons, he seems to believe with all his heart that better days are ahead. The real question is if anyone can play by the rules and win at Mississippi State. Croom is going to play by the rules.

Will Ed Orgeron finally start to put action behind his bluster? He has a big-time running back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a handful of other talented players. Does he have enough to make a move in the West, to pass even one of the top four of LSU, Auburn, Arkansas and Alabama?

There'll be other storylines as the season unfolds. Some players who are supposed to be stars won't be. Some from whom little has been heard will blossom.

And come December, all the questions will be answered. As always, it's going to be fun.


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