06 June 2008

2008 Preview Series - SEC

If the Southeastern Conference had a resume, it would list its attributes as follows:

Faster athletes than the Big 10; Crazier fans than the Big 12; Returning Heisman Winner; Home of the Defending National Champion, twice over

2007 was a fruitful year for the SEC. Not only did Darren McFadden and Tim Tebow showcase their Heisman worthy talent, but the SEC in-conference schedule accounted for three of the best college football games of the year. Remember LSU v Auburn, when Les Miles went for the end zone with 11 seconds left on the clock, instead of calling timeout and kicking the field goal…and it worked? Remember Kentucky v LSU, the three overtime barnburner that gave then #1 LSU its first loss? What about Auburn’s last second field goal to beat Florida in what I thought was the hardest hitting college football game of the year?

SEC Stands for Sexy.

2008 couldn’t possibly live up to the unbelievably exciting and fruitful 2007 year in the SEC...Could it? The cocktail filled fans of Florida and Georgia beg to disagree, as do the hopeful Bulldogs of Mississippi State. Georgia is a chic Top 3 pick, while Tebow aims to continue putting up Playstation-like statistics. So here are the previews, from first to worst:

Esquire Rating: 5/5

Can Tebow and a born-again defense lead the Gators to the Promised Land?

Heisman Winner? Check. Hottest Coach in America who pioneered an offense everyone is gushing over? Check. Worst Pass Defense in the SEC? Check. Young team that choked in every big game they played? Check Check. The 2007 Gators could not live up to their lofty pre season ranking and struggled to a disappointing 9-4 record.

This year’s Gators feature a veteran defense and the most offensive talent in America. Tebow, Percy Harvin, frosh stud Chris Rainey, and transfer RB Emmanuelle Moody are sure to score, score, and score some more. Bloggers and experts alike (ha) seem to believe the defense’s experience should be a major factor in returning the Gators to their 2006 championship form (anyone remember Jarvis Moss and the Gators hammering Troy Smith play after play in the 2006 BCS title game? I certainly do).

Florida’s schedule is unbelievably…awesome. Their non-conference games include Florida State, Miami (FL), and Hawaii. Although these are high profile games, Florida is easily favored in all of them. The Gators conference schedule should help. They don't play Auburn and Georgia will be on the rocks with pressure to win at the World's Largest Cocktail Party.

Must Win: @ GEORGIA (11/1). The winner has a leg up to winning the SEC East and making an appearance in the BCS Championship.

Rivalry Comment: Has there been a higher profile athlete who has trumpeted his Christian faith and missionary activities like Tebow has?

Predicted Finish: 11-1 (7-1 conference)

Esquire Rating: 5/5

Will the nation’s sportswriters take their adoring eyes off Georgia long enough to cover other teams?

The 2007 Bulldogs were a dominant team at the end of the season, hammering Florida, Auburn, and Hawaii. Knowshon Moreno ran for 1,334 yards and the Bulldogs primed themselves for a 2008 championship run.

The national media jumped on the bandwagon. Naturally, by their count, Georgia has no weaknesses. The defense is solid and Matthew Stafford is experienced. Moreno is an NFL caliber halfback and the offensive line is full of veterans. See, not a single weak spot. It’s a good thing too, because a punishing schedule will test the Bulldogs.

Must Win: @ LOUISIANA STATE (10/25). Beat the Tigers and create momentum heading into the Cocktail showdown with Florida.

Rivalry Comment: Has an SEC team ever got so much media respect for beating a WAC team?

Predicted Finish: 11-1 (7-1 conference)

Esquire Rating: 4/5

From I Form to the Spread.

Auburn has been pounding the ball lately and with running backs like Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, it’s no wonder they have experienced success. But this is the SEC, and another 9-4 record will only elicit a shrug from Auburn fans.

Auburn’s new Spread offense will be a big change from the Woody Hayes-esque running form. Losing Brandon Cox will hurt, but the Tigers will be set on the O and D-line. Auburn has a stable of solid running backs and has been blessed with an easy schedule. The Tigers will be fine with a new offense and will continue their consistency.

Must Win: @ MISSISSIPPI STATE (9/13). There may be bigger games, but getting upset by Sylvester Croom would start grumbling before the Tigers hit the meat of the jungle.

