A few thoughts:
1. All hands off the Florida bandwagon. Among the concerns listed in the article: Urban hates his running backs, the offensive line is 80% new, and the job of picking new corners in the spring was made easier by the fact that there were on;y two on the roster. I'm looking forward to the rationales for having the Gators in the pre-season top ten: "But wait, they have their quarterback returning...and they won their last two games...and they were fun to watch when Steve Spurrier was there!"
2. As much as I liked reading an article with actual information as opposed to talk radio talking points and hyperbole, this sentence caused me to question the author's background:
And it'll be interesting to see how former guard Nick Jones handles the transition to center.
Brett, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that playing center won't cause Jones to lose control of his bowels, since he only started for half a season at that spot in 2003. Boom goes the dynamite!
3. I picked South Carolina to win the East back in December, but having only ten returning starters worries me. So, I feel dirty for saying this, but right now, I'm leaning towards Tennessee. This might be a reflex from my childhood when Johnny Majors vacillated between "I'm too drunk to coach this team to come out of the tunnel right" with "I'm just drunk enough to be an angry, feisty man in a tweed jacket who's still pissed as hell at Paul Hornung" and the Vols alternated between mediocre seasons and surprising runs to the SEC title, but the mix of a talented roster and the motivation of a 5-6 season in the rearview mirror ought to be a powerful motivator. Most of the big games (Cal, Florida, Alabama, and LSU) are at home, leaving one difficult road trip to Georgia. Replacing four starters on the offensive line is a cause for concern, but given how bad the line sucked last year, is that really a bad thing? And why do I think that there were more than a few bad apples on last year's team whose departure will improve chemistry.
4. I have no idea what to make of Alabama. On the one hand, I suspect that losing Brodie Croyle won't matter much, since he was an average quarterback dressed up like a star because of his recruiting hype and bloodlines. Also, the rest of the offense returns, which means that the new starter - John Parker Wilson - will look better than he really is. On the other hand, as bad as the offense was last year, it was worse in 2004 when Croyle was injured, so how much faith should I have in JPW? And will the team score enough to make up for the regression that the defense will almost certainly take with seven departed starters? We might also keep in mind that this team trailed Southern Miss at the half, beat Ole Miss on the final play of the game, and didn't score an offensive touchdown against Mississippi State. There is a "not much better than the state of Mississippi" theorem brewing here.
5. To me, Arkansas is the most interesting story in the SEC this year for a variety of reasons. First of all, Houston Nutt has gone from being one of the more highly thought of coaches in the conference to firmly on the griddle and he's responded by committing the future of the program to the Malzahn/Mustain axis. (Paging Robert Ludlum: there's the title for your next novel.) Arkansas is going to be transforming their offense from the "what the hell are we doing?" scheme to some sort of spread offense. Darren McFadden an unheralded freshman star last year and the idea of Malzahn moving him all over the field intrigues me. The Hogs also return 19 starters and they played much better in the second half of 2005, beating Ole Miss and Mississippi State handily and losing to Georgia, South Carolina, and LSU by a combined nine points. I'd be dreaming if I thought they'd beat USC in Fayetteville, but don't be shocked when Arkansas beats Alabama and arrives at Columbia on November 4 at 6-2.
6. Ole Miss loses everything on both sides of the trenches. Say hi to last place in the West.
7. You can always count on Mississippi State for at least one great name and continuing in the tradition of Pork Chop Womack and Slovakia Griffith, say hello to Avery "Caveman" Hannibal. If this guy can't be a factor at defensive end, then there is no justice in the world.
With the massive caveat that Phil Steele has not provided me with total enlightenment yet this year, here are my rankings of the divisions as of May 15:
Given Spurrier's record against Fulmer and the result last year in Knoxville, I don't think it's going out on a limb to say they have two difficult road trips.
Rely on that USC-UT result last year at your own peril. UT outplayed the Cocks and shot themselves in the foot repeatedly, allowing USC to stay around in the game and ultimately prevail on a FG that crossed the bar by inches. Plus, Fulmer had reasonably good success against Spurrier in Steve's final years in Gainesville (2-2 in the last four), so you can't hold the Manning games against Phil in analyzing 2006.
The SEC's become the Big Ten this year: parity and complete whatthefuckittude across the board. No one's going undefeated, especially in the East.
Arkansas is the most interesting story, but don't neglect Ole Miss. If Patrick Willis could play all 11 positions, they'd be forcing forfeits due to on-field deaths.
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