July is the season of predictions. Writers and radio hosts have been tossing out their 2009 picks for a few days now. And next week’s SEC Media Days will officialy wrap-up with the release of the league’s yearly preseason media poll.
All of these predictions are nothing more than educated guesses, of course. No one has any idea which freshman will explode onto the scene, which injuries will short-circuit entire campaigns, or which funny bounces will be the difference between heartbreak or ecstasy.
With all that taken into account, I’m ready to play the odds. All things being equal, below are my predictions for 2009… and, yes, I mean my predictions for every single game on every SEC schedule this fall.
In completing this exercise, I tried to take into account my own general feelings for each school’s returning talent, the ability of their coaches, tough or easy streaks in their schedule, a little bit of history, and I even paid some regard to “storyline.” Face it, there are always one or two “stories” each year that we didn’t see coming, that wind up creating a feel-good moment.
Last July, who saw Florida’s only loss last year coming at home to Ole Miss? And then who would have predicted that Tim Tebow would deliver a season-changing speech that is now up for an ESPY as the sports moment of the year?
And that brings me to the upsets that I’ve predicted. You know, the ones that will no doubt upset your own personal apple carts.
All I ask is that before sending me that “you’re an idiot, that would NEVER happen” email, you keep in mind that no one heading into the 2007 season would have predicted:
1) Preseason #1 LSU would lose to both Kentucky and Arkansas. Especially not Kentucky.
2) LSU would lose in their last regular season game and still get a shot at the national title.
3) LSU would win a national title with two losses… the first team ever to do so.
And that was just one team’s improbable storylines. So remember, even the least likely scenarios are possible.
That said, here are my 2009 predictions…
Florida (11-1, 7-1)
Wins: Charleston Southern, Troy, Tennessee, at Kentucky, at LSU, Arkansas, at Mississippi State, Georgia in Jacksonville, Vanderbilt, Florida International, and Florida State.
Loss: at South Carolina.
Bottom Line: Florida is absolutely loaded with talent and might well earn another shot at the national title, but they won’t go undefeated. Not in the SEC. Since I don’t see them overlooking Tennessee, Georgia, LSU or even old coach Dan Mullen and Mississippi State… that leaves a road game in Columbia as the most likely upset loss. Remember, Spurrier has one win over the Gators in 2005 and almost pulled out another one in 2006.
Georgia (8-4, 6-2)
Wins: South Carolina, Arizona State, LSU, at Tennessee, at Vanderbilt, Tennessee Tech, Auburn, and Kentucky.
Losses: at Oklahoma State, at Arkansas, Florida in Jacksonville, and at Georgia Tech.
Bottom Line: The Bulldogs have too many offensive question marks to grade out anywhere better than an 8- or 9-win season. The reason I went with just 8 wins, however, traces back to their defense. Florida and Georgia Tech both dismantled the Dawgs last year and I don’t believe UGA can do much better in 2009 without faster defensive ends (which they don’t appear to have).
South Carolina (8-4, 5-3)
Wins: Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss, The Citadel, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, at Arkansas, Florida, and Clemson.
Losses: at NC State, at Georgia, at Alabama, at Tennessee.
Bottom Line: Okay, I’ll take a chance on Carolina. It’s now or never for Spurrier and Stephen Garcia to make a little move in the East and I’ll back ‘em. In terms of storyline, upsetting Ole Miss and Florida and beating rival Clemson would provide Spurrier with a fine opportunity to walk away from coaching with his head held relatively high. I also expect the Cocks to finally top Vanderbilt. (And yes, I do realize that USC could actually start the season 0-4.)
Tennessee (7-5, 4-4)
Wins: Western Kentucky, Ohio, Auburn, South Carolina, Memphis, Vanderbilt, and at Kentucky.
Losses: UCLA, at Florida, Georgia, at Alabama, and at Ole Miss.
Bottom Line: Too many holes to fill. Looking at the quarterbacks on the Vols’ roster, I decided to simply split their two games with UCLA and Auburn… two ugly games that the Vols lost last year. And for those hoping Jonathan Crompton will turn things around in his senior year, two points should be kept in mind: 1) he’s completed just 51% of his career passes and 2) he’ll be learning his third system in three years. That’s a lot to overcome.
Vanderbilt (5-7, 2-6)
Wins: Western Carolina, Mississippi State, at Rice, at Army, and Kentucky.
Losses: at LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, at South Carolina, Georgia Tech, at Florida, at Tennessee.
Bottom Line: I expect the Commodores to take a step back this year, but I do think they’ll remain competitive. Bobby Johnson does a terrific job and he’s been able to piece together a decent defense year-in and year-out. Until I see some playmakers on offense, however, it’s tough to pick Vandy anywhere but in the bottom half of the East Division.
Kentucky (5-7, 1-7)
Wins: Miami (OH) in Cincinnati, Louisville, Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State, and Eastern Kentucky.
