By Kenny Howell
This is the next installment of my College Football Preview. This time we look at the SEC. Click the tag below the story that says "College Football Preview" to look at the previous stories.
On the East side, many people are picking South Carolina to win the division, but I am thinking the winner will be an the returning champ. Georgia's schedule pans out really well for them. They only have four true road games, one of which is out of conference. The three in conference are Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Auburn. All winnable. They play Florida on a neutral field and have LSU and South Carolina at home. I think they may go undefeated in conference play, but lose their road opener against Clemson for an 11-1 regular season finish.
South Carolina will be their closest competition. At Georgia early in the season will be their toughest road game, and I thinking Butch Jones makes his first mark as a head coach with a win over the Gamecocks when they visit Knoxville. The Gamecocks finish 10-2, 6-2 in conference play.
Florida should be in the running, but a difficult schedule will hold them back. They have to travel to Miami, LSU and South Carolina. Add that to a neutral field game against Georgia, and a home game against Florida State, and it will be hard to get out with less than three losses. Especially after losing 15 starters if you include kicking specialists.
On the West side, it's obviously Alabama. They are the best until someone proves me wrong. I think they go undefeated through conference play, and don't let Johnny Football trip them up this year.
I think that LSU and Texas A&M won't be the closest competition to Bama. I think it will be Ole Miss. The Rebels have to travel to Alabama, but their only other road SEC games are Vanderbilt, Auburn and Mississippi State. Texas A&M and LSU have to come to Oxford, and the other East team Ole Miss has to play is Missouri. Pretty manageable all around. A road game to Texas will be a loss, but the Rebels should finish 9-3, 6-2 in conference.
Texas A&M and LSU lost a good number of starters from last year's team. The Aggies will replace 13 and the Tigers will replace 15. I still think they are very talented all around, and will have good years. Both should finish 9-3, 5-3 in conference play. LSU has the pleasure of getting Georgia and Florida from the East, and has to travel to Ole Miss and Alabama. A&M doesn't have the tough East teams to play, but they travel to LSU and Ole Miss, and have to play Alabama at home.
Two surprise teams will have moderate bounce back years. I think the change in leadership at Tennessee and Auburn will get them back to winning seasons. Both have a lot of talent, but didn't have the coaching staffs to utilize it. Both could get to 7 or 8 wins.
So it will be Georgia and Alabama once again for the SEC Championship. I think that Alabama will be be too tough once again, and will go on to play in the National Championship.
1. Georgia (11-1) (8-0)
2. South Carolina (10-2) (6-2)
3. Florida (9-3) (5-3)
4. Tennessee (9-3) (5-3)
5. Vanderbilt (2-6) (6-6)
6. Kentucky (5-7) (1-7)
7. Missouri (0-8) (4-8)
1. Alabama (12-0) (8-0)
2. Ole Miss (9-3) (6-2)
3. Texas A&M (9-3 (5-3)
4. LSU (9-3) (5-3)
5. Auburn (3-5) (7-5)
6. Arkansas (4-8) (1-7)
7. Mississippi State (4-8) (1-7)