2007 SEC Preview

2007 SEC Preview

SEC FOOTBALL PREVIEW 2007

From top to bottom the SEC is the best conference in college football. Year after year some of the most exciting games take place in the SEC between teams that have been doing it this way for decades. Each of these teams plays a killer schedule. Any SEC team that wins 10+ games deserves careful consideration for a number one ranking because simply put, no other conference plays as tough a schedule as the SEC.

EAST

Florida - So what will 2007-2008 have in store for the defending National Champs? Is there a repeat in the works? Well, let's start out with returning starters. Or lack thereof. Florida has one starter returning on defense, and just 5 returning on offense. But remember, this is Florida. One of the top recruiting schools in the nation year after year. There is never a shortage of talent here. But asking for a repeat is asking a bit too much. The Gators were involved in enough close games last year to expect that they might not be on the winning side of those this year. The schedule looks to me like 2 or three losses. They have to play at LSU and South Carolina, otherwise with the exception of the neutral site Georgia game, the rest are at home. So expect the Gators to once again be in the mix. There's too much talent not to be. But no repeat this year, and no SEC title.

Georgia - We should have a pretty good idea what this Bulldog edition is all about by September 9th. Georgia opens the season with two home games against Oklahoma State and then South Carolina. The Georgia offense figures to be in good shape. They ended the season last year in by hanging 37 points on the board against one of the best defenses in the Nation in their Bowl game, and return 7 of those starters including the QB and running back(s) position. The real question mark will be the defense. This team lost 6 of 7 up front and word out of spring practice is that the defense is shaky. With Oklahoma State coming in to open the year, A team that has no trouble finding the end zone, we'll have a good idea what to expect the rest of the way.

Tennessee - The pressure was on last year for coach Fulmer after a 5 win 2005. The Vols bounced back to win 9 last year, and had a couple of close losses against traditional powerhouses including a one point loss to eventual National Champ Florida. So, a good year, but not good enough. The pressure is always on in Knoxville. This is a program with a winning tradition. Losing isn't an option. The key to this years success may lie in the first three games of the season. They open up at Cal, then play Southern Miss at home before traveling to Florida to play the gators. To have the potential for a "great year", they need to emerge from those three games at 2-1 at worst, which we think they can. After that three game stretch, their toughest games are at home and very winnable. It looks like at least a 10 win season for the Vols this year.

South Carolina - The Gamecocks have made some great strides in Spurriers first two seasons on board. So hopes are sky high heading into 2007. Aside from an 18-0 setback at home to Georgia last season, the Gamecocks other 4 losses were tight games and came against some of the best teams in the Nation. With many of the key players on both sides of the ball returning this year, and a deep defensive line, it's no wonder big things are expected this year. But the SEC schedule can be brutal. It can really take it's toll. If SC is going to make any noise, they'll have to win on the road. Such as, At Georgia, at LSU, at Tennessee and at Arkansas. Home games against Florida and Clemson are no guarantee, and even swing games against the likes of Kentucky and Vandy are no locks. It's very difficult to look at this schedule and not see at least 4 losses. But either way, this team will be good. They will be competitive. They will be able to beat any team on their schedule on any given day, and will provide for some very exciting football this fall. Which in turn should provide us with some very bettable games involving South Carolina this season.

Kentucky - Unfortunately for Kentucky, they're in the SEC. Here's a team in off their best season in years, an 8 win year, and they return 8 starters on defense and 7 on offense on what figures to be another decent team capable of some big wins. But the brutal SEC schedule is bound to keep them around .500. How about, Louisville, Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee! Ouch! That schedule is enough to take a bite out of ANY team in the nation. So Kentucky will be up against it for sure. But hey, basketball season is just around the corner.

Vanderbilt - Another team that unfortunately finds itself in the SEC. Vandy could compete for a division title in plenty of other conferences this year. They're not terrible, and return 8 on offense and 8 on defense. This is a team that played Bama, Florida and Arkansas close last year, and beat Georgia. If Vandy can upset Alabama at home on Sept 8th, they could be looking at a 4-0 start with a chance to at least grab another couple of wins along the way and perhaps a bowl bid. But they'll have their work cut out for them after the first 4 games as all the SEC monsters come knocking capped up with a visit to Wake Forest to close out the year.

WEST

LSU - The LSU defense ranked 3rd overall in the nation last year and figures to be every bit as good this year, as they return 8 from last years unit. The offense took a bit of a hit, returning 5 from last year however let's not forget that we're talking about LSU here, which is a top 10 recruiting school year after year. There's never a shortage of talent here, so not particularly worried about the offense. The schedule looks incredibly favorable for LSU. With the exception of traveling to Alabama, all of their tough games are at home. Among those home games will be a chance to avenge their only two losses from a year ago. On October 6th, Florida comes to town, followed by Auburn on October 20th. Look for a big effort on those dates. True, LSU will have some tests along the way, but can't see them losing more than two games, and with a little luck, who knows.

Arkasas - We'll have to take a wait and see approach with the Hogs. While they had a good year last year, rattling off 10 straight wins after an opening day loss to USC, they also dropped 3 straight to close the year against stiffer competition. So the Hogs were good, but not good enough in 2006. 2007 figures to be more of the same. With the QB, RB tandem of Casey Dick and Darren McFadden back for another go at it, expect the Hogs to win some big games. But also expect them to lose a few games, especially when the likes of Auburn and Tennessee come knocking looking to atone for sizeable losses last year.

Auburn - Auburn could be dangerous this year. Here's a team team that managed to win all but two games last season and even managed to knock off eventual champ Florida 27-17. Considering they did this with a banged up offense, and this year, the Tigers return 7 starters on defense, look out. The last 3 years Auburn has won 13, 9 and 11 games. This year we see a minimum of 9 wins on their dance card with their season being decided by what they are able to do on the road at Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia.

Alabama -  Bama lost 7 games last year. However, no one blew Bama away. They were competitive against some of the very best teams in the nation a year ago, and figure to be even more so this year with new head coach Nick Saban at the helm along with 9 returning offensive starters. Just about all of Bama's tough games are at home this year as they'll get their cracks against Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU all at home. In the case of Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU, those were all road losses a year ago. Can you say, revenge? If they can win those, this could be a very good year for the Crimson Tide.

Mississippi - This is a team that can shoot for at least a Bowl Birth. They played a couple of very good teams close last year. With 9 offensive starters back, if they can do better than close, and actually pull an upset or two, then there's at least 4 other winnable games on their card. So a Bowl birth not out of the question. But they'll have to knock off a big name or two along the way in order to accomplish that goal.

Mississippi State - Miss St has won no more than 3 games a season the last 5 years. Can't see that changing this year as the schedule is equally as tough as past years. Last year, this team was rarely even close when they stepped up in competition. Don't think they'll be close this year either.

To Sum Up - In the East, it looks to be a little bit more wide open than the West. The door could very well be open for Spurrier and his Gamecocks to make a run at the title game. There biggest test may come from the Vols. Over in the West, LSU once again looks to be the cream of the crop with Auburn looking like they won't go quietly. One things for certain, the SEC is one of the best, if not the best conference in all of college football. It's fun to watch. It's football like it ought to be played. Smashmouth at it's very best. For this handicapper, there's no shortage of plays to be found in the SEC year after a year.

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Re: 2007 SEC Preview

SEC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
by Sportscrack                                     

The SEC conference has the most talent and depth of any major conference in college football. Throw in some great fanbases, sold-out stadiums, unbelievable tailgating, gorgeous and easy honeys, increbible defenses, and national championship calibre coaches and there is little reason to argue the SEC wouldn't consistently kick other conferences in the balls and then spit on them in disgust. With that being said, it is also the most difficult to come out of unscathed.

THE ELITE TEAMS:

Florida Gators-The defending National Champions bring back everybody's favorite whipping boy in QB Tim Tebow. I can't remember the last time a freshman stepped in and could be so loved and hated in college football. I would say Maurice Clarett but nobody really loved him including himself. The point is Gator Nation loves Tebow like they love jean shorts. Tebow will lead a potent Gator's offense that returns star receiver Andre Caldwell and the electric Percy Harvin who averaged 11.4 yards per touch last season. The spread option offense will rely on Tebow to make sound decisions like Chris Leak did last season and hand the ball off to either Kestahn Moore or an incoming freshman since Mon Williams is likely out for the season with a knee injury. If Tebow goes down with an injury which could happen considering how often the QB gets hit in Urban Meyer's offense then the Gators will rely on incoming freshman Cameron Newton...a proposition that is sure to send ripples through jean shorts in the South.

The defense must replace 10 of 11 starters but have plenty of talent to fill in the gaps. Defensive end Derrick Harvey destroyed Troy Smith in the BCS Championship and should be an All-American this season. LB Brandon Spikes will fill the role of emotional leader for a defense with plenty of speed just not a lot of experience.

Luckily the Gators have a chance to feel out their team with two patsies at the beginning of the season in Western Kentucky and Troy coming to the Swamp. The Gators always have a tough schedule but they ease it up with 8 home games and only 4 away games with the biggest obstacle being LSU on October 6th in Baton Rouge. If they can beat Auburn and LSU in back-to-back weeks (which they didn't do last year) there is a good chance they go undefeated. 

LSU TIGERS-The Tigers have to replace Jamarcus Russell with fifth-year senior Matt Flynn who has patiently waited his turn much like DJ Shockley did at Georgia. Flynn will be working with a new offensive coordinator in Gary Crowton who enjoys using a spread offense (jesus christ...here we go with the fucking spread offenses!!!). Anyways, he will have a couple of talented receivers in Early Doucet (a lot of people are big on him...me not so much) and sophomore Brandon LaFell to throw to and a stable of runningbacks including Jacob Hester, Keiland Williams, Alley Broussard and Charles Scott. The team should be able to score points like last season, but this is where it gets really good if you are a Tiger fan...

The Tigers defense is fucking nasty. 8 of 11 starters return from a defense that ranked 3rd in the nation last season. Defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey is a stud and likely top 5 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. All 3 linebackers return including Darry Beckwith who is the leading returning tackler. Bo Pelini's defenses are known to knock you in the mouth and I think this group will be his best talent wise. His job will be to keep the group's focus and not look ahead to future NFL paychecks.

The schedule starts off with a dud at Mississippi State but then ACC powerhouse Virginia Tech comes to pay a visit to Baton Rouge. If the Tigers can manage to beat the Hokies then it should be set up for a great Florida matchup on October 6th at home. If they win both of those games then LSU will go undefeated.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS-The Bulldogs are going to live or die by the arm of Matthew Stafford this season. The big-boned Texas native had a rough freshman season early on but still managed to lead the Dawgs to three consecutive wins over ranked opponents to end the season. Will he be a great one? Yes. He has the arm, brain, and moxie to break all of Georgia's QB records but needs to lower the interceptions. Last season the Dawgs were killed drive after drive by dropped passes from a group of receivers with a lot of high school accolades but little proven in Athens. Mohamed Massaquoi needs to remove the diaper and be the receiver that everybody knows he can be...ditto for Sean Bailey. The offense looked really impressive during spring ball and the line looks like it is going to gel in time for the season opener against Oklahoma State.

