August 20, 2004

Let’s Play Some Football! SEC Version

Let’s Play Some Football! SEC Version

The Original Power Conference has fallen down a bit, not because of any real weakness, but because other conferences are following their example. Still, the SEC does return a Co-National Champion in LSU, and a worthy competitor this season in Georgia. The leagues other glamour programs, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida, all face serious questions, and there is movement in the bottom of the league too, as Mississippi State hired the SEC’s first black head football coach, and Vanderbilt is showing signs of life under Paul Johnson.

1-Georgia Bulldogs

The Dawgs are a serious National Championship contender, and they should be, as Mark Richt returns boatloads of talent, led by QB David Greene and DE David Pollack. They did take a crippling loss during summer camp, as heralded tailback Kregg Lumpkin tore up his knee. That will put more pressure on Greene, and his cadre of talented but enigmatic receivers, led by senior Fred Gibson

2-Florida Gators

You would think that an 8-4 season and a win over the eventual National Champion would give Ron Zook a little wiggle room. You would be wrong. Now that it is generally accepted the Gators have a lot of talent, albeit young and inexperienced, plus the unemployment of the Head Ball Coach, Zook is under considerable pressue. What can his young team do to save his job? Win, early and often. Talents such as QB Chris Leak might be able to do it, but Zook and his staff have to improve their game-day coaching.

3-Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers have been shaky the last couple of years, and now they face life without Casey Clausen. The only player with a win at QB on the roster is James Banks, and while he doesn’t seem to admit it, he makes a far superior wide receiver. The candidates include Chris Leak’s older brother CJ and LSU refugee Rick Clausen. Since neither seems to be a copy of their more talented siblings, the door could be open to a true freshman. The running game should be fine, behind Cedric Houston and the so-far disappointing Gerald Riggs Jr. Pencil in the Vols to win a game they shouldn’t, lose a couple they shouldn’t and collapse in whatever non-BCS bowl they end up in.

4-South Carolina Gamecocks

Lou Holtz can be a bit of bastard, can’t he? If you disagree, just ask his son Skip. Junior Holtz was the offensive coordinator and heir to the throne, but after watching the Gamecocks struggle with the spread offense, Senior Holtz fired four assistants, stripped Skippy of his OC duties, and reinstalled a throwback I-formation and plans to put the game in the hands of tailbacks Demetris Summers and Cory Boyd. That is a good idea, since both are talented, and USC has nothing at quarterback.

5-Vanderbilt Commodores

Raise your hand if you know the second best quarterback in the SEC is a Commodore. He’s Jay Cutler, a junior who is dangerous with both his arm and his legs. Big and durable, Cutler leads and improving offense, which, combined with a bend-but-don’t break defense could lead Vandy to 3-4 wins. For this team, that’s and improvement.

6-Kentucky Wildcats

The Round Mound of Touchdown is gone, and all fans of goofy nicknames will miss him. As will most Wildcat fans, as Jared Lorenzen was never dull. Rich Brooks’ team now goes to Shane Boyd, QB of the future for the last 3-4 years. Boyd, now a senior, has played both running back and wideout, but now moves back to QB. He has some depth at receiver to work with, though steady senior Tommy Cook may miss the entire season with injuries. The defensive line is talented, led by end Vincent “Sweet Pea” Burns, but Kentucky has no running game and little on the O-line. That will doom them to a miserable season.

1-LSU Tigers

Okay, so maybe Nick Saban WAS worth all the money the Tigers gave him to leave Michigan State, and continue to give in hopes he won’t bolt to the NFL. A program that long thought itself much more important than it actually was is now defending National Champion. They return a lot too, especially on defense and in the running game. They do need a quarterback to emerge, with the favorite being senior Marcus Randall, but don’t count out freshman Ja’Marcus Russell. Whoever ends up at QB will do a lot of handing off to LSU’s fleet of quality backs: Joseph Addai, Justin Vincent, and Shyrone Carey.

2-Alabama Crimson Tide

It’s been a fun few years for the Tide, hasn’t it? This year should be better, provided Coach Mike Shula stays away from schools based in Texas, Florida strip-clubs, and his own secretary. The Tide will benefit from a year of stability, and a soft non-conference schedule. With a year in Shula’s passing game, QB Brodie Croyle could have a big season provided his injured shoulder is fully healed and someone from his distinctly smurf-like wideout corps, where nobody in the two-deeps is over 6-0, steps up Alabama could surprise some people, but only if Shula’s game decisions improve and the team stays healthy. With the recent probation showing on the depth chart, an injury or two could doom this team.

3-Auburn Tigers

This time last year, everybody loved the Tigers. Mentioned as a BSC team and a darkhorse National Champion possibility, the Tigers stumbled out of the gate last year, as they were shellacked by USC and Georgia Tech, and never recovered. Add the bizarre courtship of Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino, the attempted and botched firing of current Coach Tommy Tuberville, and you have a very forgettable year for the Tigers, who seem to be hell-bent on self-destruction. The pity of all this is the team on the field should be good. Auburn sports nearly as much running back talent as LSU with Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Ronnie Brown, and an established QB in Jason Campbell. On defense, they need to replace a sterling group of linebackers.

4-Ole Miss Rebels
Did they make a sequel to the song Eli’s Coming? If they did, it probably did not mention Michael Spurlock, who has to replace Eli. Spurlock, an undersized but nifty junior, has a tall order, but the rest of Rebels seem ready to step up. Vashon Pearson is the Rebs best returning runner, but junior Brandon Jacobs could overshadow him if fully recovered from injury. They continue to improve defensivly as well, as a long-standing problem with bulk on the D-Line seems to be lessening. Ole Miss also benefits from having the best special teams in the conference, led by kicker Jonathon Nicholls, last year’s Groza Award winner.

5-Arkansas Razorbacks
Well, if your going to only have one returning starter on offense, it might as well be the QB. This is what Coach Houston Nutt is staring at for the 2004 season, as QB Matt Jones is the only returnee on offense. He might even see time at WR, since that is where the 6-6 running specialist is probably best suited for in the NFL, with freshman Robert Johnson taking over. The Hogs to return two quality tailbacks in DeCori Birmingham and De’Arrius Howard, but only one start on the offensive line. That belongs to Jr OT Zac Tubbs. On defense, Arkansas returns a lot along the front seven, but will be very young in the secondary.

6-Mississippi State Bulldogs
After being bypassed by his alma mater, Sylvester Croom gets the opportunity to make history with MSU. He has a long way to go though, as the Bulldogs don’t return much talent, and are facing possible NCAA sanctions. MSU will switch to the run-based version of the West Coast offence the Green Bay Packers run, and a pressure-based defense. It will take time, but Croom will have something here.

SEC Champion: Georgia Bulldogs

Previously: ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12 ,Non-BCS Conferences, PAC-10

Posted by Frinklin at August 20, 2004 08:26 PM

For some reason, I see Arkansas winning 6 games this year.

Sure, they've lost a lot of talent. But they still have Matt Jones. He's worth a few wins alone.

No way does Alabama finish 2nd in the SEC West, bro. They do have Brodie Croyle, but they've been decimated by probation. Maybe in 2005, they will be back.

Posted by: Jeremy at August 21, 2004 02:42 PM
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