Tuesday, August 22, 2006
And finally we move on to the best and deepest conference in all the land - the SEC. According to the first USA Today poll, 8 of the top 30 teams in the nation reside in the SEC. They're deep, talented, and it's going to be extremely difficult to come out of that conference unscathed. Let's take a closer look:
Player of the Year: Unlike some other races, there is no clear cut favorite here, at least in my opinion. Kenny Irons of Auburn obviously has a great shot at this, coming off of a 1300 yard, 13 TD year. The Tigers offense will be absolutely loaded this year, and defenses won't be able to focus on Irons, which should only help. Chris Leak should also be in the discussion. He's very talented, very experienced, and we all know what QBs have done once they've been comfortable in Urban Meyer's offense. Plus, he's got great talent behind him (more on that later), so he'll have to play well to keep his job.
Those two are the favorites, but there are some darkhorses. One is Sidney Rice of South Carolina, one of the best WR in the nation. He has an experienced QB in Blake Mitchell throwing to him, and Steve Spurrier is still a great offensive mind. A final candidate is JaMarcus Russell of LSU. Only a junior, he's got a lot of experience and has always been very talented, and like Leak, has players behind him that can play. But when you add it all up, I like Chris Leak to take things home. He's got Urban Meyer there, plus the receivers are healthy and extremely talented.
Freshmen to Watch: It's the year of the freshmen QB in the SEC, but let's start with a WR. Percy Havin from Florida is one of the best incoming players in the country, and his speed and versatility shoud allow him to contribute immediately for Florida in the passing game and on special teams. Elsewhere for the Gators, QB Tim Tebow should get some playing time immediately, even with Chris Leak there. He's a perfect fit for Urban's spread offense, and should be a star in Gainesville. Elsewhere, Matthew Stafford should get some early playing time for Georgia, with DJ Shockley gone. He's got a great arm, and might be the best freshman QB in the nation. A final guy is Mitch Mustain from Arkansas. It doesn't look like he'll start the year, but if they struggle at that position, don't be surprised to see Mustain in there, especially with his high school coach as the offensive coordinator.
Breakout Players: A lot of people know about him already, but I think Brandon Cox will establish himself as an excellent QB in the SEC and NCAA for Auburn. The offense hardly missed a beat after losing Brown/Cadillac and Jason Campbell, and Cox was a big reason for that. Another guy is Andre Caldwell, who is coming off of injury, and should have a big year with Leak/Tebow at QB. A final guy is Brent Schaeffer, the transfer who will be a big part of Ole Miss' offense and will be the key if Ole Miss can take a step forward.
Other things to watch: Can anyone come out of this conference undefeated to have a shot for the title game? There are just so many good teams it's extremely tough. If things break right, teams like Auburn, LSU, and Florida can be top 5 teams, this conference is that good.
- LSU at Auburn - An early season matchup facing two talented and experience teams. The winner has a huge advantage in the West. (September 16)
- LSU at Florida - Once again, just two quality teams. (October 7)
- Florida at Auburn - The 2 best teams in the SEC in my mind and two of the top teams in the nation. (October 14)
- