Looking into the crystal ball for SEC answers

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 11:32pm

At long last, college football season is here. Best of all, that means ESPN SportsCenter will have something to offer other than five minutes of riveting, edge-of-your-seat Orioles-White Sox highlights.

Without further adieu, here’s how we see the Southeastern Conference shaping up in 2007:

EASTERN DIVISION

Florida

New starting quarterback Tim Tebow and the offense will be good enough while the defense finds its footing. After that, watch out.

Georgia

This is my pick for the surprise team of the year in the SEC, although the Dawgs still won nine games last year in a “down” season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is a blossoming star.

South Carolina

You know it and I know it. With Coach Steve Spurrier around, it’s only a matter of time before the Gamecocks join the SEC’s elite.

Tennessee

There are too many question marks, especially on offense, to think this is the year the Vols will capture their first SEC championship since 1998. Or even come close.

Kentucky

UK is the trendy pick to be the SEC’s surprise team, but I’m not buying it. Let’s see some defense first. Gotta love that offense, though.

Vanderbilt

This will be a competitive team, but life in the SEC East is brutal. We still think the Commodores will finish 6-6 and play in a bowl game.

WESTERN DIVISION

LSU

The Tigers, as loaded as ever, will run the table in the SEC and play for the national championship next January down the road in New Orleans.

Auburn

Tough call here between Auburn and Arkansas, but we’ll go with the Tigers due to the presence of an established quarterback in Brandon Cox.

Arkansas

You have to love tailback Darren McFadden, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. But he’s not enough for the Hogs to make a return trip to the SEC Championship Game.

Alabama

The Tide figures to again become a force at some point before new coach Nick “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” Saban skips town for more money elsewhere, but he still has more rebuilding to do first.

Ole Miss

Good recruiting has helped build depth and speed, and the Rebels should improve soon. For now, they won’t be a factor in the Western Division race.

Mississippi State

The Bulldogs are going to struggle again, and coach Sylvester Croom will start feeling the heat after posting nine wins in the three previous seasons.

WHO’S NEXT?

The SEC features four head coaches with national championship pedigrees: Spurrier, Saban, Florida’s Urban Meyer and Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer. No other conference can match that.

Who will be No. 5? LSU’s Les Miles is a good candidate. It might even happen this year.

UNDER THE RADAR

The SEC’s five most underrated players:

1. Keenan Burton, wide receiver, Kentucky

2. Titus Brown, defensive end, Mississippi State

3. Cory Boyd, tailback, South Carolina

4. Brannan Southerland, fullback, Georgia

5. Felix Jones, tailback, Arkansas

CREAM OF THE CROP

The SEC’s five best players – period:

1. Glenn Dorsey, defensive tackle, LSU

2. Darren McFadden, tailback, Arkansas

3. Derrick Harvey, defensive end, Florida

4. Andre Woodson, quarterback, Kentucky

5. Earl Bennett, wide receiver, Vanderbilt

DO OR DIE

Five players who need to produce this season for their teams to succeed:

1. Blake Mitchell, quarterback, South Carolina: Spurrier’s offense will hum only to the extent that Mitchell continues to improve.

2. Chris Nickson, quarterback, Vanderbilt: Perhaps no player in the SEC will be asked to do more for his team.

3. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, tailback, Ole Miss: The Rebels can’t throw the ball, so they’ll need another big season from Green-Ellis.

4. Brandon Spikes, middle linebacker, Florida: Must replace departed star Brandon Siler and solidify a depleted defense.

5. Matt Flynn, quarterback, LSU: All he has to do is fill in for JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

TITLE TOWN

Looking into our crystal ball, we see LSU topping Florida in December to win the SEC championship.

Brett Hait covers Vanderbilt and the Southeastern Conference for The City Paper. He can be reached at bhait@nashvillecitypaper.com.

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By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 7:00

From my crystal ball: some teams will lose, some will win and one will be SEC champion.I'll be here all week.