When starting a seasonal column about the pre-season in football, there's only one place to begin, of course: The SEC, baybee. But instead of focusing on everybody's media darlings -- Florida and Tennessee of the East -- this year we'll first focus on the stronger (top to bottom) side of the conference -- the West. That's right, the "just got running water in all our stadiums" side. Next week we'll look at the East, and even illuminate who'll win it all this year, down in Dixie.
Just because I'm ornery, we'll open with the "not a chance" group, and stick to ascending order. (That means "counting backwards," Arkansas fans.)
OLE MISS - Newsflash, and remember you heard it here first. They've kept it real low-key, you know so as to not put any pressure on the boy or anything, but Ole Miss is going to play -- shhh -- Archie Manning's son this year at quarterback! Of course, the Ole Miss fans don't have any unrealistic expectations about that. Shoot, they're downright pessimistic about his chances, I'm sure. Cutliffe already rode that gravy train once, using Eli's older brother to land a HC job. Guess he'll see if lightning strikes twice. I got a little flash for you though, David, if you're smart you'll tell Eli to leave the passing to his brother and give the ball to Joe and Charles...
AUBURN - Well, well, turns out Auburn needed yet another tradition/mascot/slogan/marketing gimmick, so this year teams visiting the War Tigers will be going to "the jungle." I hope they've imported something other than that one lone tiger, or else a lot of the visiting teams' less astute fans are gonna be real disapointed when they arrive on The Plains. Of course after the losses on Auburn's offense to the draft last year, AU fans might be want to leave the tropics, too. In all fairness, Tuberville has returned a toughness to the program, and has immensely raised recruiting over that of the joke he replaced, little Terry. So AU will sneak up on some teams this year, but overall the depth just ain't there.
ARKANSAS - We should pick Arkansas last, just as punishment for embarrasing the "craps" out of the SEC last year against, ahem, UNLV in the Las Vegas Bowl. But thanks to Cedric Cobb and Fred Talley, we won't. If Houston doesn't want Frank "hands off management style" Broyles breathing down his neck, he'll ride those two horses (and a John Thompson defense) throughout the year.
LSU - Aaah, yes, LSU. The new darlings of the SEC, with their under-paid coach, that #1 recruiting class, and of course the legend of Death Valley. Word is, those cajuns down in the Bayou are just a little bit excited about this upcoming season. Truthfully this program is definitely on the up. But there are a few things the red stick fans are overlooking, I'm afraid. Namely, saviour Rohan Davey ain't gonna stay healthy, and umm, check out your schedule. Florida, and trips to Tennessee and Mississippi State, keeps you out of Atlanta this fall...
BAMA - You thought times were desperate in Tuscaloosa, right? 3-8. Sweaty-golf-shirt-wearing, mumbling coach ran out on a rail. NCAA camped out in Dreamland at lunch every day. Oh the sky is falling. But rejoice Tide fans, the sun is on the horizon, in the form of the best coach in the game, Dennis Fran-chee-onee. That and SEC-championship-just-two-years-ago talent leads to a great year. (Just don't run him out of town before the first game because he changes sideline position, okay?) Dare I say it? Before it's over Fran might just make Bama fans forget about....nah, I won't say it. No one's that good.
MSU - Make all the jokes about Starkville you want, folks. Jackie and Joe Lee get it done. This year ain't gonna be no different. Why you ask? Oh, I don't know. How about the best running back tandem in the league - even better than Arkansas' and South Carolina's. Or how about a quarterback returning for his tenth straight year? Not good enough? Well here's the kicker: a schedule that doesn't include Tennessee or Georgia, and has seven(!) games at home. And did I mention Joe Lee? Warm up the cowbells, they'll sound good in the Georgia Dome this year.
That's it for this week, tune back in soon when we break down the richer cousins to the East, and as always direct your death threats to me.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer.