Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Final Countdown: 1

We finally made it to the end of this damn countdown. We’re one day away from college football season, which coincides with beginning of sloth, gorging and a high degree of emotional stress. And I, for one, can’t wait. So representing the last number of our countdown, I give you my SEC predictions and the one team that will leave Atlanta victorious.

These predictions are full of generalities, a small dose of research and a following of SEC football with the intensity of one of those stalkers about which states eventually make laws to protect their targets. If I confuse any numbers, names or other general information, it’s simply because my mind is about to explode. And partly because I don’t care about any other team but Ole Miss. My apologies to your team. And yes, this site is free.


1. Florida
According to everything I’ve read, Florida will sort of be like Ivan Drago, everything they hit, they will destroy. And I tend to agree. Everyone on defense is back and it’s a defense that after the loss to Ole Miss (maybe you heard about it) gave up an average of 13.1 points a game. That went along with an offense that averaged something like 117 points a game the rest of the way. I think this defense will probably challenge Alabama for the best in the conference.

On offense, there’s some guy named Tebow who’s allegedly pretty good. Not sure about that. The question marks on offense are can they effectively replace three offensive linemen, including the right tackle (protecting Tebow’s blind side) and Percy Harvin. I’m not so much concerned with the loss of Harvin as the Gators have like 27 more fast and talented guys waiting to play, but the offensive line could make them a degree below bulletproof. Their visit to Baton Rouge could be the end of a perfect season, especially if they struggle to find competent line replacements.

2. Georgia
The Bulldogs have about as favorable a schedule as you can have in the SEC. They get LSU and South Carolina at home (and of course have to play Florida), and their only dangerous road game could be at Arkansas before they figure out what they can and can’t do on offense. Joe Cox is allegedly a member of a plethora of game manager quarterbacks that are in college football, so in order to avoid any upsets, he’ll need to not screw things up. There’s young talent on offense and the offensive line should be pretty solid so anything above average from Cox and Georgia could be a pretty tough team.

Defensively, they should be strong, but then again, if you recruit like Richt has, they should have some players there. To me, this season is a defining season for him. If he pulls out a nine or 10 win season with this bunch, I’ll reconsider my 2200 words that declared him the most mediocre coach in the SEC.

3. South Carolina
Any chance the Gamecocks have at finishing behind Florida is ruined by their schedule. At Georgia, at Alabama, At Tennessee, and Florida and Ole Miss in Columbia. 1-4 there would be pretty good considering what Steve Spurrier has. A talented, but erratic and often dumb quarterback playing behind an offensive line that was awful last year and might not be much better this year. If South Carolina can’t run the ball with any success, this could be a long year in Columbia. If I had any faith in Kentucky or Tennessee, I’d put one of them here.

As for defense, all signs point to it being a little worse than last year’s, which wasn’t bad, but not great. If the defense can’t get any help from the offense, I will again question why I continue to put South Carolina this high every year.

4. Tennessee
Biggest problems: At Florida, at Alabama, at Ole Miss, Georgia at home, no quarterback, Ed Orgeron, Lane Kiffin, very thin offensive line, not much on the defensive line.

Biggest strengths: Everyone but Florida in the East is beatable and outside of the defensive line, the rest of the defense should be solid.

I really don’t see the Vols being much better than last year, and I wouldn’t expect more than 5-7.

5. Kentucky
If the Wildcats develop some consistent offense, they might prove to be a little feisty. And by that, I mean challenge Tennessee for fourth in the East. If you have to play Florida and Alabama, you want them at home and Kentucky does. I don’t think this will influence the win/loss column, but from a point-spread standpoint it might.

Defensively, Kentucky will be weak on the line, but fairly strong behind that. If they can hold up against the run, the defense could propel itself into the average category and, combined with a more experienced offense, they could pull off a couple of wins they shouldn’t.

6. Vanderbilt
In order to ramp up an offense that was one of the worst in college football, Bobby Johnson has installed a no-huddle, spread attack. That’s nice if you have a quarterback, which, as far as I know, is not on the Vanderbilt campus. The defense returns nine starters and should be the rock of the team, like every Vandy team since 1912. Don’t be surprised if Vandy leads the SEC in 11:30 kickoffs this season.


