There’s no stopping the Gators

Published 4:09 pm Tuesday, July 7, 2009

As always, last year’s Southeastern Conference football predictions were hit and miss.

The bad: I picked Auburn and Tennessee to meet in the SEC Championship Game, and both teams ended up being so bad their coaches were fired. The good: I picked LSU to suffer through its worst season under coach Les Miles (the Tigers went 3-5 in the conference) and Ole Miss to be the conference’s surprise team (the Rebels finished behind only Alabama in the West and humbled one-time national championship contender Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl).

And not that it matters now, but my prognostication equation told me Alabama would defeat Auburn in the Iron Bowl last year, which would have earned the Crimson Tide the trip to Atlanta. So, I should have gotten at least half of the championship game correct. I doubted the equation and picked Auburn because of Alabama’s horrible 2007 season.

There will be no second-guessing this year, partly because the SEC’s Eastern Division offers no opportunity to second guess. Everything that can be said has been said about the Florida Gators and quarterback Tim Tebow. The summary: It will be shocking if Florida loses a game and/or doesn’t win its third national championship in four years.

Though it lost quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno, Georgia should be the best of the rest in the East thanks to an improved offensive line and defense. UGA’s only conference loss should come against the mighty Gators, but trips to Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech and a visit from Arizona State highlight the SEC’s toughest non-conference slate.

Kentucky, with an experienced offensive line and a surprisingly good defense, will win eight games and finish third in the division, ahead of South Carolina and coaching legend Steve Spurrier, Tennessee and coaching upstart Lane Kiffin, and Vanderbilt and coaching dark horse Bobby Johnson.

Vanderbilt fans have tempered expectations and Tennessee fans must think they have better seasons to look forward to under Kiffin, but the whispers in Columbia about whether Spurrier can make winners out of the Gamecocks will turn into shouts, as even an upset win over conference heavyweight Alabama on Oct. 17 won’t be enough to earn South Carolina a bowl berth.

But will that Homecoming disappointment keep the Crimson Tide from a repeat visit to the SEC Championship Game to play Florida? Check the Weekend edition and for the SEC West predictions.