by Chris, the Impaler - 08/12/2005
The Tennessee Volunteers won the SEC East conference last year and then fell to Auburn for the SEC title, this year the Vols have set their sights higher; the Rose Bowl. But before there is any talk of a National Championship in Knoxville, the Vols will have to return to the SEC title game, that won't be an easy task. UT gets tested early with two tough road conference games at Florida and LSU in September. How they survive these road tests will dictate the tone for their season.
This year the SEC is characterized by the shift at the head coaching positions and how immediate an impact these coaches make. Four schools have notable changes at the head coaching position this year: Urban Meyer replaces Ron Zook at Florida, Steve Spurrier returns to the SEC replacing Lou Holtz at South Carolina, Les Miles jumps conference from the Big 12 to fill in Nick Saban's shoes at LSU and Trojan DC Ed Orgeron will coach Ole Miss replacing David Cutcliffe. I see Alabama as the dark horse in the SEC as Mike Shula tries to save his job by turning the 'Tide. However, considering the level of talent and experience in Knoxville, I see the Tennessee Volunteers winning the SEC. Returning eight offensive and nine defensive players, HC Phil Fulmer could have the most potent team in the SEC. The Vols have the talent and experience to win the conference championship and then some - if they can stay out of trouble.
While I love UT to win the SEC this year, I see that as many as four other teams that have a legitimate chance to play for the SEC conference title. Last year's powerhouse Auburn will be in the hunt despite losing four key players to the first round of the NFL draft. LSU and their new HC, is my favorite to win the West (with Auburn breathing down their necks the whole way) as the Tigers return 17 starters from last year as well as several key backups. With Urban Meyer jumping conference to Florida it is party time in the Swamp. A sure note that Gator-Nation is revived after three tumultuous years under hapless Ron Zook is the fact that we have not seen a fireurbanmeyer.com website. Yet. The SEC is heavily recruited by the NFL and because of that SEC teams require depth at the skill positions as well as consistent starters. It is the teams that are able to bring back a consistent corps of starters and show the ability to reload and fire from the get-go that have the best shot at winning the conference.
Here is how I see the SEC unfolding this season:
Success and failure in the SEC this year could well depend upon coaching and QB play. There are currently only four established quarterbacks (starters) - Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler, Alabama's Brodie Croyle, Tennessee's Clausen (if he starts) and Florida's Chris Leak - and at least five new starters. Considering that Croyle is coming off a knee injury and Leak has to learn a whole new, complex offense, Vandy's Jay Cutler, while excellent, lacks the offensive weapons that perennial SEC powerhouses have, the injury prone Brodie Croyle, could be one of the best QBs in the SEC. I think we'll see Tennessee and LSU are at the top of their respective divisions. I feel that if the Volunteers can go 2-1 (which might be asking too much) in three tough conference road games at Florida, LSU and Alabama, the Vols can run the table at Neyland Stadium and end up winning the SEC title.
I like LSU in the West as well as Auburn while Alabama has all the key ingredients to make it to Atlanta this year. South Carolina and Florida will try to step up in their bowl classes this year. With the losses that both Georgia experienced on defense and Auburn experienced on offence it will be interesting to see how these two teams who were ranked No. 2 and No. 6, respectively, in the country at the end of last year do this year. In the middle of the pack we'll see Arkansas, Mississippi and South Carolina holding their own, but tough road schedules and not enough talent to take the next step in this ultra-competitive conference will hold them back.
It is exciting for the conference that Steve Spurrier is back, but South Carolina does not have the offensive weapons a Spurrier coached offense needs. The only teams that I feel cannot contend in this league at this point are Vanderbilt and Kentucky-with Kentucky below the Commodores. I am hard pressed to find one game that Kentucky wins this year while Vanderbilt has a good opportunity to pull out an upset or two over the course of an eight-game conference schedule. The Commodores cannot win consistently week in and week out in the SEC, but they'll be better than Kentucky. Mississippi, Alabama and Florida should be the most improved teams in the SEC this year.
Here is how I predict the standings will look like in late December:
2005 Doc's SEC Preview -- Projected Standings
2005 SEC PreviewThe following is Doc's detailed analysis of each SEC team highlighting their strengths, weaknesses and strength of schedule.
