By Robert Hydrick - bio | email
ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The July 4th holiday is one of my favorite times of year. That is because the talk turns to college football. Teams report for practice in about a month and the first games are just over 60 days away. A lot of time for everyone to make predictions about the coming season. You may remember last year I had Georgia vs Mississippi State and Virginia Tech vs Wake Forest in the SEC and ACC titles game. I am looking to do better than one out of four. Don't be in a hurry to e-mail your thoughts since I will be on vacation for a week to rest up for the very arduous preseason in August.
1.Georgia: I know the national champion Gators have everyone back. Georgia though won 10 games with more than 20 players missing most or all of the 2008 season. Those players are healthy and the Dogs will be loaded on both lines of scrimmage (which should help the defense). A healthy offensive line is what Mark Richt needs for veteran Joe Cox at quarterback. The concern though is tight end and the secondary where the loss of Asher Allen to the NFL will not be easy to overcome. The bigger concern is the early schedule. Road trips to Oklahoma State and Arkansas in the first three weeks of the season and home games against South Carolina, Arizona State and LSU. If Georgia can escape Fayetteville with a win and not lose at home to their SEC rivals, the rest of the season sets up pretty well. The Bulldogs have two weeks to prepare for the Gators and the memory of Urban Meyer's timeouts in the final seconds in 2008 will motivate the Dogs like the UGA endzone celebration did for the Gators last year.
2.Florida: Everyone will rank the Gators #1 in the preseason polls and they should. The defense is back and so is QB Tim Tebow (the best player in college football) and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez is going to have to be even more of a weapon with the loss of Percy Harvin. The Gators also have to replace two offensive tackles and that is a tall order because the offensive line is to me the key to their offense. Plus offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is now the head coach at Mississippi State. Florida is adding some wrinkles with a fullback and I-formation and Tim Tebow taking snaps under center. The schedule will challenge the Gators in October with a road trip to Baton Rouge followed by a road game to Mississippi State to face a coach who knows the Gators better than anyone in the nation.
3.Vanderbilt: The Commodores have 19 starters back from a team that beat Boston College in the Music City Bowl. Bobby Johnson deserves the credit that Paul Johnson has gotten at Georgia Tech. The big challenge is the schedule with road trips to LSU and Florida. The Dores go to Tiger Stadium the second week of the season and the week after LSU plays at Washington. So, a win in Death Valley is not out of the question. If the Vanderbilt wins at LSU, they come home for games with Ole Miss and UGA before having to head to the Swamp in early November. I believe Vandy is the sleeper in the SEC this fall.
4.South Carolina: Steve Spurrier finally has a quarterback and he should have a very good defensive line. The schedule though is not easy though the Gamecocks should be healthy and ready to play at Georgia September 12th. The trouble is the Gamecocks also have road games at Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.
5.Tennessee: Lane Kiffin has certainly let everyone in the SEC know he is in the SEC and his mouth will likely have Vol opponents seeing red when they line up against the Big Orange. Whether Kiffin can make it in the SEC is not what he needs to worry about. Finding players who are committed to the team concept. Last year's Vols team was one of the poorest I have seen them field in the last ten years. The schedule is difficult with Urban Meyer and the Gators ready in the Swamp in early September and trips to Tuscaloosa and Oxford this year.
6.Kentucky: I think Rich Brooks has done a great job at Kentucky. The problem is he is playing in a division that has had three of the top teams in college football in the last decade. The Cats schedule could help with home games against Florida, Alabama and Mississippi State.
1.Alabama: The Crimson Tide's great season went south with a loss in the SEC title game and a sleep walking performance in the Sugar Bowl. It has made for an interesting offseason with coach Nick Saban making some comments about the fans in relation to the bowl performance. That was then and now is what we are wanting to talk about. The Tide have nine starters back on defense but Kevin Steele their defensive coaching leader is now at Clemson. The offense has lost quarterback John Parker Wilson and the heart of the offensive line including tackle Andre Smith. I don't think Alabama is the best talented team in the West but they have a very manageable schedule. The Virginia Tech game at the Dome will not be easy but it doesn't count in the SEC standings. The Tide have Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU all at home and the only tough road game in the SEC will be at Ole Miss.
2.LSU: The Tigers to me have the best talent in the SEC but their schedule is brutal. A non-conference game at Washington to open the season. The Huskies aren't great but a cross-country road trip takes it is toll on college kids just ask UGA who flew back from Phoenix last year and got flattened by Alabama. The SEC schedule is tough with Vandy at home early and road trips to Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss. The Tigers defense I think will be very good when you add John Chavis to coach an athletic defense that will be very good in the secondary. Offense is the question with losses on the line of scrimmage and the question who will be under center.
3.Ole Miss: If you read someone picking Ole Miss to win the west, they are not crazy. The Rebels as I predicted last summer where the surprise team of the SEC in 2008 with wins at Florida and LSU. Jevan Snead is an outside Heisman contender and there is still plenty of talent in Oxford. The problem I have with Ole Miss is their first two SEC games are at South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Two good teams and Carolina is a tough place to win when you don't play there on a regular basis. I believe an early loss or two will cause problems for a team not used to high preseason expectations. If the Rebs win those two road games, they become the team to beat in the west since LSU, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee all are at Oxford.
