Thursday, August 28, 2008

SEC West Predictions

1. Auburn
This is another case of a schedule not as tough as others helping out a team. Auburn gets LSU and Georgia at home and their toughest road game is at Alabama, against whom they've had a little success recently. Maybe you heard about it. In addition to the schedule, the Tigers have 16 starters returning, including most of the offensive line and their leading rushers. And, if you haven't heard, they will be running some form of the spread offense. One would think this would help them out on offense, but that all depends on the quarterback. I'm assuming we'll see Kodi Burns and Chris Todd until one of them takes over. If Burns learns to throw, we'll never hear about Chris Todd again.

The defense has a new coordinator, Paul Rhoads from Pittsburgh. My first thought was ouch, then I checked him out and he did lead Pitt to the 5th best defense in the country last year. Granted, not against strong competition, but still impressive. Plus, Auburn usually has a pretty good defense filled with very large and very fast people.

My one real concern with this pick of Auburn to win the West is that the new offense they'll be running isn't a grind-it-out, boring, clock-eating one. It's fast-paced and puts more pressure on their defense since they'll be on the field more. Auburn's style of play was horribly boring, but when you have a good defense, you don't really need to light up the scoreboard. But in the end, the favorable schedule should help get Auburn to Atlanta.

2. LSU
Just like Georgia in the East, if LSU had the schedule of Auburn, they'd be in Atlanta. The Tigers go to Auburn, Florida, and South Carolina and get Georgia in Baton Rouge, which I think is too much for a team that could be quarterbacked by a Harvard transfer. Les Miles hasn't named a starter, but it looks like Andrew Hatch will at least get some playing time. I've seen a near-Ivy League quarterback play (or at least warm-up) in the form of Billy Tapp. Not good times.

As for good times, LSU does return three of their defensive lineman, most of the offensive line, and a bunch of good running backs. There's plenty of talent at wide receiver so whoever ends up playing the majority of the time at quarterback will have options and, as we all know, it's good to have options.

The defense should be one of the better ones in the conference, but I could see them struggling early. They'll have to replace the top two corner backs, best linebacker, and best defensive lineman. There's loads of talent to take over those positions, but it's untested talent. So if you're an LSU fan, understand your season is riding on a Harvard transfer, a redshirt freshman, and a true freshman. It's for that reason and the killer schedule I don't see LSU returning to Atlanta.

3. Ole Miss
That's right, I'm guzzling the kool-aid. Free-basing it is probably a little more accurate. I would put Alabama right here, but I don't have any faith in John Parker Wilson to avoid meltdowns at crucial moments. So, the Rebels, who return 16 starters, get the nod here. Four offensive linemen return (a group with 101 starts, most in the SEC), arguably one of the top wide receiving groups in the league, and solid talent at running back. Of course, just like LSU and Auburn, the success of the offense rides on the quarterback, which in this case is Jevan Snead. If he lives up to some of the hype, this could be one of the conference's better offenses. If not, we've got the past four years to remind us what happens when your quarterback sucks.

As for defense, until Greg Hardy (best lineman in the league when he wants to be. There, I said it.) and Peria Jerry revealed they were made of glass, the defensive line was probably going to be one of the better ones in the conference. Those two will be back, but I don't know if they can hold up all year, especially Jerry. There's talent at linebacker, but not experience (other than Ashley Palmer, who is one of the more underrated guys in the league). I don't even want to talk about defensive back. It's bad enough here that a wide receiver and running back were moved here to add depth. Then one of them almost won the starting job. Ugh. If the front seven plays as well, that will take some pressure off a group in which I have little to no faith.

I look for the Rebels to make a little noise, get soundly thumped once or twice, but this should be a massive improvement over last year. Look, you have to figure horrendous coaching cost the team at a minimum three games. Now, with a competent coach and someone not named Seth Adams at quarterback, you have to figure that's worth three to four more wins.

4. Alabama
At Georgia, at Tennessee, and at LSU, plus they have Auburn, which has owned them for the past six years. I mention that road schedule because one, it's hard, and two, John Parker Wilson on the road is never a good thing. His stats from conference road games at Auburn, State, Ole Miss, and Vandy (not exactly a murderer's row there) last season: 68 of 128 (53%), 0 TDs, 5 INTs. Those numbers don't bode well for this year's schedule. But, Wilson does have four starters back on the offensive line (albeit not a great one), the leading rusher Terry Grant, and a seemingly solid group of wide receivers.

On defense, this group should be better with more talent getting some playing time. I would think they'll be a little like LSU's defense in that they should get better as the year goes along. Saban loves defense and someone will probably be killed if this defense doesn't improve over last year's. Most likely the $*#@%!& video guy, as Saban once called him.

Bottom line, if Wilson taps his inner Rush Probst, Alabama should have a good season. If not, the Liberty Bowl will come calling.