The Dawgs defense only returns two starters and lost one of the best cornerbacks in the nation in Paul Oliver because he still couldn't spell his name right. Looking at the defensive roster you see a ton of potential but none of it is proven. For instance a defensive tackle like Kade Weston could be the next Richard Seymour or a LB like Darius Dewberry could be the next Randall Godfrey from what we have seen in practice but will it translate to gameday's this year? I'm not so sure and that is why I think the Dawgs are more prepared to go for a serious SEC Title run in 2008 then this year.

Georgia's schedule opens up with three home contests versus Oklahoma State, South Carolina, and Western Carolina. All three should be wins. A September 22nd matchup at Alabama should be the most difficult road game with only three "true" road games on the schedule with Georgia Tech and Florida matchups not counting because of distance and the fact the stadiums in both those games are half red. I see Georgia losing to Florida this season and one other game they have no excuse losing to possibly being a Kentucky or Ole Miss team.

AUBURN TIGERS-For the past three seasons the Auburn Tigers have a 33-5 record, the third best behind USC and Texas. Of course Auburn has nothing to show for it since they haven't gotten a chance to compete for a National Title yet. Could this year be different? Yes. Is it likely? Nope, here is why...

The Tigers have eight home games made of candy cane smiles with milk chocolate smiles but they also have four brutal road games. They have to visit Florida, Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia. Are you fucking kidding me? Unless they can pull off an improbable Lindsay Lohan-esque fuck fest while doing blow and driving 85 mph down Rodeo Drive without going to jail then they have no prayer of going undefeated.

QB Brandon Cox is back and should have a better season now since he has recovered from nagging injuries. He should hand the ball off to RB's Brad Lester and Ben Tate because if it's one thing that Auburn does well it is producing superfly tailbacks.

The defense will be led by senior defensive end Quentin Groves. Watch out for sophomore LB Tray Blackmon. He has already been suspended twice, but as we all know, never piss off a Blackmon. More to come on this later.

Unless Brandon Cox has one of the magical seasons the Tigers are destined for at least one to two losses on the road. 

THE CONTENDERS:



ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE-Nick Saban is back in the SEC and already making some noise. More than 92,000 showed up for the Spring Game to see the degenerate liar coach...okay, maybe they all showed up because the tickets were free, but that is neither here or there. The Crimson Tide has talent and can compete with the big boys including Georgia, Auburn, and LSU.

The good news for Tide fans is Alabama has a good offense and a veteran QB leading the charge. John Parker Wilson, better known as the older brother of Ross on MTV's hit show "Two-A-Days", has a good arm and is capable of leading this team as he proved last season. If he can cut down on the fumbles and interceptions and get the ball into the receiver's hands, most notably DJ Hall, this team could make a lot of noise on the scoreboard. Left tackle Andre Smith might be the best at his position in college football and he is only a sophomore.

The defense was a top 25 unit last year as a whole and should only get better with Saban bringing in a more attacking, blitzing type of scheme. Playmakers such as LB Prince Hall and CB Simeon Castille need to become ball hawks and create short fields for the offense. A transition year because of the coaching change, I could see Alabama winning 10 games this season and making a run for the SEC West title. 

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS-Senior QB Erik Ainge is back for what seems like his 10th season in Knoxville. Coming off a season best 67% completion rate thanks to some tinkering in delivery and schemes from offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. Ainge will have weapons at his disposal including the RB tandem of LaMarcus Coker and Arian Foster. If both RBs can coexist in the playbook it gives opposing defenses a changeup in style: Coker can fly and Foster can cut. A whole new set of receivers will need to step up and it could take some time for Ainge to develop a rhythm with them.

Defensively the Volunteers have two studs in MLB Jerod Mayo and free safety Jonathan Hefney. Both are NFL ready and if the Vols are to improve or match last season's 9 victories then the defense is going to have to step up big time. Last year the unit ranked 50th overall in total defense.

You got to hand it to the Volunteers, they aren't afraid to schedule tough out of conference opponents. An opening visit to Cal should be a dandy but could be rough on the Vols who will be facing a team with a ton of experience and looking for revenge. The Vols almost beat Florida last season, can they do it this season in the Swamp? I don't think so but those matchups never go as planned. The Vols have the coaching and the talent to make a serious run for a SEC East run with their schedule but teams like Florida, Georgia, and California should beat them in my opinion.

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS-Let's start off with the good. Actually the very good part of this team. The running game is sick with Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden and the underrated Felix Jones back to put their stamp on the best backfield in college football. No doubt the team can run all over you, but they will need a passing game if they want to win a SEC Title. QB Casey Dick is a returning starter only because coach Houston Nutt ran out freshman Mitch Mustain. Dick is average at best(insert joke here) and he will have to learn to take some hits with an offensive line replacing 3 starters. WR Marcus Monk is a good one and should see plenty of red zone touchdown catches.

The Razorbacks lost some important pieces to their defense with CB Chris Houston and DE Jamaal Anderson both playing in the Dirty South this season. DE Antwain Robinson is capable of picking up a lot of sacks this season and don't be surprised if he is a first team All-SEC selection. LB Freddie Fairchild (no relation) blew out his knee last season against Utah State and still toughed it out and played. I don't want to toot my own horn...hell, sound like a Fairchild right there. The secondary did lose Houston but returns 3 of the remaining starters. The defense should be good and if everybody stays healthy it could be one of the best in the conference.

The Razorbacks out of conference schedule is an absolute freaking joke. Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga, and Florida International should all be beaten in the ground with Arkansas' scout team. The end of the season schedule is brutal with road games in Knoxville and Baton Rouge. Arkansas should be good for at least 8 wins this season but won't make it to the SEC Championship game. 

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS-Senior QB Blake Mitchell should have the job all to himself this season thanks to incoming freshman Stephen Garcia suspension from spring practice due to two arrests. Steve Spurrier loves to fuck with the heads of his QB's but I think this season he will give the ball to Mitchell and let him do his thing throughout the entire season. RB Cory Boyd returns, as does RB Mike Davis and both should be productive pieces. Losing Sidney Rice hurts but Kenny McKinley is solid at the WR position and expect a freshman, most notably Chris Culliver, to step in and be a go-to receiver.

The defense is led by Sportscrack All-American LB Jasper Brinkley and his 107 punishing tackles. His brother Casper lines up to the left of him forming a talented and experienced linebacking core. The defensive line is young but most of the guys were prep All-Americans so they should be able to make some plays. The secondary only returns one starter but the Cocks have plenty of depth to fill in the gaps.

The out of conference schedule is cake with home games against UL Lafayette (no clue who they are) and South Carolina State (supposedly an all-girls school) and a road game against North Carolina. But the Cocks have to travel to Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, and Arkansas and easily could lose all four games. I'm expecting this team to finish 8-5 like last season.

FALLING BACK TEAMS:

KENTUCKY WILDCATS-QB Andre' Woodson had better stats than JaMarcus Russell last season. Seriously, look it up. Woodson is the best QB in the SEC and has plenty of weapons around him in tailback Rafael Little and WR Keenan Burton. The Wildcats should be able to put a lot of points on the board.

The defense was terrible last season. They finished ranked 118th in the nation last season. They have 8 starters returning...I'm not sure if this is a good thing. If the defense improves they have a chance to match their 7 regular season wins from last season.

The back end of the schedule is pretty brutal with games against Florida, LSU, Georgia, and Tennessee. If Woodson plays like I think he will the Wildcats could pull off some huge upsets. If the defense steps it up this team could be special.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES-Don't laugh at the Commodores anymore, this team can play. WR Earl Bennett is a top 3 receiver in the nation and will leave Vandy with all the SEC receiving records. The offensive line should be a major strength with 5 seniors and the running game should be stout with 3 guys averaging over 4 yards a carry all returning.

Defensively the Commodores are led by Sportscrack All-American Jonathan Goff. He leads a good linebacker crew and overall the defense should improve on their total ranking of 74th last season.

One problem exists for Vandy: they play in the toughest division in football, the SEC East. The team could be really good record wise if they were playing in the PAC-10 but this is the SEC East. With that being said, I think this team could pull off 7 wins and get to a bowl game if they get some breaks.

SHIT COVERED WITH CHOCOLATE TEAMS:

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS-I honestly have nothing good to say about this team...I don't even like their uniforms.

OLE MISS REBELS-The Rebels were terrible even with superstar mo-fo badass linebacker Patrick Willis. Now take him out of the equation and what do you have: Ed Orgeron getting a Hummer. 

BEST GAME:

Florida at LSU (October 6th)-This is one of those games you don't miss if you are a true college football fan. In fact, this game will be so good if you miss it you deserve to have every one of your pubic hairs plucked and then sewn back on. 

WORST GAME:

Ole Miss at Mississippi State (November 24th)-"Mississippi Burning" is a more feel good story than this piece of garbage match-up known as the Egg Bowl. I wonder why they call it Egg? Oh yeah, cause it smells like shit. 

MOST OVERRATED GAME: Arkansas at Tennessee (November 10th)-Both teams are good but I think both will be saddled with at least a couple of losses meaning it's just a battle for a right to the Christian Right Wing Bowl game otherwise known as Chick-Fil-A.

BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Arkansas RB Darren McFadden can do it all whether it's rushing, catching, or even throwing touchdowns. Last year's runner-up for the Heisman will be a marked man this year, most likely his last because he will be banging nappy headed....oh wait...nappy headed WHITE hoes in the NFL.

BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: LSU DT Glenn Dorsey is a first-team All-American who will anchor a great LSU defense.

BEST FRESHMAN: Tennessee CB Eric Berry should step in and play right away in the secondary up in Knoxville with only one returning starter. A Georgia native, the Vols promised him immediate playing time and he should get it and be a good one. 

MOST LIKELY TO GET ARRESTED: Since this is the SEC conference we should be talking about who is the least likely to get arrested. This is like trying to pick out who is the biggest whore in Hollywood. I'm going to go with Auburn LB Tray Blackmon. Nothing says unnecessary arrest like the last name of Blackmon. 

MOST LIKELY TO GET FIRED: My hope is that Nick Saban gets fired because of a sexual harrassment suit but I have a feeling we will have to wait at least a couple of seasons for that and by then he will be coaching a Canadian team. I'm going to go with Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State...what do you say Jesse Jackson? 

PLAYER WHO WILL BE BETTER THAN WHAT PEOPLE THINK: Kentucky RB Rafael Little can do everything and will this season for the Wildcats. Whether it's rushing, receiving, or returning kicks; this "Little" piece of dynamite is lethal and could lead Kentucky back to a bowl game. 

DOESN'T MAKE SENSE AWARD: The World's Largest Cocktail Party losing it's namesake. What would they rather it be called: The World's Largest Coke Infested Inbred Party? 