Tennessee Volunteers (10-1, 7-1)
Questions face the talent-laden Volunteers this year. Will 16 returning starters from last year's 10-3 team be enough to win the Southeastern Conference title? Who will start under center (Clausen/Ainge)? Can the Volunteers keep out of trouble long enough to concentrate on football? With the return of stud RB Gerald Riggs Jr. (1,130 rushing yards LY) on offence and a defense that brings back eight starters including MLB Kevin Simon, fully recovered from his injury sustained against Florida last season, Tennessee looks locked and loaded in their quest for the SEC Title. In the last 16 months, however, 13 Vols players have been arrested which is a distraction a team that aspires for a National Championship. Depending on whom Fulmer decides to QB the Vols season has not been determined yet, but don't be surprised to see Erik Ainge (17/9 TD-INT ratio as a freshman) start rather than senior Casey Clausen. Tennessee HC Phillip Fulmer has the best winning percentage of any Division I-A coach in 13 years. Over the past decade, Tennessee has won more games than any team in the SEC and second in Division I-A with a 101-25 (.802) regular season record.
Strengths: Experience and dominating defense will set the tone for the Vols this year, with eight returning starters and a multitude of experienced backups, "smash mouth" football is alive and well at UT. Against SEC powerhouses LSU, Florida, Alabama and Georgia they'll need all they can get and might rely upon the "D" to win a road conference game for them. The Vols will be led on defense by senior cornerback Jason Allen (7 passes broken up, 2 interceptions), who led the Vols with 123 tackles last year, but that was from the free safety position. On the other side of the ball, the Vols return Riggs to pound the ball. Tennessee is also deep and talented at receiver, with the return of C.J. Fayton, Robert Meachem, Bret Smith, Jayson Swain and Chris Hannon.
Weakness: Uncertainty at QB and the departure of tailback Cedric Houston. Gerald Riggs is now the only featured tailback. Riggs rushed for 1,107 yards last season (Houston also topped 1,000), and should have a sensational senior season as long as he remains healthy. If senior Casey Clausen doesn't work out (he might not start) Eric Ainge (17/9 TD-INT ratio as a freshman), who set the record for freshman TD passes (but lacks experience) last year before he got injured, will get the nod.
Best Bet: Sept. 3, 2005 vs. UAB. Tennessee is 8-2 against the spread its last 10 openers at Neyland Stadium.
Favorable Line Loser: Nov. 12, 2005 vs. Memphis. The Volunteers have been cash burners at home sporting a 8-17 ATS record in its last 25 games as a home 'favorite.' Meanwhile, they have struggled against Memphis with a 0-5 ATS record in their last five games.
LSU Tigers (10-1, 7-1)
The Les Miles era has begun in Baton Rouge as the Tigers look to win the SEC West this year. Nick Saban led LSU to a National Championship in 2003 and alumni, fans, and boosters expect results from the ex-Cowboy. Miles brings an offensive approach to the Tigers that no-nonsense defensive minded Saban did not have. However, whether Miles has the equivalent of Rashaun Woods and Tatum Bell or a proven go-to receiver comparable to former LSU receiver Michael Clayton, and a guy who is reliable enough to get them the ball is another question. Miles is serious about winning. He has retained Fisher and offensive line coach Stacy Searels from Saban's staff, but Miles brought the rest of his coaches from the outside, including defensive coordinator Bo Pellini from Oklahoma and four from Oklahoma State. Gamblers should take note that at OSU Miles was hitting 50 percent against the spread.
Strengths: The Tigers continue to be loaded with talent and depth at running back with the return of Alley Broussard, Joseph Addai, and Justin Vincent. Between the running backs and the offensive line, the Tigers should be able to run the ball effectively. The offensive line returns at least six players with four career starts, led by senior All-American Andrew Whitworth. The Tigers return nine starters and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher from a team that averaged 28.7 points and 395 yards per game in 2004. LSU also returns 2,096 of the team's 2,326 rushing yards from last year. The Tigers are still deep and talented at WR with the return of Craig Davis, Dwayne Bowe, Skyler Green and Early Doucet.