5. Mississippi State
I'm sure I'll be accused of being biased here, but I'm not high on this team at all. Think about it, this team was a Michael Henig broken bone away from being 4-8. If Henig keeps playing, Croom keeps throwing the ball (remember the LSU game) all season. Instead, Henig goes out and he has to play an untested quarterback and does exactly what you should do (and what you should do if your quarterback has a career completion percentage in the 40s). Run, run, run some more, play defense, and pray for the breaks to fall your way. Now, the defense deserves credit for what they did last year. They kept the team in the game and in some cases changed the game.

But take a look at these three games last year:
-Alabama - The Tide dominated the first half and a classic John Parker Wilson meltdown handed the game to State. Again, State's defense played very well, but their offense was outgained in every category.

-Auburn - Caught the Tigers at the perfect time. Early in the season and Auburn hadn't figured out that Brandon Cox was terrible (which is amazing given the first few years of his career) and what they needed to do to win.

-Ole Miss - A miserable 3-8 team dominated them for 50 minutes. Then the Shrimpboat took over and the rest was history.

The breaks fell State's way last year and I don't see that happening again. One, teams know that State is not the miserable State team of a few years ago. And two, they go to LSU, Tennessee, and Alabama. That's pretty rough.

As for the players, Wesley Carroll performed well enough that he'll be splitting time at quarterback with JUCO transfer Tyson Lee. I had no faith in Carroll before, now it's possible I have negative faith in him. Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducree make a nice combination at running back and I'm wondering if Robert Elliott will become a factor. If he's everything he should be, State will have a pretty good backfield. The offensive line only returns three starters so that could make things a little tougher on the running game.

The defense should have one of the better secondaries in the conference, but lost defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who in my opinion was the best coach on the staff. The linebackers should be a good group, but I think the defensive line will be a little down from last year. The defense should be in the middle of the pack in the league and will be the crutch on which the team leans. If Wesley Carroll or Tyson Lee turns in a season no one would predict and I'm able to name one wide receiver off the top of my head by the end of the season, State could have another winning year, but I'm not seeing it.

6. Arkansas
The good news is Arkansas has a pretty good schedule setup. The bad news is Arkansas returns only eleven starters. Even more bad news, I can't name a single defender. It could be a rough year on that side of the ball for a defense that wasn't that great last year.

On offense, Casey Dick is surprisingly above average. In his carer, he's thrown 34 touchdowns and only 20 interceptions. Certainly not outstanding, but not as bad has he's made out to be. Of course, it's a little easier to throw when teams are loading up to stop Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. In Petrino's offense, Dick will be expected to throw and throw some more. I'm guessing he'll have some success early, but will struggle as the year goes on. Once teams figure out his tendencies and what throws he can't make, they'll adjust and I think we'll see that INT number inch closer to the TDs. Throw in the team is adjusting to a new coach (and one of the most hated in all of sports) and this could be a rough year in Fayetteville.

*East predictions are below.

SEC East Predictions

1. Florida
Sure everyone and his brother is picking Georgia to win the Eastern Division, but that same group of people is ignoring Florida's relatively easy path to Atlanta. The Gators' schedule couldn't be set up any better. Toughest and only real road game? At Tennessee. Then they get LSU and South Carolina in Gainesville, plus Georgia in Jacksonville. Compare that to Georgia and Tennessee's schedule and it's much easier by far. One game they should probably be concerned with is the road trip to Arkansas the week before they play LSU. It's early enough in the season that Casey Dick might still be a little frisky before he throws something like 15 interceptions in about 10 quarters, which will certainly crush his spirit.

As I see it, Florida has two fairly large issues facing it this season (other than if it's possible to hit double digits in team ACL tears). One, they have to, and I mean have to, find a running back. This isn't 1940 and the day of the Wing T. Tim Tebow can't survive another season running as much as he did last year. If they can find another source of rushing yards, the offense goes from good to really good. And issue number two, the defense. Lest you forget, this is the defense that was lit up like a pinball machine by Seth Adams. Yes, the Seth Adams. They did lose two of their best defensive linemen, but their corner backs are back and should be a little wiser to the moves of the likes of Burnell Wallace. If this defense can get itself into the middle of the pack in the SEC and offensive improvement in the ground game takes place, I think this is one of the teams that will be in Atlanta.

2. Georgia
At South Carolina. At LSU. At Auburn. And Florida in Jacksonville. Guh. The good news? Nine starters are back on a defense that ranked 3rd in the SEC last year. That defense should be able to keep Georgia in every game it plays even if the offense isn't playing well, which it very well could at times. Everyone is talking about Knowshon Moreno, but there are questions on the offensive line (injuries and young guys playing) and the Georgia passing game wasn't anything spectacular last year. Stafford ranked 56th in the country in passing efficiency and the passing offense ranked 84th in the country.

Stafford has to live up to the insane amount of man-love hype he's getting (and I don't think he deserves) for Georgia to have a shot at Atlanta. He makes or breaks their season. Now, let it be known I'm not saying Georgia isn't good. In fact, if you switched Georgia's schedule with Florida's, I'd "invest" a significant amount of money on Georgia being in Atlanta. But, Georgia must play its schedule and I'm just not seeing how they'll come away with anything under two loses.