1. Ole Miss
That’s just terrifying to see that. Truly terrifying. Before you start accusing me of blind loyalty, allow me to make my case. First, the schedule. Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee all come to Oxford. The toughest road games are a Thursday night trip to South Carolina and a trip to Auburn. No other team in the West has a schedule that favorable. Second, an established, experienced, talented quarterback. No other team in the West has that. Third, defensive line. No other team in the West can match the talent there. Alabama could make a case, but they don’t have the depth Ole Miss does. Fourth, experience at every defensive position. Alabama is the only other team that can say that.

As for the weaknesses, offensive line depth. Even Houston Nutt has admitted that this team is a couple of sprained ankles away from being mediocre. As I have stated many times, if Ole Miss develops eight competent offensive linemen, they should beat every team they play in the regular season. Second weakness, cornerback. Yes, Marshay Green certainly came on at the end of last season, but everyone else is average to slightly above average. Can anyone really trust Cassius Vaughan? But the cornerback position is based heavily on confidence and if this group plays well early, they could become a strength.

As for the argument that Ole Miss has never been here before, that’s not really a strong argument to me. If you recall the end of last season, this team developed a sense of confidence I’ve never seen in an Ole Miss team. They knew if they didn’t have dumb turnovers, they were going to win. So they know what it takes to win. Yes, more teams will be geared up for them, but again, they know what they have to do to beat teams they’re better than.

2. Alabama
If not for going to LSU and Ole Miss, I think Alabama might have taken the number one spot here. They’re defense should be one of the strongest in the conference, although I’m interested to see who takes over leadership after Rashad Johnson’s departure, and of course they’re going to be extremely well-coached. My biggest problem with them is at quarterback and offensive line.

Recently, I heard Eli Gold, Alabama’s radio play-by-play announcer, say that Greg McElroy is a game manager type (buzzword!) that probably isn’t as talented as John Parker Wilson was. If I’m an Alabama fan, that’s a big, fat gulp right there. An inexperienced, lesser-talented version of Wilson behind an offensive line that won’t be as good as last year’s. That group has to replace three guys, the most underrated of which was center Antoine Caldwell. Losing three members off the strength of your team is going to hurt in some way the following year. I think the Tide is a year away from being a legitimate top five team.

3. LSU
At Ole Miss, at Alabama, at Georgia and Florida at home. A 2-2 finish there would be impressive and I think that will be a stretch for this team. As I’ve said before, Jordan Jefferson may be talented (I haven’t seen it), but he’s not good enough to win the West. Les Miles won’t play conservative offense with him and Jefferson will make tons of mistakes (remember Jarrett Lee last year). He’s got talented running backs and receivers, but I don’t think he’s ready to be an SEC quarterback. If he improves, LSU could be pretty tough at the end of the season.

As for defense, John Chavis takes over a talented group. Or so I’ve heard. In the last six games of the regular season, LSU surrendered almost 22 points a game. Granted, many of those could have been off Jarrett Lee interceptions returned for touchdowns, but the defense wasn’t very good. Unless Les Miles pulls a Nick Saban and goes super conservative on offense, LSU won’t be in Atlanta.

4. Arkansas
Holy crap, what a schedule. At Alabama, at Florida, at Ole Miss, at LSU and Georgia at home. 1-4 would be outstanding here. If they can get anything out of their defense, which was the worst or one of the worst in the SEC last year, they might sneak up on some people. That is if Ryan Mallett proves to be worth anything.

He’ll need some major help on his offensive line since he’s not been blessed with any foot speed. One would think he’ll bring more to the table than one of the Dick brothers, and if he does, Arkansas could be an interesting team, especially as Mallett gains experience. If he sucks, forget about everything I’ve said. Their battle with State for fifth and sixth will be fun to watch.

5. Auburn
Gus Malzahn’s offense was brought in to breathe some life into a disastrous offense from last year. Unfortunately, Chris Todd is operating that offense. Defensively, they should be much better than people think, but with a schedule that looks like this, at LSU, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas, it won’t really matter. Oh, that and Gene Chizik is still in charge.

6. Mississippi State
An excellent group of teams comes to Starkville this year, unfortunately they’re all really good teams. LSU, Georgia Tech, Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss all come to Starkville, and barring anything crazy, all will win. Dan Mullen will have a tough year ahead of him, he’s got no quarterback, a bad offensive line and a defense that will probably be worse than least year’s. At worst, I can see a 2-10 season, and at best they can somehow claw their way to 5-7.

SEC Championship Game
Florida over Ole Miss

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