Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Six Pack Games of the Week: September 2-6

Every week, I'll throw a spotlight on the six most interesting games of the weekend to tell you why these are the games you should try to catch, who's going to win (and why), and what ramifications they could have on the rest of the college football landscape.


Pittsburgh @ Utah (8:30pm EST, Versus)
While ESPN continues to torment us with a third-straight year of featuring South Carolina in the Thursday-night opener, Versus has stepped up to the plate with a game of actual intrigue. Unlike most opening week affairs, it pits two teams with a pulse against one another; in fact, these two teams are legitimate contenders to win their respective conferences. So it's got that going for it. It's also a rematch of the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, which would probably be more meaningful if it hadn't been, you know, one of the worst BCS bowl games in recent memory. You're probably going to watch just about anything on the first night of real college football in eight months, but here's a game that shouldn't just be empty calories.
THE PICK: Utah 27, Pitt 23


Purdue @ Notre Dame (3:30pm EST, NBC)
I wouldn't normally focus on a game featuring two unranked teams in this feature, but the pickings are slim on the opening weekend and this game should actually be fairly intriguing. On one side you've got Purdue entering Year 2 of the Danny Hope Era with hopes of new QB Robert Marve and stud DE Ryan Kerrigan spearheading a dark horse Big Ten challenge -- or at least a return to a bowl game for the first time in three years. On the other side you've got Notre Dame getting their first taste of life without Charlie Weis -- and life with Brian Kelly. Love or loathe Notre Dame, their first steps under Brian Kelly should be interesting -- and if you like high-scoring passing offenses, this game should have a couple good ones.
THE PICK: Notre Dame 34, Purdue 31

Connecticut @ Michigan (3:30pm EST, ABC/ESPN)
UConn's a slightly under the radar pick to win the Big East, and a win over Michigan (even Michigan in its current emaciated state) would be a hell of a way to jump-start that campaign. They have plenty of returning talent from a squad that was just a few plays away from being a 10-win team a year ago and they have a hard-nosed, underrated coach in Randy Edsall who's resisted overtures from bigger programs to try and do something special in Storrs; this year's team may be his best bet to do just that. Meanwhile, Michigan enters the season with a defensive secondary in shambles, uncertainty at quarterback, the lingering malaise of the last two bowl-less seasons, and a coach under intense fire to prove that his system can work in Ann Arbor. Oh, and Michigan's lost two of their last three season openers. So, you know, no pressure or anything.
THE PICK: UConn 35, Michigan 28

TCU vs. Oregon State (7:45pm EST, ESPN)
Boise State gets most of the preseason plaudits among the non-BCS crowd since they return twenty starters and are coming off a 14-0 season and a win over this same TCU team in the Fiesta Bowl. On the other hand, TCU returns a ton of talent in their own right (9 on offense, 7 on defense) and should be very, very good in their own right. This game is an early (and rare, given their normal presence on the TV ghetto that is The MTN) chance for them to state their case in front of a national audience, which should have them plenty fired up. Given their relative starting positions in the polls TCU is likely going to need Boise State to slip up somewhere to move ahead of them in the hunt for a guaranteed BCS slot -- or even a spot in the national title game, which is a realistic possibility with both teams starting in the top 10. But in Oregon State, TCU should have a solid test on their hands; the Beavers have to break in a new QB, but they do bring back both of the fabulous Rodgers brothers.
THE PICK: TCU 31, Oregon State 17

LSU vs. North Carolina (8:00pm EST, ABC)
To be fair, this game looked a hell of a lot more interesting before damn near the entire North Carolina starting defense was rumored to be suspended for various rules violations; back before that it looked like it was going to pit a pair of nasty defenses and two teams that are vaguely dark horse picks to win their respective conferences. Now you have a UNC team mired in scandal, likely to be missing multiple players off what was expected to be a very strong defense. LSU has question marks of their own, but nothing like what UNC is facing and they have the added benefit of not having to deal with distracting scandals and having a better offense. This game has turned into a de facto SEC-ACC Challenge; so far the SEC is 2-0, with Alabama picking up wins over Clemson and Virginia Tech. LSU should make it three in a row without too much difficulty.


Boise State vs. Virginia Tech (8:00pm EST, ESPN)
These are the games where Boise has excelled in their rise to prominence over the past few years, splashy non-conference showdowns in which they have weeks to prepare for their opponent. And, as has been noted in just about every preview written about them, they return 20 of 22 starters from last year's 14-0 team. That's a good thing. On the other hand, they've never quite played a game like this one; the game is ostensibly at a "neutral site," but it's in FedEx Field at Washington, D.C., a few skips and jump away from the Hokies' home base in Blacksburg, VA -- and quite a few hops away from Boise. There should be no lack of motivation from the Hokies, either; they're ranked high enough to largely control their own national title destiny at this stage of the season and a win over a top-5 squad like Boise will only shoot them higher. Past BSU victims in high-profile games (Oklahoma in the '07 Fiesta or TCU in the '10 Fiesta) could point to the fact that the Fiesta Bowl was a consolation prize; Oklahoma had missed out on the national title game because of a pair of regular season losses (to Colorado and Texas Tech), while TCU had missed out on the national title game on account of Texas' last-second field goal in the Big XII Conference Championship Game. There won't be any such issues hampering Virginia Tech this year and there should be little reason for them to overlook Boise State after Boise's near-constant success over the past five years. There are some interesting match-ups to watch in the game, too; can Boise handle Virginia Tech's punishing running game (which should be even better with a healthy Darren Evans to spell Ryan Williams) and the athleticism of Tyrod Taylor? Conversely, can Virginia Tech's rebuilt defense handle the high-powered and experienced Boise offense, especially the pinpoint passing of Kellen Moore? It should be a fascinating battle.
THE PICK: Virginia Tech 28, Boise State 21

Monday, August 30, 2010

CFBZ Pre-Season Top 25

1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
3. Texas Longhorns
4. Boise State Broncos
5. Florida Gators
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers
7. Iowa Hawkeyes
8. Virginia Tech Hokies
9. TCU Horned Frogs
10. Oklahoma Sooners
11. Oregon Ducks
12. Wisconsin Badgers
13. Pittsburgh Panthers
14. Miami Hurricanes
15. North Carolina Tar Heels
16. Georgia Bulldogs
17. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
18. USC Trojans
19. LSU Tigers
20. Penn State Nittany Lions
21. Oregon State Beavers
22. FSU Seminoles
23. West Virginia Mountaineers
24. Arkansas Razorbacks
25. Auburn Tigers

Also receiving votes (in order of ranking): BYU Cougars, UConn Huskies, Cincinnati Bearcats, Boston College Eagles, Houston Cougars, South Carolina Gamecocks, Utah Utes, Clemson Tigers

