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2009 SEC Preview

Florida is a Lock for the SEC Title. But What About Everybody Else?


The SEC can most easily be broken down as follows: Florida, and then everybody else.

Yeah, sure, LSU is pretty good. ‘Bama, too. Ole Miss could (I emphasize “could”) be in for a breakout season, and Georgia is always talented under Mark Richt.

But does anyone really think any of those squads have any decent shot of challenging the Gators for the SEC title? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

So we can go ahead and assume Florida will walk off with another trophy. As for how the rest of the conference will shake out? Well, find out here in our 2009 SEC preview.

1. Florida Gators (1st, SEC East)

Tim Tebow SEC Championship
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
OK, let’s review: Last season, Florida thrashed Georgia. They crushed LSU. They outmuscled Alabama. And then they dominated Oklahoma to win the national title. Great season. Historic, even. Can’t be replicated, right? Oh wait, yes, it can, because the 2009 Gators team is pretty much the same as the 2008 Gators team (minus Percy Harvin). With Tim Tebow at quarterback, the Gators are going to be unstoppable on offense, and with every starter (every starter!) back on defense, they’re going to impossible to score on. Can’t we just give these guys the national title now?

Prediction: 12-0

2. LSU Tigers (1st, SEC West)

Les Miles
(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Hey, somebody’s got to win the West. In a division of flawed teams (more on ‘Bama and Ole Miss later), LSU appears to have the fewest holes. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson came on strong down the stretch in 2008 and could be in for a breakout season, especially with guys like wideout Brandon LaFell and tailback Charles Scott lined up alongside him. Certainly, the offense figures to be improved greatly; it was far too streaky in ’08. The defense, meanwhile, will be anchored by athletic secondary led by safety Harry Coleman. Opinions seem mixed on this team; some believe LSU is actually still in rebuilding mode. But I like the offensive talent here. Look for LSU to take back the West from 'Bama.

Prediction: 10-2

3. Alabama Crimson Tide (2nd, SEC West)

Alabama Georgia 2008
(Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Amid all the genuflecting before Nick Saban, and all of the assumptions that Alabama will now be good forever, it can be easy to forget that some of the Tide's biggest contributors in 2008—quarterback John Parker Wilson, offensive tackle Andre Smith and tailback Glen Coffee—are gone. And Saban has to replace them. Despite his incredible recruiting hauls of late, I’m not sure he’ll be able to. Certainly, this squad is capable of winning ten games. An SEC West title isn’t out of the realm of possibility. But for that to happen, Saban is going to have to turn in one heck of a coaching job. And some young stars (hello, Julio Jones) are going to have to play even better than they did during that great '08 run.

Prediction: 10-2

4. Georgia Bulldogs (2nd, SEC East)

A.J. Green
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The gulf between Georgia and Florida is pretty huge, yes. But the gulf between Georgia and the rest of the East is, too. Even without Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, Georgia seems to be the obvious pick to finish second in the division and appear in yet another New Year’s Day bowl game. With Moreno gone, the much-hyped Caleb King will have to step up. So, too, will Joe Cox, who takes over for Stafford. But, really, offense isn't this team's issue. It's the defense. They got torched by Florida, ‘Bama and even (gasp!) Georgia Tech in 2008. A BCS bowl berth will only be possible this year if that unit improves. A lot.

Prediction: 9-3

5. Ole Miss Rebels (3rd, SEC West)

Jevan Snead Ole Miss
(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
For months now, I’ve been suggesting, maybe not to subtly, that maybe—just maybe—the Rebels are just a tad overrated this season. Yeah, the national writers seem downright enamored with the Rebs, and it’s easy to understand why: This is a team that returns not only one of the best passers in the SEC (Jevan Snead), but also has one of the most creampuff-laden schedules in the country. So yeah, these could win 10 games. But here’s the harsh reality, Rebs fans: Your team still isn't as talented as SEC West rivals Alabama and LSU. And your coach, though a media darling, does have a certain reputation for falling flat when expectations are highest. So … enjoy the Outback Bowl.

Prediction: 9-3

6. South Carolina Gamecocks (3rd, SEC East)

Steve Spurrier
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Can Steve Spurrier enjoy one last hurrah—and get the Gamecocks over the top? With Tennessee down and Georgia rebuilding, Spurrier must know that he’s got a chance here to raise the profile of his long-overshadowed Gamecock program. Whether or not he can pull it off will depend on the play of quarterback Stephen Garcia, a talented yet inconsistent passer who just hasn’t yet lived up to his potential. Partly that’s because the kid just hasn’t had any help. There wasn’t much talent around him last year and there isn’t much this year, either. The defense, led by linebacker Eric Norwood, should again be solid if not necessarily stifling. Another decent bowl appearance is a lock. But an SEC East title? Not a chance.

