2008 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Football Preview

By: Matt Baxendell


The SEC had another banner year in 2007, again finishing as the strongest conference in college football. For the second consecutive year, the SEC produced the National Champion as LSU became the first team to be crowned BCS Champion twice. LSU won their first conference title under Les Miles after defeating SEC East Champ Tennessee. Furthermore, Tim Tebow of Florida became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, yet another achievement to add to the conference's laundry list of accolades.

The SEC appears to be one of the country's best conferences again in 2008. There is a lot of experience returning and five teams were ranked in the initial AP Poll. Furthermore, Georgia appears to be the consensus #1 overall team in the preseason polls and expectations are high. The East division appears to be the stronger and more wide open of the two, where as many as four teams could legitimately play in the SEC Title Game in Atlanta. In the West, there may be less overall talent, but there is still plenty of uncertainty. Expect a very exciting 2008 in the Southeastern Conference.

SEC EAST DIVISION
1) Tennessee
2007 was a frustrating, surprising and in the end gratifying season for the Tennessee Volunteers. At one point in the year, the Vols were sitting at 1-2 with both losses in blowout fashion while program icon Phil Fulmer appeared to be on his way out of town. Soon thereafter, Tennessee blew out Georgia by three touchdowns and the Vols finished the regular season on an 8-1 run to win the SEC East. However, Tennessee lost in blowout fashion to Florida and Alabama, their biggest two rivals, and they will look to amend those hurts this fall. Fulmer was awarded a contract extension in the offseason, which should put the calls for his head to rest and allow him and his 14 returning starters to focus on what could be an excellent 2008 campaign.

2) Florida
2008 was a solid year for the Gators following their National Title run of 2006. Quarterback Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to ever win the Heisman Trophy and is more popular than beer on the Florida campus. However, Florida had some tough losses, including a loss to a purported lead-footed Michigan team in the Capital One bowl. This fall, Florida brings back sixteen starters and hopes are very high in Gainesville.

3) South Carolina
2007 was a tale of two seasons for the South Carolina Gamecocks. The first half of 2007 was a fantastic run for Steve Spurrier's team, reeling off a 6-1 record after defeating Georgia and Kentucky, both of whom were in the top ten at the time. However, that wonderful run ended rather abruptly with a stunning loss at home to Vanderbilt and the Gamecocks entered a freefall from a #6 national ranking all the way to a 6-6 finish. The question for South Carolina is pretty simple: Which team will show up this fall? Will the Gamecocks come roaring out of the gate this fall and sustain that momentum with seventeen returning starters or will they fall back into their traditional habit of underachieving?

4) Georgia
Last year was a very successful year for the Georgia Bulldogs. After stumbling in the season's early going and extending their SEC losing streak to five straight games, the Bulldogs reeled off seven consecutive wins (including rivals Florida, Georgia Tech and Auburn) to finish the year 11-2. However, their two losses were to SEC East foes South Carolina and Tennessee, so the Bulldogs didn't even win their division. This fall, the Bulldogs are the consensus #1 team in the nation according to the preseason polls and expectations are exceptionally high for Mark Richt's team. With fifteen starters returning from last fall, it is easy to see why but Georgia has a lot of obstacles to overcome to live up to the enormous hype.

5) Kentucky
Kentucky had one of the best years in recent memory in 2007, finishing the season with an 8-5 record and upsetting #1 LSU. The Wildcats climbed on star quarterback Andre Woodson's back and rode an excellent offense all the way to a #8 national ranking at midseason. Though Kentucky faded down the stretch, they still managed a bowl win over Florida State to cap off a great season. This fall, Kentucky returns 12 starters to a team that will have significantly lower expectations than the 2007 edition.

6) Vanderbilt
The Commodores had a very tough 2007, finishing with a 5-7 record after entering the year with the expectations of a bowl berth. Vanderbilt fumbled away a sure win over Georgia late in a tied game inside the UGA 10 yard line in one of their toughest losses, but the Commodores also lost their last four games when they were a single win away from bowl eligibility. This fall, it is back to rebuilding mode for Vanderbilt, as only 11 starters return.

SEC WEST DIVISION
1) Auburn
2007 was a very up and down year for Auburn. The Tigers struggled in the early going, starting 1-2 and looking awful doing so. Auburn then inexplicably beat #4 Florida and only registered losses to LSU and Georgia the rest of the way, including their sixth straight win over hated Alabama. The Tigers switched to a new spread attack during bowl practice and it paid off with a win over Clemson in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl. This fall, expect Auburn to have the personnel to implement a much stronger attack and field an excellent defense. With sixteen starters back, Head Coach Tommy Tuberville could be looking at his second SEC title in five years.