Rivalry Comment: Beat Alabama!

Predicted Finish: 9-3 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating: 4/5

So you’re saying Ryan Perrilloux isn’t going to win 4 national titles?

2007: National Title.

2008: Uncertainty. With the QB spot wide open, the solidity of the offense will be in question. Matt Flynn, Jacob Hester, and Glenn Dorsey are all gone. Fortunately, LSU has a great play caller in Les Miles and defensive athleticism only matched by 3-4 other schools in the nation. The schedule is light (Non-Conf: Appalachian State, Troy, North Texas, Tulane) so they'll be well rested coming in to conference play/

Must Win: @Florida (10/11). The Swamp will be rocking and LSU will need to slow Tebow early; a win here gives LSU instant national credibility.

Rivalry Comment: This is an elite program with classic jerseys, Richter Scale shaking fans, and a bunch of national championships. The Rivalry, Esq. respects and enjoys LSU football.

Predicted Finish: 9-3 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

How will the team react to a brand new offensive coaching staff?

Tennessee generated a lot of good vibes from its 2007 performance. Erik Ainge and emerging star halfback Arian Foster weathered a 40 point blowout against Florida to come within 1 quarter of winning an SEC title.

The 2008 version of the Volunteers will be lucky to continue their success. Jonathon “Straight Outta” Crompton is a highly rated QB, but lacks big game experience. The Volunteers defense, lately famous for their defensive linemen (Reggie White, Albert Haynesworth, John Henderson, Leonard Little), haven’t been able to get to the QB lately and its scoring defense has been horrendous. These factors all lead The Rivalry, Esq. to believe Tennessee will struggle early (Georgia, Florida, Auburn, UCLA in the first 6 games) but rebound against their cake late season schedule.

Must Win: @ UCLA (9/01). If the Volunteers lose to this struggling Bruin program, the tough SEC schedule will look even more daunting.

Rivalry Comment: The Volunteers have been hit by the suspension and arrest bug. Looks like Joe Paterno needs to bring his stadium-cleaning discipline to Knoxville.

Predicted Finish: 8-4 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

Sylvester Croom makes his bid for sustained respectability.

Croom won't allow the Bulldogs to return to bottom-dweller status -- 2007 proved that with the development of a frosh QB in Wesley Carroll and had a hard-hitting defense. The Bulldogs 8-5 record was an unbelievably good season, good enough for at least 10 puff pieces.

The 2008 Bulldogs will have something that no bulldog team has had in years: expectations. Carroll will be improved and athletic; the defense is solid and Croom has proven he can stop the big programs from running wild on his defense. Oh yeah, the Bulldogs DON’T PLAY GEORGIA OR FLORIDA!

Must Win: AUBURN (9/13). Want to be a top SEC program? Beat the hungry Tigers.

Rivalry Comment: Croom is a media darling, and oddly enough, probably deserves the accolades. We salute him.

Predicted Finish: 8-4 (5-3)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

Can a brilliant wide receiver group make up for Nick “I will not be coaching at Alabama” Saban?

The Rivalry, Esq. is, to say the least, not a fan of Nick Saban. The Rivalry respects consistency, honesty, and respect for the media…little of which Saban has exhibited in the last 5 years. Alabama and their nut-crazy fans deserve better. 90,000 people at a Spring Game? Let's make an early nomination for Alabama’s fans as the best in America.

The Crimson Tide of 2007 suffered offensive struggles toward the end of the year, losing to Louisiana-Monroe (huh?) and Mississippi State. That being said, Saban has a couple of huge recruiting classes under his belt, a future NFL starter in CB Rashad Johnson and a senior QB with a good grasp of the offense. WR’s DJ Hall and Julio Jones are one of the top 5 WR combo. 2008 ‘Bama, on talent alone, will win 8.

Must Win: @ AUBURN (11/29). Saban cannot afford to start a losing streak against the Tigers (ask Lloyd Carr how that works out).

Rivalry Comment: QB John Parker Wilson’s turn as the handsome star QB on MTV’s “Two-A-Days” was interesting, extravagant, and absolutely nothing like real high school life.

Predicted Finish: 8-4 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

Will Darth Visor fix his QB problem?

Spurrier hasn’t done anything extravagant at SC. 2007 was no different; the Gamecocks played close games, struggled on offense, and slogged their way to a 4-4 conference schedule.