THE WINNER IS: In what promises to be a great SEC Championship game in the ATL, LSU edges Florida with a last minute trick play going to Early Doucet.

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Re: 2007 SEC Preview

SEC Football Preview '07: The Schedule

Now we look at the best, worst, and weirdest aspects of the 2007 SEC schedule.

Best schedule: LSU
What's the "best" schedule look like? Is it the most exciting? It is the hardest? Actually, we're going to go with "most favorable." And there's no question LSU wins in this department. With their out-of-conference matchup against Virginia Tech in the second week of the season -- played at night in Baton Rouge -- the Tigers have an opportunity for a fast start. Knocking off Virginia Tech would be an early feather in the cap for LSU. (Actually, let's avoid that metaphor -- Les Miles' baseball cap is already huge.)

LSU gets South Carolina, Florida, Auburn and Arkansas at home in 2007, and they're all scheduled to start at 8:00PM (note: the Arky kickoff is still TBA). Night games in Death Valley are about as fun as pulling fingernails with pliers for opponents unlucky enough to get this draw. Barring early losses, LSU will be favored to win every one of those games.

Their toughest away matchup will be @ Alabama where they face their new arch-nemesis and former head coach, Nick Saban. They'll also play @ Kentucky, @ Mississippi State, and @ Tulane -- and that's it.

This is a far cry from an easy schedule. LSU will be facing a minimum of five Top 20 teams, possibly as many as seven, and the road to the BCS National Championship game will be long, hard, and require luck as well as talent, skill, and hard work. But in the SEC, this is as good as it gets. Tiger fans will be disappointed with anything less than appearance in the title game.

Worst Schedule: Tennessee & South Carolina
Call it the worst/toughest schedule if you like, but it's also one of the most exciting. Tennessee starts their season, as they did last year, against Cal. Difference is, this time they'll be playing in Berkeley at the historic Memorial Stadium... and no doubt the Golden Bears are anxious to atone for their 35-18 whipping at the hands of the Vols in 2006.

After their visit to the west coast, the Vols will enjoy a brief respite, going against Southern Miss at home on September 8th. Then they hit the road again, traveling to the dreaded Swamp in Gainesville, where the Gators have enjoyed a 2-0 edge on the Rocky Top boys since Urban Meyer took over the helm in 2005. The Vols' road campaign will include @ Mississippi State, where Fulmer sweats through a potential (though unlikely) Crooming, @ Alabama (blood rivalry since Fulmer snitched on Bama for NCAA violations), and @ Kentucky, which will not be a pushover in 2007.

We give the nod to the Vols for their rocky road trip, but we'll also salute South Carolina for their pot-hole filled path to a possible SEC championship. Spurrier's Gamecocks' first two SEC matchups are @ Georgia and @ LSU. After taking on Mississippi State (no danger of a Crooming here!) and Kentucky, they travel to North Carolina, which could be a most interesting matchup now that Butch Davis holds the reins of the Tarheel football program. USCe, as I affectionately call them, then butt heads with the Vols @ Tennessee, and face Darren McFadden and his Razorbacks @ Arkansas. South Carolina does draw Florida at home, but the Gators will start the season as a Top 5 team and will likely arrive as a Top 10 or better team. Finally, South Carolina's annual grudge match with Clemson will be played in Columbia.

That's downright scary for both the Vols and the Visors, er, I mean, the Gamecocks.

Best Game: Alabama vs. FSU, September 29
Kudos to athletic directors Mal Moore and Dave Hart for making this happen. This promises to be one of the most anticipated games of the season for both teams. FSU will take on the Tide in Jacksonville, a neutral turf that should, in theory, favor the Seminoles. But Alabama's fans travel impressively, so expect to see at least as many crimson shirts as you do garnet and gold. Both the Tide and the 'Noles are football superpowers, although Alabama has more of a traditional edge while FSU is known for their strong run in 90s. Both teams are attempting a renaissance of sorts; both bring in new coaching staffs and new offensive philosophies. It's anyone's guess, at this point, who will be favored by the time the teams kick off. It's an SEC vs. ACC pride match, so expect to see most if not all SEC fans avidly rooting on the Tuscaloosa squad.

Personally speaking, I can't wait to see how Nick Saban matches up against one of the all-time coaching legends, Bobby Bowden. Also intriguing is that Jimbo Fisher, now the 'Noles' OC, came from LSU, where he worked for Saban before Les Miles took over in '05.

It's been 33 years since the Tide last played Florida State. FSU is 0-2-1 against Alabama, the tie coming in 1967, 37-37 in Birmingham, Alabama. FSU was the visiting team in all three games.

Weirdest Game: Oklahoma State @ Georgia, September 1st
This isn't terribly weird, I suppose, but you have a good Big XII team taking on a good SEC team to open the season, which isn't typical.

Georgia has played Oklahoma State twice before, in 1946 and 1947. They won both games, but Oklahoma State wasn't particularly good either year, winning only 3 games in '46 and 3 more in '47.

Maybe Georgia can shake a few million extra bucks out of OSU mega-alum Boone Pickens for some athletic facilities improvements while they're at it. Why not? Like Jerry Jones, Pickens apparently "just loves college football." (Psst: early pick, Georgia by a field goal.)

Taking On the Out-of-Conference Scheduling Criticisms

It's the first thing you hear out of the mouth of an anti-SEC'er: teams who play in the Southeastern Conference won't schedule tough out of conference games.

As someone who writes about and follows SEC and college football on a daily basis, I challenge that criticism on several levels.

For one, there's the old standby: the teams in the SEC are so good, that scheduling tough OOC opponents is tantamount to insanity for teams that wish to make a serious push for a national championship game bid.

There are six SEC teams ranked in the USA Today's Coaching Poll Top 20. Two are in the Top 5 (LSU, Florida), and three are in the Top 15 (Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee) while Arkansas comes in at #20. By comparison the Pac-10 has 3 teams (USC, Cal, and UCLA) in the same set and the Big Ten has 4. When you have that many top teams pounding at each other week in and week out, bringing in Top 20 opponents from out of conference just isn't necessary. The strength of schedule needed to make a run for a BCS bowl is there.

But in '07 the SEC has seemingly gone out of its way to bring top matchups to the college football fan. Two time national champion FSU (#21) will play two SEC teams in '07. Virginia Tech (#9), Missouri, West Virginia (#6), Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Clemson, Louisville (#11), and Cal (#12) round out the top-tier OOC slate.

The fact is, the SEC is tough both inside and out. It will be a miracle if any team in the conference survives their schedule unscathed. But if anyone has the best chance, it's LSU.

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College football: SEC schedules not on level playing field
Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel

If you play football in the Southeastern Conference, then you automatically have a tough schedule.

Never mind if you play Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga and Florida International outside the conference (which Arkansas does). You still have to navigate your way through eight challenging games in the SEC.

But some conference schedules are tougher than others. And it's not just about whom you play, but when you play.

For example, take South Carolina's late-season schedule. It plays at Tennessee on Oct. 27, at Arkansas on Nov. 3 and Florida at home Nov. 10.

Contrast that with Arkansas' schedule. On the same Saturday that South Carolina plays Tennessee, Arkansas is at home against Florida International.

Based on those schedules, whom would you favor the following week: Arkansas, coming off an easy nonconference home game, or South Carolina, coming off a road game against Tennessee?

Tennessee will have a similar advantage against Arkansas on Nov. 10. The week before, the Vols will be at home against Louisiana-Lafayette. Conversely, Arkansas will have to play South Carolina the week before it travels to Neyland Stadium.

Back-to-back games against top SEC teams are often too much for even a national champion. Last year, Florida's only loss on the way to a national title came against Auburn. That's hardly surprising. The week before, Florida played LSU, which finished third nationally.

A fair conference schedule is unattainable in the current format. Fairness could only be achieved by playing 11 conference games. But that's not going to happen.

However, you could increase the fairness in scheduling by emulating the Big Ten, which plays its nonconference games in succession to start the season. Alabama coach Nick Saban, who also coached at Michigan State, is a big proponent of that.

"We played our three nonconference opponents right off the bat (in the Big Ten)," Saban said recently. "I think it's an advantage because if you play a good opponent and you don't have success, your team can continue to improve. And you can improve in those three games before you come into league play."

By scheduling nonconference games to start the season, that also would make it more difficult for teams to achieve scheduling advantages later in the year in conference play.

LSU is an overwhelming favorite to win the SEC. Talent is the biggest factor, but you can find more subtle advantages for LSU in its schedule.

The Tigers' four biggest conference games are against Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas. Alabama and LSU have open dates the week before they play in Tuscaloosa. The week before LSU and Arkansas meet, LSU is at Ole Miss, and Arkansas is at home against Mississippi State. That's a wash. But LSU clearly has an advantage against Florida and Auburn.

LSU plays Tulane the week before it plays Florida, which plays Auburn the week before it plays LSU.

LSU plays Kentucky the week before it plays Auburn. Auburn plays Arkansas the week before it plays LSU.

Not once in its eight-game conference schedule does LSU have to play opponents ranked in the top four of its division on back-to-back Saturdays.

Tennessee's schedule also has its pluses. In addition to the aforementioned advantage against Arkansas, the Vols will have an open date before Georgia, which plays Ole Miss the week before Tennessee.

But there's no advantage for the Vols in playing California and Southern Mississippi on back-to-back Saturdays before it meets Florida in Gainesville. The Gators will open their season against Western Kentucky and Troy.

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Re: 2007 SEC Preview

Vols RB Coker suspended
August 7th, 2007

Knoxville, TN (Sports Network) - Tennessee sophomore running back LaMarcus Coker, the team's leading rusher last season, was suspended indefinitely on Tuesday for a violation of team rules.

Volunteers coach Phillip Fulmer didn't reveal what Coker was suspended for, only to say the running back has been working through a medical situation that goes back some time.

"It's been an ongoing process and it's always hard," Fulmer said. "Sometimes you get young people who are not necessarily individuals you want to be around. LaMarcus is not one of those guys. He's a good person and he's got some issues we're trying to get through."

Coker rushed for 696 yards and five touchdowns last season and also caught 13 balls for 168 yards and a score.

"No one person is bigger than the program," Fulmer said. "Like we've always done, we're going to treat each individual case on its own. But there are policies and procedures they must follow and if they don't follow them, they are not going to be part of the program, whether it is indefinitely or permanently."

Tennessee's first game is September 1 at California.

"He must fulfill obligations to the program and to me before he can return," Fulmer said. "I have tried, the administration has tried and we all will continue trying to help him, but at this point he must help himself."

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Re: 2007 SEC Preview

Kentucky DE Oninku out for the season
August 13th, 2007

Lexington, KY (Sports Network) - Kentucky junior defensive end Nii Adjei Oninku will miss the upcoming season due to a knee injury, the team announced on Monday.

Wildcats coach Rich Brooks made the announcement after an MRI exam confirmed that Oninku sustained tears of the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his knee during a scrimmage on Saturday.