Weakness: Questions on both sides of the ball. Will JeMarcus Russell be able to learn and run a new Les Miles offense? On defense, new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini must find replacements for defensive end Marcus Spears and cornerbacks Corey Webster and Travis Daniels who left for the NFL. No team in the SEC has more work to do at cornerback than LSU after losing both starters, Travis Daniels and Corey Webster, to the NFL. The leading candidates to replace them seniors Ronnie Prude, who has been LSU's nickel back the past two seasons, and Sammy Joseph, a transfer from Colorado. Still, LSU returns seven starters, including three on the defensive front from a unit that ranked among national leaders in scoring (17.1 points), rushing defense (99.8 yards) and total defense (256.9 yards).
Best Bet: Oct. 1, 2005 at Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Tigers are 12-3 against the Bulldogs over the past 15 seasons.
Favorable Line Loser: Nov. 19, 2005 at Mississippi. The favorite has been a cash burner covering only one game in the last eight. LSU should be favored in this one.
Auburn Tigers (9-2, 6-2)
Tommy Tuberville's Auburn Tigers have a difficult task ahead of them if they hope to repeat last year's undefeated season. Auburn has a bit of a chip on their shoulder after an undefeated season left the Sooners not the Tigers playing for the National Championship. However, last year is history as the 2005 NFL draft was historic when Auburn had four players; otherwise known as the starting offensive backfield, drafted in the first round. With a favorable five game home stand to begin the season, it is more than likely Auburn will go 6-0 before they are seriously tested at LSU. This will give Auburn's offense a chance to syncopate before the brutal conference road run at the end of the season. The defense can carry its own weight most of the time if it can adjust to a new defensive coordinator, but the Tigers will need some offense to move the ball, control the clock and score points. I see Auburn fighting LSU for the SEC West.
Strengths: While the Tigers lost several key players, Auburn's 15 seniors in 2005 will tie for Auburn's second largest senior class under coach Tommy Tuberville, whose staff has done a good job of building depth in recent years. Auburn returns Courtney Taylor, Anthony Mix, Devin Aromashodu and Ben Obamanu and will be as good a four-deep as any team in the SEC. Auburn's four best linebackers return, with Travis Williams in the middle, Antarrious Williams on the weakside and the combination of Kevin Sears and Karibi Dede sharing the strongside spot. The defense returns six starters this year.
Weakness: You don't lose your starting backfield and then not have questions on offense. The Tigers must find a way to replace quarterback Jason Campbell and running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, all first-round draft choices. QB Brandon Cox and tailbacks Tre Smith and Kenny Irons will be counted to get the offense moving. Auburn will also have a difficult time replacing the experience, maturity and leadership of Campbell, simply because Brandon Cox is a sophomore with limited game experience.
Best Bet: Nov. 5, 2005 at Kentucky. The Tigers have covered seven of the last eight games in this series.
Favorable Line Loser: Nov. 19, 2005 vs. Alabama Crimson Tide. The Iron Bowl has gone to the 'dogs 8-4 ATS over the last 12 games.
Georgia Bulldogs (9-2, 6-2)
Mark Richts' Bulldogs return seven offensive and eight defensive starters from last years' team that was nationally ranked in the top ten, but that might not be enough to get Georgia to Atlanta in 2005. Between the uncertainty surrounding the defense and the passing game, the Bulldogs better be able to run the ball effectively to contend for the SEC East title. This season will also depend upon the play of DJ Shockley. However, this year the competition might be too tough for Georgia to return to a top ten ranking with tough conference road games at Tennessee and Florida. The good news for gamblers is that after four years under Mark Richt, Georgia has notched a money earning 15-8 mark against the spread.
Strengths: Georgia must be happy that their schedule eschews LSU in favor of Mississippi State. Also, the Bulldogs' backfield is loaded with speed and experience. Sophomore running back Thomas Brown is off an 875-yard season as a freshman, while Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware are also back. Hopefully the two QB era is over at Georgia and D.J. Shockley, taking over for the departed David Greene, will improve as he gains more experience as the lone starter. Keep in mind that Shockley has never started a college game even though he has appeared in 26 games. Shockley is known as an inaccurate passer, but his uncanny ability to scramble and make plays sets him apart.
