The media has packed up the crystal balls, taken their favorite fortune tellers off the payroll, put the tarot cards back in their boxes and gone home from the preseason get together in Birmingham. The prognostications are in for the 2005 season. Now all we have to do is play the games and see how good their pre-season magic really was.
Looking over the order of finish as voted by the writers and broadcasters, it's possible to argue with their picks in the SEC East. Tennessee and Florida are rightly the favorites but to pick the Vols to run away with the title is a bit much for me. UT received 69 votes. Florida only 29. That's probably more of a tribute to tried and true Phillip Fulmer and an indication that Urban Meyer is still an unknown in our league than it is a talent level yardstick. Fulmer has proven that he can coach winners. Meyer may be a one year wonder from Utah. This vote is called betting on a sure thing or at least on a likely one.
Georgia at #3 is about right although it was surprising to see that nine voters said the Bulldogs will win it all. They've got talent, although losing quarterback David Greene and his two favorite receivers is going to make this a learning season for somebody—or somebodies.
South Carolina didn't get much respect and that's understandable. Despite Steve Spurrier's pronounced optimism for his incoming recruiting class, he faces more questions than a television quiz show. Fourteen starters are gone, seven from each side of the ball, including quarterback Dondrial Pinkins and running back Demetris Summers. It's a shame Spurrier doesn't have any eligibility left. He was pretty good in his day—but of course, his day was 40 years ago. I have trouble believing his criticism of his team's attitude and enthusiasm, however. Having been around him a few times I know he can light your fire with the flames coming off himself.
Vanderbilt and Kentucky are just where they usually are, have always been and apparently are likely to always be. Somebody's got to hold up that side of the SEC and the Commodores and Wildcats appear to have permanent appointments to the job.
But if there are questions in the East there are even more questions in the West. LSU was the media's choice but the questions don't begin there. The Tigers are clearly the class of that side of the league. The scramble starts for second place down through fifth. You can put Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas in a bag, shake them up and pour them out and until the season is played you still won't know the order of finish.
The scribes picked Auburn for second place. I can't make myself believe that. Losing the best backfield we have seen in the SEC for years and years, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown and Jason Campbell, and then handing the Tigers that kid of respect makes no sense. You don't reach out and plug in a Brandon Cox at quarterback who played in only seven games last year and expect him to pick up where Campbell left off. You don't replace Cadillac's 239 carries and Browns 153, not to mention the 34 passes for 313 yards Brown caught, with a Carl Stewart who had only 39 carries for 184 yards all season. Yes, they could be brick wall stout on defense but you still have to score to win. The major thing they have going for them is a pussycat schedule which includes the likes of Mississippi State, Ball State, Western Kentucky and Kentucky. How does it get any better than that?
Alabama was selected third but the Tide is still suffering from the NCAA's scholarship cutbacks and they are one-deep at too many places. If they stay healthy they could win their share of games, but you can't put players on crutches in the game and that is what is likely to happen at Tuscaloosa.
Arkansas under Houston Nutt built a reputation for winning games they were supposed to lose. With Matt Jones gone to the NFL that isn't likely to happen this year. This guy was a great quarterback who totaled 2,695 yards passing and running last season, more than all the other players on offense put together. He ran for six touchdowns and passed for 15 more. This will not be the same Razorback team without him.
And that brings up the Ole Miss Rebels. The media days attendees picked them for fifth in the standings and a Rodney Dangerfield fifth at that, meaning with little or no respect. Granted the Rebs have some problems to solve. They desperately need offensive linemen and the kicking game will be an adventure every time they line up in punt or field goal formation. But if, and that could be a big "if" or a little one, a quarterback steps out of that pack of three, whether it is Micheal Spurlock or Robert Lane or Ethan Flatt, and if someone also steps out at running back, this could be a pretty good football team. The wide receivers are there, as is the defense. I don't know what to say about Ed Orgeron except that during 50 years in this league I'm not certain I've ever seen anyone quite like him. Talk about enthusiasm and love for his job. His level of it should be good for one or two extra wins regardless. Whatever he's selling, I'm buying.
As for Mississippi State, they are doing their darndest in their attempt to sell the Bulldogs as a team on the rise or at least with the potential to rise from the ashes, but I'm not buying it. Not only did Sylvester Croom start with very little last year, his housecleaning of bad attitudes and equally bad off field habits has cost him some guys who were better players than students, or citizens either for that matter. I salute him for having the courage to do what apparently absolutely needed to be done. Will they win any games this year? Well, they have a chance with their three non-conference games Murray State, Tulane and Houston. They could beat Kentucky in league play. Or they could lose them all. Neither event would surprise me. But for them to finish higher than sixth in the West. That would surprise me.
Will media polls pass the test?
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