"I feel really bad for Nii Adjei because he has worked so hard and played a lot of productive football for us," said Brooks.

Oninku was slated to be a starter this season.

He played in 12 games last season as a sophomore, starting five games, and made 12 tackles. He also started five of 12 games as a redshirt freshman and registered 24 tackles.

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Re: 2007 SEC Preview

Arkansas WR Monk out 4-6 weeks after knee surgery
August 13th, 2007

Fayetteville, AR (Sports Network) - Arkansas wide receiver Marcus Monk underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Monday and will be out 4-to-6 weeks.

Monk started in all 14 games for the Razorbacks last year, catching 50 passes for 962 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns.

"Marcus Monk underwent an arthroscopy on his right knee today to repair a small tear in the posterior horn of the lateral meniscus," said Arkansas trainer Dean Weber. "In addition, he had an articular cartilage fracture of the lateral femoral condyle. Pieces of articular cartilage were removed and the condyle was abraded to enhance faster healing. He will be on an aggressive rehabilitation program emphasizing early motion."

Weber added that there is no ligament damage in Monk's knee.

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Re: 2007 SEC Preview

SEC - Can Florida repeat?
August 21st, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - What does the SEC have to do for an encore? The league won 39 of 49 non-conference games in 2006, winning 61% of those vs. the other five BCS leagues. Florida led the way by disposing Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS Championship Game.

The SEC had six teams in the final AP Top 25, including two (Florida #1 and LSU #3) in the top three. In addition, nine of the 12 clubs went bowling, with six coming out on the winning side both SU and ATS.

Do the Gators have what it takes to reach the title game once again? At first glance, the answer is a resounding no. The defense lost nine starters and quarterback Chris Leak is no longer under center. Ohio State had a similar scenario coming into last season, as only two defensive starters remained, but the Buckeyes did bring back a veteran QB in Troy Smith. The odds of Tim Tebow winning the Heisman are 12-1, but they should be at least 100-1.

Time now to take a closer look at the SEC with odds to win the BCS Championship:

WEST DIVISION


1) LSU (8-1) - After winning 11 games each of the last two seasons, the Tigers are primed for a run at the "Big Game" with 14 returning starters, including eight on defense.

Strengths - The LSU defense began last year with only one returning starter on the line and just 13 career starts for its three top linebackers. This season, six members of the front seven are back along with 45 career starts from the LBs, so look for LSU to be even better defensively in '07. Both starting corners also return, which will keep the Tigers in contention for the top defensive team in the country. Matt Flynn takes over at QB for JaMarcus Russell, and despite starting just one game in three seasons with the Tigers it was a big one as Flynn led them to a 40-3 rout of Miami-Florida in the 2005 Peach Bowl. The Hurricanes had lost only two games that year by a combined seven points.

Weaknesses - Unfortunately, the senior QB will not have Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis to throw to, as both wideouts are off to the NFL. Still, the cupboard is far from bare, with Early Doucet and a host of youngsters filling out the position. One also must wonder how easily the transition will take place from Russell to Flynn, even though the latter posted a 9-2 TD-INT ratio the last two years. Both safeties have to be replaced, including No. 6 overall draft pick LaRon Landry.

Bottom Line - If the Tigers can get past Virginia Tech, they have a tremendous shot at an undefeated season. Florida, Auburn and Arkansas all come to Baton Rouge. On the other hand, only one SEC team has gone 8-0 in conference play over the last eight years (Auburn in 2004), so the odds are against it. Look for an 11-1 campaign, 7-1 in league play. LSU is 9-2-1 as a road favorite the last four years.

2) AUBURN (100-1) - It's hard to say a team disappoints when it finishes 11-2, but that's exactly what happened to the Tigers, who had the schedule to make a run at an undefeated season. Unfortunately, the talent did not match.

Strengths - Auburn began last season with just two career starts from three- fourths of its defensive line and the unit struggled, allowing 138 ypg with a 4.1 ypc average in conference play. In addition, top LB recruit Tray Blackmon was suspended for the first six games. Look for immense improvement as the line brings back 39 career starts this season, with Blackmon set to become the Tigers' top defender. The secondary, which ranked 14th in the country allowing 168 passing yards per game, will be even more productive with a better front seven in front of them. Quarterback Brandon Cox underachieved last season while playing hurt, and like the rest of the team, is due for an improved campaign.

Weaknesses - The offensive line was abused all season long, allowing 35 sacks, including 25 in SEC play. Four starters from that sorry unit depart, leaving a gaping hole in the offense, one that ranked 10th in the SEC in total yards averaging just 283 per game. Can the Tigers improve on that mark with both their leading rusher (Kenny Irons) and receiver (Courtney Taylor) off to the NFL?

Bottom Line - Auburn's recent history suggests tremendous success when the Tigers are slated for a middle-of-the-pack finish. They will win 10 regular season games for a second consecutive year with both losses coming inside the conference. Auburn has the look of a team that will cover most of its games the second half of the season.

3) ALABAMA (100-1) - Can Nick Saban resurrect the Alabama program in his first year at Tuscaloosa? He did take a 3-8 LSU Tigers club and molded them into a 7-4 team in his initial season, so the answer is yes.

Strengths - The defense returns the same 86 career starts that it had last year, but look for Saban and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to shape it into a top-10 defense. Former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite takes over as offensive coordinator after a fantastic job with Rice last year. The Crimson Tide will have its finest offensive output since the 1999 club averaged 29 ppg. Nine starters return, and redshirt freshman RB Terry Grant will could come close to breaking Shaun Alexander's team rushing record before his collegiate career is through.

Weaknesses - The Tide averaged only 17 ppg in its eight league games. Only Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss garnered less. The defense did just one better, finishing eighth in SEC play and beating out the aforementioned threesome along with Kentucky.

Bottom Line - Alabama was 6-6 in '04 and improved to 10-2 the following season. Last year, the Tide finished 6-7, but once again, will turn it around and go 9-3, 6-2 in the SEC. Circle November 3 on your calendar when LSU comes to Tuscaloosa, and just as Steve Spurrier defeated Florida, in his first year at South Carolina, Saban will get the best of the Tigers. Alabama is 2-10 as a home favorite the past two seasons, but that record won't hold in '07.

4) ARKANSAS (60-1) - After getting obliterated by USC the first week of the season, Arkansas rallied to win 10 straight games, but couldn't defeat the big boys (LSU, Florida and Wisconsin) down the stretch.

Strengths - Heisman Trophy favorite Darren McFadden leads the deepest backfield in college football, as the duo of McFadden and Felix Jones combined for 2,800 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. If fullback Peyton Hills can stay healthy, it will add another dimension to the passing game, which was pathetic when he was on the sidelines. The secondary has been on fire since the midpoint of the '05 campaign, forcing opposing QBs to throw more incomplete passes than completions.

Weaknesses - Injuries have killed this team, as defensive tackle Marcus Harrison tore his ACL in the spring and WR Marcus Monk ripped up his knee in August. Monk, the Hogs' only experienced pass-catcher, could miss the first month of the season. It will be interesting to see how McFadden and company do with a revamped O-line that lost three veteran starters. Not to mention what it will do to quarterback Casey Dick not having LT Tony Ugoh there to protect him.

Bottom Line - The Razorbacks have more questions than answers as the season gets underway, and I would not be surprised to see them open the year with a 1-2 record. Expect no more than seven wins, three in the SEC. They are one team to wager against early and often.

5) OLE MISS (100-1 - Field) - The Rebels have won only 11 of 34 games since Eli Manning left Oxford. If the Rebels are ever going to make some noise, this is the year to do it with 15 returning starters.

Strengths - The offensive line is the most underrated unit in the entire country. Left tackle Michael Oher will be a first-round draft choice and guard John Jerry could follow suit in three years. Look for RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis to gain 1,000 yards for the second straight season. The defense, which improved as the season progressed, allowed an average of 19 ppg in regulation play vs. LSU, Georgia, Alabama and Auburn, and the Rebels lost all four by a combined 17 points.

Weaknesses - Unfortunately, the top three tacklers all depart including LB Patrick Willis, but with improved recruiting, there is sufficient talent ready to emerge. Ole Miss has picked off just nine passes the last 23 games and the defensive backfield is in a state of flux with a host of newcomers vying for starting jobs.

Bottom Line - The schedule maker-was not too kind to the Rebels, as they draw Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt from the East. Otherwise they might have finished with their highest win total since 2003. Another four-win season is in the cards with just one SEC victory over Miss State mixed in. Arkansas, Alabama and LSU all come to Oxford, which is good news for those who wager on home underdogs, as Ole Miss is 9-3 this decade when getting points at home.

6) MISSISSIPPI STATE (100-1 - Field) - The Bulldogs have not had a winning season in seven years. Make it eight after this season.

Strengths - Anthony Dixon could get the entire city of Starkville to forget about Jerious Norwood. The sophomore running back gained over 300 yards in his final three starts, and hit paydirt nine times in only five starts. He'll be running behind an experienced O-line that brings back five players who started at least five games last season.

Weaknesses - The offense will go only as far as Dixon can take it, especially with Michael Hennig as the starting quarterback. In his two seasons as a Bulldog, Hennig has thrown 14 interceptions to just nine touchdowns and his completion percentage is a putrid 44%. The defense, which finished dead last in conference play last year allowing 28 ppg, returns only five starters.

Bottom Line - Miss State has not won more than three games in a season since 2000, and the Bulldogs will fail to reach four once again. Look for another 3-9 campaign, with all three victories coming in non-conference play. They are a wretched 6-15 as home underdogs since '02.

EAST DIVISION

1) SOUTH CAROLINA (75-1) - All six clubs in this division have tremendous offenses, but only one team will be dominant on the defensive side of the ball, and that's South Carolina.

Strengths - The Gamecocks, Gators, Bulldogs and Volunteers bring back a total of 20 returning defensive starters and South Carolina brings back half of that total. Last year the "D" returned 55 starts and the unit finished 29th in the country, allowing 18.7 ppg. This year, the defense brings back 144 career starts, so look for SC to have its best numbers since 2000 when the "D" gave up 15 ppg. The offense has a few holes, which will be detailed in the next paragraph, but there is plenty of talent on hand, especially at the skill positions.

Weaknesses - The O-line lost three starters last year and the unit allowed 15 sacks the first five games. The unit did improve as the year went on, limiting the number to an average of one per game the rest of the way. Three starters depart once again, and Steve Spurrier has not been happy with his new-look offensive line.

Bottom Line - The Gamecocks lost to Florida, Tennessee and Auburn by a combined 15 points even though they outgained all three of them. This season South Carolina will win the close contests, and their defense will carry them to a nine-win season, 5-3 in the SEC, including wins over the Gators and the Vols. They might not cover many games early on, but ride them hard after September.

2) TENNESSEE (45-1) - The Volunteers have averaged 8.5 wins a season over the last four years and that's exactly where they are spotted in the over/under wager for total wins this year.

Strengths - Erik Ainge flourished under the direction of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, completing 67% of his tosses for a shade under 3,000 yards. The run defense was pitiful last year, as the Vols finished next- to-last in league play allowing 151 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry. The reason? Only one returning starter in the front seven and Justin Harrell's season ended after the third game. Look for Tennessee to improve dramatically in this area.

Weaknesses - The offensive line failed to adequately protect Ainge late in the season, giving up 13 sacks the final five games, and the Volunteers won just two of them. The new unit hasn't performed much better, allowing 32 sacks in the last four scrimmages - the final two in the spring and the first two in the fall. Also, can the Vols' passing attack flourish after losing the talents of Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith?

Bottom Line - With an improved defense that includes highly-touted freshman cornerback Eric Berry, Tennessee will contend for the divisional crown despite its offensive problems. Look for an 8-4 campaign and a 5-3 SEC record. However, don't bet the house when the Vols are a home favorite. They have covered just 10 of their last 36 games when giving points at Neyland Stadium.

3) FLORIDA (8-1) The Gators will not repeat. Anyone who wants to bet them at 8-1, please forward your money.

Strengths - Florida has recruited well under Urban Meyer, so the Gators will not free fall into oblivion. Many offensive threats return in Andre Caldwell, Percy Harvin, Kestahn Moore and Cornelius Ingram. But more importantly, the offensive line brings back four starters.

Weaknesses - It's hard to call the quarterback position a weakness, but Tim Tebow ran the ball almost three times more than he threw in his initial campaign. He still has to prove he can pass as well as run. The defense, which must start anew with nine new starters, loses 19 of 21 interceptions, and only six upperclassmen reside in the entire two-deep roster. In fact, the Gators have one of the lowest percentages of senior and junior starters in the country.

Bottom Line - Despite winning the whole enchilada, Florida did not dominate the season the way a national champion should. The offense averaged just 22 ppg in conference play, and the squad covered just one of its eight regular season league games. Eight wins, five in the SEC, will be all this team gets. The Gators are an incredible 0-7 under Meyer as an away favorite.

4) GEORGIA (35-1) - Despite losing to both Vanderbilt and Kentucky for the first time in the same season since 1973, the Bulldogs rebounded with three straight victories to end the season 9-4.

Strengths - Matthew Stafford can't play any worse than his freshman season, throwing 13 interceptions to just seven touchdowns. On the flip side, he did win six of his eight starts. Georgia always has a solid running game, and both starters from the previous two years return.

Weaknesses - This will be the year the 'Dawgs defense allows more than 20 ppg. It hasn't happened since 1999. Seven of the top nine tacklers have moved on, and the unit returns only three starters, the least amount in over a decade. Only four players on the entire defensive roster have started at least six college games. Georgia is one of those clubs that reloads rather than rebuilds, but to perform in the SEC with such an inexperienced defense is really asking a lot. The offensive line is also in a rebuilding mode with just 25 career starts. In addition, offensive coordinator Neil Calloway left to become the head coach at UAB.

Bottom Line - Georgia will finish .500 in league play and win eight games overall for the second straight season, but like last year, will not look pretty in doing so. The Bulldogs are 11-6 as a road favorite the last five years.

5) VANDERBILT (100-1 - Field) - The post-Jay Cutler era started slowly with three straight defeats, but the Commodores won four of their last nine games.

Strengths - That four-win season under new quarterback Chris Nickson was just one victory less than the five Vandy won in Cutler's senior campaign. In addition, Nickson's 24 rushing and passing TDs were two more than Cutler totaled in 2005. Suffice to say, Vandy is in good hands as the junior QB will only get better, especially with Earl Bennett (82 catches) to throw to. All five starting linemen return and both starting tailbacks (Cassen Jackson- Garrison and Jeff Jennings) are 100% healthy at the same juncture for the first time in their Vandy careers. The defense, which had its finest season since 1999, will be even stronger with the return of seven of its top eight tacklers.

Weaknesses - Last year's inexperienced secondary allowed opposing SEC QBs to complete a league-high 65% of their passes. On the bright side, three of the four members of the secondary now have a year under their belts. Offensive turnovers must be cut down, as 21 TOs in eight conference games halted many scoring drives.

Bottom Line - The Commodores will finish above .500 for the first time in 25 years with seven victories, three coming in the SEC. They are an amazing 11-2 as an away underdog the last three seasons.

6) KENTUCKY (100-1 - Field) - Kentucky improved its record by five games twice in the last five years. However, the last time the Wildcats turned their fortunes around, they went from 7-5 to 4-8 the following season.

Strengths - If football was just about the skill positions, Kentucky would finish first in the East. Andre Woodson is the leading returning QB in the conference, and Keenan Burton returns as the leading receiver in terms of touchdowns. Running back Rafael Little, who was first team All-SEC two years back, gained 673 yards last season, but did so in only seven starts. Taking care of the football is always important and the 'Cats turned the ball over just nine times in eight league games. They were also tops in the conference in forcing 20 turnovers.

Weaknesses - It's obvious - the defense. Kentucky finished dead last in league play against the run (169 ypg, as well as 4.9 ypc) and vs. the pass (280 ypg). In fact, despite their offensive prowess, the Wildcats were outgained in 10 of their 12 FBS games last season. It will be interesting to see if the skilled offensive players can match last season's totals with a depleted offensive line. In '06, the O-line had 90 career starts, but the unit brings back just 30 for '07.

Bottom Line - Too many things went right for this team to be able to post another eight-win season. Expect a .500 campaign with a 3-5 conference record. The 'Cats are a great team to wager against this season.

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Re: 2007 SEC Preview

Gamecocks suspend three for season opener
August 23rd, 2007

Columbia, SC (Sports Network) - University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier suspended three players for the team's September 1 season opener against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns.

Quarterback Blake Mitchell, tailback Bobby Wallace and cornerback Chris Hail were all disciplined for violating athletic department policy.

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South Carolina suspends safety from school
August 24th, 2007

Columbia, SC (Sports Network) - South Carolina has suspended sophomore safety Emanuel Cook from the university as the result of an arrest involving a weapon.

Additional details were not provided, but The State newspaper reported Friday that Cook was charged with unlawful possession of a pistol.

Cook played in 10 games, starting five, for the Gamecocks last season and earned Freshman All-SEC honors after tying for third on the team with 47 tackles.

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Re: 2007 SEC Preview

Vols reinstate RB Coker
August 24th, 2007

Knoxville, TN (Sports Network) - Tennessee sophomore running back LaMarcus Coker, the team's leading rusher last season who was indefinitely suspended two weeks ago, will rejoin the team.

"LaMarcus has fulfilled his obligations to this point and will rejoin the team at practice Saturday at the recommendation of his medical advisors, said head coach Phillip Fulmer. "He will practice but not travel or play versus Cal, but I do expect him to return against Southern Miss if he continues on a positive track."

The sophomore led the Volunteers with 696 rushing yards and added five touchdowns while catching 13 passes for 168 yards and a score his freshman year, even though he was sidelined for two games by an injured knee.

Coker was suspended for a violation of team rules, but Fulmer had said that he was working through a meedical situation.

Tennessee opens up its season on September 1 at California.

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Vols QB Ainge hurts finger in practice
Associated Press

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer knows the margin between victory and defeat can be small — maybe as small as his quarterback's little finger.

Injury-prone senior Erik Ainge jammed the pinky on his throwing hand taking snaps on Monday, Fulmer revealed during his gameweek news conference Tuesday.

How it might affect Ainge when the 15th-ranked Volunteers open the season Saturday at No. 12 California is unclear.

"Erik is obviously the leader of our offense and the football team," Fulmer said. "He has done exceptionally well."

Ainge downplayed the injury. "I am ready to play," he insisted.

As a junior, Ainge set a single season record for pass completions, connecting on 233 of 348 throws (67 percent). He also threw 19 touchdown passes, raising his career total to 41 — third on the school list behind Peyton Manning's 89 TD tosses and Casey Clausen's 75.

"We will just have to see how sore his finger is," Fulmer said of Ainge, who sat out spring practice with an injured knee but has played throughout the preseason. "We are going to be careful with that, to make sure he is ready to go Saturday."

Ainge said he will limit himself in practice and "be ready to go."

"I will be all right," he said, comparing the injury to catching a chest pass in basketball in some "weird" way. "It is just one of those things."

In the meantime, Fulmer said sophomore backup Jonathan Crompton and freshman Nick Stephens will get more repetitions in practice.

The Vols have been putting in time on a no-huddle offense since the spring.

"We are certainly capable of doing that. We worked on it very diligently," Fulmer said. "I think that we can manage that. We need to test it and find out" how effective it will be.

Asked if the Vols will need Ainge to run it, Fulmer said, "No, no."

Ainge had a field day against Cal last year in Knoxville, leading the Vols to a 35-18 victory with four TD strikes. But that was with three receivers now gone, including first-round draft pick Robert Meacham.

Receivers are just one of the areas that Fulmer is hoping to fill or improve. Juniors Lucas Taylor and Josh Briscoe and sophomore Austin Rogers all are expected to be solid choices, but assistant coach Trooper Taylor said a go-to guy has yet to emerge.

As Fulmer begins his 16th season as head of the Vols, he said he likes to "look at every year as a new start for us." He talks about the Vols building momentum from last year's 9-4 season, a rebound from 5-6 in 2005, without mentioning their last outing - a 20-10 loss to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

But he knows there are things you can't control or foresee.

"Depth as we go through the season is always an issue," Fulmer said. "In this league (the SEC) it gets down to a player or two making a play and an injury somewhere. It is that close with everybody that you play."

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SEC Preview

Florida, LSU favorites to win their respective divisions

The SEC, the reigning king of all football conferences, surely has not lost its fastball.

Nine teams went to bowl games in 2006, two won BCS games and Florida was the national champion, the fifth title for the league in the last 15 years. All told, six teams won their bowl games, the most in the conference's 75-year history.

Yes, the league is as strong as ever, with all its schools finally off probation and featuring plenty of national title contenders yet again.

"Year in and year out, it's the toughest league of any in the country," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I don't think that's going to change any time soon."

The Vols are one of several teams that could very easily be playing for the conference championship Dec. 1 and a potential berth in the national championship along with LSU, Florida and Auburn.

But will those teams survive the grueling SEC schedule that's practically impossible to navigate through undefeated? The chances are slim because there's so much talent and so many good teams in the league that running through your slate of eight conference games unscathed is nothing short of a miracle.

Other conferences feature some very good teams, but none of the other five BCS conferences features the kind of depth, speed, skill and physical play that the 12 teams in the SEC can boast.

"You can tell there's a difference," Georgia senior center Fernando Velasco said. "I really feel like the SEC is the best conference in the country. There's a lot of talent."

And plenty of legitimate national title contenders.

East

Florida - 2006: 13-1 Overall, 7-1 SEC

Offense

The defending national champs welcome in a new and very young starting quarterback. But since it is Tim Tebow, it's not such a big deal.

Granted, it'll be interesting to see how the sophomore handles the pressure of running the offense all on his own, and actually throwing the ball more than a few times per game, but coach Urban Meyer is giddy over the idea that he has another quarterback - in the mold of Alex Smith - to run his spread offense the way it's supposed to be run.

"Tim's ready to play quarterback at Florida," Meyer said. "A big part of that is because he's already had two spring practices under his belt."

And when Tebow cocks his arm back to throw, he'll be searching for Andre "Bubba" Caldwell, who decided to return to school, and Percy Harvin, who yet again will see plenty of hand-offs, reverses and screen passes so he can utilize his blazing speed. He's been slowed by a bothersome Achilles during camp, but if healthy you'd be hard pressed to find anyone faster than him in the conference.

And don't think for a second that Tebow doesn't have an arm. He can zing it with the best of them, but it'll be interesting to see how well he's grasped the nuances of the offense as the season unfolds. And of course, he'll be running the ball again.

The offensive line, quite possibly Florida's most underrated unit last season, returns practically intact and should clear the way for Tebow - and the running game - and protect the quarterback for those precious few seconds he's in the pocket.

Defense

All too often, it was Florida's defense that got the job done during last year's march to the program's second national championship. Now Meyer is faced with the unenviable task of replacing nine starters.

No Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler or Jarvis Moss means there could be some considerable growing pains. Meyer said in the spring that there would be no redshirts this fall so expect to see plenty of new names and numbers.

The only notable returnee is defensive end Derrick Harvey, who single-handedly saved the Gators national title hopes last year when he blocked an extra point and the potential game-winning field goal against South Carolina. He'll be joined by a whole new cast in the front seven. The leader in the secondary is Tony Joiner, the only Florida defensive back on the roster who has picked off a pass.

"I have not seen false confidence," Joiner said. "I've seen talented groups of guys that know what is in our reach and know what we can accomplish."

The Skinny

Replacing nine starters on defense is a tall order. Florida's got great talent coming in, but not nearly enough to make up for what they lost. They literally had one of the best defenses in the country dismantled by graduation and defections and now it's up to freshmen and sophomores to step in.

But more so than anyone, the new guys up the middle - the tackles and middle linebacker - will be tested and Meyer says there's no better way to determine how good a football team is than by the strength of its middle.

"If those people are productive, I think we'll be really good this year," Meyer said.

And the coach also feels really confident about his quarterback. He says Tebow's got "it."

The non-conference games are a joke, aside from Florida State. But traveling to LSU and South Carolina won't be. Every other important game is home, including the Seminoles, meaning the Gators figure to be in the driver's seat in the East, headed for a return trip to Atlanta. Youth be damned.

Regular Season Prediction: 10-2 Overall, 6-2 SEC


Tennessee - 2006: 9-4 Overall, 5-3 SEC

Offense

Phillip Fulmer thinks very highly of Erik Ainge. In fact, Fulmer thinks he's got one of the best quarterbacks in the country on his roster, if not the best.

"Do I think that Erik Ainge can be that kind of player? I do," Fulmer said. "I think Erik Ainge can be that kind of football player that our team can rally around, that he takes the bull by the horns and makes the plays that help you win championships."

That's good to hear because at the rest of the skill positions there are a lot of unknowns.

All his top receivers from last year are gone - most notably favorite target Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain - and in must step Lucas Taylor and Quintin Hancock, both big play threats. LaMarcus Coker, the Vols' top returning running back, was just reinstated after a two-week team suspension and will be Tennessee's featured back if he stays on the field. Arian Foster, after a disappointing 2006 campaign, hopes to return to his 2005 form and stay healthy for a change. He figures to share some of the load with Coker.

The Vols' offensive line is a little young, and sporting the scars of many offseason surgeries, but it's a unit that only allowed 19 sacks last season. On the other hand, they could have been better than the No. 96 rushing attack in the nation. But the offense should be in fine order. After all, David Cutcliffe is settling into his second season as the offensive coordinator. He got the Vols' passing attack to shine last season and with a year in his system under his belt, Ainge figures to be even better in 2007.

Defense

The problems start with the defensive line. They didn't get great pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season and weren't very good against the run. Not a good combination. And now they're even thinner with J.T. Mapu, one of the few legitimate Vols linemen, having not played in two seasons because he was on a Mormon mission.

"My concern on defense mostly is our defensive tackles," Fulmer said. "Replacing Justin Harrell, replacing Turk McBride is not an easy thing to do. But we can find guys in there that can play pad leverage and be intent on being good players."

The young and relatively inexperienced line will have to fair better than the 146.7 yards they let up against the run last year. Fortunately the linebacking corps will take some heat off of them with experience back in Jerod Mayo and Ryan Karl.

The secondary is also a big question mark. Fulmer felt better about it after spring practice, but Jonathan Hefney is the lone returning starter. He's a big-time playmaker in a unit that could very easily feature a pair of junior college transfers and a freshman as starters. The other options aren't ideal considering Antonio Gaines and Marsalous Johnson were not blessed with great size (both come in around 5-foot-9).

The Skinny

There are holes to fill and questions to be answered on both sides of the ball. But Fulmer is undoubtedly more worried about the defense than the offense. He has his star quarterback and coordinator taking care of things.

Trips to Cal to open the season, Florida in the third week and Alabama will be difficult to say the least. But there's no LSU on the schedule, or Auburn for that matter, and a total of seven home games. Tennessee is a threat in the East, especially if they can knock off Florida right from the get go.

Easy to forget that it was only two seasons ago that Fulmer's Vols went 5-6.

"Somebody asked me if there's a magic number every year," Fulmer said. "Yeah, win `em all. That's the magic number to make everybody happy in Knoxville or the coach happy."

Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 Overall, 6-2 SEC


South Carolina - 2006: 8-5 Overall, 3-5 SEC

Offense

Steve Spurrier's a little cocky right now heading into the season because he finally thinks he's got a team ready to compete for the SEC East crown.

Of course, that's largely predicated on how well Blake Mitchell performs as the Gamecocks' quarterback. Mitchell showed some mettle last season in coming back from his benching to claim the quarterback position as his and had himself a very nice Liberty Bowl. But the jury is still out on Mitchell's ability to lead the team. He didn't help his reputation by being suspended for the Gamecocks' opener because he was skipping summer classes. But Spurrier likes what he sees on the football field from Mitchell - as long as he has the proper support.

"Blake's the kind of quarterback where we need a running game and we need pass protection," Spurrier said. "When those two things happen, he can be very productive. He's capable of taking us a long way."

Luckily for Mitchell, he should have a very good running game. In fact, Spurrier thinks they're better suited to keeping the ball on the ground rather than airing it out. It's not a bad strategy considering he's got Cory Boyd and Mike Davis to carve out the yards. You could probably call them the poor man's Darren McFadden and Felix Jones - they're probably the best running duo in the SEC outside of Arkansas. However, they're running behind an offensive line that is a cause for concern. There are issues at the guard positions and with the line's overall ability to protect Mitchell and open holes for the two backs. Only one starter returns on the line that was respectable last year, but is certainly beatable this year.

Defense

Jasper Brinkley is the leader on the defense that was awful against the run, but respectable otherwise.

The middle linebacker decided to come back for his senior season and he'll be joined by his brother, Casper, at linebacker after Casper moved from defensive end to one of the outside positions. Casper was one of the leaders in sacks last season and will figure heavily in the pass rush again this season. The Gamecocks are pretty much set at linebacker.

Spurrier hopes he can do something about the run defense that was awful last season. Arkansas stomped on the Gamecocks last fall to the tune of 260-plus yards, and unless a relatively young group steps up, there could be more of the same in 2007. The line will be deep since Spurrier signed a bunch of defensive linemen, but maturity will be an issue.

The secondary doesn't feature a lot of size, but it was pretty good defending the pass last season. And lately South Carolina's had a track record of producing pros from its secondary, so there's clearly talent there.

The Skinny

The majority of the questions surrounding this team are on offense, namely Mitchell, and even more importantly, the offensive line, because their ability to protect Mitchell and get the running game going will ultimately decide how well Mitchell can play.

The Gamecocks get back Ryan Succop as their de facto kicker and that's great news for Spurrier who has his sights set on bigger and better things in Columbia.

"We've raised our goals this year," Spurrier said. "We're going to try and win the conference. We felt like we really increased our talent level at South Carolina. We've added a lot of players that we think are at a pretty close level with Florida, Georgia and Tennessee."

Things would have to break right for Spurrier to win the East this season, but it should tell you something because the Ol' Ball Coach doesn't usually mince words. He tells it like it is.

Regular Season Prediction: 8-4 Overall, 4-4 SEC


Georgia - 2006: 9-4 Overall, 4-4 SEC

Offense

The Bulldogs are now Matthew Stafford's team after the sophomore battled it out with the two Joe's last year - Tereshinski and Cox - to earn the permanent starting nod. Stafford showed some youth last season, tossing more interceptions than he'd like. But Stafford was just learning the plays and nuances of the college game. So expect bigger and better things from a very gifted young quarterback.

"He's so much better off than a year ago," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I hope it shows on the field."

Stafford will have Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown as his featured runners, Brown the likely starter, and a receiving corps that's growing up right along with him.

But the real key to the offense's success? The offensive line.

Richt's got five early enrollees to work with on what will be a very young offensive line. But since they've been acclimated with the offense already, he's a lot less worried than he was right after the 2006 season ended.

"We only had six scholarship linemen after the season ended for a lot of different reasons," Richt said. "Thankfully we were able to bring in five kids at mid-year. Two junior college linemen, two prep school linemen and a true freshman. Because they were [here] in the spring, it gave the guys a chance to compete."

Defense

Only three starters return from a typically good Georgia defense that finished fifth nationally against the pass and eighth in total defense.

Gone up front are Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson, who combined for 14 sacks. No way is Georgia going to replace that kind of production, but the Bulldogs hope Marcus Howard can develop into a legitimate pass rushing threat in their stead.

The front four's ability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks is even more important after the Bulldogs lost cornerback Paul Oliver to academic ineligibility. That leaves a relatively young crowd to step in and fill his shoes as best they can. But stepping in for one of the top corners in the country, let alone the SEC, will be no easy task and the rest of the defensive backs are lacking when it comes to size.

The Skinny

The offense was far from spectacular last year, averaging a pedestrian 311.8 yards per game. The young offensive line figures to go through some growing pains, there are big holes to fill up the ends and in the secondary.

That kind of formula doesn't equate to great success, especially when you take into account the brutal September schedule the Bulldogs feature: Oklahoma State and South Carolina right off the bat, followed by Alabama in Week 4 and Tennessee the first weekend of October.

If Georgia's not careful, the Dawgs could easily find themselves at 0-3 in conference play, leaving Georgia scrambling to get out of the SEC East doghouse.

"We're underdogs, we always have been, and that's how we see ourselves," strong safety Kelin Johnson said. "It's what gives us motivation."

