Shane: SEC from top to bottom

Shane’s 2009 final record predictions
By Shane from Centerpoint
Every year at this time I take out Shane’s crystal ball and forecast the final records of every Southeastern Conference football team. My rankings start with the worst and end with the best. If I pick two or more teams to finish with the same record, the better team will have the lower number:

#12 Mississippi State / 2-10 New head coach Dan Mullen probably felt sick when he first set eyes on his team. After seeing Gator talent for a few years, there’s no way he could’ve been happy. Mullen faces opponents with much better talent and three times the depth he has available. He needs 2-3 years to get his type of player layered throughout the “Meyer” system. I’m sure Bulldog fans are hoping that Mullen can make them forget the constant losing under former head coach Sylvester Croom. But, it’s not going to happen this year. Besides, transition years at Mississippi State are usually disasters.

#11 Vanderbilt / 5-7 Most people agree that Bobby Johnson is a good football coach. I mean no disrespect to the Commodore Nation, but Johnson plays with a disadvantage only because of the program he runs. Honestly, I think the only reason Vandy is in the SEC is because their academic ranking stands among the nation’s elite. With LSU and Ole Miss in back-to-back games (weeks 2 & 3), Vandy will be beat to a pulp early. The good news: at Vanderbilt, 5-7 is tradition.

#10 Kentucky / 6-6 Rich brooks has developed his Wildcats into a solid, competitive program. However, Kentucky fans who expect the football team to perform on the same level as the basketball side will be facing a rude awakening. Wildcat supporters should be elated if Brooks delivers a winning record and a trip to the Independence Bowl this year.

#9 Tennessee / 6-6 Rookie headman Lane Kiffin talks a good game, but he simply doesn’t have the talent or depth on this year’s squad to back it up. With the probability that his “all–star” freshman running back Bryce Brown is going to ride the pine at home, Kiffin’s plan is already beginning to unravel. It will be interesting to see how Lane, his staff, and the Vol Nation handle being dominated back-to-back by Georgia (10/10) and Alabama (10/24); and that’s after they face the mighty Florida Gators in game three. Tennessee will struggle to find an identity all season long.

#8 Auburn / 6-6 Gene Chizik (5-19 at Iowa State) is the third coach on this list to replace a coach that Alabama’s Nick Saban ran out of the conference last season – the others being MSU’s Dan Mullen and Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin. Conversely, I do think that Coach Chizik will field a hard-nosed team. However, the Tigers face too many teams that are deep and very good. Their season will run out of gas as soon as injuries mount. I’ll also say this, if Chizik can get Auburn to a bowl game he should be considered for a top-coaching award.

#7 Arkansas / 6-6 Bobby Petrino is quietly building a football team that is going to score points and could pull off a few major upsets if opponents don’t take them seriously. Yet, reality sinks in when you consider the powerhouses located in the SEC western division. If the Razorbacks can physically survive back-to back road battles against Florida and Ole Miss, after facing Georgia and Alabama early in the year, they stand a chance of winning every other game on the schedule. Still, I look for an average output from Arkansas this year.

#6 South Carolina / 7-5 Steve Spurrier’s back is against the wall. His reputation as a great coach is starting to suffer at South Carolina. Nobody knows better than Coach Spurrier that it’s time to put some “game” back into the Cock. Anyway, as you can see by my 7-5 prediction, South Carolina will remain a mid-level football program for the 2009 campaign. One asset that will help the Gamecocks this year is that the interior lines are strong on both sides of the ball. South Carolina should play in a decent bowl game, and Spurrier needs to plan his exit strategy.

#5 Ole Miss / 9-3 It doesn’t matter what the Rebels look like on paper, I still always remember who is running the show. Sure, Ole Miss has some very talented players on the squad, but they can’t do anything about their leader’s decision-making that “choke” away a game they have won. The end result of all the preseason hype will only serve to disappoint the “Nutt House” in the end.

#4 Georgia / 9-3 Georgia has one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but I also believe they are being underestimated by the pundits. Head coach Mark Richt has two SEC titles this decade. His teams usually mature quickly and Richt has the Georgia program in the hunt every year. With a little luck in the injury department, the Bulldogs are a long shot to become the 2009 SEC champion.

#3 LSU / 10-2 In spite of Les Miles’ incompetence (perceived or real), he has been able to sustain the recruiting momentum that Alabama coach Nick Saban started. The Bengal Tigers are going to be good enough to handle every opponent except Alabama and Florida. LSU is a team that will play well enough to push Alabama for the western division spot in the SEC championship.

#2 Florida / 12-0 The Gators will ride atop the polls all season. The “Flying Tebows” will appear to be unstoppable as their offense rips up and down the field scoring points, while their defense gives up very little, if anything. The talent and speed that Meyer puts on the gridiron can only be matched by a few teams. Florida’s (not so) secret weapon, Tim Tebow, remains the most potent weapon in America. To beat Florida, or to win the SEC, you’ve got to go through Tebow.

#1 Alabama / 12-0 Look for the Alabama Crimson Tide to repeat their undefeated run through the regular season. This year’s performance looks to be just as impressive as last year’s. The 2008 version of the Tide’s defense was impressive, but the 2009 Bama defense will be better. The overall depth and talent in the front seven is incredible. In fact, this team has as good or better talent than any team in the nation – at every position on the field. By the way, the Tide is ranked ahead of the Gators in this pole because I believe that Nick Saban, Bob Stoops, and Pete Carroll have devised a defensive scheme that will allow Alabama to beat Florida in Atlanta this December to win its record 22nd SEC crown.
—Shane writes a weekly column for the Call News and the Capstone Report.