The Southeastern Conference has produced college football's national champion in each of the past two seasons. The league might make it three in a row in 2008. The Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs both seem primed for a national title run, and the Tennessee Volunteers aren't that far behind them. It seems a safe bet that whichever of these three teams wins the SEC East will not only win the SEC title, but also earn a bid to the BCS Championship Game in January.
1. Florida Gators
(Doug Benc/Getty Images)
With so much hype focused on Georgia, it’s easy to forget that the SEC media didn’t even pick the ‘Dawgs to win the SEC East. Their pick, instead, was Florida. And why not? The Gators return Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow
, dangerous wideout Percy Harvin
and a whole slew of other weapons (keep an eye out for budding star Chris Rainey
). The defense was prone to letdowns last year (see: Michigan; Georgia) and the secondary, which ranked last (yes, last) in the SEC in 2007, remains a major concern. The offense is likely to put up scary numbers, so if that defense can just hold its own, Florida figures to make another run for the BCS title.
Prediction: 11-1 (1st, SEC East)
2. Georgia Bulldogs
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Georgia comes into the 2008 as a trendy pick to win it all. Quarterback Matt Stafford
and tailback Knowshon Moreno
comprise the finest backfield in the SEC. The addition of the much-hyped Caleb King
, a redshirt freshman, will make the offense even better. The defense, which returns nine starters, was dominating down the stretch in 2007 and figures to be smothering this year, too. If you’re looking for a weakness, well, there might be just one: Kicker. Brandon Coutu has graduated and coach Mark Richt
will turn to freshman Blair Walsh
to take Coutu's place. Given the brutal schedule—including road dates at Arizona State, South Carolina, LSU and Auburn—Walsh had better be ready to perform under pressure.
Prediction: 11-1 (2nd, SEC East)
3. Tennessee Volunteers
(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Poor Tennessee. They get no respect. Though the Vols are coming off a 10-4 season (including a 6-2 conference mark) in 2007 and return 17 starters for 2008, almost nobody seems to give these guys a chance to challenge Georgia or Florida in the SEC East. It’s hard to understand why. The offense returns a trio of playmakers in tailback Arian Foster
and wideouts Lucas Taylor
and Gerald Jones
, and while the unproven Jonathan Crompton
takes over for Erik Ainge at quarterback, nobody seems all that concerned about his abilities. The defense is a bit weak along the front seven, but the Vols should have enough offense to play with anybody—Georgia and Florida included. Plus, they get the Gators at home.
Prediction: 10-2, (3rd, SEC East).
4. LSU Tigers
(Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Win enough games over enough seasons in a row and eventually you'll be given the benefit of the doubt. Take, for example, the 2008 LSU Tigers. Yes, they’re the defending national champions. But gone are such 2007 standouts as quarterback Matt Flynn, tailback Jacob Hester, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and safety Craig Steltz—great players and great leaders, too. The loss of potential star quarterback Ryan Perrilloux to disciplinary problems certainly doesn't help. Tailback/kick returner Trindon Holliday
and wideout Demetrius Byrd
should help the Tigers offense put tons of points on the board, but the defense will take a step back. The Tigers will have to work hard to fend of Auburn in the SEC West.
Prediction: 9-3 (1st, SEC West)
5. Auburn Tigers
(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Auburn comes into the 2008 season facing one huge question: Who's going to play quarterback? Brandon Cox is gone, leaving Kodi Burns
and juco transfer Chris Todd
battling for the job. Both Burns and Todd have potential. Neither, however, has experience. The good news is that, no matter who wins the job, the running game should be solid (as usual). Both Ben Tate
and Brad Lester
return at tailback, and the offensive line should be a strength. The defense should be solid, though the defensive line won't be quite as intimidating now that Quentin Groves, Josh Thompson and Pat Sims have moved on. Auburn will be good. They just won’t be great.