Weakness: The Bulldogs have a job to do replacing the loss of key defensive players; defensive end David Pollack, safety Thomas Davis and middle linebacker Odell Thurman, three players selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. Between the loss of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and Davis, Pollack and Thurman, the Bulldogs have a lot of work to do on defense.
Best Bet: Nov. 19, 2005 vs. Kentucky. After playing Auburn the week before, the Bulldogs will welcome SEC whipping boy Kentucky.
Favorable Line Loser: Sept. 3, 2005 vs. Boise St. While this game won't be on the blue turf but the Broncos have the weapons to light up the scoreboard in a hurry.
Florida Gators(8-3, 5-3)
The folks at fireronzook.com got their wish; and then some. Florida went out and got the hottest coach in NCAA Football; Utah's Urban Meyer. This year Urban Meyer brings his spread option shotgun offense to Gainesville. The same offence that led to Ute QB Alex Smith being a No. 1 NFL Draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers this year. We'll have to wait to see if Meyer can work the same magic for Gator QB Chris Leak who threw for 29 TDs last year. However, just the arrival of Meyer has lifted the spirits of Gator fans perhaps a bit unrealistically. However, they should play better at the Swamp than they have under Zook's tenure. At Utah, Meyer was an astounding 20-4 against the spread while Zook at the Swamp was 7-11 against the spread. No wonder Gator-Nation is stoked, but playing at Utah State is one thing, going to Baton Rouge is terrifying.
Strengths: Coach Urban Meyer - seriously. The biggest thing Florida did this year was getting Urban Meyer. Meyer's offense will also feature an aerial assault reminiscent of the Fun-N-Gun with Chris Leak and a talented corps of receivers including game-breakers Chad Jackson and Andre Caldwell. Jackson averaged 22.3 YPC and 6 TDs last year. Florida returns 13 starters and 47 letterman.
Weakness: The loss of Ciatrick Fason at tailback is huge! This leaves the Gators with a big hole in blocking for the spread offense, and none of the available candidates - DeShawn Wynn, Markus Manson or Skyler Thornton - looked good in spring. Channing Crowder left for the NFL, which has taken a toll on the linebacker depth chart. Which is not a great position for Meyer's Gators in the SEC. If Everett or Siler get hurt, the run defense will quickly become a major issue.
Best Bet: Sept. 3, 2005 vs. Wyoming. The Urban Meyer era kicks off with the Gators' hosting the Cowboys. Wyoming is awful on the road and you can bet it's going to be a great day at the Swamp and a Florida Gator blowout win.
Favorable Line Loser: Oct. 1, 2005 at Alabama Crimson Tide. There have only been eight meetings between these two teams since 1978, but the underdog has covered seven of the eight games.
Alabama Crimson Tide (8-3, 5-3)
After posting a 30-31 record in his tenure at 'Bama, Mike Shula needs to show results or risk being fired after the season. In a way, the Crimson Tide had been a victim of bad luck and giving games away last year. This year everything starts at quarterback, where Brodie Croyle will attempt to play a full season without being injured. As Croyle developed and began looking more confident last year he went down three games into the 2004 season. The question marks start with the depth chart as well as with the Crimson Tide facing youth and inexperience behind all those experienced returning starters. But this year will be characterized by narrowly winning rather than losing important games at home.
Strengths: QB Brodie Croyle (if he stays healthy) completed 44-of-66 passes (67 percent) for 534 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions before he went down in the Western Carolina game. Another strength for Alabama is their defense. Mark Anderson returns on defense to give the Tide a pass-rushing threat while Wallace Gilberry appears well prepared to replace Todd Bates at the other side. The Tide also returns its five best players in the secondary, left by three seniors - RCB Anthony Madison, FS Roman Harper and SS Charlie Peprah. Tough conference games will be played at home this year as Florida, Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas all come to Tuscaloosa.
Weakness: Two returning OL starters senior center JB Closner and junior right tackle Kyle Tatum. The 'Tide have to find three offensive line positions with left tackle Wesley Britt and left guard Evan Mathis, as well as right guard Danny Martz going to the NFL. Their rushing game is comprised of three walk-ons.
Best Bet: Oct.15, 2005 vs. Mississippi Rebels. The Crimson Tide have gone 8-4 ATS in their last 12 games against the Rebels.
