SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS
(font size appropriate to media hype and recent BCS success)
1. Florida 10-2 (6-2): I know they're replacing a lot, but it's hard to see too many programs in the East knocking off Florida this season. For each of the remaining Eastern division teams I will explain my hesitation. Florida isn't going to rebuild, they're going to reload with as much talent as they had last year. Experience will cost this team a chance at more than SEC success, but they'll be a force for national title hopes in 2011.
LOSSES: 10/2 @ Alabama, 10/16 vs Mississippi St
Look! It's Tim Tebow! And Brady Quinn! They were so good in college...
2. South Carolina 9-3 (5-3): I know this is probably a biased pick, but I really think this team is capable of having a great season with all the turmoil in the division. It would take a big leap forward to contend with Florida, but the talent is there. The schedule isn't especially good or bad for a run, but it does set up for a possible 4-0 going into the Auburn/Alabama stretch if they can beat Georgia.
LOSSES: 9/25 @ Auburn, 10/9 vs Alabama, 11/13 @ Florida
3. Georgia 8-4 (5-3): Georgia is facing turnover at defensive coordinator and quarterback, which in these cases are good things. I saw Aaron Murray in high school and remain skeptical that he will match the hype he garnered (thought his receivers were able to make him look better than he was, which is not typical in high school). I don't see the kind of season that will relieve the pressure Mark Richt is starting to feel, but I think it will be a step in the right direction if their defense can regain competence.
LOSSES: 9/11 @ S Carolina, 9/18 vs Arkansas, 10/30 vs Florida, 11/27 vs Georgia Tech
4. Kentucky 7-5 (3-5): Rich Brooks finished out his tenure at Kentucky with 4-consecutive bowl seasons for the Wildcats. The transition to Joker Phillips was planned in such a manner that there shouldn't be a noticeable decline outside of pure leadership. I feel like it's going out on a limb, but my predictions for Kentucky aren't changed by Brooks retiring. Randall Cobb is still really good, so Kentucky still puts together a good season. Hey, they should be able to finally beat Tennessee, which might be reason enough for celebration.
LOSSES: 9/25 @ Florida, 10/9 vs Auburn, 10/16 vs S Carolina, 10/23 vs Georgia, 10/30 @ Miss St
5. Tennessee 5-7 (2-6): Long-term I think Derek Dooley will succeed at Tennessee with his no-nonsense approach, but it will be rough dealing with being the third coach in three years in Knoxville. I expect the offense to try to slow the game down and for the defense to be respectable, but in far too many games they are going to struggle. Really the season might not be much worse than it was last year under Kiffin, but some of those fluke games might not come around this year. I like Dooley, but I don't like Tennessee this season.
LOSSES: 9/11 vs Oregon, 9/18 vs Florida, 10/2 @ LSU, 10/9 @ Georgia, 10/23 vs Alabama, 10/20 @ S Carolina, 11/27 vs Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt 2-10 (1-7): Robbie Caldwell took SEC Media Days by storm, and instantly became my second-favorite coach in the SEC. He even started a Twitter account recently that is a must-follow. The problem is that the Commodores struggled last year and really have little reason to expect improvement. Vanderbilt does manage to schedule a tougher out of conference slate than most (Northwestern, at UConn, & Wake Forest), which doesn't help their cause. Enjoy Robbie Caldwell now, he won't last... unfortunately.
WINS: 9/18 @ Ole Miss, 10/9 vs Eastern Michigan
1. Auburn 10-2 (6-2): Auburn last year had a more successful season than most expected. Gene Chizik seemed to prove his struggles at Iowa St were not indicative of his abilities to coach football, which is good for Auburn after the PR disaster they suffered when they hired him. This season you would expect some improvement, but the schedule gives you reason for more optimism. Auburn is likely the be favored in at least 9 of their games. Their toughest games are at home, their road games are their easiest. I have them winning tie-breakers to go to Atlanta.
