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Maize n Preview: A Misguided and Misinformed 2007 SEC Football Preview

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The SEC was founded in 1881 by migrant railroad workers as a method of doling out food rations. Today, the losers of these interstate sporting events are no longer put to death as there is finally enough food for everyone and the SEC is economically strong enough to feed all its migrant workers and athletes.


Florida and Tennessee line up for a spirited game of Who Gets to Eat? in 1899.

Kidding aside, the SEC came into being in 1932 as a 13 team league. Over time, it and the states the conference inhabits underwent massive change. Gradually, the conference shrank to 10 teams and expanded to 12. The SEC has undergone a tremendous renaissance over the past forty years. Where Alabama dominated the SEC in the 1970s, the 1980's saw Georgia, Florida and Auburn rise to national prominence. In 1991 the conference grew into a 12 team mega conference when the Southwestern Conference collapsed and Arkansas joined the fray along with former independent South Carolina. During the 1990's Florida, Tennessee and Alabama captured national championships. Now, seven years into the 21st Century, the SEC already has two championships on its mantle. As the South is one of the major economic and political engines that now powers the United States economy, the SEC powers a good chunk of the turbine that is College Athletics.

The success of the conference over the last 30 years has been spectacular and has lead many SEC fans and media pundits to declare the SEC the best football conference in the land. While I may disagree with this assessment, there's no denying the level of play or talent assembled south of the Mason Dixon is staggering. Another excellent aspect of the SEC is the loyalty and fervence of its fan bases. As you can see below, just about every school is well represented not only on the playing field, but also on the web.

Excellent SEC Blogs and Sites:

Alabama: Roll Bama Roll; Alabama Gameday; Bama Hoops Blog; Bama Nation; Bama Pride; Bama Report; Capstone Report; Clay's Bama Page; Cool Hand's Crib; Eight in the Box; Inside the Tide; Memphis Tider; Outside the Sidelines; Roll Crimson Tide; Tide Cast (podcast); Tide Druid; Tide Corner

Arkansas: Please make some recommendations

Auburn: Track Em TigersWar Damn Tailgate; From The Bleachers; Joe Cribbs Car Wash; Phillip Marshall Blog; Turner Loose; Tigerland; Tiger Tales.com; Weagle Weagle.com; Eric Veren; AU Nation Forum; Auburn Plainsman; AU Blog

Florida: EDSBS; Alligator Alley

Georgia: Dawg Sports; The Corporate Headquarters of the San Antonio Gunslingers; The Cover Two; Hey Jenny Slater; The Dawg-gone Blog; The Drizzle; Hunker Down Dawg Blawg; Alleged Offspring of Uncertain Paternity; Dodgy at Best; The Hobnailed Boot; Dawg Engineer; Dawgs of the World Unite; MaconDawg's Blawg; I Bleed Red and Black; The Wishbone; Apropos de Nada; Football and Opinions; Georgia Bulldog Blog; My Cathartic Ramblings; Safe As Houses What's Bruin, Dawg?; The Bulldawg Blawg; Focus on Sports; Get The Picture; The Road to Salina; Number Five . . . with a Bullet; Braves & Birds (The Atlanta Sports Blog)

Kentucky: A Sea of Blue; Spam's Wildcats News; TA Scott's Shots: UK/SEC hoops; John Clay's UK blog; Matt Jones' KSR blog; WCN: Wildcat Nation (*Rec'd); Aaron's UK Hoops Blog; Fire Billy? NAAAAHHH.; Perpetual State of Bliss; Kentucky Wildcat Report; UK Bias Blog; Sports News and Information; Wildcats Thunder Blog; UK Basketball Junkie; The Wildcat Blog; Big Bad Blue Blog; Wildcat Zone; UK Hoops fan (Women's team); C-J Wildcats Fan blog; The Wildcat Connection

LSU: And The Valley Shook; Tiger Smack; Geaux Tuscaloosa; The Highland Road Blog; GeauxLSUnpredictable; WastedShabbos; The Geaux Show; CFB Report

Mississippi: Please make some recommendations

Mississippi State: Please make some recommendations

South Carolina: Cock & Fire

Tennessee: Rocky Top Talk; The Rant; Corn from a Jar; Corn from a Jar's AOL Fanhouse; The 8th Maxim; The Power T; Vol Junkie t.v.; Fulmer's Belly; Voluminous; Fanblogs - Tennessee; Loser with Socks; Topix.net; UT Fan; Tenn Vol Champ; The Vol Abroad; Big Orange Michael; We Bleed Orange; Vol Nation; Vol Talk

Vanderbilt: Please make some recommendations

Who's Who?