Spurrier needs to get a cohesive offensive unit going for the Gamecocks if they are ever going to break into the upper echelon of the SEC. The Gamecocks have fantastic defense players returning (Jasper Brinkley) and their recruiting classes have loaded up that side of the ball. A killer end of year schedule will challenge whoever is starting at QB.

Must Win: @ ARKANSAS (11/08). Beating an ordinary Arkansas team in between Florida and Tennessee is important.

Rivalry Comment: Steve Spurrier has a great defense and an ugly offense. Karma, karma, karma.

Predicted Finish: 6-6 (3-5 conference)

Esquire Rating: 2/5

Arkansas Football: Where FOIA requests happen.

Darren McFadden and Felix Jones certainly made the Razorbacks one of the best teams to watch the last 3 years. But now that the outstanding duo has moved on to The League, the Razorbacks have inherited Bobby Petrino’s passing offense.

Passing is not exactly what Casey Dick, starting QB, does best. They'll have an identity problem on offense. Along with a brutal schedule, this is a rebuilding year for the Razorbacks.

Must Win: ALABAMA (9/20) Arkansas needs to win this game to show the south these Razorbacks won't going to be stuck in the mud.

Rivalry Comment: The phrase “Houston Nutt, 10-4, FOIA” should be a warning that college football is not, repeat not, all about winning.

Predicted Finish: 5-7 (2-6 conference)

Esquire Rating: 2/5

Thanks for flying Kentucky Wildcat Airlines. Please lower your expectations before we lift off.

Rich Brooks has made Kentucky relevant; 2007 was a solid 8 win season with a great LSU upset and a wonderful bowl win over Florida State. But losing an NFL style quarterback is going to leave a gaping hole in this Kentucky school known for its basketball love. Kentucky will win a few this year on an easy schedule, but won't strike fear in the hearts of SEC favorites like they have in the recent past.

Must Win: @ LOUISVILLE (8/31). A traditional basketball rivalry has been a relevant football game on the national level the last three years.

Rivalry Comment: It’s a big challenge for college basketball powers to be significant college football programs (Duke, UNC, Kansas, Maryland). Let’s hope Kentucky gets a few good recruiting classes in the future to keep the success they had in 06-07.

Predicted Finish: 5-7 (3-5 conference)

Esquire Rating: 1/5

How will the Rebels utilize their 5 star QB?

Houston Nutt takes over a program full of potential, but short on results. Jevan Snead, who was one of the top 5 high school QBs in the nation 2 years ago, will run the Rebels. As many bloggers have pointed out, this is a 4 win team with potential to be a 7 win team. The recruits have been good (Enrique Davis, Jerrell Powe) but no one is expecting big things.

Must Win: SOUTH CAROLINA (10/18). The Rebels need an upset or two to get the magical 6 win mark.

Rivalry Comment: These fans are underrated; I have seen them in action (Motor City Bowl v Marshall and Randy Moss) and they are wild.

Predicted Finish: 4-8 (1-7 conference)

Esquire Rating: 1/5

The only way this football team could get worse is if Gordon Gee returned to Vandy.

Vanderbilt has experienced unparalleled success in the last few years. Jay Cutler (starting Denver Broncos QB) was groomed there and they upset South Carolina last year. But they lost so many of the veterans who experienced success in 05-07 and the Commodores have not reloaded. This team will not be able to score enough to compete.

Must Win: @ MIAMI (OH) (8/28). If you enjoy spending time with wealthy, well dressed people with great academic pedigrees, this is your Mecca. There will be a football game also.

Rivalry Comment: The Vandy team needs to continue to show some grit against the traditional powers. In their 3 games versus Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky in 2007, the Commodores lost by an average of 4 points per game.

Predicted Finish: 2-10 (0-8 conference)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Could you honestly be any more Florida, and the Choke artist Te-blow biased? seriously man...the offense is Good....but everyone with a decent Offense..i.e Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Michigan exposed Florida as a weak defensive squad...expect more of the same...and Florida will lose at least 2. and Please don't hate on UGA, they didn't get the Media attention for demolishing Hawaii...it was the dismantling of UF, Auburn, and Kentucky leading up to the SUGAR BOWL...get your facts straight loser