I'm not going to be able to go to the SEC Football Media Meeting this year. That's a pity because the media days, both football and basketball, have always been a high point of the season.
You get to meet and size up the coaches, particularly the new ones. When you primarily follow one team you know their people well and most of the coaches and teams in their division as well. But if your home base is the West you don't get much contact with the East and when it's the East the West is a bunch of strangers.
But put us all under the same hotel roof and we get to hear them speak, interview them, rub elbows at social events and, most of all, pick the brains of the writers and broadcasters from all around the conference. We swap our knowledge for theirs and it helps us both.
One of the highlights is the obligatory poll selecting the possible order of finish. The media votes and while they are notoriously incorrect more years than not, the poll gets wide spread acceptance among the fans. I won't be there this year to vote but if I had been this is the way I would pick the SEC to finish this year.
The SEC West:
LSU: The Tigers have 47 lettermen returning from a team which went 9-3 last year and 6-2 in the SEC. Their non-conference schedule is a piece of cake, North Texas State, Arizona State and Appalachian State. On the other hand their crossover opponents from the East include Tennessee and Florida along with Vanderbilt. The Vols and the Gators are giants but both are played in Baton Rouge.
Alabama: If coach Mike Shula is going to bring the Tide back to their good old days this will have to be the year. They have 44 lettermen returning including quarterback Brodie Croyle. Their schedule includes non-conference opponents Middle Tennessee, Southern Mississippi and Utah State, all winnable games. In the conference in addition to their five games against the rest of the West they catch Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina from the East and that could be the rub.
Ole Miss: The Rebels are ranked this high only on the basis of their schedule. Memphis, Wyoming and The Citadel are all winnable games. But the big thing is the play both Vanderbilt and Kentucky from the East, the two poorest teams in that division. Yes, they also have to play Tennessee but if Ed Orgeron is right about the talent at the school the non conference games plus Vandy and Kentucky should give him five wins before he starts. From all indications, the Rebel defense will be faster and improved. If he can find some offensive linemen he could have a very good year.
Arkansas: I really should put them fifth but I can't bring myself to believe Auburn can rebuild from their losses in one year. The Razorbacks are up to their snouts in returning lettermen, 50 to be exact and the schedule is kind. Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Georgia are their crossover games although South Carolina and Georgia are played on the road. I don't like having a non-conference game at Southern California, however.
Auburn: From the top to near the bottom in one year. I just don't believe you can lose your quarterback plus two of the best running backs of recent years and pick up where you left off. Both their quarterback and their lead running back are sophomores and I'm not sold. They open with Georgia Tech and that's no way to start when you're rebuilding.
Mississippi State: There are no miracles in college football. Either you have talent or you don't. Mississippi State doesn't. Running back Jerious Norwood is a talent and quarterback Omarr Conner is adequate but the Bulldogs are one deep everywhere. Key injuries will have them repeating the familiar phrase, "Wait ‘til next year."
The SEC East:
Florida: The Gators are oh so loaded. Talent everywhere. Look at the preseason All Conference selections if you have any doubts. There is so much talent in the state of Florida I don't see why they don't win year after year after year. New coach or no new coach this team us capable of winning them all.
Tennessee: It is said the Vols had one of the best recruiting years in the country but did they need it? There are 52 lettermen returning from a team which won 10 games last season. Sixteen of the returnees are starters. The incoming crop may be good but will they get a chance to play? The Tennessee-Florida game is third of the season and it may decide the entire order of finish that early.
Georgia: There's talent down in Athens but not enough to challenge Tennessee and Florida. There are also some key losses that will cause concern. But year in and year out they bring in some good players and it appears the Dogs have done it again. If anyone is going to surprise either the Vols or the Gators it will be Georgia.
South Carolina: This is the 2005 mystery team. No one knows who Steve Spurrier is going to use as a quarterback, or a running back either, for that matter. But if there is a coach in this league who can personally make a difference it is Spurrier. He will have more tricks up his sleeves than a crooked gambler. I have no idea what the Gamecocks won and lost record will be at the end of the season but I will tell their fans it is going to be one of the most entertaining seasons in the school's history. Only go to the concession stand during a time out. Do it during the game and you may miss something.
Vanderbilt: Sooner or later this Vanderbilt team has to grow up. They've got Jay Cutler at quarterback and the coaches just named him as the top QB in the conference. They've got 43 lettermen coming back and 13 of them started last year. Coach Bobby Johnson has been playing young kids for two years trying to give them experience and so far it hasn't worked. Will this be the season? Anything above sixth place will be an improvement.
Kentucky: The Wildcats also have 13 starters returning, 45 lettermen in all. They too will be starting a sophomore at QB and another Sophomore at RB. Their schedule opens with Louisville and other than Indiana, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt it doesn't have many winnable games.
The SEC Title Game: Florida vs. LSU. The winner will be Florida.
But don't bet on it.
Stan's preseason predictions
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