Most prophets are picking defending national champ Florida to repeat in the SEC East but Steele pegs Georgia. He also selected a low-profile Dawgs squad to win the 2005 title, and that long-shot pick proved correct.
Steele believes Steve Spurrier finally has South Carolina ready to challenge for the East championship, based on the return of 10 defensive starters, including the top six tacklers from 2006. The Gamecocks' only defensive loss was All-SEC cornerback Fred Bennett. Steele suggests that Carolina will benefit greatly from having a veteran quarterback in Blake Mitchell.
Steele downgrades Tennessee a bit because the Vols return just 11 starters from last season – six on offense, five on defense. Although he is impressed with quarterback Erik Ainge, Steele suggests that Ainge will have trouble matching last season's 67-percent completion rate now that wideouts Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith are gone.
Steele believes Tennessee should be the underdog in three of its 12 regular-season games this season – at California, at Florida and at Alabama – with the South Carolina game rated a toss-up. He thinks Nick Saban's Tide will prove to be the SEC's Cinderella team in 2007, much as Arkansas was in 2006.
Here are Steele's game-by-game projections for Tennessee:
UT at California: Cal favored by 4
Southern Miss at UT: Vols favored by 10
UT at Florida: Florida favored by 7
Arkansas State at UT: Vols favored by 28
Georgia at UT: Vols favored by 1
UT at Mississippi State: Vols favored by 7
UT at Alabama: Alabama favored by 3
South Carolina at UT: Pick 'em
Louisiana-Lafayette at UT: Vols favored by 28
Arkansas at UT: Vols favored by 7
Vanderbilt at UT: Vols favored by 14
UT at Kentucky: Vols favored by 4