3. South Carolina
17 starters back (10 on defense). LSU, Tennessee, and Georgia in Columbia. This could be one of the sneaky teams in the SEC. My only concerns are this was one of the worst defensive teams in the SEC last year and their quarterback situation might turn into the Jesse Palmer/Doug Johnson Rotation 2.0, which can work if your quarterbacks' psyches aren't as fragile as that of an eighth grade girl. Speaking of eighth grade girls, how many do you think Stephen Garcia knows?

I think if this team figures out its deal at quarterback and can get Mike Davis to have a solid year at running back, this could be a pretty good offense. The defense should be better with Jasper Brinkley coming back and Captain Munnerlyn (inexplicably one of the better corner backs on NCAA Football 2007, as he was the anchor to mine and Miles' defense for one season). And anytime Spurrier is being kind of quiet about his team, it makes me think he knows something we don't. Of course, he could still be downing some humble pie after last season's complete collapse and is unable to speak.

3. Tennessee
No, that's not a typo. I couldn't decide who would end up third so I went with the easy way out and declared a tie. The Vols have a rougher schedule (at Auburn, at South Carolina, and at Georgia) than South Carolina, but have what I think is a little more talent on offense. Four starters are back on the offensive line, top two rushers return, and the top three wide receivers are back. The big question is Jonathan Crompton. If he plays well, this offense could be a pretty good one. My thinking is he can't be that far behind Eric Ainge, and everyone else around him should be better, so there could be some improvement here.

As for the defense, well, they stink. Or at least stunk last year. One would think the 11th ranked defense in the SEC would improve, but who knows. They got away with being terrible last year and won ten games. If this team flipped schedules with South Carolina, they would be a lock for third.

5. Kentucky
At Florida. At Tennessee. At Alabama. 5th place. Kentucky pretty much lost all their offense when Andre Woodson moved on to the League. The only other player worth noting is Dicky Lyons, Jr. He's a decent wide receiver but his name is really fun to say. Especially when you yell it.

The good news? Rich Brooks believes his defense will be better than last year. Eight starters are back on a defense that was 10th in the SEC last year, so I would assume they'll be better. I'm sure when the audio people in Commonwealth Stadium crank out "Back in Black" for the 80th time in a half, the defense will rise to the occasion.

6. Vanderbilt
It doesn't really matter. Three starters are back on what was a terrible offense last year (11th). Defense will be mediocre and play hard, but if you stink, you stink.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pour One Out for the Network of Daves

ESPN has apparently come up with a sweet enough TV deal for the SEC that the conference will finally drag JP/Lincoln Financial/Raycom behind the barn and shoot it between the eyes. It's hard to believe it took this long to get rid of the disaster known as the employer of Daves, but I guess $2.25 billion changes minds pretty easily.

It was a great run for the network (and I use that word in the loosest of terms) that found most of its operating equipment in dumpsters behind public television stations across the South, trained its announcers on college student-run stations, and kept Dave Rowe from the shame of being in his sixties and having to work at McDonald's (Right there! Hamburger bun on hamburger bun!). However, JP/LF/Raycom CEO Ken Haines says his company will try to find ways to stay involved with the conference. Unless he's planning on starting a catering or laundry service, I think the SEC has seen the last of JP/LF/Raycom.

As much as I dislike ESPN at times, this is a near-undescribable upgrade for the SEC. The conference almost triples its money for media rights and I think this might put a dent in the giant ESPN man crush on the Big 10 and Pac-10. If the Leader is going to spend $2.25 billion on something, one would assume they'll be pimping it more than Billy Mays pimps KABOOM.

So before Ole Miss and State send JP/LF/Raycom out with a Viking funeral in November, here's a quick list of some things I'll miss:

-Dave "Buzz" Baker's solo halftime shows. Really, it was Buzz sitting in a chair, on the field, by himself. He didn't need any analysts with him. All he needed was some stock video of one of the teams playing and footage of the Alltel Scholar Athlete of the Week reading to some kids at a school.

-Buzz Baker bringing us hard-hitting in-game information. "Guys, I just talked with Vanderbilt's trainer and he says the Dores are tired, but they're going to keep fighting."

-Buzz Baker holding what appears to be notes during any pre-game or post-game piece. I will guarantee you those are blank pieces of paper.

-Saying the name Buzz Baker over and over again. It just rolls off the tongue.

-Finally, the Dave Rowe guest appearance. When JP/LF/Raycom decides to pull out the big guns and submit four fan bases to its unholy kick-off time by showing two games on Saturday, they need another analyst. Who do they call? Dave Freaking Rowe. Not known for his attention to detail or sharpness, Rowe after nearly a year out of television is at a complete loss. When confused though, he reaches back and throws us a bone with a "Big Man on Big Man!!!" line. Good times.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Seagal Has Something To Say

Steven Seagal wants to tell you a fascinating story. Or it might be a joke. I'm not sure, but it looks like he could use another bear claw.

And don't forget to sign up for the Belly of the Beast leagues on Yahoo. Check the post below for all the info.