1. South Carolina: The Gamecocks, who have won 42 games in the last four years and 11 games in each of the last three, have their best roster top to bottom that they’ve had in the Steve Spurrier era in Columbia. Stevie Wonder is confident. He’s got the team to beat in the SEC East and he gets to ruin Georgia’s season in week three when the Bulldogs come to Columbia.
2. Florida: The Gators are going to be much improved this year and they could very well catch a break in the first three weeks of the season. Not because of who they play – Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky are like starting the season with a chess team, a homeless shelter and a convent – but because of who Georgia plays. The Bulldogs have a fine shot at starting the season 0-2 with losses to Clemson and South Carolina.
3. Georgia: Somehow Georgia got a schedule that doesn’t include Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M again. No worry. The Bulldogs have to open their season with Clemson and South Carolina. That has the makings of an 0-2 start particularly when you consider how well Clemson and South Carolina throw the ball and that Georgia’s secondary will be worse this year than last.
4. Missouri: Missouri has a quarterback who can fling the ball all over the place in Maty Mauk. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they are seriously lacking people who can catch it, and the secondary could rival Georgia as the worst in the SEC.
5. Tennessee: Anything close to 6-6 will be a miracle. Butch Jones wants to run a high tech offense but that takes a decent quarterback. All three quarterbacks who started a game last year are back. To quote Billy Donovan here: “Just because you’re a year older doesn’t make you a year better.”
6. Kentucky: Kentucky fans expect 100% improvement this year. Okay, that means instead of two wins, the Wildcats win four. I agree. I predict they’ll beat either Tennessee or Vanderbilt for their first SEC win since 2011.
7. Vanderbilt: Even if the Penn State job hadn’t opened up, James Franklin wasn’t going to let the screen door hit him in the butt on the way out to somewhere. After two straight bowl games, he was looking at five offensive starters returning and three on defense. Welcome to the SEC Derek Mason and welcome back to last place in the SEC East, Vandy.
1. Auburn: Think what Nick Marshall did last year while learning Gus Malzahn’s offense on the fly. Now think what he might do now that he’s had a full season at quarterback plus spring football and all those hours in the film room with Gus.
2. Alabama: Alabama will be able to run the ball and if Jacob Coker can hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle, the Crimson Tide should be able to pass it, too. That being said, Alabama gave up 79 points and a half bazillion yards in its season-ending losses to Auburn and Oklahoma last year. Only three starters return from last year’s defense.
3. LSU: People who saw Herschel play say that Leonard Fournette is the closest thing they’ve seen to Herschel in the last 30 or so years. He’s a tailback but he will solve LSU’s quarterback problems because the quarterback’s main job will be to hand the ball off to Leonard and watch him run the ball. The defense is going to be nasty.
4. Mississippi State: You measure time spend in Starkville in dog years. Dan Mullen has been there five years and has taken the Bulldogs to four straight bowl games. In dog years, that’s like being there 35 years and going to 28 bowls. Other than Nick Marshall, Dak Prescott is the best quarterback in the league and the defense will probably be the most improved in the league.
5. Ole Miss: Ole Miss has never made the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. The Rebels won’t get there this year either but they’re talented enough to win any game on their schedule. They’re just too young to string enough wins together to win a championship.
6. Texas A&M: The late, great John McKay was once asked about the offensive execution of the Tampa Bay Bucs. McKay answered, “I’m all for it.” Kevin Sumlin might be saying the same thing about his defense. The Aggies can score points but they still won’t stop anybody.
7. Arkansas: Watch the internet. Sometime around mid-October you should see firebretbielema.com. The Nightmare on Frank Broyles Street, Part II will begin with a season opening loss to Auburn on the road, kicking off a season in which the Hogs won’t be favored to win a single SEC game. They were 0-8 in the SEC last year and have a real chance to run the table in reverse a second straight year.
Florida: Vernon Hargreaves III, cornerback. He’s the rock in the secondary. If he goes down the Gators will have freshman corners.
Alabama: Trey DePriest, linebacker. Only three starters return on defense and he’s the leader.
Arkansas: Trey Flowers, defensive end. The defense is bad enough with him. Without him there is no pass rush.
Auburn: Nick Marshall, quarterback. If Auburn runs the table, he could win the Heisman.
Georgia: Todd Gurley, running back. He’s the plow horse. Without him the offense just isn’t nearly as good.
Kentucky: Bud Dupree, defensive end. There is no such thing as a pass rush without him.
LSU: La’el Collins, offensive tackle. LSU is going to run, run and run some more. Collins buries people in the running game.
Mississippi State: Dak Prescott, quarterback. Mullen thinks he’s going to put up Tebow-like numbers.
Missouri: Kentrell Brothers, middle linebacker. He has to come up big for Mizzou to stop the run.
Ole Miss: Bo Wallace, quarterback. He is finally healthy. If he stays that way, Ole Miss could be the big surprise in the SEC West.
South Carolina: Mike Davis, running back. When he’s healthy he can grind out the tough yards and outrun people in the secondary to go the distance.
Tennessee: A.J. Johnson, middle linebacker. He’s a tackling machine for a defense that has trouble stopping anybody.
Texas A&M: Malcome Kennedy, wide receiver. He has to come up big now that Mike Evans is in the NFL.
Vanderbilt: Darreon Herring, inside linebacker. Derek Mason is a defense first coach. Herring is a tough run stopper in the new 3-4 and he has to be the man.
Player of the Year: Nick Marshall, Auburn.
Defensive Player of the Year: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida.
Freshman of the Year: Leonard Fournette, LSU
Coach of the Year: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
1. If Florida can keep its tackles healthy, the Gators will have the best defense in the league.
2. On paper, the Auburn game looks like Alabama’s only losable game, but the Crimson Tide will lose one of these roadies – at Ole Miss on October 4 or at LSU on November 8.
3. Auburn’s Sammie Coates will be the SEC’s most dangerous receiver. He averaged 21.5 yards per catch last year. He runs a reported 4.25 40.
4. South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper will be the biggest surprise in the SEC this year. He will have at least one game in which he throws for a touchdown, runs for a touchdown and catches a touchdown pass.
5. It will take Jeremy Pruitt more than one year to fix all that’s wrong with Georgia’s defense.
The Miami Heat signed Josh McRoberts to a four-year deal worth $23 million. That’s a ton of money for a guy who has never lived up to the hype and averaged only 8.5 points per game last year ... The Houston Rockets have offered Chris Bosh four years for $88 million. That’s a deal he will take ... If the Dallas Mavericks whiff in their attempt to get Carmelo Anthony, their next target is former Gator Chandler Parsons ... Grambling’s new interim president wasted little time cleaning house. She fired basketball coach Joseph Price who was 5-52 in two seasons. Guard Remond Brown says he was “just in shock that it occurred” ... NCAA coaches will be on the road all month for player evaluations. The big events are the adidas tournament in Indianapolis, the Under Armour event in Atlanta and the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina ... Charleston head coach Doug Wojcik is likely to be fired this week. There is a 50-page investigative report that details his abusive nature to players, assistant coaches and staffers ... A lot of folks connected to LeBron James think he’s heading back to Cleveland.
Who are your picks for SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year?
Diane Birch has gotten favorable comparisons to the late, great Laura Nyro. She’s come out with two outstanding albums to start her career – “Bible Belt” which was released in 2009 and “Speak a Little Louder” which was released last fall. I really got into her music when I saw her on Live from Daryl’s House on Palladium TV. This is “Nothing but a Miracle” which she performs with Daryl Hall and his band on one of those episodes.