Like American society, the SEC is divided into the Haves, the Have Nots, and the shrinking middle class. Florida, LSU and Georgia stand pretty much alone in terms of on field success over the last decade. Arguments that Tennessee and Auburn belong can be made, so I'll lump them in with the Haves. In the middle, Alabama (despite its glowing history), Arkansas and South Carolina comprise the upwardly mobile yet not quite Nuevo Riche group of competitive and dangerous schools. The Have Nots are pretty obvious: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss. Despite this seemingly disparity, a revolution may be underway.


Revolution? Da, Comrade.

Talkin' Bout a Revolution

The times they are a changin'. At the end of this year the SEC may well be turned on its ear. Just look at the changes over the offseason:

1. Florida won the national title then lost almost everyone off their skull shattering defense and their three year starting quarterback.

2. Arkansas went through a summer of hell which included talk of firing their head coach (who just led them to the SEC championship game), the defection of talented but troubled star QB Mitch Mustain, Darren McFadden's bitchin' ride, and an injury to their star receiver.

3. Bama tried to lure Rich Rodriguez from WfVU, only to be rebuffed and then lured Nick Saban away from pro football for the paltry sum of $3 Million a year.

4. Georgia went 9-4, but now rebuilds a line and puts it's faith in a talented but unproven sophomore QB.

5. Les Miles. Les Miles. Les Miles. Oh, and your star QB recruit likes to drink and gamble.

6. Sociology is a cool major at Auburn. (Honestly, Auburn was quiet. I'm reaching here.)

7. One of the Vols was selling CRACK. Serious or not, I think it's funny. Top that off with their star running back had a run in for possession of a less offensive, yet still illegal, amount of cannabis. Coker is out indefinitely.

8. Vanderbilt returns almost everyone, has a defense that is actually pretty good, and should scare the hell out of everyone they're playing.

9. Some things don't change, there's no hope for either Mississippi school to contend this year.

10. What was that about Vanderbilt?

Yeah. Vanderbilt. Be very scared of them. I don't think they've go the talent to really surprise anyone, but this should be a bowl team. One of the big dogs (or Dawgs, like last year) is going to get... um... beate... wacke... elec... dammit!...by the Commodores. They'll be pretty good.

The biggest surprise, at least on paper, should be South Carolina. Spurrier's got a loaded line, a good defense, and a veteran quarterback. If things fall right for the Gamecocks they should end up in the SEC Championship game. This would be huge for USC, since they entered the league in 1992 the Gamecocks have struggled to break into respectability. Now I've got them as the SEC East Champs. But why? Spurrier. Plain and simple. The OBC lost 4 of 5 by less than a touchdown with a relatively young squad. I'm betting that doesn't happen to him twice.

How's It Gonna Break Down?

At this point, LSU stands alone in the SEC in terms of returning, battle tested talent. Yet there are some question marks. LSU breaks in a new QB after the departure of JaMarcus Russell and the safeties are new starters. Irrespective, all the pieces are in place for LSU to make a serious MNC run if Les Miles can stay out of the way.

After LSU, it's kind of a log jam. Bama, Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, and Florida all have problems they'll have to overcome. Everyone's rebuilding a critical portion of their offense and defense. Based on the available information, Alabama or Auburn probably has the best chance to challenge LSU. Bama has the benefit of a proven coach stepping into a reasonably talented situation. Shula was a moron calling the plays, but the Bama name allowed him to bring in some decent talent. Offensively the Tide should light up the scoreboard. Defensively, they should too. Saban's always had a knack for fielding a respectable defense. I think he'll have his work cut out for him here. The other challenger will be Auburn. The Tigers return just enough offense to make me think they can duplicate their 11-2 record last year based on the success of their defensive fronts over the last five years. They also have the underwhelming Brandon Cox under center, who, as a seniorshouldn't lose any games for the Tigers. If Auburn gets consistent play out of Cox and the offensive line gels, this could be a potent group. I put Auburn ahead of Arkansas because after Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Arkansas has NO offense to speak of.

