It's time for the Preseason Conference Round-ups! First up, the powerhouse SEC. This seems easy enough at first, what with Florida being so obviously dominant, but once you get past the Gators or look at the West, things get tricky. So, let's get the easy part out of the way:
The East Champion will be Florida. They're just still too loaded. Tebow might well finish up his career near the top of the GOAT list and the D returns EVERYBODY and their backups from last season's league leading squad. Harvin is a significant loss, but not enough to slow the Gators down. The only problems facing this team are offensive scheme change and the conference in which they play. If a new OC and implementing some new I-set stuff in anyway throw the system off, it could have enough effect to keep UF from a ttile game. Same for the schedule. While the non-conf is maddeningly easy, there are enough landmines on the conf slate to forgive it. A loss in the regular season could keep the Gators out of the big game in favor of 2 undefeated teams that might not quite be as deserving as a 1-loss Florida.
Upset Special: at Mississippi State. It's the week before the Cocktail Party, in Starkville (where UF's traditionally played poorly), and then there's the Mullen factor.
2. Georgia - I just don't think that UGA will be that bad off in the post-Stafford/Moreno era. Cox is a winner with plenty of program experience and leadership and the O-line, if healthy, could be one of the nation's best. The defense should improve enough to keep the Dawgs right behind Florida and a repeat 9-3 mark wouldn't be a surprise.
3. South Carolina - This is a limb, I know it. But, for some reason, I believe in Garcia this year. Spurrier knows enough about the college QB spot to pick a winner (even from the huddled masses that SC recruiting lands him), and it's this kid's time to shine. I hate to put it all on his shoulders, but the D can only do so much to keep the Cocks competitive. If Garcia comes through and limits the turnovers, SC could top last season's 7 wins.
4. Tennessee - I really wanted to put UK here, but the Vols get the final nod. Why? Both teams will have similar records, but UT will beat the 'Cats late, nudging past them in the conf standings. Kiffin's first year might not meet the hype he (and the SEC media) has created, but they'll make it to the post season with either 6 or 7 wins. September 19 will be a hoopla with Junior in The Swamp and the Auburn-Georgia b2b run will be tough.
5. Kentucky - I cannot completely explain why I have so much faith in this team. They're picked last in the East almost everywhere else but there's something about them I believe in...at least enough to get 6 wins. Brooks is smart enough to incorporate Cobb into the offensive scheme to alleviate pressure on Hartline and O-line is bringing nearly 90 starts into '09. If the Cats can get 2-3 conf wins, they'll be bowling for Christmas.
6. Vanderbilt - The 'Dores are used to cellar dwelling and for good reason. Last year's 4-4 SEC mark was a rarity that won't be repeated as the ball won't bounce Vandy's way nearly as much as it did in '08. Rice and GA Tech are going to be tough non-conf games, the QB spot is still questionable and the defense won't be able to contain some of the more explosive offenses they'll face. While I'd love to see the 'Dores bowling again, it just won't happen.
Georgia-Florida in Jax., Halloween - Could decide the East champion, but will most likely just be a shot for the Dawgs to ruin a perfect season.
Tennessee at Florida, 9/19 - Kiffin taking his show on the road to the most hostile environment in the East. Meyer and the Gators are ready to DRILL the Vols for all the off-season drama, and that distraction might be enough to open the door to a UT upset.
Florida at LSU, 10/10 - This will most likely be a preview of the SEC Championship Game. Baton Rouge is a dangerous place in the fall, especially at night. Tebow will have to be sharp to lead his troops through this one.
South Carolina at Georgia, 9/12 - This game always sets the tone for the remainder of the winner's season. It's been close and defensive since the OBS took over at SC. This year should be no different.
Tennessee at Kentucky, 11/28 - This game could, in all reality, be for bowl eligibility. Both teams look poised for similar seasons and this season-ending showdown could be either team's crucial sixth win.