The road to the Georgia Dome

The college football season will officially kick off this Saturday when Fort Valley State travels to Valdosta State but for many the season really begins nine days from today when several schools will take center stage on Thursday night.

For some, particularly those in SEC country where college football is a year-long ritual, the season truly never ends. It does, however, pick up a head of steam in June when the pre-season college football publications hit the newsstands and when the 12 head coaches from around the league convene in Birmingham for SEC Media Days in late July, along with the 700-plus members of the media.


The time in between June and late July gives those rabid fans plenty to chew on as they scout their opposing teams and figure out ways that their respective school can end up in Atlanta the first Saturday in December.


During that span fans hear of which schools are predicted to win the league championship and, as one would expect, some agree but the majority will disagree as they look at things through the colored sunglasses that represent their school’s colors.


Fans aren’t the only one who disagree about predictions, though, and all it takes is one look at six pre-season publications and the picks from the media members who chose to vote in Birmingham to come to that conclusion.


The six publications I am alluding to are Athlon’s, Lindy’s, The Sporting News, Phil Steele’s College Football, Blue Ribbon Yearbook, and Birmingham News.


Out of those six references, four picked Georgia to represent the Eastern Division in Atlanta while the other two chose Florida to make it back for the ninth time since the inception of the current championship game format in 1992. 


The national media thinks very highly of Mark Richt’s Bulldogs which is evident from their No. 1 ranking in both the AP and the USA Today poll.


However, the media members who voted in Birmingham saw a different scenario as Florida was overwhelmingly picked to win the East with 45 first-place votes compared to 23 for Georgia.


The story in the West is very similar as the same four publications that picked Georgia also tabbed LSU as the favorite to win its division with Auburn picking up the other two spots.


Things were a little different, though, in Birmingham as Auburn more than doubled LSU in first-place votes by a 48-21 margin giving the War Eagles the nod with Tommy Tuberville’s squad falling to the Gators on the turf of the Georgia Dome.


So, with this difference of opinion one has to choose what or who to believe and after giving it some thought this is how I see it playing out.


Georgia may have the better team over in the East, at least on paper, but the Bulldogs have a murderous schedule that takes them to South Carolina, LSU, and Auburn, not to mention home games against Alabama and Tennessee.


Of course, there is always the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in Jacksonville on the first of November where Urban Meyer and his squad will be looking for redemption after last year’s loss that the Gators’ headman is still fuming over.


Florida, on the other hand, has much more good fortune as the Gators draw Ole Miss and Arkansas as its rotating non-division opponents to go with its annual battle with LSU that will be in the friendly confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field.


The Gators’ road opponents are Tennessee, Arkansas and Vanderbilt which is a much less daunting task than what the Bulldogs face on the road.


The story in the West should once again come down to LSU or Auburn as the winner of this game has made it to Atlanta six times in the last eight years.


Auburn made the short trip over in 2000 and 2004 while LSU fans flocked to the Peach State to watch their Tigers in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007.


The only other school to make it to the championship game this decade was Arkansas back in 2002 and 2006, and while there aren’t many certainties in college football the odds of the Hawgs making it back in 2008 are pretty slim under first-year coach Bobby Petrino.


Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the even numbered years have not been kind to LSU.


The one constant during that span is that LSU traveled to Jordan-Hare Stadium to take on Auburn in those years dropping all four contests and the Tigers also had to play at Florida where they had a better fate winning two of the four matchups against the Gators.


This year, to make matters worse, LSU must also make the trip to Columbia to face Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks and then there is that dreaded trip to Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving where LSU is 2-2 this decade.


In contrast, the Tigers from the Plains have the luxury of playing Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia at home while their four road contests involve Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Alabama.


The battle of the Tigers only counts as one win or one loss but in theory it counts as two because the winner holds the tiebreaker if all things are equal in the win-loss column following Thanksgiving weekend.


This year’s battle looks as if it will be as closely contested as previous years if things go as expected the first three weeks of the season.


Auburn will have the home field advantage and will be going against a quarterback who will be making his first career road start. On the other side, LSU has a defense that should be one of the nation’s finest units provided everyone stays healthy going up against an offense that has been completely overhauled and will surely have some kinks it will need to iron out.


I agree wholeheartedly with the pick of Florida winning the East but before I give Auburn the nod in the West I need to see how smooth Tony Franklin’s offense is running over on the Plains.


The early feeling is that Auburn is going to be too tough at home and the tiebreaker will come into play at the end of the season.


That is the logical guess at this point, especially if we go by the cliché that the past is the best indicator of the future.


However, if there is one thing we saw last season it was that logic can be tossed out the window when it comes to college football.


With that said, there is only one thing left to add, so let the games begin and hope to see you in Atlanta.



2008 SEC Predicted Order of Finish

Georgia 2 1 1 2 1 1 2
Florida 1 2 2 1 2 2 1
Tennessee 3 3 3 4 3 3 3
South Carolina 4 4 4 3 4 4 4
Kentucky 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Vanderbilt 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
LSU 2 1 1 2 1 1 2
Auburn 1 2 2 1 2 2 1
Alabama 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
Mississippi State 4 4 4 5 4 5 4
Ole Miss 6 5 6 4 5 6 5
Arkansas 5 6 5 6 6 4 6

ATH - Athlon; LIN - Lindy's; TSN - The Sporting News; PS - Phil Steele's College Football; BR - Blue Ribbon Yearbook; BN - Birmingham News (SEC Media Relations Directors Poll)

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