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An early look at the SEC in 2010

We’re less than one week removed from the end of the 2009 college football season—what better time to look ahead to 2010?

Two state teams, Alabama and Auburn, figure to play significant roles in the Southeastern Conference next season.

Alabama, you might have heard by now, won the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, 37-21 over Texas. The Crimson Tide next season will feature a senior returning starter at quarterback, the nation’s best 1-2 running back combination, an offensive line that could be even better than the 2009 version and plenty of playmakers at the receiver and tight end positions.

Bama will need the offensive firepower to help overcome the loss of at least nine starters—and three All-Americans—off the defense.

Don’t write off the Tide, though. Alabama will be most experts’ preseason No. 1 team.

Auburn, meanwhile, continues to stockpile weapons on offense and build depth on defense.

Junior college star quarterback Cameron Newton and top running back prospect Michael Dyer will instantly excite fans, but give them a year of seasoning before they help the Tigers contend for the SEC Western Division.

Instead, and because quarterback Ryan Mallett decided to return for his junior season, challenging the defending national champion will be Arkansas.

The West, once again, will be the stronger of the conference’s two divisions. In fact, the East champion could enter the SEC Championship Game with three, or four, losses.

Florida, the defending division champ, will see its depth chart decimated by graduation and early entries into the NFL, and the Gators lost defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to a head coaching job at Louisville.

Tennessee will take a step back no matter who is hired to replace Lane Kiffin, and Mark Richt might just have to coach the Georgia defense himself if he can’t find a coordinator after firing Willie Martinez. Either way, don’t expect much improvement on that side of the ball.

Kentucky and Vanderbilt won’t shock anyone, so that leaves South Carolina. The Gamecocks have one of the conference’s legendary coaches in Steve Spurrier and a quarterback, Stephen Garcia, that Spurrier actually seems to have faith in.

Winning an SEC title at South Carolina would be perhaps Spurrier’s greatest accomplishment to date, but he’ll have to contend with another pretty good Alabama team.