2) LSU
LSU had a dream season in 2007, finishing 12-2 and becoming the first team to win two BCS National Championships. The Tigers only two losses were in triple overtime and they had the good fortune to play for the National Crown in their own backyard, as the National Title Game took place in New Orleans. However, this fall the Tigers face a tough road after dismissing expected QB starter Ryan Perrilloux and losing a ton of senior talent to the NFL. The Tigers return 12 starters and Head Coach Les Miles will hope to extend his streak of winning ten or more games to four straight seasons to begin his tenure, a mark that would be an LSU record.

3) Ole Miss
Ole Miss had an awful run of luck in 2007 and it cost former coach Ed Orgeron his job. In his stead, Ole Miss hired former Arkansas coach and two time SEC Coach of the Year Houston Nutt. Nutt steps into a great situation, as Ole Miss is very talented despite only winning ten games during Coach O's three years. With 16 starters back and a few key players becoming eligible, Ole Miss will be the surprise of the SEC in 2008.

4) Alabama
Nick Saban's first year at Alabama was decidedly a mixed bag. After the Crimson Tide ran out to a 3-0 start, they fell in two straight weeks while ranked in the top 25. Then after another three game winning streak, Bama rose back into the top 25 and the promptly lost their last four games to barely qualify for a bowl game! However, Saban brought in one of the country's best recruiting classes and the Tide could have been significantly better than their 7-6 mark last year. There has also been some unrest in Tuscaloosa during the offseason as Alabama has had to deal with a rash of off-field incidents involving the team and only Georgia has had more run-ins with the law. This fall, Alabama has 12 starters back and the expectation from the notoriously impatient fanbase of college football's highest paid coach is clear and obvious improvement and a team that stays out of the police blotter.

5) Mississippi State
Mississippi State was the feel good story of the SEC last fall, winning eight games and qualifying for the school's first bowl berth in seven seasons. Furthermore, defeats of division rivals Auburn and Alabama gave a lot of hope a long-suffering fan base. For all of the success seen in 2007, Head Coach Sylvester Croom was named the SEC Coach of the Year. However, 2008 is a different season and expectations in Starkville will be to improve upon last fall's breakout year. To that end, Croom returns 14 starters as the Bulldogs will expect to compete for the division crown, however unlikely that may be.

6) Arkansas
The Arkansas Razorbacks followed up an SEC West Championship year in 2006 with a stellar 8-5 performance last fall. The Razorbacks ran all over the place last fall behind the dual running machines of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, both of whom were first round draft picks in April! Former coach Houston Nutt finally succumbed to the absurd pressure placed on him and went out on top to close out the regular season by upsetting #1 LSU in triple overtime in his last game as Arkansas' coach. Now Nutt is in Oxford and the new coach is former Louisville boss Bobby Petrino. Petrino has a reputation for grooming quarterbacks and leaving jobs abruptly (as seen by his half of a season in Atlanta with the NFL's Falcons before quitting), but he probably won't be doing much of either this fall. Arkansas returns 11 starters in Petrino's first year and the Razorbacks will probably struggle.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The SEC has been the dominant conference the last two years but his year could see the SEC slip to #2 behind a very deep Big XII. What has always stood out about the SEC is the depth of the middle tier teams instead of the top end talent. The SEC East is as strong as ever and features four teams that have a legitimate chance to play for the conference crown. However, the West will overall be weaker and only Auburn stands out in the division as LSU, Arkansas and Alabama are still retooling while the Mississippi teams are still emerging. This fall also will probably mark the first year since 2005 that an SEC team won't play for the National Title. Last year's LSU squad was the first team to play for the National Title with two losses in the BCS era and I don't expect that to happen again this fall. Unfortunately, I also don't see any SEC team that will finish this year with less than two losses due to the depth of the conference and each team's own shortcomings.

In the East, Florida and Georgia have been the most hyped teams but I strongly believe that Tennessee will emerge victorious as the division champion because of the balance and depth of the team, along with a navigable schedule. In the West, Auburn is the clear favorite and if another team wins the division it would be an upset. Beware Ole Miss in that regard. However, I predict that on Dec. 6th in Atlanta, the Tennessee Volunteers will defeat the Auburn Tigers in a low-scoring game dominated by two very good defenses to win the SEC Title and represent the conference in the Sugar Bowl.

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The 2008 SEC football preview was written by Matt Baxendell, for College Sports Fans, a college football & basketball fan site. CollegeSports-fans.com provides fans with coverage of the College Football & Basketball all year long and also features a great selection of affordable NCAA hats, clothing, Fatheads & other college merchandise.

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