Regular Season Prediction: 8-4 Overall, 4-4 SEC


Kentucky - 2006: 8-5 Overall, 4-4 SEC

Offense

This could the year Kentucky breaks through because the Wildcats have the best quarterback in the SEC.

That, of course, is senior Andre' Woodson, who put up some ridiculous numbers last season (3,500 yards, 31 TDs and just seven picks) and will  have a bulls-eye plastered on his back now that he's made everyone take notice of his talents.

"We've come a long way since I first came here as a freshman, from knowing where the program was going to where we want it to go now," Woodson said.

Woodson wants to go back to a bowl game after last year's Music City Bowl win and there's no reason why he won't with the likes of Keenan Burton, his senior wide out, Rafael Little, his senior running back, and Jacob Tamme, his senior tight end.

Only two starters return on the line, the weakness of the offense. Injuries were an issue last season and inexperience figures to be this year. The line needs to protect Woodson, who's not particularly mobile, because the offense starts and stops around him.

Defense

Eight starters are back. On paper that looks good, but the Wildcats were the second worst defense in the nation. They were bad against the run - ULM ran for 350 yards against the Wildcats - and horrendous against the pass, allowing an average of 269 yards per game.

The Wildcats mostly chalk it up to youth and inexperience, but they did force turnovers last season so there's some talent on the defense, with linebacker Wesley Woodyard being the best among them.

Kentucky still feels like it's being disrespected, but when you put up the kind of numbers they did last year, many will question how much of a turnaround can really be expected.

"I believe people are going to look at us like we won't compete well," safety Marcus McClinton said. "But they better not look at us as a homecoming game because they will be in for a rude awakening. I mean they aren't going to look at us as just a pushover team as they have done in the past."

The Skinny

That disrespect theme is going to be played all season long by the Wildcats. Not much was expected from them last year and all they went out and did was beat Clemson in the Music City Bowl, culminating one of the most successful seasons for the program in the past two dozen years.

"We've been a doormat for so many years, and now, we want people and teams to know that we are a contender and want to be a contender year in and year out," Woodson said.

They have the offensive weapons for sure, but the offensive line could hold them back over a tough schedule. The Wildcats get Louisville, LSU, Florida and Tennessee at home, which makes their schedule a little more manageable. An upset here or there is not without question. But the idea of Kentucky winning the SEC East - while not impossible - still seems far fetched.

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6, 3-5 SEC

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Vanderbilt - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 1-7 SEC

Offense

The star on offense could very well be the SEC's most prolific receiver when the season comes to an end.

Earl Bennett is on pace to shatter the all-time conference mark for receptions and receiving yards - he's 48 catches and 1,071 yards away from both marks. And he's only a junior.

Chris Nickson, who did a very respectable job filling in for Jay Cutler last season, will be back to take the snaps and will throw Bennett's way as many times as possible. Nickson's also a threat to run at a moment's notice and contributes significantly to the Commodores' dynamic running attack. The school of thought in Nashville seems to be that the key to the offense's success will come via the run. Vanderbilt was actually one of the better rushing teams in the SEC and figures to be yet again. After all, they're bringing back five starters on the offensive line, including two of the better tackles in the conference.

"We have a lot of returning starters and guys who have been working extremely hard this off-season," Bennett said.

Defense

The defense wasn't spectacular last year, but they weren't that bad, either. Eight starters are back on a unit that was pretty good against the pass even though the secondary was very young in 2006, starting two freshmen in D.J. Moore and Joel Caldwell.

Jonathan Goff will help anchor the defense at linebacker, the unit that should be the strength of the Commodores. And he has every reason to believe that the Commodores will be better than last year's No. 74 showing.

"The mindset of the program has changed and I just believe that coach (Bobby) Johnson and his staff have done a great job with recruiting and changing the mindset of the team," Goff said.

The Skinny

Yes, there's talent to be found at Vanderbilt and the offense should be a well-oiled machine when it's rolled out. Johnson is very optimistic that they can improve on last year's four wins.

"I think we're much more talented than we have been early in my career at Vanderbilt," Johnson said. "I think our guys feel like they can compete in this league. Their work habits reflect that."

Vanderbilt may have one of the best work ethics in the conference, but they don't have one of the best teams. They're better than either of the two Mississippi teams, but unfortunately the Commodores call the SEC East home. And that means at least four losses. It helps that they have eight home games, but Vanderbilt has actually been a better road team over the past several seasons.

Regular Season Prediction: 4-8 Overall, 1-7 SEC

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West

LSU - 2006: 11-2 Overall, 6-2 SEC


Offense

Don't cry for the Tigers because they lost JaMarcus Russell, the top pick in last April's NFL Draft. Or that Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis are also playing professionally now as well.

The Tigers have an embarrassment of riches like wide out Early Doucet and three viable running backs ready and willing to handle the load.

Quarterbacking duties will go to Matt Flynn, a fifth-year senior, who has only made one start in his career at LSU, but that 2005 Peach Bowl performance against Miami, where he was named offensive MVP, is still carrying weight. Flynn's not the physical specimen that Russell is, but he's a lot more mobile and will run with the ball if need be.

With an offensive line that should be one of the best units in the conference, Flynn should have himself plenty of time to hit his big play target, Doucet. And Doucet thinks Flynn, who's been waiting to star as the Tigers signal caller for years, is ready to take the reins.

"He's going to be fine," Doucet said. "Matt is a poised veteran, this is his fifth year. He knows how to handle tough situations."

We'll see how LSU adjusts to not having Jimbo Fisher calling the plays as offensive coordinator, but coach Les Miles brought in Gary Crowton of Oregon fame. Expect to see plenty of the spread offense, Crowton's specialty.

Defense

Defensive coordinator Bo Pelini has built himself one heck of a squad, as eight starters return on a unit that was statistically one the best in the country last season.

And to boot, he brings back the best defensive tackle in the country in Glenn Dorsey, who was a surefire first-round draft pick last April. Dorsey, however, surprised many by deciding to return to school. Dorsey anchors a defensive line that's ridiculously deep at the tackle position and also features pass-rushing dynamo Tyson Jackson, who is a beast at 6-foot-5 and 292 pounds.

All three starters return at linebacker - Ali Highsmith, Darry Beckwith and Luke Sanders in what could be the SEC's best unit.

The secondary took a big hit with LaRon Landry off to the NFL. However, don't expect much in the way of a dropoff. Jonathan Zenon and Chevis Jackson return as starters at the corners who just happen to be seniors.

The Skinny

The Tigers lost a lot of talent off of last year's Sugar Bowl champs, but they have just as much coming back. It's almost to the point where it's becoming comical how many athletes Miles can trot onto the field.

"We enjoy the compliment of being talented, but that doesn't necessarily make you a great team," Miles said. "We're going to work on being a great team and look forward to this season, the schedule and all that it presents to us."

Other than their Week 2 meeting with Virginia Tech, the Tigers have a very easy non-conference slate. And their toughest road game? At Alabama against former coach Nick Saban. The Tigers are the cream of the crop in the West. It's theirs for the taking. After all, they say defense wins championships and LSU has a championship-caliber defense, one that can take it all the way to the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans on Jan. 7.

Regular Season Prediction: 11-1 Overall, 7-1 SEC


Auburn - 2006: 11-2 Overall, 6-2 SEC

Offense

Brandon Cox is finally healthy after he and the rest of the offense endured an injury-plagued 2006. Only problem is most of his playmakers are no longer around.

The senior only has three other starters back with him with notables like Kenny Irons and Courtney Taylor gone, but the Tigers will more than make due with what's left.

In will step Brad Lester for Irons where there shouldn't be much of a drop off. Ben Tate should also get plenty of carries, as coach Tommy Tuberville could feature a running back by committee where the two essentially share the ball. Carl Stewart also figures to get some carries, if he can shake a hamstring injury.

"Kenny was a great player, but we're loaded in the backfield," Cox said

Not having Taylor isn't the best of news for Cox, but he's got receivers to work with who are all a year older now and much more comfortable with the offense.

The offensive line is less experienced than Tuberville would like, with no returning starters, but Auburn won't be shuttling in freshmen and sophomores to fill the four holes on the line. The Tigers should feature plenty of upperclassmen doing the blocking.

Defense

Quentin Groves anchors the defensive line, and the defense as a whole, that will be one of the tougher groups in the conference to score on yet again.

The rushing defense allowed too many yards at times last season, but with experienced players back to man their positions, they should whittle down 2006's 124 yards per game average.

The pass defense was great last year, and with three starters in the secondary back and Groves, one of the top sackmasters in the conference last season, rushing the passer yet again, there's no reason not to think they won't be.

The only glaring weakness is at linebacker where, again, Tuberville would like to see more depth. Tray Blackmon is very talented, but slightly troubled, and Groves - a married man - has taken him under his wing in hopes of straightening him out. If he can stay in the lineup for the full allotment of games this season, he'll provide a huge boost to the Tigers.

The Skinny

The offense struggled at times last year, but that was because people were so banged up. It was just one of those years. If the Tigers can stay healthy, chances are they'll be right there with LSU battling for West supremacy.

"We didn't have a good offense last year for several reasons," Tuberville said. "One, Brandon was a little beat up. We pulled the plug about middle season and just started pounding it and trying to win on defense and the kicking game. It worked pretty good for us most the time."

The defense will again be predictably stout, but the schedule could be a killer. Auburn plays at Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia. Florida, Arkansas and LSU all come within a four week window.

"We are a young team, and if we start out with confidence that will help our team on the road," Groves said.

Sure they're a young team, but a young team that should have a very good defense.

Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 Overall, 5-3 SEC


Alabama - 2006: 6-7 Overall, 2-6 SEC

Offense

It's all predicated on the offensive line for the Crimson Tide. If they can improve on last year's performance, then the offensive outlook for `Bama is bright. If they perform as they did last year, when they allowed defenses to stifle their running game and pressure John Parker Wilson, then they won't live up to the huge expectations new coach Nick Saban has created in Tuscaloosa.

Give Wilson time to operate at quarterback and Alabama can score some points. He's a threat with his arm or with his legs and has options at receiver with DJ Hall and Keith Brown, who could very well be the best tandem in the SEC.

The running back position is unresolved in that Kenneth Darby is gone and Saban must turn to the likes of Jimmy Johns, Glen Coffee, Terry Grant, Roy Upchurch and a few others who all want the job. Saban would love to have two running backs emerge as his dependable ball carriers, but he'd settle right now for just one.

Saban's going to open up the offense a little more, so you can expect to see some new wrinkles, but it's certainly not a major overhaul of what former coach Mike Shula had installed.

"It has a few more spread-option plays involved," center Antoine Caldwell said. "But it is designed to get the ball in the playmakers' hands. That makes it similar in that we have the same people to run the offense."

Defense

Expect to see Alabama in the 3-4. They have the personnel for the formation and not for the 4-3, which they used previously, because Saban has far more game-ready linebackers than he does linemen.