By Conference:
SEC- 6
ACC- 5
Big Ten- 4
Big 12, Pac-10- 3
Big East- 2

Pre-Season Preview: Miami Hurricanes

2009 Record: 9-4 (5-3 in ACC)
2009 Bowl: Champs Sports Bowl (lost to Wisconsin 20-14)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: #19
Head Coach: Randy Shannon (21-17 Overall, 11-13 in ACC)
Non-Conference Schedule: Florida A&M (9/2), at Ohio State (9/11), at Pittsburgh (9/23), South Florida (11/27)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 30.3 points per game (4th in ACC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 138 (5th in ACC)
Passing Yards/Game: 262 (5th in ACC)
Total Yards/Game: 400 (4th in ACC) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 22.2 points per game (5th in ACC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 122 (3rd in ACC)
Passing Yards/Game: 207 (5th in ACC)
Total Yards/Game: 329 (5th in ACC)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.00 per game (7th in ACC)
Penalties: 54 yards per game (9th in ACC)

Returning Starters
Offense: 6
Defense: 8
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Jacory Harris, Jr (242 of 406 for 3352 yards, 24 TD, 17 INT)
Rushing: RB Damien Berry, Sr (93 carries for 616 yds, 6.6 ypc, 8 TD)
Receiving: WR Leonard Hankerson, Sr (45 rec, 801 yds, 6 TD)
Tackles: LB Colin McCarthy, Sr (94)
Sacks: DE Allen Bailey, Sr (7.0)
Interceptions: CB Brandon Harris, Jr (2), DT Micanor Regis, Jr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
AP: #13
Athlon Sports: #14
Phil Steele: #9
Pre-Snap Read: #13
Sporting News: #4
Sports Illustrated: #15
USA Today Coaches Poll: #13

2010 Pre-Season ACC Coastal Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #2
Phil Steele: #1
Sports Illustrated: #2 (tie with GT and UNC)

Bowl Prediction:
Athlon Sports: Champs Sports Bowl (vs. Notre Dame)
Phil Steele: Orange Bowl (vs. Florida)

For our final ACC Preview we caught up with Miami Hurricanes fan Joshua Mann to get his perspective on the 2010 Canes. Here is an intro from Josh and then some Q&A:

The U is at The Crossroads. Are they a nine-win team destined to stay in place due to scheduling and their own inconsistency or are they still a growing foundation destined to blossom back into a perennial National Title contender?

While the 2009 season was still not near the sometimes-untenable expectations set by the program over the last quarter-century, the Miami Hurricanes made gains, sometimes dramatic and sometimes modest, closer to their former dynasty status than away from it. After two years worth of fruitful recruiting by Randy Shannon, they managed to restock the shelves and at the same time resurrect The U’s original blueprint for local recruiting by once again establishing what Howard Schnellenberger once called “The State of Miami”. Roughly half of the Hurricanes’ roster played their high school ball in South Florida and their ability to make most of the area’s top recruits stay at home has begun to pay dividends.

However, Miami is now to the point where pointing to the recruiting classes of 08 and 09 and asking for patience from its occasionally fickle fanbase is no longer an option. Those classes are now the core of a team that starts the season ranked in the Top 15 and is a viable contender for the ACC title that has eluded them since they joined the conference six years ago. The Baby Canes of 2008 are now the young men of this season.

Shannon, who in his fourth season as a head coach, is still trying to forge his identity. While the nine-win season was enough for UM to give Shannon the contract extension that seemed iffy at best after 2008, Shannon is now in new territory as a head coach in that this is the first season he’s had a team that has at least moderate expectations.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the Hurricanes?

Above and beyond all else with Miami, their greatest strength and weakness is the same thing: Jacory Harris’ confidence. The junior quarterback has shown periods where the same swagger that allowed him to beat Florida St. in Tallahassee and Oklahoma and Georgia Tech at home last season has also made him given to force passes into double-coverage, which led to 17 INTs. When he’s on, though, Harris is the undisputed on-field leader for the Hurricanes and is the most talented quarterback the Hurricanes have boasted in a decade. He just always hasn’t been. Much of last season was spent with offensive coordinator Mark Whipple (a rising star in the coaching ranks) determining what is the best way to use Harris and his dangerous foursome of wideouts. When they work in tandem, they’re deadly.

Tied into the success of Harris is the question mark that is UM’s offensive line. Gone is their anchor at left tackle Jason Fox and In his place is Orlando Franklin, who moves over from left guard to protect Harris and his tender right thumb. If the line grows into its role quickly and Miami can get more game-to-game consistency out of its offense, Harris’ longstanding promise of showing up with a pimp cup should he ever be named a Heisman finalist might be realized in the next two seasons.

Shannon’s defense, while topped with individual talent, has yet to build any kind of cohesion and on occasion seems too determined to make highlight reel plays in favor of safer ones and have lost more gambles than they’ve won over the last few seasons. Also, much like how the offense has been laden with giveaways, the defense has suffered from a lack of takeaways, which was a trademark of Shannon’s playmaking defenses of the early 2000s. But like with all things with this team in recent years, Miami has been forced to throw a young defense into the deep end quickly, with the results still not fully forthcoming due to injuries and Shannon’s tendency to move players in and out of the starting lineup.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

In a possible first for The U, the booing they will likely receive in Columbus will have more to do with the name “Miami” than the name “Hurricanes”. In the offseason, some basketball player defected from the city of Cleveland in favor of playing in South Florida. It made a few papers. LeBron factor or not, playing the pre-ranked No. 2 Ohio State and their National Title aspirations in the Horseshoe will be the test for Miami.

But like 2009, Miami’s early schedule is front-loaded. After the likely Week one sparring match with Florida A&M and the proving-ground tustle with the Buckeyes, the Canes then journey to always-tough-at-home Pittsburgh and then to Clemson before finally returning to Miami to face a revenge-minded Florida State to then play their string of ACC games before finishing up against feisty South Florida, who is still trying to make the state of Florida into the Big Four.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

While Miami almost has nothing to lose in Columbus, they have everything to lose on their own field on Oct. 23. In a division with Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech where every win counts, the team that has been the biggest thorn in UM’s side has been North Carolina and former Miami head coach Butch Davis. Three years straight, Miami has self-destructed against Davis’ Tar Heels, and have seen their conference title game aspirations in the last two seasons go into a tailspin as a direct result of those losses. Part of the problem in the Coker/Shannon era is that the Hurricanes began losing to teams that on paper they were better than, and their lack of success against Carolina since joining the ACC is the most glaring example.

Who is the best player on Miami that nobody talks about?

Leonard Hankerson doesn’t have the sub-4.3 speed of Travis Benjamin, nor does he have the Matrix-lke tools of Laron Byrd, both of whom have shown flashes of jumping to the next level but so far have not. All Hankerson did in 2009 was emerge as Miami’s most consistant wide receiver an Jacory Harris’ bailout target on 3rd down. His 45/801/6 season was enough to put him on the watch list for 2010 Belitnikoff Award. More Reggie Wayne than Michael Irvin (whose No. 47 was given to Byrd in expectation of what he might still become), Hankerson has been the steadying force on what could be one of the best quartets of receivers (along with junior Aldarious Johnson) in college football.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

With Harris and the four WRs, it’s easy to forget about senior RB Graig Cooper, especially since his own team almost forgot about him for the upcoming season. When healthy, Cooper is an all-purpose yards machine and a home-run threat from anywhere on the field who can change games as a running back, a receiver out of the backfield and as a kick returner. After a serious knee injury suffered in the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin, it was presumed that Cooper would use his as-yet-unused redshirt season to rehabilitate and come back in 2011. Cooper, however, has insisted that his knee will be ready for Week 1 against the Rattlers. If Cooper doesn’t make it back this season, Damian Berry, who averaged over 6 yards per carry, will start at tailback

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Opposing offensive linemen will need to account for the whereabouts of Allen Bailey at all times, which could potentially be in six spots in the front seven. The versatile defensive end, who can also line up at outside linebacker and defensive tackle, had seven sacks and 11 TFL in 2009 and is already tagged as a lottery pick by several NFL Draftnicks. The attention and probable double-teams that Bailey commands will create some favorable one-on-one matchups for Miami’s other bookend Adewale Ojomo, who missed 2009 with a broken jaw after turning heads as a redshirt freshman in 2008.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

In 2008 as a freshman, Sean Spence was named top ACC Defensive Newcomer and seemed like he would be a cornerstone to Miami’s defense for the next three seasons. However, a rash of injuries of 2009 made Spence a victim of the dreaded sophomore jinx. Another case of an on-field leader who can’t stay on the field is fellow LB Colin McCarthy, whose recurring absences has hurt Miami’s defense the most over the last two seasons. Kylan Robinson, a converted RB with only four special teams tackles to his credit, will get the first chance to fill Daryl Sharpton’s old spot on the field in the middle, with McCarthy the backup plan at MLB and Ramon Buchanan waiting in the wings at OLB should the experiment with Robinson fail. One of the main red flags going into this season is that this is a team that is lacking proven depth at linebacker which could be an issue should injuries pop up once again.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

While Berry will open the season in the starting backfield, redshirt freshman Lamar Miller should also get his share of the ball should Cooper not make it onto the field. Miller was last seen rushing for nearly 1,800 yards and 22 TDs for Miami Killian in the death pool that is the Miami-Dade County 6A District and has shown flashes of brilliance all spring. The most promising true freshman for the Hurricanes during early scrimmages is a RB with a name right out of central casting: Storm Johnson has been turning heads all summer, and while his early contributions may be more on special teams, with Cooper possibly out Johnson may see his share of carries as the season goes on. While most of the recent headlines has been Miami’s acquisition of Seantrel Henderson after the top-rated prep lineman ditched Lane Kiffin and USC at the altar, it hasn’t been decided whether he’ll see any action in 2010.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

For a defense that has a number of returning contributors, putting Robinson as a starting LB is the all-in move for 2010. It won’t take long to figure out if he can play the position or not, with his first real test coming in Game 2. Putting a converted RB into one of the most critical slots in Shannon’s defense is a wait-and-see proposition.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

Miami is not yet at the stage where they will be anywhere near the National Title stage--Week 2 in Columbus should see to that. And even if they do pull off the upset over the Bucks, they still need to prove that they can navigate the game-to-game landmines that make up their conference schedule, which they have yet to do. But barring injury and with some improvements in the decision-making of both Harris and the defense, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be in the conversation for the ACC championship. In reality, the Canes might be a year away from doing some serious damage in the BCS polls.

Previous ACC Previews: 
ACC Conference Preview
Boston College Eagles
Clemson Tigers
Duke Blue Devils
Florida State Seminoles
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Maryland Terrapins
North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia Tech Hokies
Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Previous Pre-Season Previews:
Big 12- Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Syracuse Orange, UConn Huskies, USF Bulls, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue BoilermakersWisconsin Badgers
Conference USA- East Carolina PiratesHouston Cougars, Marshall Thundering Herd, Rice Owls, SMU Mustangs, Southern Miss Golden EaglesTulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
Independent- Army Black Knights, Navy Midshipmen, Notre Dame Fighting Irish 
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- BYU Cougars,  Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona Wildcats, Arizona State Sun Devils, California Golden BearsOregon Ducks, Oregon State BeaversStanford Cardinal, UCLA BruinsUSC TrojansWashington HuskiesWashington State Cougars
SEC- Alabama Crimson TideAuburn Tigers, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky WildcatsLSU Tigers, Mississippi Rebels, Mississippi State Bulldogs, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- FIU Golden Panthers, Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Hawaii Warriors, Louisiana Tech BulldogsNew Mexico State Aggies

Sunday, August 29, 2010

SEC Preview

2009 Standings

Florida Gators 13-1 (8-0)
Georgia Bulldogs 8-5 (4-4)
Tennessee Volunteers 7-6 (4-4)
Kentucky Wildcats 7-6 (3-5)
South Carolina Gamecocks 7-6 (3-5)
Vanderbilt Commodores 2-10 (0-8)

Alabama Crimson Tide 14-0 (8-0)
LSU Tigers 9-4 (5-3)
Mississippi Rebels 9-4 (4-4)
Arkansas Razorbacks 8-5 (3-5)
Auburn Tigers 8-5 (3-5)
Mississippi State 5-7 (3-5)

SEC Championship Game: Alabama 32 Florida 13

Returning Leaders: Passing
Ryan Mallet, Arkansas, Jr (225 of 403 for 3624, 30 TD, 7 INT)
Stephen Garcia, SC, Jr (239 of 432 for 2862, 17 TD, 10 INT)
Greg McElroy, Alabama, Sr (198 of 325 for 2508, 17 TD, 4 INT)
Jordan Jefferson, LSU, Jr (182 for 296 for 2166, 17 TD, 7 INT)

Returning Leaders: Rushing
Mark Ingram, Alabama, Jr (271 carries for 1658 yds, 17 TD)
Derrick Locke, Kentucky, Sr (196 carries for 908 yds, 6 TD)
Warren Norman, Vandy, Soph (145 carries for 784 yds, 3 TD)
Trent Richardson, Alabama, Soph (144 carries for 749 yds, 8 TD)
Jeff Demps, Florida, Jr (99 carries for 745 yds, 7 TD)
Washaun Ealey, Georgia, Soph (125 carries for 717 yds, 3 TD)

Returning Leaders: Receiving
Darvin Adams, Auburn, Jr (70 rec for 1135 yds, 8 TD)
A.J. Green, Georgia, Jr (53 rec for 808 yds, 6 TD)
Terrance Toliver, LSU, Sr (53 rec for 735 yds, 3 TD)
Greg Childs, Arkansas, Jr (48 rec for 894 yds, 7 TD)
Alshon Jeffrey, SC, Soph (46 rec for 763 yds, 6 TD)
Gerald Jones, Tennessee, Sr (46 rec for 680 yds, 4 TD)

Returning Leaders: Tackles
Chris Marve, Vandy, Jr, LB (121 total, 10.1 tackles/game)
Kelvin Sheppard, LSU, Sr, LB (110 total, 8.4 tackles/game)
Josh Bynes, Auburn, Sr, LB (104 total, 8.0 tackles/game)
Craig Stevens, Auburn, Sr, LB (95 total, 7.3 tackles/game)
Jerry Franklin, Arkansas, Jr, LB (94 total, 7.2 tackles/game)

