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)
BREAKING DOWN THE SEC WITH THE ZEALOTS
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.
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.
CFBZ PROJECTED 2010 SEC FINISH
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