Favorable Line Loser: Nov. 5, 2005 vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Crimson Tide are veritable cash burners at Davis Wade Stadium going an abysmal 4-11 against the number in the past 15 games.
Mississippi Rebels(6-5, 4-4)
It is amazing what a QB with the last name Manning can do for your program. After last season, it is hard to fathom that the Rebels shared the SEC West Title in 2003 with eventual National Champions LSU. But they did, thanks in no small part to the play of Eli Manning. Now, new 'Ole Miss' HC Ed Orgeron needs to make a decision on who will start at QB for the Rebels if he doesn't want to make the same mistakes that Cutliff did. Cutliff played dueling quarterbacks lat year with Lane, Flatt and Spurlock and the Rebels ended up a woeful 4-7. This year Orgeron brings the mantle of best defensive coordinator in the country from his seven years at USC to Ole Miss and that should change things in a hurry. Last year under Cutliff, the Rebels' defense was ninth in the SEC. A winning record and a shot at a minor bowl don't seem like unreasonable expectations in Oxford this year.
Strengths: Ole Miss got a quality HC in USC defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron to replace the indecisive Cutliff. The Rebels are deep at RB with Vashon Pearson looking at a breakout season and three other players that had 50 touches or more last year. Ole Miss has quality players such as OT Tre' Stallings, LB Patrick Williams, DT McKinley Boykin, LB Kelvin Robinson and WR Mike Espy.
Weakness: A new head coach won't make a tangible difference unless they can find a consistent QB. The QB position is the main weakness now for the Rebels. Since Eli Manning left, the Rebels spent all last year shifting QBs and that did not work.
Best Bet: Oct. 22, 2005 vs. Kentucky. The Rebels will host a beleaguered Kentucky team that should give the Rebels another conference win.
Favorable Line Loser: Sept. 17, 2005 vs. Vanderbilt Commodores. The underdog is 6-0 ATS grabbing the points in the last six consecutive match-ups.
South Carolina Gamecocks (6-5, 3-5)
A plaque in Spurrier's new office at South Carolina reads: "Why Not Us?" Well there are several reasons and most of them begin with the fact that Spurrier will need a year or two to recruit players to come play for him in Colombia. South Carolina returns 12 starters (the fewest in the SEC) and 40 letterman from last year's 6-5 team. With the off-field problems this year (11 current and former players arrested) and the not ready for Cock-N-Shoot QBs and WRs, Spurrier will have to remain patient in his inaugural year as a Gamecock. Looking at the Cock's schedule, Spurrier has his work cut out for him with non-division games against Alabama, at Auburn and at Arkansas with a very tough non-conference game when they host Clemson to end the regular season.
Strengths: At this point there are very few for the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier automatically adds strength to South Carolina with his ability to recruit players. In the short time he has been at South Carolina he's already recruited a Top-25 class. We'll see if Spurrier's uncanny ability for taking average quarterbacks and turning them into stars at Florida will continue at South Carolina. Another strength is their Thursday night season opener against Central Florida on Sept. 1.
Weakness: Spurrier's offense requires talent at the QB position which is definitely lacking for the Gamecocks. The 'Cocks are also starting over at tailback without Demetris Summers, who was kicked of the team after flunking a drug test. Without Summers, the Gamecocks will turn to junior Cory Boyd while senior Daccus Turman plays both fullback and tailback.
Best Bet: Nov. 11, 2005 vs. Clemson. The 'Cocks last game of the season the underdog has cashed a winning ticket eight of the last 12 games.
Favorable Line Loser: Sept. 1, 2005 vs. UCF. South Carolina is 2-8 against the spread as home favorites since 2003.
Arkansas Razorbacks (5-6, 3-5)
Nothing says out of conference schedule love like the Razorbacks traveling to the USC Trojans on Sept.17. As far as out of conference match ups in the SEC, Georgia gets Georgia Southern, Florida gets Eastern Michigan, South Carolina gets Central Florida and the Razorbacks get USC? How does that work out? Indeed, Arkansas' schedule does not get any easier this year with road games at Alabama, LSU and Georgia. HC Houston Nutt's chances of a winning record seem dubious indeed and obviously depend upon 18 returning starters. New defensive coordinator Reggie Herring changed the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme, but has had to move around at least eleven players to fit into his aggressive new defense. This is a rebuilding year at Arkansas since the Razorbacks lost 18 starters and 29 lettermen from its 2003 team and six starters from last year. 2004 was the Razorbacks first losing season since 1997. QB Matt Jones is going to be tough to replace, but Nutt needs to in a hurry and Sophomore Robert Johnson will most likely get the call.