Returning Leaders: Sacks
Justin Houston, Jr, Georgia, OLB (7.5 sacks)
Cliff Matthews, Sr, SC, DE (7.0)
Marcell Dareus, Jr, Alabama, DE (6.5)
DeQuin Evans, Sr, Kentucky, DE (6.0)
Demarcus Dobbs, Sr, Georgia, DE (5.5)
Jake Bequette, Jr, Arkansas, DE (5.5)

Returning Leaders: Interceptions
Mark Barron, Jr, Alabama, S (7)
Corey Broomfield, Soph, Miss St, CB (6)
Johnthan Banks, Soph, Miss St, S (4)
Charles Mitchell, Jr, Miss St, S (4)


Chris (Prediction: West #1; SEC Champion): The defending national champions have a tough task defensively, replacing 9 (or 10 if you want to get technical) starters. But I count the injured Dont'a Hightower who began the season last year as a starter in the group coming back. Offensively they will be fine, sporting the nations best tailback duo. To be honest, Ingram doesn't have much of a chance to repeat as the Heisman winner because true sophomore Trent Richardson is the more talented back and will be drafted as the first overall back if Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams isn't. Greg McElroy silenced any doubters a year ago with efficient play. He wasn't asked to do much, but what he was asked to do, he did. He is Alabama's version of Matt Flynn, proving you can be just solid and win it all. As for their chances for repeating, I am always leery of that, not just because people are out to get them, but also because it just happens so infrequently. I'm not going to bet on the Tide having that level of success a second-straight year, but if any team could repeat, it's Alabama.  

J Martin (Prediction: West #1; SEC Champion): I almost feel like I should excuse myself from this one. If nothing else, I’ve probably run my mouth about Bama enough for one off-season. But don’t think that will stop me. In a nutshell, they should be favored in every game, should win the West, and probably the SEC, and who knows, maybe play for another national title.  It won’t be easy, but if they can handle potential problems in the secondary, special teams, the schedule, and satisfaction, they’ll be successful to those ends. For the record, the solutions to those problems are, in order, experience, experience, experience, SABAN.

Kevin (Prediction: West #1; SEC Champion): Lump me in with the rest of the Zealots on this one. I see Bama repeating but I don't think it will be as easy as last year. I think Bama losses to Florida in the regular season but comes back to knock them off in the SEC Championship game.

Ross (Prediction: West #1; SEC Champion): Alabama loses an absolute ton on defense, but like Florida, they have a ton of talent stockpiled and ready to reload, including freak DT/DE Marcell Dareus and LB Dont'a Hightower.  The question mark is their secondary, which will be very raw -- can they shut down some high-powered offenses from Arkansas or Florida or Auburn?  On the other hand, they might just need to slow the opposing offenses down a little because the Bama offense should be able to put quite a few points of their own on the board; they return almost everyone from last year's squad, including the Heisman Trophy winner (Mark Ingram) and his primary back-up (Trent Richardson), who may actually be better than Ingram.  QB Greg McElroy and WR Julio Jones are back, too, so this team shouldn't have too much trouble putting up points.  After what they've done the past few years, they deserve the benefit of the doubt, even in a division as loaded as the SEC West.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Chris (Prediction: West #2): The Razorbacks come into the season looking good on paper with the gunslinging giant Ryan Mallett behind center, but does anyone else have serious questions about Bobby Petrino coached teams? Who knows, if they don't do well, he could just walk out mid-season again. Despite what I just said, I think they are the second best team in the division.

J Martin (Prediction: West #4): I’d stop short of saying the 2010 Razorbacks are going to flame out like the 2009 Ole Miss team did, but I do think they’re over hyped. Offensively, yes, they have it all:  the most talented QB in the conference (maybe not the best, but the most talented), the best receiving corps, a big, experienced OL, and some solid running backs. They can throw up a lot of points. But defensively, while they bring back almost everyone, this is another one of those situations where I’m not so sure it’s a good thing.  They were terrible last year. They gave up 420 yards and almost 30 points per game in conference play. And that was with 9 starters back. The issue at Arkansas wasn’t experience, it was talent.  And most of those same guys with sub-par SEC talent are back this year. I don’t see them improving enough to win more games than they did in 09. Okay, since they trade off Florida for Vanderbilt, they should win one more.  Despite they hype around his arm, Ryan Mallett is not a superman who can gun-sling Arkansas to a West division crown.  I foresee his defense putting him in a lot of obvious throwing situations and a lot of elite SEC linemen and linebackers putting him on the run like lions after a baby giraffe on the Serengeti.

Kevin (Prediction: #4 West): Ryan Mallet passed for 3,624 yards and 30 TD with only 7 INT last year. And Arkansas still came in 4th in the SEC West (tied with 3 other teams) at 8-5 (3-5 in the conference). I think Mallet will be good this year but I can't see him passing those numbers and the defense is still not very good. I could see Arkansas going 5-3 in the West if everything went their way but I think they are closer to 4-4. 

Ross (Prediction: #2 West): The Hogs should have a murderous offense with virtually all of the starters back from a year ago.  They need to get QB Ryan Mallet healthy and up to speed again, but if he's fine, the offense should have little trouble racking up points, even against most SEC defenses (and it won't hurt that there aren't expected to be any SEC defenses as good as the '09 Bama version or the '08 Florida incarnation).  The defense also looks pretty solid, with seven returning starters.  They have a brutal stretch of games from late September through mid-October that should determine whether they're SEC contenders or pretenders: @ Georgia, Alabama, bye, Texas A&M, @ Auburn.  Obviously the A&M game doesn't matter for the SEC race, but it should be a good challenge in the midst of some tough SEC games; they probably need to go at least 2-1 in those SEC games to have a realistic hope at taking the division.

Alex (Prediction: #1 West; SEC Champion): Yes I picked Auburn,. Yes I know Alabama is still good, however I think the Iron Bowl decides the winner in the West.

Chris (Prediction: #3 West): Gene Chiziks second year SHOULD be better than his first. Chizik's late season losing streak helped to doom the Tigers. A year later, they are back and ready to prove 2009 wasn't a fluke. The Tigers start the season ranked, and after a year in Chizik's system, bet on it catching on.

J Martin (Prediction: #3 West): Maybe I should be required to excuse myself from this one, too.  There’s a lot of optimism around Auburn this year.  There are quite a few people who think Auburn can push Alabama in the West, and even win it (I’m looking at you, Herbstreit). To some extent, I get it. They return a lot of experience on defense and the offensive line, and they pulled in a very strong recruiting class that included the Tigers’ new messiah, Cameron Newton.  But in those strengths, I can also see weaknesses. All those returning players on defense weren’t especially good last year, barring that one game against Alabama. This year, they’ll be supplemented by talented freshmen, but they’re still going to be freshmen. And you don’t want to be relying on a bunch of freshmen to make significant contributions in the SEC. Ask South Carolina how that worked out last year. They have trouble performing consistently. As for Newton…Well, find me the last big JUCO QB who came into the SEC and lived up to expectations. I’ll wait. But even beyond that, Newton struggles with being consistently accurate with his passes, and being consistently accurate is THE most important trait for the QB of a hurry-up offense, much more-so than having a laser rocket arm. Urban Meyer let this guy go. ‘Nuff said.  Nonetheless, Auburn has the schedule to win 8 or 9 games. But much like last year, they’ll light it up out of conference, then become much more human when they run into the LSU’s, Georgia’s, and Bama’s.  Auburn always implodes when they get a little buzz going.