LOSSES: 11/13 vs Georgia, 11/27 @ Alabama
2. LSU 10-2 (6-2): There's just a feeling I have that Les Miles is going to have a good season. I don't think I'm the only one, but their late-season swoons in recent seasons have made them look worse than they were all year. I think LSU can thrive this season with the schedule they have, and this just seems like a team ready to rebound. They just better hope their season doesn't come down to a last-second clock management issue.
LOSSES: 10/9 @ Florida, 10/23 @ Auburn
3. Alabama 10-2 (6-2): I know what you're thinking, "A third 10-2 SEC West team?". You'd be right, I'm probably crazy, but I think the power struggle in the west results in three 10-win teams and no claim to a team in the national title game. Alabama will be good, and it would not shock me at all if they won the whole thing again. I just think it's too tough to repeat, especially in what will be a great division of the nation's best conference.
LOSSES: 9/25 @ Arkansas, 11/6 @ LSU
4. Mississippi State 7-5 (4-4): Dan Mullen did a lot in just his first season to inspire confidence amongst the cowbell-ringing faithful in Starkville. They finished just shy of a bowl-berth despite a complete coaching transition and offensive change. I expect their defense to be improved, and I expect the offense to only improve with experience in the system. I definitely like their game this year at Florida, remembering they put a scare into the Gators last year. That's my off-the-wall game pick of this preview.
LOSSES: 9/11 vs Auburn, 9/18 @ LSU, 9/25 vs Georgia, 10/9 @ Houston, 11/13 @ Alabama
5. Arkansas 8-4 (4-4): The Hogs are a trendy pick amongst many to make some noise in the SEC West this season. My problem with Arkansas is their inability to defend, which there is no reason to indicate will change this season. Ryan Mallet might be the best quarterback in college football this season, but their defense is too much of a question to mark to expect more than a 8 or 9 win season.
LOSSES: 10/16 @ Auburn, 11/6 @ S Carolina, 11/20 @ Miss St, 11/27 vs LSU
6. Ole Miss 3-9 (0-8): This is the team I expect will overturn my prediction, because that's what Houston Nutt does. Their QB situation became more muddled today as Jeremiah Masoli was declared ineligible, pending appeal the Rebels will lack anything at the quarterback position. Dexter McCluster is the biggest loss for Ole Miss, but I have learned by now not to predict a Houston Nutt team and expect them to fulfill my prediction.
WINS: 9/4 vs Jacksonville St, 9/11 @ Tulane, 11/6 vs Louisiana-Lafayette
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Auburn 27, Florida 16
ACC: Virginia Tech over Maryland
I picked this the only way possible, by flipping a coin. I think that's how they actually decide the ACC title game anyway. The of this conference is too extreme to use normal tactics.
Big XII: Nebraska over Oklahoma
I like both these teams, and this game is likely to have a large say in who plays for a national title. In this case I expect Nebraska to be the spoiler.
Big East: Pittsburgh
I know this is the trendy pick, but I really do like them this year. If they can navigate their tough schedule they could even play for the title, but the road schedule just seems too tough.
Big Ten: Iowa
Most have Ohio St, but I can see that the Hawkeyes get the Buckeyes in Iowa City. Examine the schedule, it's made for them to make a serious run.
Southern Cal will be the best team, but with NCAA sanctions the title and BCS bid will go to the Wildcats.
BCS BOWL GAMES
Orange: Virginia Tech vs Pittsburgh
The ACC winner vs the Big East winner, neither title-worthy.
Sugar: Auburn vs Oklahoma
Auburn wins SEC, but at 10-2 no title game. Oklahoma derailed in Big XII title game by Nebraska, but gets BCS at-large consolation prize.
Fiesta: Nebraska vs Alabama
Nebraska finishes their Big XII tenure by playing a tradition-inspired Fiesta Bowl vs at-large Tide.
Rose: Arizona vs Ohio St
Pac-10 champ Wildcats face at-large Buckeyes still smarting from loss to Iowa.
BCS Title Game: Iowa vs Boise State
The National Title Game The Ushers Us Closer To A Play-Off. Iowa goes 12-0 in Big Ten and faces undefeated Boise St with no other contender with less than 2 losses.
And now, your moment of zen...