Story Lines Keep Growing

It's still early, but 2008 is setting up to be a fascinating year of settling scores. Will change prove to be good or not? No, you didn't wander onto a political website by mistake - we're talking SEC football here. There are more intriguing story lines setting up for this season than we've had going into any year in a while.

Couple all the extra intrigue with the already existing intensity of the SEC and the West division practically qualifies as a reality show at this point. Here's the top five story lines so far - remember, there's still open spots on some staffs so further poaching is always a possibility.

1. Arkansas vs. Ole Miss - When the Rebels roll into Fayetteville on October 25 with Houston Nutt as their coach, it will be a blood feud of the highest order. Razorback fans spent the last two seasons largely livid with Nutt despite Arkansas making a pair of New Year's Day bowl trips. Now he comes in leading a division rival after walking away rather than giving them the pleasure of firing him. This one is not to be missed.

2. Petrino vs. Tuberville - Tommy Tuberville brought Bobby Petrino to Auburn as his offensive coordinator in 2002, making him much more high profile than he was as an assistant not allowed to speak to the media on Tom Coughlin's Jacksonville Jaguar staff. A year later, Petrino was hired as Louisville's head coach. Before even completing his first season with the Cardinals, he repaid Tuberville's kindness by meeting with Auburn boosters about taking the coach's job. October 11, Petrino returns to the Plains to take on the man he tried to undercut. Count on Tuberville remembering what happened five years ago.

3. Nick Saban vs. LSU in Baton Rouge - Only Les Miles having won a national title and beaten Nick Saban in 2007 cools this down enough to put it third. Still, Saban's first return to the sidelines he once walked on November 8 will be a must see. "The Hat" having stayed with LSU rather than going to Michigan only will serve to make Loyal Les versus Slick Nick a bigger rallying point.

4. Stan Drayton against Florida - The former Gator running backs coach took some shots at Urban Meyer on his way out the door, saying he wanted to be "part of a system that involves the running back". Meyer hasn't fired back publicly but since he wasn't renewing Drayton's contract it's clear he was dissatisfied with the RBs performance under his tutelage. Meyer is known to dislike Tennessee - scoring 59 points last year was no accident - and this is only going to add to his desire to put a pasting on the Vols.

5. Ellis Johnson against Arkansas - Ellis Johnson wrapped up a 25 day tenure with Arkansas as defensive coordinator by bailing out for South Carolina Thursday. He was at Mississippi State prior to that, meaning he's been with three SEC squads in less than a month. It's not like Petrino could really give Johnson a loyalty lecture, but it's safe to say he's less than happy to be looking for a DC two weeks before signing day.

This doesn't even include rivalries that feature extra heat this year like Florida - Georgia (thanks to the Bulldogs celebration after scoring first last year) or ones that have cooled like South Carolina - Florida (Meyer's national title and UF's dominant win last year have made the SOS vs. his old school angle moot right now). Should Arkansas shockingly reach the SEC Championship game, Bobby Petrino return to face the Atlanta media and fans would be quite a scene as well. There's no Georgia game on the schedule for Arkansas this year, unfortunately.

One move actually cooled some intrigue recently, when Brian Van Gorder quit after a month as South Carolina's defensive coordinator. He would not only have been going against Mark Richt and his replacement Willie Martinez at Georgia but also against his former Falcons boss Petrino at Arkansas. Instead, by returning to the NFL, he wound up getting a certain amount of revenge on Petrino anyway as Spurrier hired away Johnson and put Arkansas back on the hunt for a DC. No one seems to have any particular bitterness with Kentucky or Vanderbilt at the moment - maybe Petrino will find a way to start yet another battle by stealing someone from there.

The Heath Cline Show airs daily from 11-1 on Gainesville's Star 99.5 FM


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