July 24, 2008
The college football season is underway with conference media day festivities. Electronic, print and internet media asking coaches and players relevant and irrelevant questions about the coming football season. The media and some coaches are making their predictions about what will happen this fall. Here are my picks in the SEC and ACC. Read it over and e-mail your predictions and let's see in November who is right.
First the SEC and its eastern division.
1. Georgia - Everywhere I go this summer, everyone is asking do I think Georgia can win the national championship? The answer is yes they can. The talent is there but the question about the Dogs is their schedule. The Bulldogs play four straight road games against LSU, Florida, Kentucky and Auburn. Georgia needs to beat the Gators and Cats and split the Tigers and they will be playing in Atlanta in December. A win in the SEC championship game should be good enough to qualify them for the BCS title game since Ohio State and USC play in the regular season and that gives one of those teams a loss. And I don't see anyone in the ACC, Big XII or Big East running the table since West Virginia does have Auburn in Morgantown in October.
2 Florida - The Gators have Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at quarterback and receiver Percy Harvin who has been a running back. The Gators expect to add to their running game with USC transfer Emmanuel Moody. The key for Florida is defense which is what beat them in Jacksonville last year and not the Bulldog first quarter touchdown celebration. If Florida gets out of Rocky Top with a win, the Gators should be undefeated rolling into Georgia. But LSU will be no picnic even in Gainesville.
3. South Carolina- The Gamecocks are the sleepers in the East. Their offense may have quarterback concerns but the defense has 10 starters back. The schedule is very favorable with Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas all visiting the Roost this fall. If the Gamecocks can knock off the Bulldogs in early September, then their visit to the Swamp in November will be huge.
4 Tennessee - The Volunteers return four offensive linemen, tight end and running back Arian Foster. However they did lose quarterback Erik Ainge and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. The defense will be led by their secondary but the front seven has some questions marks. The schedule is tough with road trips to Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina and oh the Dogs, who have lost 3 of 4 to the Vols, have two weeks to be ready for the Big Orange on the second Saturday in October.
5. Kentucky - The Wildcats are in what has to be called a rebuilding year after losing quarterback Andre Woodson. Rich Brooks has done a great job of recruiting in the rugged east and the Cats will be a formidable team. However road trips to Tuscaloosa, Gainesville, Starkville and Knoxville will present a big challenge.
6. Vanderbilt - This is a rebuilding year for Vanderbilt with the loss of eight starters on offense and only one lineman and linebacker returning on the front seven on defense. The losses include receiver Earl Bennett and offensive lineman Chris Williams. The Commodores must find a quarterback and someone to run the football in August before facing a difficult schedule that includes a week two game against South Carolina and a visit from Auburn and Florida.
SEC Western Division
1. Mississippi State - You are reading correctly. The SEC West is wide open and Sly Croom's Bulldogs have a very good chance to play in Atlanta. Mississippi State last year beat Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky and have 13 starters returning including seven on defense. Middle linebacker Jamar Chaney would be starting at Georgia. The biggest loss was defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson who is now at South Carolina via Arkansas. The offense has a settled quarterback picture with Wesley Carroll back for his sophomore season. I also like State's schedule since they play Vanderbilt and Kentucky at home and they get Auburn in Starkville the week before the Tigers play LSU. Road games at LSU and Tennessee are troubling but if Mississippi State beats Auburn at home they will be a contender in the west race.
2. Auburn - The Tigers are a popular pick to win this division because it is their year to host LSU. Auburn will have a great defense but I just believe the Tigers will have growing pains in Tony Franklin's spread offense. The schedule is tough but the tough games against LSU, Tennessee and Georgia are on the Plains and as I mentioned above the game at Mississippi State will not be automatic and Alabama I think will be ready to end a long drought to their cross-state rivals in Tuscaloosa on Thanksgiving weekend. The key for Auburn is to beat State and LSU. If they don't, it could be a tough season on the Plains.
3. LSU - The Bayou Tigers would national championship contenders if they had Ryan Perilloux at quarterback. Les Miles most experienced quarterback may have just two pass attempts but the offensive line that protects him returns four starters, tight end and one receiver. Another big question mark is finding a running back. The defense lost all-world tackle Glen Dorsey but has three starters back up front. The big concern is behind the front where only one linebacker and safety are back. The schedule is just as tough as last year only the Tigers have road trips to Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia comes to Baton Rouge at the end of October. If LSU wins the west with all of this, you cannot question anything Les Miles does because his way will have proven to be the right way.
