SEC East Preview
1. Tennessee 10-2 (6-2 SEC)
Year Two of David Cutcliff’s resurrection of the Volunteer offense will be more high-powered than 2006,where Tennessee was strong against California and Georgia, but struggled against teams like Arkansas and Penn State. Erik Ainge should be one the conference’s best offense performers this season and the Volunteer backfield has been rejuvenated in depth for the firsttime in several seasons. The receiver corps will benew and must develop quickly if Ainge is to guide theair game. An angry California looks to upend Tennesseein Berkley for the opener, and then the Vols face a Florida defense that has lost much of its bite two weeks later. Tennessee’s toughest match-ups will be against an improving Georgia on Oct. 6, Nick Saban and the Tide on Oct. 20 and The Visor and his Gamecocks a week later. Tennessee should be aware of the upset in this stretch.
2. Georgia 9-3 (5-3 SEC)
The Bulldogs finished strong in 2006, after stumbling against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, to beat Auburn,Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Georgia will be much improved this season, but there will still be question marks on both sides of the ball. The entire offensive line will be replaced under new line coach Stacey Searels and the front seven on defense looks to be inexperienced as well. Heralded quarterback Matthew Stafford threw twice as many interceptions than touchdowns last season with 13, but a rigorousoff-season training regimen of keg-lifting and spooning should move along the sophomore’s development. The backfield is stout again with an seemingly endless supply of backs and the receiver corps will be helped by the reemergence of Sean Bailey, but success on the field will hinge on the lines. Tennessee, Florida and Auburn will be difficult games, but Alabama and South Carolina could provide upsets if the Dogs get complacent.
3. Florida 8-4 (4-4 SEC)
The Gators had a lot of hype last season and earned their reputation by slapping Ohio State in the national title game. In 2007, the Gators still have the hype, but will have a tougher time earning it. Nine members of a tenacious defense are gone, taking away much of Florida’s bite from 2006. The offense is in pretty good shape, but quarterback Tim Tebow, who was brought in on designed plays last season, will have to run the whole show this year after the departure of four-year starter Chris Leak. Like 2005, this season will test Urban Meyer’s coaching ability and innovative nature as the Gators rebuild and their opponents get stronger. Games with Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Georgia could break either way and an improved Florida State awaits its first win against Florida since 2003.
4. South Carolina 7-5 (3-5 SEC)
The Ole Ball Coach figures his team can make a run to the Georgia Dome come December. If the Gamecocks could find a reliable quarterback, he might be right. However, Blake Mitchell still looks to be the best option, but his off the field antics have cost South Carolina in the past. Last season, the signal caller lost his starting job after punching a bouncer only to regain it later in the season. This summer, pictures surfaced showing that Mitchell was a maniac, maniac ont he floor at a wedding and dancing like he ever danced before or should since. Just recently, Mitchell was suspended for the season opener with La.-Lafayettebecause he missed summer classes. That gives South Carolina one game with back-up Chris Smelley before heading to Athens next week to face UGA. The receiver corps will have question marks with the loss of SidneyRice, but the running game looks strong with CoryBoyd. South Carolina also faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation, not the time to have a shaky senior quarterback.
5. Kentucky 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
Last season, the Wildcats turned a corner last season with upsets over Georgia and Clemson, but don’t expectit to happen again this season. Kentucky will lean heavily on senior quarterback Andre Woodson and the schedule sets up easy to start, but consecutive games against South Carolina, LSU and Florida will bring Rich Brooks’ team back to Earth. A season finale trioat Vanderbilt, at Georgia and hosting Tennessee won’t help either.
6. Vanderbilt 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
The best SEC team not to go to a bowl last season won’t be able to catch a break this year either. The schedule sets up nice at the beginning of the season,with my predicted upset of Alabama coming in the second week. However when October hits, the Commodores will travel to Auburn, host Georgia and are at South Carolina. Vanderbilt closes the season with a Murder’s Row of Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and defending ACC champ Wake Forest. If the ‘Dores can take the Wildcats, they have a shot at their first bowl berth in 25 years.
About the Author: Ernest Faulkner is a professional writer who is known as being the first sports writer to be an "auteur." Mr. Faulkner operates in secrecy among the shadows of the journalism business hoping to avoid their lunacy. During his time in "the biz" he has worked for some of the top publications in the world. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.