Prediction: 9-3 (2nd, SEC West)
6. Alabama Crimson Tide
(Marc Serota/Getty Images)
I've got 'Bama picked a bit higher than most others, and there's one simple reason: Nick Saban
. Now that Saban has had a year to put his system in place—and, more importantly, bring in the kind of players capable of running it—I think it's a safe bet that he’ll also start to produce Saban-like results. That should be especially true of the offense, which returns nine starters, including quarterback John Parker Wilson
and tailback Terry Grant
. Super-recruit Julio Jones
, a big, fast wideout, should contribute as well. The defense is a step behind but should be just good enough to help 'Bama challenge in the West—and maybe throw a scare into an SEC heavyweight along the way.
Prediction: 8-4 (3rd, SEC West)
7. South Carolina Gamecocks
(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
made some news this summer when he announced he would turn play calling duties over to his son, Steve Spurrier Jr.
Maybe the Ole Ball Coach just didn’t want to take responsibility for a unit that may well be the team’s undoing. While the Carolina defense returns 10 starters, including standout linebacker Jasper Brinkley
, the offense doesn’t look quite so promising. The quarterback situation is unsettled, as Tommy Beecher’s
hold on the job seems tenuous at best (troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia
is waiting in the wings, but he has to get act together first), and there are questions at tailback and along the offensive front. Looks like another mediocre season for Spurrier at South Carolina.
Prediction: 7-5 (4th, SEC East)
8. Mississippi State Bulldogs
(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Mississippi State has always been a defense-oriented program. That doesn't figure to change in 2008, as the Bulldogs try to build on their somewhat surprising 8-5 campaign in 2007. Eight starters return on defense, including linebackers Jamar Chaney
and Dominic Douglas
and defensive backs Anthony Johnson
and Derek Pegues
. The offense, meanwhile, should be slightly improved, led by quarterback Wesley Carroll
and tailback Anthony Dixon
. The Bulldogs don't have enough to challenge the league's best, but coach Sylvester Croom
certainly has this program headed in the right direction.
Prediction: 7-5 (4th, SEC West)
9. Arkansas Razorbacks
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Darren McFadden is gone. So, too, is Felix Jones. Replacing them is going to be pretty much impossible, at least in the short term. So Arkansas figures to be rebuilding mode this year, as new coach Bobby Petrino
works to install his own system while also trying to find 12 new starters on offense and defense. Quarterback Casey Dick
is back, though he's going to feel lonely without McFadden, Jones and wideout Marcus Monk. The defense also loses several key starters but should get steady linebacker play, at least, from Freddie Fairchild
and Elston Forte
Prediction: 6-6 (4th, SEC West)
10. Kentucky Wildcats
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
One year after relying on offense—and the superb play of quarterback Andre Woodson—to put together an impressive 8-5 campaign, the Wildcats will in 2008 look to their defense to lead the way. Defensive end Jeremy Jarmon
leads a group of eight returning starters, and the unit will have to play its best to help the team stay in the hunt while the offense finds its way. The Wildcats are 16-10 over the past two seasons and have been remarkably competitive. This year, that may not be possible.
Prediction: 5-7 (5th, SEC West)
11. Ole Miss Rebels
(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Can Jevan Snead
become the next Eli Manning? Ole Miss fans certainly hope so. The one-time super-recruit who began his career at Texas is now eligible to play for the Rebels, and his arrival brings hope that the Ole Miss offense may find a groove it hasn’t had since the Manning days. Tailback BenJarvus Green Ellis is gone, though wideouts Mike Wallace
and Dexter McCluster
return, so Snead won’t have to do it all himself. The defense returns nine starters and should be steady if not spectacular. It’s not saying much, but the Rebs should certainly win a few more conference games this year than last—when they went 0-8.
Prediction: 5-7 (6th, SEC West)
12. Vanderbilt Commodores
(Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
The Commodores had their moments in 2007, even managing to throw a scare into mighty Georgia. Whether or not they can remain a threat in the conference this year will likely depend on quarterback play. Mackenzi Jackson
and Chris Nickson
are battling for the job, and Nickson, who is more athletic, probably gives Vanderbilt a better chance to win. But wins will remain hard to come by. This team still lacks the playmakers, speed and strength to be a legitimate competitor in the SEC. The loss of star receiver Earl Bennett
—a kid who could have played anywhere—makes that gulf all the wider.
Prediction: 4-8 (6th, SEC East)