Key Stretch: at LSU (10/11),at Arkansas (10/18), Georgia (11/1) - Jacksonville
Ole Miss and David Cutcliffe bring Heisman hopeful Eli Manning and defensive lineman Jessie Mitchell to Birmingham. The Rebels have not been to a New Year's bowl since 1991 and to do so will ride the arm of Manning. His touchdown production was down as a junior (31 as sophomore, 21 as a junior.) but Ole Miss did finish with wins over rival Mississippi St. and a bowl win over Nebraska. Second year coordinator Chuck Dreisbach should offer some stability to an average defense. The Rebels did capitalize off the bowl win and victory over Florida with a solid recruiting year.
Key Stretch: Alabama (10/18), Arkansas (10/25), South Carolina (11/1)
South Carolina and Lou Holtz will look to return to a bowl game this season and will bring offensive tackle Travelle Wharton and defensive back Dunta Robinson. The Gamecocks must upgrade an offense that finished 11th in the SEC. Dondrial Pinkins has emerged as a starter at the quarterback position, while incoming Demetrius Summers could play right away at the running back position. Defensively the Gamecocks lose coordinator Charlie Strong to Florida and will switch schemes from the 3-3-5 to a traditional 4-3.The Gamecocks started 5-2 a year ago and weakened down the stretch.
Key Stretch: at Tennessee (9/27), Kentucky (10/11), LSU (10/18)
Mike Shula will make his first appearance at the SEC Media days and he should bring a lot of attention on Wednesday. It's Alabama and the SEC, but the way that Shula obtained the job (see Mike Price story) combined with the fact that one of the other top candidates (Sylvster Croom) is claiming racism was involved should provide a food for fodder for the media. Shula will bring tailback Shaud Williams and linebacker Brooks Daniels. The Tide returns 13 starters as well as young phenom quarterback Brodie Croyle from one of the SEC's best teams a year ago. Shula might be well served to keep things as similar to last season as possible.
Key Stretch: Mississippi St.(11/8), LSU (11/15) , LSU (11/22)