Wednesday, August 29, 2007

THE SEASON AHEAD: PICKING THE SEC


No more procrastinating. The first SEC game of the year is in less than 24 hours as C&F writes this, meaning it's time to throw the conference picks out there and allow you to feast on them, ridicule them, whatever. A note: The three toughest games are in conference, not overall.

EAST

1. Florida (10-2, 6-2)
It's easy: Everyone in the East, with the possible exception of Vanderbilt, has a reason to believe they can win. When that's the case, go with the status quo. Florida has Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and plenty of other weapons on offense -- not to mention that Urban guy. On defense? Yes, they're green on defense, but Charlie Strong can put together a good enough defense for them to win the division again. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at LSU, vs. Georgia, at South Carolina

2. South Carolina (9-3, 5-3)
This is the year ... they compete. It's not the year they win. C&F hopes that people give him the benefit of the doubt for not being a homer here -- he's laid out pretty defensible reasons for eight of the wins. The Georgia game or a surprise somewhere along the road should be good enough to reach a ninth win. (But getting benefit of the doubt? For this? -- ed. Yeah, C&F knows; not likely.) THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at LSU, Florida, at Tennessee

3. Tennessee (8-4, 5-3)
Fall to third by virtue of the tiebreaker with South Carolina. I think the Vols have a lot of good pieces. Just not quite enough. Erik Ainge will do fine, for all the knocks he's taken on this site. But there's not much else to the offense, with the exception of LaMarcus Coker, who came back so Tennessee has a prayer of winning on the advice of doctors. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at Florida, South Carolina, at Alabama

4. Georgia (7-5, 4-4)
Again, just not sold on Matt Stafford or the offensive line or the wide receivers or anything else on offense, really. They've got some talent on defense -- hello, Paul Oliver -- but not enough to contend for a title. If C&F is wrong, he'll issue a mea culpa. But he doesn't think that's going to happen. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: vs. Florida, South Carolina, at Tennessee

5. Kentucky (6-6, 3-5)
C&F almost wants to be wrong on this one, because it would be such a good story. But you have to have more than one good year to prove it's not a fluke, so Kentucky still qualifies as a potential fluke. C&F is a lot more worried about getting this one wrong than Georgia. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: LSU, Florida, at South Carolina

6. Vanderbilt (5-7, 1-7)
Again, this is the one team in the division who can't seriously entertain dreams of winning. Part of this is the luck of the draw, with Alabama and Auburn rotating onto the schedule. Add to that the fact that they're in maybe the most competitive division in football this year, and it gets ugly. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at Florida, at Auburn, at South Carolina

WEST

1. LSU (11-1, 7-1)*
C&F is tempted to go ahead and pencil in two losses for this team, by sheer virtue of Les Miles, as he has threatened to do. But this team is too talented for Miles to blow more than one game. Oh, and they've got one of the easiest conference slates in the SEC. Two losses would actually put him on the hot seat. That said, don't be surprised if the Bayou Bengals end up 12-0 or 10-2. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: Florida, Auburn, Arkansas

2. Auburn (9-3, 5-3)
It's not hard to count to five SEC wins with a schedule that includes Mississippi State, Vandy, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama (with Georgia the only one of those games on the road). But this team beat Florida, Arkansas and LSU away from Jordan-Hare? Not bloodly likely. Brandon Cox might be better, but he won't be that much better. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at LSU, at Florida, at Arkansas

3. Alabama (8-4, 5-3)
Nick Saban takes the first step toward living up to the hype with a solid if not spectacular season. Finishing third in the division might not be exactly what the most rabid Crimson Tide fans have in mind -- particularly with a loss to Auburn included in the three defeats -- but you have to think Saban would be satifisfied with that. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: LSU, Tennessee, at Auburn

4. Arkansas (7-5, 4-4)
Who knows? This could be lowballing or highballing the Razorbacks after a bizarre offseason. It's just hard to see a team go through that turmoil and say, "You know, there goes a program that's aiming for a trophy." And you know there's another shoe to drop here. There has to be. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at LSU, Auburn, at Tennessee

5. Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7)
Does this really need any explanation. Okay. Ed Oregeron really hasn't seemed to know where he wants to take this program since he got there. They only conference games on the schedule that look winnable are at Mississippi State and at Vanderbilt. And the Commodores are not bad enough to lose to the Rebels. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: LSU, Florida, at Auburn

6. Mississippi State (3-9, 0-8)
Don't, under any circumstances, give Mississippi State the edge in any conference game. C&F isn't saying there's no hope for this program, but it's hard to see anything to cheer the hearts of Bulldogs. Can Sylvester Croom have what it takes to turn them around? We probably won't know, because it's hard to see him surviving this season. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: LSU, at Auburn, at Arkansas

*Conference champion

Go ahead, tear it to shreds. But C&F will not wither in the glare of criticism.

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