Strengths: While these are few and far between for the Razorbacks, Arkansas wide receiver Marcus Monk, offensive tackle Zac Tubbs and linebacker Pierre Brown are all strengths for Houston Nutt.
Weakness: The 2005 road schedule for the Razorbacks and their defense. The Hogs spent the spring learning a new system and undergoing several personnel changes while the quarterback situation remained uncertain. Arkansas' biggest question mark comes at quarterback, where someone must replace four-year starter Matt Jones.
Best Bet: Nov. 5, 2005 vs. South Carolina Gamecocks. The favorite has covered 9 of 12 games against the spread.
Favorable Line Loser: Sept. 10, 2005 vs. Vanderbilt Commodores. The Commodores come to Arkansas and I expect Jay Cutler to air it out.
Vanderbilt Commodores (3-8, 1-7)
Bobby Johnson's Commodores are still reeling from the untimely death of starting RB Kwane Doster, who was murdered in his hometown of Tampa last December. Now, the Commodores find themselves starting over since they lost five starters on both sides of the ball. Even worse, Vandy must replace its two best offensive line (Justin Geisinger and Brian Kovolisky) and three defensive line starters. The best news on offense is the return of QB Jay Cutler, a three-year starter who remains Vandy's best chance to move the ball because of his ability to make plays with his arm and legs. The Commodores can also count on backup Steven Bright, who has seen playing time in each of the past two seasons. But it is likely that Vandy will experience more of the same small school in a big conference treatment and play whipping boy to the usual cast of SEC and out of conference heavies.
Strengths: Players such as QB Jay Cutler and LB Moses Osemwegie, but unfortunately the Commodores don't have enough of those players. Jay Cutler is back for his senior year and could become the school's all-time leading passer if he can throw for more than 2,360 yards. Cutler can make plays with his arm (10/5 TD-INT LY) and legs (349 rushing yards, 6 TDs) and has a play-making WR in Erik Davis.
Weakness: Playing in the SEC and losing five starters on both sides of the ball. Even worse, Vandy must replace its two best offensive line and three defensive line starters. The Commodores must replace a starting tailback and a team leader with the death of Kwane Doster.
Best Bet: Sept. 18, 2004 at Kentucky. I suspect Kentucky will be the favorite, but since 1985, Vanderbilt is 14-6 ATS versus Kentucky.
Favorable Line Loser: Oct. 1, 2005 vs MTSU. One of the few games that the Commodores will be favored, but they might not cover.
Mississippi State Bulldogs(2-9, 1-7)
Sylvester Croom's Bulldogs return 18 starters and 46 lettermen but only 12 fourth- and fifth-year seniors. Even though eight starters returned on defense this year, six players listed as starters on the spring depth chart changed positions at the coaches' request. Last year the Bulldogs played with only 13 seniors. So second-year Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom has a lot of work in remedying a program that has only won 11 games in the past four years and went 3-8 last year. Last year was just plain weird for the Bulldogs as they lost to Maine 9-7 at home last September, but beat Florida 38-31! I see the Bulldogs as still a few years away from a winning record. This year I see more of the same as Croom starts to get Mississippi State's program off the ground.
Strengths: RB Jerious Norwood rushed for 1,050 yards and seven touchdowns last year, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Nine starters return on offense but that doesn't necessarily mean the Bulldogs are ready to become a dominant offensive power in the SEC, but ball control certainly helps win games.
Weakness: For one thing, their biggest question mark starts with an offensive line that is especially weak at the tackles. Losing safety Darrell Williams quickly follows this weakness. Williams was kicked off the team if February for violating team rules. Due to NCAA probation and penalties for rules violations committed under former coach Jackie Sherrill and his staff, Mississippi State lost four scholarships for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years. This year the Bulldogs play the Bulldogs rather than the Commodores.