The SEC East will be a two team fight between Georgia and South Carolina. Georgia has some pronounced question marks at their offensive lines and on defense. South Carolina is, well, South Carolina. Despite a veteran team, I've got questions about their secondary and playmakers on offense. Sitting below, and waiting for an opportunity will be Florida. Some say the Gators are reloading, but an honest assessment reveals they're rebuilding their defense and have a new signal caller on offense. That's 2-3 losses by themselves. After them, if Tennessee was to challenge they've got a boatload of offensive questions to answer (line and playmakers at RB and WR).

I already mentioned Vanderbilt as a potential MAJOR spoiler. Last year's darling, Kentucky, is back and big things are expected from the Cats this year. I don't see it happening again. Despite the return of phenomenal QB Andre Woodson, the Cats were the beneficiaries of a lot of good fortune last year. Somehow coming out +15 in turnovers isn't going to happen two straight years and Woodson's going to spend a lot of time on his ass with three new linemen in front of him.

Enough of Your Crap. On to the Predictions

SEC EAST

Rank Team Rationale
1 Didn't see this coming did you? You should've. Spurrier's had three recruiting cycles at South Carolina and the Gamecocks are finally starting to show the fruits of his labor. 17 starters return to Columbia including 10 on defense. That defense gave up only 18.7 points a game last year. The Linebackers are veteran, the corners are solid, and the middle of the line is solid. On offense, South Carolina was actually -2 in turnovers and outgained opponents by almost 60 yards a game last year. QB Blake Mitchell is entering year three in Spurrier's system so expect big things from him if Kenny McKinley can step into now departed Sidney Rice's shoes as the No.1 receiver. I think Cory Boyd will be one of the surprises of the season at running back and should top 1,000 yards behind an improving line. JUCO transfer Larry Freeman could be a big boost to the WR corps.
2 Viva El Stafford! Sum up the hopes of the season in that sentence. If Stafford becomes the next great Georgia QB, the Dawgs are in business. While the Bulldog faithful are waiting for this transformation, Georgia's main offensive weapon will be a loaded backfield. Kregg Lumpkin didn't top 1,000 last year, but it wasn't for lack of talent. Lumpkin is going to be pushed by a herd of talented underclassmen like Knowshon Moreno and Caleb King (Thomas Brown tore his ACL last year and is a question mark). Still, Stafford and whether he develops is the key. If fails, it may not be entirely his fault. Georgia currently has a freshman slated at Left Tackle, a redshirt freshman at left guard, and a JUCO transfer at right guard. The line is way too much of a question for me to take Georgia to win the East. On the defensive side of the ball Georgia lost 7 starters and has to replace 23 of last year's 33 sacks. It's not like the Dawgs are helpless. They return one of the SEC's top secondaries and the defensive replacements are all good players. Still. The losses on both lines are a serious concern if the Dawgs are to contend. Stafford has potential, but I'm not sold on him yet.