4. Alabama - The Nick Saban era got off to a disappointing start with a 7-6 record in 2007. 2008 will be just as difficult only Alabama does have hope after signing one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Nick Saban knows however you don't win with freshmen in the SEC. The Tide returns 15 starters including nine offense. Alabama has perhaps the best tackle in college football in Andre Smith. The defense though is the big question mark. Bama is thin at linebacker which is not good when you run a 3-4 system. The schedule is even harder with road trips to Georgia, Tennessee and yes LSU where some Bayou Tigers are waiting for the return of their former coach. If the Tide don't' have La-Monroe moment at Arkansas and at home against Ole Miss, they should be bowling again.5- Arkansas - The Hogs said goodbye to Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and hello to head coach Bobby Petrino. There is no question Petrino can coach at the college level. The question is can he rebuild in Fayetteville to be a factor this year. Casey Dick is back for his senior season and the Hogs did have backfield talent behind McFadden and Jones. The offensive and defensive fronts have experience but the defensive secondary is one of the preseason concerns. The SEC schedule is not that bad. Arkansas opens SEC play at home with Alabama and Florida and win over the Tide could open the doors for Arkansas. The first road test isn't until October 11 at Auburn and the other big road games come late in the season at South Carolina and Mississippi State where the Hogs will have two weeks to get ready.
6. Mississippi - New Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt must feel like a kid at Christmas when he saw the talent Ed Orgeron had left him. The Rebels will also have Jevon Snead at quarterback which has been the position that has really held them back the past two years. If it wasn't for their schedule, I think Ole Miss could be a contender in this division. The Rebels have road games at Arkansas, Florida Alabama and LSU. That is why I think they will finish at the bottom of this division. I don't think though they will go winless in the SEC and anyone who has the Rebels on their schedule better be ready to play.
Now for the ACC. I attended their football kickoff and here is the preseason predictions I turned in.
1. Virginia Tech - The Hokies face a difficult challenge in defending their title. They lost seven starters on defense and most of their skill players. The schedule is brutal with road trips to North Carolina, Boston College, Florida State and Miami. I think the Virginia Tech program can re-load given their competition in this division.
2.North Carolina - Butch Davis has 18 starters back in his second season with the Tar Heels. They will need the experience with Virginia Tech and a road trip to Miami to open their ACC schedule
3.Miami - The Hurricanes must rebuild an offense that includes finding a new starting quarterback. The schedule is to their advantage with UNC, FSU, Wake and Va Tech all coming to south Florida.
4.Virginia - The Cavaliers have some rebuilding to do. Virginia lost their quarterback, two lineman and their defensive line including defensive end Chris Long. The good news is that meat of the ACC schedule is at the end of November.
5.Georgia Tech - Paul Johnson faces a big challenge in his first season with the Jackets. Not only is he trying to fit round pegs in square holes in finding players for his offense. Georgia Tech has a killer schedule. Road trips to Boston College and Virginia Tech in September. That opens a tough conference schedule that also includes a road trip to Clemson and visits by FSU and Miami and the non-conference schedule has Mississippi State and Georgia. If the Jackets are bowl eligible this season then Paul Johnson is the ACC coach of the year.
6.Duke - The Blue Devils hope David Cutcliffe can do what Jim Grobe has done at Wake Forest. Cutcliffe inherits experience with 17 starters returning including ten on defense. Duke has time to adjust to their new head coach since their tests on the ACC schedule come in the final five weeks of the season.
1.Wake Forest- Clemson has the star studded talent but Wake has nine starters back on defense. Coach Jim Grobe knows how to coach defense. Plus Clemson comes to Winston-Salem in November.
2.Clemson - The Tigers return QB Cullen Harper and the best tandem of backs in the nation in James Davis and C.J. Spiller. The trouble is four linemen are gone along with three linebackers and NFL draft pick Philip Merling. The schedue is not easy with road trips to Wake, BC and FSU.
3.Florida State - The Seminoles have enough talent where you never overlook them in this conference. The Seminoles are counting on QB Drew Weatherford to be the leader in his senior season and receiver Greg Carr is back. Defense has seven starters back including safety Myron Rolle. The schedule is not bad with Va Tech, Clemson and BC coming to Tallahassee. The big problem for FSU is they are thin on the line and will play their first three games with a number of players finishing their suspensions from the academic issue last year. That is alright for Western Carolina and Chattanooga but Wake Forest is game three and you see what I think of the Demon Deacons.
4.Boston College- The Eagles have lost quarterback Matt Ryan to the Atlanta Falcons but they still have plenty of talent in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles have three starters back on the offensive line. Back to back November road games at FSU and Wake Forest are critical for the Eagles.
5.Maryland - The Terps have a big senior class and nine starters back on offense. The defense has some question marks espeically in the secondary
6.N.C. State - The Wolfpack expect to have a strong running game with three linemen and three tailbacks returning in Tom O'Brien's second season. The defense lost seven starters. The schedule has BC, FSU, Wake and Miami coming to Raleigh this season which gives State fans reason to hope the preaseason forecast is wrong.