Losses: Florida, Alabama, at South Carolina, at Auburn, at Vanderbilt, at Georgia, and Tennessee.
Bottom Line: Unless Mike Hartline takes a big step forward or one of UK’s two freshman QBs surprise, things look rough again for the Wildcats’ offense. They still might have been looking at another bowl game this year had Jeremy Jarmon not been ruled ineligible. But without Jarmon, UK has little experience and depth on the defensive line. When you’re playing the odds, it’s hard to go with Kentucky in the face of all those trouble spots. And remember, UK went just 6-6 and 2-6 in the league last year when they DID make a bowl game.
Alabama (9-3, 6-2)
Wins: Florida International, North Texas, Arkansas, at Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, Chattanooga, and at Auburn.
Losses: Virginia Tech in Atlanta, at Ole Miss, and at Mississippi State.
Bottom Line: Okay, let’s take these one-by-one. I think the Tide’s new offense will struggle in its debut against a strong Virginia Tech squad. I think Ole Miss will finally break through against Alabama… after four straight years of losses by four points or less. And I believe Alabama will lose one other game. Initially, I had that loss coming at Auburn, but I don’t see the Tigers finishing at better than 6-6. Add to that the fact that I believe Mississippi State will win at least ONE conference game this year, and MSU lines up as my huge upset pick over Bama. (If I hit that one, believe me, I’ll be heading to Vegas the following week.)
LSU (9-3, 5-3)
Wins: at Washington, Vanderbilt, Louisiana-Lafayette, at Mississippi State, Auburn, Tulane, Louisiana Tech, at Ole Miss, and Arkansas.
Losses: at Georgia, Florida, and at Alabama.
Bottom Line: I believe LSU will be the league’s most-improved team in 2009. Count me among the Jordan Jefferson believers. But the young QB will find a road game in Athens to be tougher than games in Seattle and Starkville, thus the loss at Georgia. In my mind, the SEC West will come down to the Tigers’ game at Alabama. For now, I’ll take Nick Saban over Les Miles in a matchup of two pretty evenly matched teams.
Ole Miss (9-3, 5-3)
Wins: at Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana, at Vanderbilt, Alabama, UAB, Arkansas, Northern Arizona, Tennessee, and at Mississippi State.
Losses: at South Carolina, at Auburn, and LSU.
Bottom Line: The Rebels will be good. On paper, they’re the sexy pick in the West. But Georgia looked good last July, too. Houston Nutt has a reputation for overachieving early and then underperforming when the expectations are at their highest. The expectations haven’t been much higher in Oxford since the 1960s. I think the Rebels will be in the thick of things… splitting their games with Alabama and LSU. But there will also be stumbles. At South Carolina and at Auburn look like a couple to me. (All that said, it would be great for the league if Ole Miss COULD reach the SEC Championship Game… and thus, a part of me hopes they will.)
Arkansas (7-5, 3-5)
Wins: Missouri State, Georgia, Texas A&M in Arlington, Auburn, Eastern Michigan, Troy, and Mississippi State.
Losses: at Alabama, at Florida, at Ole Miss, South Carolina, at LSU.
Bottom Line: The Razorbacks’ offense should make them dangerous if Ryan Mallett can live up to his hype. But it’s too much to expect the Hogs’ defense to go from horrible to good. Simply having a “bad” defense would be an improvement over last year. And I think that bad defense will haunt UA in their biggest games.
Auburn (6-6, 3-5)
Wins: Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, Ball State, Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Furman.
Losses: West Virginia, at Tennessee, at Arkansas, at LSU, at Georgia, and Alabama.
Bottom Line: Who will throw the football for the Tigers? Who will catch the football for the Tigers? Aside from those two huge, glaring questions, Gene Chizik’s record as a college coach hardly inspires a lot of hope for a quick turnaround fueled by upsets. The man lost every Big 12 game he coached last year at Iowa State. Oh-and-eight, people.
Mississippi State (4-8, 1-7)
Wins: Jackson State, Houston, at MTSU, and Alabama.
Losses: at Auburn, at Vanderbilt, LSU, Georgia Tech, Florida, at Kentucky, at Arkansas, and Ole Miss.
Bottom Line: The Bulldogs don’t have much talent for Dan Mullen to work with on offense this season. Shifting slow players from one system to another won’t make those players any faster. So at best I think the Bulldogs will pull off one signature win for 2009. I have that listed as Alabama simply because they catch Bama in Starkville with the Tide coming off its mega-game against LSU.
So there you have it. No need to even watch the games, right?
By the way, if you tally each team’s games up and find that something doesn’t mesh with the standings I’ve listed, just email me.
I’ve double- and triple-checked my Excel sheet, but transcribing from one format to another (especially in the AM hours) might lead to a trip-up here or there.
Until then, I await your curse-filled responses.