Prediction: 8-4

7. Vanderbilt (4th, SEC East)

Larry Smith
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
The Commodores were one of the great stories of 2008, winning their first five games en route to their first bowl appearance in more than 20 years. Sure, Vandy struggled down the stretch—they lost six of their last eight games, including an embarrassing home defeat at the hands of Duke—but a Music City Bowl win over Boston College put an exclamation point on a great season in Nashville. It was no fluke, though. Coach Bobby Johnson has built a solid foundation with this program. The Commodores return their entire starting offensive line from 2008 and 17 starters in all. This team isn’t flashy, or overly talented, but they are smart, disciplined and, for the first time in years, legitimately good.

Prediction: 7-5

8. Auburn Tigers (4th, SEC West)

Josh Bynes
(Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Good luck, Gene Chizik. Auburn fans weren’t exactly thrilled when Chizik was chosen to replace Tommy Tuberville—Chizik was, after all, only 5-19 in three years at Iowa State—and almost nobody thinks the guy can challenge Nick Saban for in-state superiority. In other words, the clock is already ticking for Chizik—he needs to win early, and often, if he hopes to keep his critics quiet. That won’t be easy this year. With the exception of tailback Ben Tate and defensive end Antonio Coleman, there’s not a whole lot of talent here. Quarterback is a huge question mark—not a good situation, given that Gus Malzahn has arrived to install an entirely new offense. This team will struggle to reach. 500.

Prediction: 6-6

9. Arkansas Razorbacks (5th, SEC West)

D.J. Williams
(Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Remember when Bobby Petrino was a rising star in the coaching world? Yeah, I remember that, too. And now? Well, now Petrino is an afterthought in the SEC, a guy who is trying to resuscitate his career at a program that, truth be told, probably regrets forcing out the last guy who had the job (that’s Houston Nutt, in case you’re wondering). The glory days of Darren McFadden seem long ago down in Fayetteville, and now Petrino is trying to rebuild his offense around former Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett. Mallett is a superb physical specimen—a gifted passer and underrated runner—and he'll have some talent around him, including tailback Michael Smith. But the defense is a mess, and the schedule is brutal in September.

Prediction: 6-6

10. Tennessee Volunteers (5th, SEC East)

Eric Berry
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
God bless Lane Kiffin, he keeps guys like me busy. The (completely) untested Kiffin has generated a whole bunch of news since taking over in Knoxville late last year, most of it bad. But give the guy this much: He’s recruiting pretty well. He’s going to have to keep doing just that if he expects to get the Vols back to the top of the SEC. Which is something that isn’t going to happen this year. Not even close. The Vols have no offensive identity, no defensive identity outside of super-safety Eric Berry, and not enough talent to even hang with its main SEC East rivals, Florida and Georgia. The best this team can hope for? A .500 season. And even that’s a reach.

Prediction: 6-6

11. Kentucky Wildcats (6th, SEC East)

Randall Cobb
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Kentucky hasn’t found any offensive success since quarterback Andre Woodson left after the 2007 season. Which is a problem, of course. The Wildcats’ offense was anemic in 2008, averaging only about 22 points per game, and doesn’t figure to be much better in 2009. Mike Hartline returns at quarterback; he’s serviceable, not spectacular. Randall Cobb gives Kentucky a weapon on the flank, but coach Rich Brooks needs to find creative ways of getting the ball in his hands. Defensively, at least, this team looks pretty solid. Micah Johnson is a force at middle linebacker and Jeremy Jarmon is a dangerous pass rusher. The 'Cats will battle UT for the coveted fifth-place spot in the East.

Prediction: 5-7

12. Mississippi State Bulldogs (6th, SEC West)

Tyson Lee
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
These must be dark days for Bulldogs fans. I mean, this program has always been an SEC bottom feeder, but at least in years past, MSU fans could take solace in the fact that Ole Miss wasn’t any good either. Well, so much for that. Ole Miss is a trendy pick to win the SEC West while the Bulldogs are a trendy pick to ... remain really bad. At least for the foreseeable future. Former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen replaces Sly Croom as head coach, and he brings along the spread system that helped the Gators win two national titles in three years. Just one problem: There’s no Tim Tebow in Starkville. Mullen’s system might work here. But we won't see any results for another year or two.

Prediction: 3-9

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