Welcome to the first issue of Around the SEC for the 2008 season.
Don’t know about you, but I have had enough swimming, gymnastics, and relay races to last another four years. Like old Hank, Jr., I’m ready for some football – SEC style.
So, ice down the coolers, heat up the grill, and tailgate with us each week for conference news and previews of upcoming games.
Before we get to the first week’s action, a quick review of last season and a glance at some of this year’s story lines is in order.
For a second consecutive season, an SEC team won the national title. LSU thumped Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS championship game, leading the league to a final bowl record of 7 wins and 2 losses. Mississippi State, Alabama, Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, and Georgia joined the Bengal Tigers as bowl victors.
Individually, QB Tim Tebow of Florida became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy after accounting for a conference-record 55 touchdowns last fall. Former Arkansas RB Darren McFadden was the runner-up and also the second selection in the NFL draft, going to Oakland.
This season several story lines prevail …
Georgia is the top-rated team in most national polls, with up to another half-dozen or more conference squads garnering Top 25 rankings depending on the source.
Houston Nutt moved from Arkansas to become head coach at Ole Miss, and the Rebels could be a surprise team in the West. Bobby Petrino, after a disastrous NFL stint with Atlanta, takes over for Nutt in Fayetteville, but most prognosticators pick the pigs to struggle.
The conference also signed a huge TV contract with ESPN this week to match an earlier commitment with CBS. More on those in future postings.
Here are our first set of weekly ratings (remember these fluctuate a lot during the year), followed by Professor’s Picks for Week One.
The Campus Game Weekly Conference Ratings
1. Florida … Gators talent and schedule puts them atop heap to start season.
2. Georgia … talented Dogs are national darlings, but injuries and schedule cause concern.
3. LSU … defending champs have few questions; but the one at quarterback is big.
4. Auburn … Tigers are excited about fast-paced new offense.
5. Tennessee … last year’s East champs are being overlooked by many.
6. Alabama … Tide lost a bunch of close ones last season, but talent level is rising.
7. South Carolina … Spurrier’s Gamecocks look great on D, at quarterback not so much.
8. Mississippi State … Bulldogs have a bruising running game and rugged D.
9. Ole Miss … Don’t be surprised if Rebels surprise, but road schedule is a challenge.
10. Kentucky … Rich Brooks and the Wildcats will be hard-pressed to keep bowl streak alive.
11. Arkansas … Hogs lost a ton of offensive talent.
12. Vanderbilt … Tough to find more than four or five wins for Dores.
2008 Record 0-0
(2007 Final Record: 73-21)
NC State at South Carolina (8:00 ESPN 8/28)
Tommy Beecher gets the start at QB for Carolina, but if he struggles it might turn into a Thursday night game of musical chairs with the quarterbacks. The Gamecocks figure to be very stingy on defense. Linebackers Eric Norwood and Jasper Brinkley are huge (both 270+), and corner Captain Munnerlyn could be an All-American. That should be the difference.
Game Ball: South Carolina
Vanderbilt at Miami (Ohio) (7:30 ET ESPNU 8/28)
Expect a low scoring game Thursday night as we have the unusual pairing of an SEC team traveling to play a MAC squad. The Commodores should have enough talent to get by the Red Hawks, even though Miami did play in the MAC championship game last season. Let’s call a close one for Vandy.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt
Alabama vs. Clemson (at Georgia Dome) (8:00 ET ABC 8/30)
See SEC Game of Week column.
Game Ball: Clemson
Western Illinois at Arkansas (7:00 ET 8/30)
The Petrino era starts in Fayetteville against the Leathernecks of WIU. While the Hogs cannot replace Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, veteran QB Casey Dick and RB Michael Smith should help get the new regime off to a nice start.
Game Ball: Arkansas
Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn (7:00 ET 8/30)
The Tigers will finally get to fight someone other than their own teammates when the Warhawks of LMU visit. The new spread offensive attack is what everybody is waiting to see. Also, think Tiger fans remember that LMU beat Alabama last year?
Game Ball: Auburn
Hawaii at Florida (12:30 ET Raycom 8/30)
The Gators enter the season as Game Day Weekly’s #1 team and a national title contender. Hawaii was last seen being blown out in the Sugar Bowl, and the Warriors have since lost their head coach and a bunch of players. The Gators have not.
Game Ball: Florida
Georgia Southern at Georgia (12:30 ET PPV 8/30)
The highly-hyped Bulldogs start the season against pass-happy Southern. The Bulldogs have some injuries and suspensions, so finally playing a game should be a fun release. Expect a 15-20 point win.
Game Ball: Georgia
Appalachian State at LSU (5:00 CT ESPN 8/30)
Everybody – including Les Miles and the Bengal Tigers – remembers what ASU did to Michigan at the Big House last season. The Mountaineers will provide a nice challenge to LSU’s vaunted defensive front, but don’t expect an upset.
Game Ball: LSU
Memphis at Ole Miss (7:00 ET 8/30)
Expectations are high in Oxford, with the debuts of coach Houston Nutt and QB Jevan Snead causing much of the excitement. Both lines are huge and have some talent, so the Rebels should have plenty to handle the Tigers, who must replace two-year starting QB Marty Hankins. Count on a nice start to the Nutt era.
Game Ball: Ole Miss
Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech (6:45 ET ESPN2 8/30)
State hopes to build on last season’s success, but a trip to Ruston is no picnic. MSU looks for QB Wesley Carroll to improve over his freshman season and RB Anthony Dixon (the first State soph ever to rush for 1000 yards) to continue his strong work. The defense should be able to handle La Tech, where coach Derek Dooley is the only head coach in Division I (FBS) to also serve as AD.
Game Ball: Miss State
Kentucky at Louisville (3:30 ET ESPN 8/31)
With only 13 starters returning, Kentucky will be hard-pressed to win (or even get to) a third straight bowl game. After years of relying on offense, the Big Blue defense may need to carry the load this year. Louisville disappointed in coach Steve Kragthorpe’s first season after being highly-rated in pre-season so the heat is on in Derby town.
Game Ball: Louisville