Kevin (Prediction: #3 West): Auburn really struggled last year once they got into the teeth of the SEC schedule as they went 2-5 from Oct 10th to Nov 27th. Auburn will be better this year because they will have more depth but they aren't ready to contend for the West title just quite yet.

Ross (Prediction: #3 West): Auburn returns a ton on offense, but has to break in a new QB (former Florida laptop thief Cam Newton) and a new-ish RB (Mario Fannin), although they also have some big-time freshman running backs to carry the load.  The Gus Malzahn offense was a handful a year ago and could be even nastier this year with most of the players being more experienced in running it... IF Cam Newton can keep things rolling.  Then again, they ran it with Chris Todd last year, so it shouldn't take much to make it work even better.  There's also quite a bit of talent back on defense.  The schedule isn't all that favorable (they draw Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina from the SEC East), but they do get an extra week to prep for Alabama.  It's also hard to rate them higher until Gene Chizik proves he's a good coach; they looked decent last year, but it's going to take more than 7-5 record and a bowl win.

Alex (Prediction: #1 East): Florida has every tough SEC game, with the exception of Alabama, in Gainesville. While not a world beater Florida has the advantage of Georgia and Tennessee being down. I see Florida taking a business trip to Atlanta in December.

Chris (Prediction: #1 East): This is such a trendy pick, and I hate myself for making it, but I was running into walls every time I was trying to go with my gut and not have Florida coming out on top. They lose as much as any other team in the nation, and only truly great programs can put themselves back together and reload in one season. That will be the test this year for Urban Meyer. Obviously you can point out that he has risen the Florida program's national profile, adding two national championships and a near miss a year ago in only 5 years. But, remember the last time Meyer had to reload in 2007? Yes, Tebow won the Heisman, but the Gators finished 9-4. My point is that by only returning 10 starters, the Gators are at risk of that same destiny. They certainly won't contend for a national title, but they probably won't stray too far from the top-25 either. Replacing Tebow will be junior John Brantley, who operated Urban Meyer's spread with scary efficiency a year ago (going 36-48 for 410 yards and 7 TD's to no INT's). I mean look at those numbers! Yikes! That has to be the system, right? 7 TD's in just 48 pass attempts! Still hard to believe no matter how many times I say it. Brantley was a highly rated prep QB, although was/is no Tebow. But with weapons like Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Deonte Thompson coming back he may not have to be. The biggest question to me is defense. If Georgia had any semblance of a good quarterback I'd have them running away with the division because of Florida's defense. But they don't, so I have to put my money on the Gators. It may not be pretty, but they should still have enough to win it, even if that means they lose 2-3 games in conference. Also, here's my prediction: Urban Meyer takes off after this year and does not coach college football next year. He's such a perfectionist that he can't stand losing. If he couldn't stand it under Tebow, imagine how much losses could hurt under Brantley when there are more?

J Martin (Prediction: #1 East): Defensively, the Gators are kinda in the same boat as Alabama in the sense that people are overstating their losses on defense. Both schools have recruited at such a high level over the past few years that they can plug ‘n play with the young guys and still compete with anybody.  There will be some growing pains, but they’ll be good enough to keep the Gators in every game.  And I think the offense will need it.  John Brantley is an extremely talented quarterback, but he’s “the guy after the guy,” which is never a good position to be in, especially when the offense is having to be revamped to suit the change. Ultimately, I think the offense will end up looking like the 2006 BCS championship unit (more plays from under center, lots of hocus pocus to cover up for the lack of a QB run threat), which wasn’t a bad offense but also wasn’t the dominant force it became under Tim Tebow (failed to score over 26 points in any SEC regular season game).  I’ll be interested to see what kind of help Brantley gets, as well.  Jeff Demps worked well with Tebow, but I wonder how he’ll like running between the tackles now that the defense won’t have to respect the QB run threat.  If he can’t cut it, who will?  Emmanuel Moody, finally?  If he could, he would have already because Urban has long lamented not having a more powerful back.  Mike Gillislee, maybe?  Not impressed.  Likewise, there are no proven receiving options, just a lot of talent and promise.  Who knows how they’ll turn out.  Despite all that, I still think they’ll win the division and have another shot at Bama.  It’ll just be more difficult than they’re accustomed to of late.

Kevin (Prediction: #1 East): This is the year for the rest of the East to catch the Gators but I don't see it happening. That being said, I think Florida takes a small step back this year and struggles to the win the division (although I do have them beating Bama in the regular season as Herban Meyer will have this game marked on the schedule). The biggest loss for the Gators this off-season was Charlie Strong and Florida has downgraded in Defensive Coordinators so it will be interesting to see how that affects their play on the field. I think John Brantley will be just fine but Herban will need to tweak the offense to him and it may take a while to get it going. If Brantley goes down, watch out SEC East.

Ross (Prediction: #1 East): Florida has a ton to replace between the loss of Tebow, Riley Cooper, and a good chunk of the defense; fortunately for them, few teams have recruited better over the past few years and are so well-suited to simply reload.  It doesn't hurt that there don't appear to be any other significantly strong contenders in the East waiting to topple Florida.  They probably won't go undefeated this year... but they probably won't need to in order to win the East.

Chris (Prediction: #2 East): Where's that guy Matthew Stafford? He's still eligible, right? No. Crap. Well, our problem is we really need to get the ball in the hands of A.J. Green, but we don't have the guy to do it. Enter freshman Aaron Murray. I'm not saying he's the guy who will get it done, I'm just saying he's the guy that will HAVE to get it done for the Dawgs to be successful. And I don't think he will. Sure, they may be sniffing a 10-win season this coming year, but they aren't the Georgia of 2008 that for some reason everybody and their mother had an unnatural infatuation with. They might beat at Florida's door for the division crown, but unless Murray wanders past his pay-grade (figuratively speaking) they won't get in. Georgia's year is 2011 unless A.J. Green leaves for the draft (which is a strong possibility), but I wouldn't sleep on the 2010 version either.