3 Lurking. 8 returning starters total, but the 4 of the Gators top 5 Offensive Linemen return. Like Stafford, I'm not sold on Tebow. But Tebow's got the benefit of the best offensive line in the SEC. This should allow Tebow time to improve without defensive ends draped all over him. Bionic receiver/RB/road runner Percy Harvin may be the fastest player I've seen since Time Dwight, and unlike Dwight, can change direction without losing a step. The offense is loaded with highly touted playmakers, but whether the Gators translate that into points will depend on Tebow to be more than just a wrecking ball at the goal line. On Defense, um, well, yeah. Florida returns 2 of their top 10 tacklers and 6 of their top 19!. Just about everyone is brand spanking new. Sack machine Derrick Harvey and his 11 sacks return along with SS Tony Joiner, but that's it. One thing that stands out is Florida won't be starting any freshmen (the exception may be redshirt corner Jacques Rickerson). Everyone starting should be a sophomore or better his some serious playing time under their belts. While there's no way this unit will replicate last year's performance, the sky isn't exactly falling. The team should be firing on all cylinders by mid season. After that, watch out.
3 Tennesse could be in some trouble this year. I'm not going to make any friends at Rocky Top Talk saying this, but it could be a tough year. The Vols' standard off season problems will (at least temporarily) rob them of their leading rusher LaMarcus Coker. The offseason also cost the Vols their top three receivers, abeit in a more traditional way (graduation). I've got a few questions about the line (2 new sophomore starters), but I think the offense should gel if Coker returns and a wideout or two steps up. My biggest concern is with the defense. The Vols only notched 17 sacks last year and lose five of their top 10 tacklers. In the middle the Vols start two underachieving upper classmen and at the Ends scratch their heads and wonder if anyone actually exists. While the D gave up only 19 a game I can't see the numbers being that good this year without any pressure on the quarterback. Tennessee's going to have to blitz. Everyone knows it, and the corners, no matter how highly touted they are, are going to be on an island. A lot. The saving grace is a manageable schedule, but even so Tennessee's going to have to claw for every SEC win.
5 Sooooo wanted to pick them higher. If there's a school to be afraid of in the SEC this year it's Vandy. 18 returning starters, a highly mobile developing QB with arm strength, and a defense returning 8 of its 10 top tacklers, means trouble for anyone who takes them lightly. This team can win 8 games if the cards fall right. Chris Nickson and Earl Bennett might be the most dynamic QB/WR combo in the SEC (laugh all you want, Bennett's 1st round material and I think Nickson's going to have breakout year). Further, the O-line is all seniors and all returning starters (they only gave up 19 sacks last year [13 total after the Michigan game]). This could be Vandy's best line, well, ever. On Defense Vandy brings back 8 starters and has the ability to get pressure on the QB using only its line. DT Theo Horrocks posted 49 tackles and 5 sacks, while DE Chris Gatewood had 49 and 7. Jonathan Goff (Sr. LB) leads the backside of the defense and Reshard Langford is a more than capable safety. Be wary SEC, Vandy's respectable this year.
6 There's a lot of hype around Cats' QB Andre Woodson. There ought to be. The guy thew 31 TDs and only 7 INTs last year. At Kentucky. I mean, jeebus, that's unheard of ANYWHERE. Despite the return of 15 starters, the Wildcats are still too under talented to contend. All the skill position players return but three new starters on the offensive line could be a problem, especially when Woodson was sacked 39 times last year. On defense WLB Wesley Woodyard was worked to the point of exhaustion, racking up 122 tackles/7.5 TFL/2 Sacks/1 INT. No one else was even close. Despite 8 wins the Cats were outgained by 78 yards last a game year and benefited from an unholy +15 in the turnover department. Woodson's a hell of a player, but I can't see Kentucky capturing lightning in a bottle again this year.