Best Bet: Nov. 19, 2005 at Arkansas. The underdog has covered 11 of the last 13 games in this tilt.
Favorable Line Loser: Oct.22, 2005 vs. Houston. Picked to finish second in Conference USA, the Cougars are better than advertised with QB Kolb who in 2004 tossed the pigskin for 2,766 yards and 11 touchdowns on 193-of-359 passing.
Kentucky Wildcats (1-10, 0-8)
This year Rich Brooks' Wildcats have switched from a 3-4 defense the past two seasons to 4-3 defensive scheme; perhaps they should have switched to Division 1-AA. Last year Kentucky allowed 225.2 rushing yards per game last season and were ranked 112th among 117 NCAA Division I-A teams. Surprisingly, while most of Brooks' coordinators were either fired or flew the coup defensive coordinator Mike Archer, who had a chance to jump to the NFL, stayed-and that is a good thing! The Wildcats have been hit hard by NCAA probation and sanctions and enters the 2005 season on the shoulders of a 6-17 record over the past two years. In all likelihood, Rich Brooks is a lame duck coach who will be looking for a job come December (unless he can miraculously produce a winning record-he won't-this year). In his quest, Brooks returns 14 starters and 47 lettermen, which should be enough to beat Idaho State in their home opener. Perhaps. Gamblers should note that despite the 1-4 SU record against the SEC East last year, the Wildcats' were 4-1 ATS.
Strengths: The receiving corps is the deepest and most competitive position on the roster. The Wildcats return experienced receivers Tommy Cook and Keenan Burton back from injuries that forced them to miss the 2004 seasons. However, there is precious little else to improve on last year's 2-9 overall record.
Weakness: The offensive line remains Kentucky's biggest offensive concern. Three starters return -- sophomore left tackle Aaron Miller, senior center Matt McCutchan, and junior right tackle Hayden Lane - but the coaches have a lot of work to do to get Trai Williams, Micah Jones, Cody Morehead and junior-college transfers Fatu Turituri and Ernie Palayo ready to play in the SEC.
Best Bet: None.
Favorable Line Loser: Sept. 10, 2005 vs. Idaho State. This could be the only game the Wildcats win this year, but they most likely won't cover the double digit spread.
This is an unusual year in the SEC with so many teams changing not only quarterbacks but head coaches as well and some teams changing both. How these new coaches adjust to their new conferences and how their quarterbacks play will give a great indication about the success of failure of the team. We'll monitor these teams with new head coaches, teams that are most likely poised to do better than last year. By the same token, I wouldn't expect too much either. South Carolina hiring Steve Spurrier has already been a boon for the AIS factor (asses in seats) as has Urban Meyer's hiring been a shot in the arm for Gator Nation, but neither of these teams has yet to play a game. I am excited to keep an eye on the Rebels and LSU to see how they will do with their new coaches implementing a new philosophy to their respective programs.
Teams like Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Georgia, which play tough conferences schedules, need to be ready to fight each other for the right to play in Atlanta. An early loss at LSU could shatter the Vols chance for a spot in Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, Arkansas will have an enormous non-conference road test on Sept. 17 when they travel to USC (the Trojans and not the Gamecocks). Alabama will remember how they gave away a win against Tennessee last season losing 17-13. And finally, can Auburn possibly be half as good as they were last year after losing a record four offensive "hands" starters to the first round of the NFL draft? Alabama may be the most improved team this year thanks to having their toughest conference games played at Bryant Denny Stadium, but their schedule is very tough this season and much relies on their QB Brodie Croyle.
In conclusion, if Tennessee and LSU don't live up to my expectations, and even if they do, this could be one of the tightest races in the SEC in quite some time. The strong teams in the conference like Tennessee and Georgia have tough SEC road schedules. Whereas, teams like Alabama and Auburn have favorable conference games at home. I see the strongest teams in the SEC winning all their non-conference games while Kentucky will have a hard enough time winning one game. Therefore, a 6-2 conference record may put you in a tie for second place. This is going to be a very exciting year in the SEC and I can't wait to see how the new SEC head coaches and QBs do in 2005.
If you enjoyed Doc's 2005 SEC preview, check back throughout the week for more college football conference previews.
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