J Martin (Prediction: #2 East): There’s a lot of buzz about South Carolina’s potential to unseat Florida at the top of the division, but I think the Georgia still present the strongest threat to the Gators.  If the Bulldogs are going to take advantage of Florida being as down as they’re going to be for a while, obviously the #1 priority has to be improving the defense. New DC Todd Grantham is no Kirby Smart, but he brought the 3-4 defense with him, all the same.  There’s going to be some degree of an adjustment period due to the switch. Even beyond the differences in scheme, you also have to reshape the bodies of your defense to fit their new roles, which takes time.  There are different variations of the 3-4, but whichever way you go, you really need bigs up the middle to make it work. When the Dawgs initially said they were making the switch, I kinda wrote off the defense this year for “adjustment.”  But looking at the roster now with the season a week away, they seem a little better suited to make a good showing of themselves. I think it will help them out a ton (no pun intended) if bigs like Justin Anderson and/or Kwame Geathers can step up and be the man at nose guard, allowing DeAngelo Tyson to slide over to a 3-4 end position that’s more natural for his size. They won’t be dominant overnight, but I think a new DC and a new scheme can light a fire under these guys and put an end to the soft play that had set in under Willy Martinez. Offensively, they’ll be fine. The only question mark there is what they’re going to get out of Aaron Murray at quarterback, but I feel confident that he’ll be a lot closer to Matt Stafford than Joe Cox. If the defense shows up this season, there’s no reason Georgia can’t play in a New Year’s bowl and push Florida. However, if they fall on their faces again, and commit a ton of penalties and turnovers in the process, you have to start to assume it's not a scheme thing, or a player thing, it's a cultural thing. And a team's culture starts with the head coach. In that case, it might be time to seriously consider making a change up top.

Kevin (Prediction: #2 East): Georgia has the most offensive talent in the SEC East (best OL, best TE unit, best FBs, best individual WR, best RB combo) but they will be breaking in a new QB whose back-up is a true freshman. As long as Georgia can keep Aaron Murray upright they should be fine on offense. Georgia hired Dallas Cowboys DL coach Todd Grantham as their new DC and he's bringing in the 3-4. Georgia will be hitting people in the mouth this year instead of playing a soft zone and waiting for their opponents to tire from gaining so many yards. It might take a while for Georgia to adjust to the 3-4 but by the end of the year Georgia is going to be a defense that you do not want to face. Justin Houston and Darryl Gamble will thrive at OLB and a name that is really under the radar is DE Demarcus Dobbs (he's actually one of the leading returning sack artists in the SEC). Georgia beats Florida this year at the Cocktail party but I think Florida wins the division and returns to the SEC Championship game. Also, don't forget that Georgia has the best kicker/punter combination in the Nation and have two legitimate big-play returners in Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith that can take one to the house at any moment. Boykin had 3 KO returns for TD last year and word on the street is Smith will get a chance to return punts. The key to this season for Georgia is the back-to-back opening games against South Carolina and Arkansas. Go 0-2 you will hear people calling for CMR's head, go 1-1 you are still in a position to have a good year, go 2-0 watch out because this team could win the East. 

Ross (Prediction: #2 East): Georgia is absolutely loaded with returning talent on offense and should have one of the SEC's best offenses if they can get solid play out of the QB position.  The bigger question marks are on defense where they're learning new schemes under a new defensive coordinator and breaking in a fair number of new starters.  They'll be tested early by games against South Carolina (the other big challenger in the East) and Arkansas (one of the challengers in the West); if they can get off to a hot start (and possibly even if they just split those games), it wouldn't be a shock to see the SEC East yet again be decided by the Cocktail Party game against Florida. 

Chris (Prediction: #5 East): The Wildcats have won 7-games for four consecutive seasons. While that is great for them, most of that is a reflection of Andre Woodson and not those guys there now. While Kentucky has a sufficient amount of talent back from a decidedly average team a year ago, I don't see them improving. If anything, it's the status quo. Winning 7 games again is a fat chance, but with a fairly young roster for Joker Phillips, the future looks alright. Don't count them out of the bowl picture though should one of the top 4 slip.

J Martin (Prediction: #4 East): I’m not a huge fan of this Kentucky team, but they’re more talented than Vanderbilt and more stable than Tennessee.  Their schedule looks manageable, as well.  They draw the two Mississippi schools from the West, as well as Auburn at home (who they beat in Auburn last year).  They also get South Carolina and Georgia at home.  Between the level of competition and circumstances surrounding the games, I think the Cats can be competitive in 6 of their 8 conference games and could win half of those.  If they can improve their rush defense and have a more stable QB situation, they should have no problem winning enough games to get to their 5th straight bowl.  Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb could play for almost anyone in the conference.  

Kevin (Prediction: #4 East): I really like Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb. Unfortunately, that's about it. Cobb and Locke will step up and beat somebody they shouldn't this year but it still won't keep Kentucky out of 4th place. 

Ross (Prediction: #4 East): This pick has as much to do with the uncertainty at Tennessee as it does with the relative strength of the Wildcats.  That said, Kentucky should be pretty solid on both sides of the ball if the new-look offensive line can cohere and they have a very favorable schedule; they draw Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Auburn from the West, their non-conference slate is a joke, and they get most of their tough games at home.  This team isn't going to contend for the division, but they really should head to another bowl game. The real intrigue is in whether they can finally end the 25-year losing streak to Tennessee.

Chris (Prediction: #4 West): Going into 2009, much of the concern was over quarterback, where sophomore Jordan Jefferson took over a team ready to compete. Despite that experience, going into 2010, one of the biggest questions for LSU is still the quarterback. Jefferson was amazing against Georgia Tech in LSU's bowl in 2008. The kid has potential, but he'll have to grow immensely to lead his team to anything better than a 4th place division finish.

J Martin (Prediction: #2 West): People are really sleeping on LSU this year.  Most pundits and publications I’ve seen are pegging the Tigers for FOURTH in the conference.  I mostly attribute this to a combination of the positive perceptions surrounding Auburn and Arkansas and a hangover from Les Miles’ blunders.  And, look, you’ll get no argument from me on the stupidity of Miles as a coach.  But he’s still a top notch recruiter, and if you’ve got elite talent, you’re always going to be competitive in the SEC.  The past two years, LSU’s roster has skewed really young.  Well, this year, their roster distribution leans a bit older, meaning the team will be more seasoned and smart, even if the coach isn’t.  Schedule-wise, they also get a big help by drawing the two worst teams out of the East this year (Tennessee, Vanderbilt).  Even though I’m picking them 2nd in the West, and I think the division title WILL be decided when they play Alabama (for the 3rd straight year), they’re not really close to Bama or Florida right now, though the actual game scores could be close.  Their main issues are that they’re a bit undersized up front on defense (kiss of death against Alabama), and they don’t have a quarterback.  Jordan Jefferson is not good, Jarrett Lee is worse.  And due to attrition and moving Russell Shepard to a hybrid RB/WR role, they don’t have anyone on deck that looks promising.  Until they find one (and maybe a new coach), they won’t win another SEC crown.

Kevin (Prediction: #2 West): I also feel that LSU is being slept on. I have more confidence in them coming in 2nd than I do in Auburn or Arkansas and LSU still has John Chavis as their DC so you know their D is going to be good at worst. Question of the Day: Who do you want coaching your team? Les Miles, Yellow Bellied Bobby Petrino or Gene Chizik (who went 5-19 at Iowa State and 2-14 in the Big 12)?