SEC WEST

Rank Team Rationale
1 On talent alone, the top team in the SEC. Les Miles is an idiot, but he's incredibly adept at convincing insanely talented athletes to play for him. The offensive line replaces only one starter, and the new right tackle played in 11 games last year. LSU scored 21 touchdowns via its tailback by Committee, which it will likely employ again despite Keiland Williams being the starter and Charles Scott challenging. The receiving corps takes a hit, but Early Doucet looks ready to take over the top receiving slot and Trindon Holliday should be this year's Percy Harvin, except much, much shorter (he's 5'5"). The scary part of this team is the defense. Last year with 5 returning starters they held opponents to 12.6 a game while rolling up 39 sacks. The Defense line and LB corps are back nearly intact. The biggest offseason hit was at safety where both of LSU's outstanding starting safeties are gone to other employment. However, the corners had 16 pass defenses a piece last year and the new strong safety Craig Steltz had four straight games with an INT. Only two things can derail this train. Special teams and Les Miles. I think Matt Flynn will have a solid year in Baton Rouge and unless Miles drives this team into the ground, they should win the SEC.
2 The offense returns nearly intact, even if Tyrone Prothro probably will never play football again (stupid Shula). Jimmy Johns and his delicious sandwiches will try to replace Ken Darby's 835 rushing yards. The most random stat of Alabama's year was total rushing touchdowns, 10!! For comparison, Anthony Dixon of Mississippi State had 9. With a veteran line that returns all its starters from last year expect that to change. WR DJ Hall should have a banner year along with QB John Parker (Lewis) Wilson. Wilson threw for a respectable 57% completion percentage and a 17-10 ratio despite being hobbled after the Florida International game. There are big play threats on the wings, so Bama should put up some points. The question will be if they can keep them off the board. Only Prince Hall returns as a starter for the Linebacking corps. This is a problem considering `Bama's running a 3-4. On the line, the DE's return but new Nose tackle Lorenzo Washington is seriously undersized at 270. In addition, the Tide will start two new members of the secondary and starting star corner Simeon Castille just got busted for drunk and disorderly. Despite the losses and concerns on defense, Saban's arrival should have a very positive affect on the Tide. The stupid mistakes and drops in concentration should start to disappear. A tough road schedule will make it tough to take the West over LSU.
3 The biggest concern I have with Auburn in on its offensive line. Auburn will start a true freshman at right tackle and three other new starters at center and both guard positions. Even though they're new, everyone but the frosh has playing time under their belt. Brandon Cox returns as a senior at QB. It's hard to criticize a QB who led the Tigers to an 11-2 season, but his 14-9 ratio and 2,200 yards was a little underwhelming (at least in my eyes). Further complicating matters is the loss of his top receiver and friend of the little people, Kenny Irons. But the cupboard's not bare, heavily hyped Ben Tate should offer similar numbers to Irons after posting a gaudy 7.3 ypc on 54 tries last year. Along with redzone battering ram Brad Lester, the Auburn offense shouldn't miss too much despite the departures. On defense the unit that was hit hardest was the linebacking corps, the rest of the D is back basically intact, including quarterback terror Quentin Groves and budding terror Sen'Derrick Marks. This group will get a lot of pressure on the quarterback and a size upgrade in the middle in Pat Sims or Greg Smith at NT should drag the rushing numbers down around 100 a game from 124. Auburn has a favorable schedule with only 4 road games this year. If there's a team that can surprise in the West, it's the Tigers.
4 Well, there's Darren McFadden and, um, Casey Dick? That's not fair. Dick did an admirable job last year putting up with Nutt and Mustain and played decently. He's not going to win games for you, but he's a decent caretaker of the offense. The problem won't be the skill guys, although Marcus Monk's recent injury is not good news. Like Auburn, Arkansas will be breaking in a slew of new starters on the offensive line. Both tackles will be first time starters at tackle and there's the potential for a guy who's never seen the field to start at guard. If Dick was a more dynamic quarterback I'd say Arkansas might be able to shrug that off, but I'm skeptical. This is a rushing attack built around McFadden and fellow 1000 yard back Felix Jones. Clearing the way for them will be Peyton Hills, an outstanding FB. The hitch this year will be defense. The Hogs lose 22.5 of their 37 sacks to graduation, the SEC's top DL tackler, their two top tackling linebackers (over 100 a piece) and outstanding CB Chris Houston. There's no way this unit come close to the 18.3 ppg they gave up last year. It's a talented group, but Arkansas benefited from 10 returning offensive starters and 8 defensive starters last year and both units posted some of their best numbers in almost a decade. The losses on both lines, along with Nutt still coaching at Arkansas, will keep the Hogs out of the title game despite a favorable schedule.
5 Orgeron has to start winning at some point if he's going to keep his job. While Ole Miss' talent level has gone through the roof in comparison to previous regimes, the Reb's faithful expected a dramatic turn around. If they'll give the guy time they'll be very happy. This years recruiting class is easily the Orgeron's best. That's the positive stuff. Even though the offense only posted 15.7 a game last year, they should be in the three touchdown range this year. The problem is on defense. Despite Orgeron's pedigree, Ole Miss reached the QB only once a game last year. It should get better this year with the return of the entire defensive line and three excellent Linebacking recruits (2 top tier JUCO recruits who could fill in immediately). There's just not enough firepower yet for Ole Miss to make an impact.
6 In three years guiding MSU, Croom has only 9 wins to show for his efforts, total. This year the Bulldogs return 9 starters on offense including 4 of 5 linemen. I'd expect this group to crack the three touchdown a game barrier and finally start putting some points on the board. Defensively, well, there's not much to write about. Only 4 of the top 10 tacklers return, and only Titus Brown (7.5 sacks) has shown any ability to get after the quarterback. The state of Mississippi's going to have another though year no matter which team they root for.

In the SEC Title Game I'll take LSU over South Carolina.