4.Arkansas: The second season for Bobby Petrino has arrived and the Hogs are hoping the second year magic that helped Mark Richt, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban (LSU and Alabama) will work in Fayetteville. Arkansas has a quarterback with Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett and Petrino showed what his offense can do at Louisville. The defense will be good led by All-SEC defensive end Malcolm Sheppard from Bainbridge. The schedules starts out good with a non conference scrimmage with Missouri State followed by two weeks to prepare for Georgia in what will be the pivotal game for the Hogs. A win over the Dogs will put Arkansas into the race with a trip to Alabama the next week. The problem is the road also includes a visit to Florida, Ole Miss and LSU.
5.Auburn: New coach Gene Chizik has two things working for him. One no one except him believes he can get the Tigers turned around so he has nothing to lose. The second is he hired a great coaching staff with Gus Malzahn and Ted Rood to run the Tigers offense and defense. The defense will be good but the offense is a different matter. The Tigers need a quarterback and some skill players who can give opposing defensive coordinators gray hairs. The schedule is good with four straight home games before a trip to Tennessee. If the Tigers can leave Knoxville 5-0, the confidence may help them knock off some of the big dogs that wait at the end of the schedule. If Auburn stumbles early like they have in recent seasons, then the Tigers will not be bowling for a second straight year.
6.Mississippi St.: The Bulldogs already have their biggest win this year when they were able to hire Dan Mullen from Florida to be their head coach. Mullen cannot bring quarterback Tim Tebow but he does bring one of the best offensive minds I have seen in the SEC. He has a senior quarterback and some talent but the schedule is going to be tough with road games at Auburn and Vanderbilt in the third three weeks of the season followed by a visit from LSU at the end of September. Of course, the Gators come calling on October 24th which should be a fun week in Starkville. Though it may take some time before the Starkville Dogs are ready to challenge in the west.
1. Virginia Tech: The ACC champions have 15 starters back and one of the best coaching staffs in football led by head coach Frank Beamer. The Hokies schedule is tough with an opener at the Dome against Alabama and home games against Marshall and Nebraska before the ACC opener at home against Miami.
2. Georgia Tech: I was flat wrong about the Jackets last year. What I have learned about Paul Johnson is that it is not the option that wins games. It is Johnson himself. He demands hard work, preparation and execution. A formula that got the Jackets a share of the division title. The problem this season is that Georgia Tech will not sneak up on anyone and they lost three defensive linemen that help Tech overcome the turnovers that come with running an option offense. The Jackets defense does return the entire linebacking corps and secondary. The schedule is tough early with Clemson, Miami and North Carolina in September. October isn't better with a game at Florida State followed by the home showdown against Virginia Tech.
3.North Carolina: Butch Davis is ready for his third season at Carolina. The Tar Heels have nine starters back on defense but lose receiver Hakeem Nicks from the offense. The schedule also has road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
4.Miami: It is also year three for Randy Shannon with the Canes and he has 16 starters back. Miami is still a young squad and they face a challenging schedule to start. At Florida State on Labor Day night followed by a home game with Georgia Tech and a road trip to Blacksburg. An 0-3 start is a possibility.
5.Virginia: Al Groh is starting to feel some heat after a 5-7 season. The Cavs lose leading rusher in Cedric Peerman but get Jameel Sewell returning to carry the football. The defense has six starters back including both corners. The schedule is not too bad with three non-conference games before hitting ACC play.
6.Duke: Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe has some work to do with losing six seniors on both sides of the ball. QB Thaddeus Lewis is back and RB Re'quan Boyette returns after missing all of last year with a knee injury. The defense must replace two linebackers and the schedule has home games with Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
1.Clemson: Dabo Swinney took over a shipwreck in the middle of last season. Got the Tigers into a bowl game and got the head coaching job. His first full season is looking good with 15 starters back including eight on defense. Cullen Harper is gone at quarterback but Kyle Parker is ready to step in behind an offensive line that has all five starters. James Davis gone but C.J. Spillers can break a touchdown run anytime he touches the football.]
2.N.C. State: Year three for Tom O'Brien sees seven starters back on both sides of the football including sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson. The defense has both ends and two linebackers returning. The ACC schedule is tough with road trips at Wake Forest, Boston College, FSU and Virginia Tech.
3. Boston College: The Eagles have a new head coach in Frank Spaziani who has seven starters returning on both sides of the football. The Eagles got some very difficult news with linebacker Mark Herzlich being diagnosed with cancer during the offseason. The big question is at quarterback where former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle's son Justin is in line to lead the Eagles offense. The schedule is favorable with home games against Wake, FSU and UNC.
4.Florida St.: The main topic in Tallahassee this summer has been games Bobby Bowden has already The Seminoles did win a share of the Atlantic Division title last year and have eight starters back in Jimbo Fisher's third season running the FSU offense. That includes QB Christian Ponder who is ready for his second season under center and the offensive line has some experience with Rodney Hudson. Defense is an issue with only five starters back and a secondary that needs to be rebuilt. The schedule starts with a tough game on Labor Day night against Miami.
5.Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have work to do with seven starters lost on defense with Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith now in the NFL. The offense has nine starters back including QB Riley Skinner who is ready for his fourth year as the Demon Deacons starting quarterback. The ACC schedule has road games at Boston College, Clemson and Georgia Tech.
6.Maryland: The Terrapins have experience at quarterback with junior Chris Turner who already has 20 starts under his belt and has running backs Da'Rel Scott and Corey Jackson returning. However the Terrapins did lose receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. The defense has major holes with only four starters returning.
So there you have it. My predictions for the upcoming SEC and ACC seasons. The only thing left is to predict the conference title games. SEC: Georgia over Alabama ACC: Virginia Tech beats Clemson.
Those are my opinions. Feel free to share yours with me.