Ross (Prediction: #4 West): If LSU really does finish this low, Les Miles is probably toast at LSU.  They bring back only six on offense and even less on defense and that could be disastrous in such a cutthroat division.  Not to mention Miles' penchant for terrible clock management and tendency to blow some close games; a few close games in '10 could be the difference between 7-5 and 9-3... and Miles losing his job or keeping it.  Still, the schedule sets up fairly well for them, giving them a bye before Alabama and lay-up games against McNeese State and UL-Monroe before Auburn and Arkansas.  If they get off to a hot start (eminently possible), they could pull off a good season.

Chris (Prediction: #5 West): The Rebs lost All-everything back Dexter McCluster to the NFL and are fairly green on offense and dry on defense. The only reason that the Rebels avoided sixth on my list was that Mississippi State exists. I went with Ole Miss over their in-state rivals because of the playmakers they have on the defensive side of the ball.

J Martin (Prediction: #5 West): I think the Masoli thing is a huge miscalculation by Houston Nutt.  This team wasn’t going to contend for any championships with or without him.  At the same time, the schedule is soft enough that you could win at least 6 games and go to a bowl game to keep everyone happy no matter who the quarterback is.  The quarterback position was going to be an issue, but it was FAR from the only one, nor was it even the biggest.  I don’t see why Nutt couldn’t just “suffer” through a mediocre bowl season while grooming Nathan Stanley for the future.  Then again, it may still turn out that way, because Masoli is a terrible fit for a pro style offense.  He’s an awful passer who got most of his yards at Oregon off typical spread stuff (screens, throwing to receivers open by 10 yards off play action and misdirection).  Go watch last year’s Oregon/Boise game to see how he does when he has to just take a drop and throw.  He throws an ugly, ugly ball.  He may help the Rebels in the Wildcat, but I can’t see him as a pro-style QB.  Regardless of who ends up as the starting QB for the duration, they won’t have much help.  The offensive line is even less experienced than it was last year when it imploded and drove Jevan Snead insane.  Oh, they also lost that McCluster fellow, who, if I recall, pretty much was the offense.  They don’t have anyone to replace him.  Brandon Bolden is a reliable running back, but nobody is afraid of him.  Defensively, they should be salty, and Tyrone Nix is one of the great defensive coordinators out there.  But they’re going to be on the field a LOT this season.

Kevin (Prediction: #5 West): Ole Miss is going to have a really good defense this year. Unfortunately they will have probably the worst offense in the SEC this side of Vandy. The X-factor is Jeremiah Masoli but Nutt will have to tweak the offense a lot for him to succeed and is it worth it for one year?

Ross (Prediction: #5 West): I actually think Miss. State is better than Ole Miss this year from a talent/coaching standpoint, but they have a murderous schedule, while Ole Miss has a very manageable one. While they have to deal with the usual tough SEC West foes, they draw the three easiest teams from the SEC East (Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt).  Couple that with a pretty lightweight non-conference slate and they're a good bet to make another bowl game.  They're also a bit of a wildcard with Jermiah Masoli on board; he's talented, but it's hard to say how well he'll fit into Ole Miss' offensive schemes and it's even harder to predict what sort of impact his arrival will have on team chemistry.  He could help them steal a few more wins from the SEC West... or he could utterly torpedo their season.

Chris (Prediction: #6 West): The Bulldogs were once again one of the worst passing teams in nation. Without some drastic, and I mean DRASTIC improvements there and everywhere else, Mississippi State will be the laughingstock of the SEC.

J Martin (Prediction: #6 West): As a team, I actually like the Bulldogs quite a bit more than Ole Miss, but the Rebels have a cake walk conference slate (drawing the bottom 3 from the East), whereas MSU pulls Georgia and Florida and has 3 tough conference games in the first month of the season when they’ll still be gelling as a team.  Dan Mullen got last year’s team to over perform, pulling a couple of near-upsets of conference powers and almost qualifying for a bowl.  Obviously, they lose their #1 offensive weapon this year, Anthony Dixon (who actually accounted for more TDs and nearly as many total yards as the passing game did in 2009).  That said, I think the overall unit will be much improved.  Chris Relf, the “running” QB last year, should be improved as a passer, and red-shirt freshman Tyler Russell looks like a much better option as the “passing” QB than the awful Tyson Lee was last year.  I think Mullen would like to stick with Relf to help the running game, but no matter how it shakes out, it’ll be better.  Defensively, they weren’t good last year, but they bring nearly everyone back, so there should be some slight improvement.  Although, much like Arkansas, it’s still more of a talent issue than an experience one.  Ultimately, I think the schedule keeps them in the cellar and out of a bowl game for another year.

Kevin (Prediction: #6 West): I like what Dan Mullen is doing. Unfortunately, the SEC West is the most stacked division in all of football this year. Give Mullen a couple more years as I think he will prove himself to be the 2nd best coach in the West (behind Osama bin Saban). 

Ross (Prediction: #6 West):  This is purely a schedule pick. I think Mississippi State has a bit more talent than Ole Miss (especially on offense) and better coaching, but they draw Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky while Ole Miss gets Tennessee, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.  Dan Mullen has them headed in the right direction, but this year's schedule may be a bit beyond their capabilities right now.

Alex (Prediction: #2 East): I see the Gamecocks being the only team that can take advantage if Florida makes a misstep this season. I am not sure that Carolina can beat Florida in Gainesville. The stars are aligned for Carolina to perhaps have the best season ever (or at least since 'Black Magic' in '84). South Carolina has Auburn after they play a tough Clemson team, Alabama the week after playing an incredibly tough Florida squad not to mention that USC has the previous week off. Tennessee may give up on their season by the time they roll into Columbia for Halloween. The big Spur has started playing QB games naming Conner Shaw the starter for the opener, however most believe that Garcia will win back the job before game time.

Chris (Prediction: #3 East): Is this finally the year that Steve Spurrier can make South Carolina even quasi-relevant? Um...well, yeah I guess. Maybe they'll be 8-5 this year or even 9-4. Baby steps. They certainly return enough on offense and on defense to be a formidable SEC foe, especially in a historically weak East Division. If the question is are they going to get over that hump and be an elite team? I say no, but it all depends on the NCAA's findings on star TE Weslye Saunders and how that effects his eligibility, and the continued progression of Stephen Garcia. Even without Saunders, if Garcia can keep his nose clean (haha, couldn't resist) I think they can be the 8-5, maybe even a 9-4 team if they're lucky.

J Martin (Prediction: #3 East): These guys are a myth.  There are three things you've been able to count on from the Gamecocks over the past few seasons:  1.  The defense will be fast and nasty.  2.  The offensive line will be soft.  3.  Stephen Garcia will always blow it.  I’ve not heard nor seen anything this off-season to convince me that won’t be the case this year.  Not even Spurrier believes Garcia is going to have a breakthrough in 2010, but a lot of pundits think they know better.  They don’t.  And it’s too bad for South Carolina fans, because otherwise the offense looks really good.  Tori Gurley and Alshon Jeffery are very promising wideouts who are going to be Twin Towers on the field together (6’5” and 6’4”, respectively).  They’ll be difficult for anybody to match up with.  And then there’s the addition of All-Everything freshman Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks' first legitimate rushing threat in a decade.  But Garcia and the OL can’t help but ruin it for them.  Looks like another 7 or 8 win year for the Gamecocks.  And if that turns out to be the case, you have to wonder how much longer HBC wants to keep pounding his head against the wall in Columbia.