They only managed 13 sacks last year, a paltry number, but Wallace Gilberry hopes to up that number this season after he led the team with 3.5. The Crimson Tide may not be able to go two deep at every linebacker position, but Prince Hall leads a solid, if unspectacular group.

Simeon Castille is the man in the secondary for Saban - he intercepted six passes last year - but two new corners must be inserted into the starting lineup. In his short time barking orders at his defense, Saban's already made a big impression on arguably his top defender.

"I've been playing defensive back for a long time, but it's amazing how much he taught me in just one spring," Castille said. "I was excited when I heard he was coming because I knew he was a defense guy."

The Skinny

It's all Saban, all the time. Every move he makes, every step he takes, Saban is being watched, dissected and critiqued like no other Crimson Tide coach before.

"It's a little more intense than recent years," Caldwell said. "There have been a lot more cameras in Tuscaloosa than last year."

But for all the headaches that Saban's brought from the attention he's received, it will be well worth it. He's a bottom-line coach and he'll get results from his team. He's won at just about every place he's landed, building successfully at Michigan State and a bringing a national championship to LSU.

There are young faces that will play a critical role in Alabama's ultimate fate. Saban brought in a very good class. Alabama's got a pretty tough schedule with Florida State due up in late September. They have to travel to Auburn, but their toughest games come at home. If things break right, an SEC West crown isn't totally out of the question, but things would have to really break right. Figure on `Bama falling short as they build for a big run in the following years.

Regular Season Prediction: 7-5, 4-4 SEC


Arkansas - 2006: 10-4 Overall, 7-1 SEC

Offense

Two words: Darren McFadden

Arkansas features the nation's top running back and a pretty good Robin to McFadden's Batman in Felix Jones.

McFadden, one of the Heisman Trophy favorites, ran for 1,647 yards and 14 TDs in leading the Razorbacks to the SEC West title. He'll be carrying a big target on his back, but his speed, size and ridiculous athletic ability makes him the most dangerous offensive player in the country. He's probably Arkansas' best quarterback - he threw three touchdowns last season - and you'll see plenty of the Wildhog formation this year, newly renamed from the Wildcat.

That's because Houston Nutt cut ties with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who brought the Wildcat with him from high school. Nutt hired David Lee, previously with the Dallas Cowboys, but not much will change philosophy wise. It's still going be a healthy dose of McFadden and Jones.

There are a few defections on the offensive line, losing three starters and quarterback Casey Dick had consistency issues last season. The Razorbacks don't know for sure what they'll get from him, plus top wide out Marcus Monk could be out the entire month of September with a bum knee. So pretty much it's going to be McFadden and Jones all the time. It's predictable, but it's going to work.

Defense

There are big, big holes to fill.

The Razorbacks must replace their top pass rusher and their best corner after Jamaal Anderson and Chris Houston, respectively, entered the draft. On top of that, tackle Keith Jackson is also playing on Sundays now and Marcus Harrison, who was supposed to help alleviate their losses on the defensive line, could be out the whole season after injuring his knee during the spring. There shouldn't be too much of a drop off at the end positions, and tackle Ernest Mitchell is a proven commodity. But the other tackle spot is wide open.

Linebacker will be anchored by Freddie Fairchild, but he's coming off an injury. There isn't a whole lot of depth to work with, but the Razorbacks will make do. The secondary, on the other hand, has some experience, with two seniors set to man the safety positions in Matt Hewitt and Michael Grant.

They were a respectable defense last season, but Arkansas could take a step back in 2007. Every team has holes to fill, but not the size that Arkansas is looking at.

The Skinny

The firestorm surrounding Nutt this offseason seems to have passed him by, but it created tons of headlines as several Arkansas fans pried into his personal life and reacted harshly to the departures of top freshman Mitch Mustain and Malzahn.

"This was really a different, totally different, offseason, something I've never experienced before in my 26 years of coaching," Nutt said.

But Nutt's survived and feels he's stronger for dealing with it. And despite the heavy losses on defense, he still has two world class college football running backs to rely on. Arkansas' non-conference schedule can be described in two words: a joke. The Hogs host Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga (in Little Rock) and FIU. They get Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State at home as well. Tough trips must be taken to Tennessee and LSU right at the end of the season, but it's a schedule the Razorbacks can take advantage of and could very easily be right in the mix for a second straight division title.

Regular Season Prediction: 8-4 Overall, 4-4 SEC


Mississippi State - 2006: 3-9 Overall, 1-7 SEC


Offense

Michael Henig saw limited action last year because of injury, but with a receiving corps that features some depth, bigger things should be expected from the offense that returns nine starters.

Henig has playmakers to utilize like Tony Burks and Lance Long at wide out. However, it's a different story when it comes to the rushing attack. They were bad last year, averaging just 95 yards per game in a conference where success is still largely dictated on running the ball. Now with an offensive line that returns practically intact, Anthony Dixon can pound away on the ground.

The offensive line is the biggest reason for optimism. They were young last year and dealt with a lot of injuries, but they're seasoned heading into 2007 and proved last year that they're capable of improving.

"When I look at us offensively we made significant progress. We had 22 sacks in the first six games," coach Sylvester Croom said. "Only had six in the last six. We finally pieced together an offensive line. That's been a process in itself."

Defense

Six starters are no longer with the Bulldogs and the defensive line was hit hardest with very little experience coming back. Depth is also an issue with this unit that doesn't feature much after the front four. Titus Brown figures to be Mississippi State's premier pass rusher.

"Titus is a very important factor in our football team," Croom said. "He's what I call a natural pass rusher. I expect him to have a big year for us."

Safety Derek Pegues and linebacker Jamar Chaney make up a nice tandem up the middle for the Bulldogs, but other than that, the cupboard's a little thin.

"Our team has a team concept," Croom said. "We got no superstars."

The Skinny

The progress that many were expecting under Croom has yet to come. He's entering his fourth season and he's only won nine games. Still, Croom remains optimistic that he can turn around the program that he was hired to rebuild.

"I'm extremely proud of the players who have come to our program because a lot of them, rather than choosing to go somewhere and riding on the coattails of someone else's success, they chose to be a part of building something," Croom said. "They're the ones that are building it, and builders are special people."

Unfortunately, they're not building fast enough. Croom has come under heat and he's simply not recruiting the kind of talent that can compete with the upper echelon teams in the SEC. It'll be another rough year in Starkville with Auburn, South Carolina, West Virginia and Arkansas all on the road. Fortunately there's no Florida, but there are certainly more losses than wins on this schedule.

Regular Season Prediction: 4-8, 1-7 SEC

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Mississippi - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 2-6 SEC

Offense

Brent Schaeffer was once the future of the Rebels at quarterback, but the once highly touted signal caller is still battling it out with Seth Adams to become coach Ed Orgeron's starter.

Schaeffer was rumored to be contemplating a switch to receiver just a few weeks ago, but it seems as if the former Tennessee starter could sneak in and potentially steal it away from Adams, who was considered the favorite heading into fall camp. Everyone's waiting on an announcement as to who gets the nod for the opener against Memphis, but don't be surprised if we see a little of both during the season.

"I would like to not have a two-quarterback system," Orgeron said. "I'm not going to rule it out. I would like one guy to be our quarterback. I think the longer it goes, the better for our team."

Whoever it is must improve on the woeful numbers the Ole Miss offense put up last season. You can chalk that up in part to Schaeffer's unfamiliarity with his new teammates, but they put up some ugly numbers last year (15.7 points per game, 136 yards passing per game).

Whoever is finally tabbed as the starter will figure to hand the ball off plenty to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the SEC's third leading rusher last season. The Rebels' running attack figures to be stout yet again with an offensive line that returns several starters and will feature significantly more experience in 2007.

"I am very grateful for my offensive line," Green-Ellis said. "I pat them on the back every time they do something well. Last year, they were considered a makeshift offensive line before the season started and look at them now."

Size is one thing the receiving corps will not feature, but the Rebels have plenty of guys who caught balls last season back. It all depends on whether the quarterback, whoever he is, can get them the ball on a consistent basis.

Defense

In comes a new defensive coordinator in John Thompson, but out goes Patrick Willis, one of the top linebackers in the nation and far and away the Rebels' best defensive player.

"Patrick Willis was a great player and our leader on defense," defensive end Marcus Tillman said. "We will miss him on and off the field, but we have some guys who have been working hard to fill his shoes."

The only problem is that those guys will never come close to replacing one of the best middle linebackers Ole Miss has ever seen.

Tillman is the one known commodity on the defensive line, while the rest of his teammates up front have all battled injuries. Jamarca Sanford figures to be one of the team's top tacklers this season as he moves to strong safety. But he's only one of four starters who are back from a unit that let up a lot of yards on the ground last season.

"The thing I like about John Thompson is his expertise at the back end, and my expertise is the front end," Orgeron said. "I think it's going to be a great marriage. We want to have a great defensive team and I expect to have that."

The Skinny

Orgeron was forced to play a lot of freshmen last year - 17 to be exact - and actually only suited up 64 scholarship players at one point in the season and the results showed.

But he really feels like he's building some depth this year, which should be crucial in their fight to gain some respectability.

"I really feel that we're building depth," Orgeron said. "We actually have two offensive lines, which is new for us. We have three defensive lines across the board. "We're building depth, but it's going to take a while."

Orgeron just hopes he's around to see it. He hasn't produced much in the way of wins and with little hope of competing for the SEC West title anytime soon, his 7-16 record heading into the season only will loom larger and larger as speculation about his job security echoes louder and louder around Oxford.

The Rebels have three easy non-conference games, but other than their annual meeting with Mississippi State, they'll be hard pressed to crack the four win plateau. Their toughest games, against the conference's best, all come at home, but Ole Miss doesn't have the fire power to stick with Florida, LSU and Auburn.

Regular Season Prediction: 4-8 Overall, 1-7 SEC

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Re: 2007 SEC Preview

South Carolina reinstates Cook
August 28th, 2007

Columbia, SC (Sports Network) - South Carolina sophomore safety Emanuel Cook, who was suspended by the university as the result of an arrest involving a weapon, was reinstated on Tuesday.

Additional details were not provided, but The State newspaper reported last Friday that Cook was charged with unlawful possession of a pistol.

"I appreciate the fair and expeditious handling of this matter by the University and the Office of Judicial Affairs," Cook said in a statement through his attorney. "I understand the seriousness of the charges made against me and believe the actions taken by the University were reasonable and appropriate in this situation. I want to apologize to the entire University community, the football team and staff, and my family and friends for the negative attention which my actions may have brought."

Cook played in 10 games, starting five, for the Gamecocks last season and earned Freshman All-SEC honors after tying for third on the team with 47 tackles.

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Cook will likely be out two weeks due to appendicitis. That means he won't play in the season opener on Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette, and may be held out of the game at Georgia the following Saturday.

"We all learned a lot in the Emanuel Cook incident with the gun," Spurrier said. "I think our players all know now that if you see a pistol, you need to go the other direction as fast as you can. Don't touch it. It's a good rule. Hopefully we all learned from what happened last week."

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