Kevin (Prediction: #3 East): Where has Darth Visor gone? As a Georgia fan, Spurrier is somebody that used to put fear in my heart but now I fear Ellis Johnson a lot more than Spurrier. The pivotal game once again for the Cocks is the Georgia game and Carolina gets them early, before the 3-4 and Murray have had a chance to get experience in the SEC. I could see Carolina getting as high as 2nd in the SEC but they have Georgia, Auburn and Alabama in their first five games and that's going to be a tough run. Oh yeah, somebody tell that Saunders kid to shut the hell up.

Ross (Prediction: #3 East): It's seemed like it was finally going to be "the year" for South Carolina for many of the last few seasons... but this really might be "the year" for them, with the uncertainty at Florida and Georgia, the rebuilding going on at Tennessee, and the strength of this team.  The 'Cocks return a lot on offense (especially along the offensive line), although their success is ultimately going to come down to whether or not super-recruit Marcus Lattimore can live up to the hype at RB and if Stephen Garcia can emerge as a consistent threat at QB.  The schedule isn't terrible, since they get most of their toughest games at home (sans Florida) and get two weeks to prep for Alabama; drawing Bama, Auburn, and Arkansas from the West is tough, though, and the late-season road game against Florida could be a bear.  The early game against Georgia and the late game against Florida will be key. 

Alex (Prediction: #6 East): I feel that Tennessee's early season gambit is going to be too much especially if injuries set in at key positions. This team even injury free may not be good enough to win four games. Expect the worst single season in Tennessee's storied history.

Chris (Prediction: #4 East): It is incredibly satisfying to me to see the Vols down on their luck. The whole Lane Kiffin/Vols' saga, I thought it was epic, even though I hate Lane Kiffin. Do I have a heart? Yes, but it has been severely damaged by all of the insults and ill will that was thrown my way as a Hokie fan. But now, the tables have turned, and although Vols' fans are still talking some serious trash (for a team that got just demolished 37-14 by Virginia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl), I know that they are backed into a corner. This year's Vols' team will be even more mediocre than the last. I think Derek Dooley is a stretch to be a coach in the SEC, especially after his losing record at Louisiana Tech. It's a move that perhaps if it was made 5 years later it would pay dividends. Right now Dooley faces a mammoth challenge of transitioning Kiffin's recruits and Fulmer's holdouts to his system and back to respectability. But, with no quarterback on the roster having attempted a pass from a year ago, no rusher with over 100 yards, no Eric Berry, and nowhere near the level of coaching that these kids will receive, 4th place is maybe even a little generous. If Kentucky and Vandy weren't as limited from a talent standpoint as they are, I would pick them. Expect Dooley's stay in Knoxville to be a short but less eventful one.

J Martin (Prediction: #5 East): Being a Bama fan, I should probably take a lot more joy in Tennessee’s current predicament than I actually do.  I just like Derek Dooley.  Unfortunately, he’s walked into a nightmare situation in the wake of the Phil Fulmer ouster and, well, pretty much everything about Lane Kiffin’s tenure in Knoxville.  I’m afraid he’s fated to be the Mike Shula of Tennessee. The nice, clean face you put on the program until things stabilize and you can go get the big time coach you really want.  This is just an ugly scene.  Between graduation, early draft entry, the natural attrition that occurs during a coaching changeover (twice in a year’s time at UT), and the washing out of the highly touted thugs Kiffin brought in, the 2010 Vols barely resemble an SEC team.  They have solid numbers back on defense but not a lot of SEC-caliber playmakers to replace the Berry’s, McCoy’s, and Williams’.  They also have some very nice receivers.  They just don’t have the quarterback to get it to them, or the offensive line to keep him upright long enough to throw it to begin with.  The OL is really the worst part of this bad team.  It’s inexperienced and shallow, almost beyond belief.  One or two injuries and they’re playing walk-ons at the most critical positions on the field.  And the schedule is absolutely unforgiving.  They draw Alabama and LSU (away) out of the West and have to travel away to play 3 of their intra-divisional opponents.  All I can say is I hope Dooley is recruiting hard.

Kevin (Prediction: #5 East): The entire Kiffin saga was so epic. Everybody outside of Tennessee say it coming and everybody inside of Tennessee bought in hook line and sinker. Tennessee just has no depth and when you try to go through the SEC with no depth then you are going to be no good. I'm not even sure Dooley is the right guy as he struggled at Louisiana Tech. Only time will tell, but I think Tennessee fans are not going to sit by and watch Dooley try to rebuild the program. It's going to be a tough few years for the Vols.

Ross (Prediction: #5 East): What a mess.  Tons of off-season turmoil, a coaching change, a general lack of talent... just making a bowl game might be a major accomplishment for this squad and even that looks a bit unlikely.  Derek Dooley may get this program on solid ground soon, but this year will be a struggle.

Chris (Prediction: #6 East): The Commodores were shocked when long time coach Bobby Johnson decided to retire just before the start of the season. While expectations were tempered at best, Johnson was a better option for this team, especially with only two months remaining before the season. That's Lane Kiffin-esque! The Volunteer state has just really suffered this off-season, and don't expect Vandy's regular season prognosis to look any better. They will lose this division...handily.

J Martin (Prediction: #6 East): What can you say about Vandy?  Bobby Johnson did a respectable job here, but probably got more credit than he deserved.  He never really capitalized on the 08 bowl season on the recruiting trail, and Vanderbilt today is in much the same place it was when he got there.

Kevin (Prediction: #6 East): If Herban Meyer or Osama bin Saban or the Yellow Bellied Bobby Petrino did what Bobby Johnson did this year they would have absolutely been lit up by the media and made into public enemy number one. Why did Bobby Johnson wait so long to announce he was retiring? It's simple, to keep his recruiting class in tact. Also, by waiting so long he handicapped the administration in finding a new coach (although I don't exactly think they are lining up to coach Vandy). Vandy has some talent (Warren Norman and Chris Marve come to mind) but they aren't ready to contend this year with their version of Bill Stewart and Ray Goff as coach. 

Ross (Prediction: #6 East): Losing your coach days before fall practice starts?  Yeah, that's a bad sign and hurts a Vandy team that's already low in talent.  They might be able to rally around the new boss for a win or two, but this is gonna be a long, ugly season in Commodore-ville.

1. Florida Gators
2. Georgia Bulldogs
3. South Carolina Gamecocks
4. Kentucky Wildcats
5. Tennessee Volunteers
6. Vanderbilt Commodores

1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Auburn Tigers
3. Arkansas Razorbacks
4. LSU Tigers
5. Ole Miss Rebels
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs

SEC Championship Game: Alabama over Florida

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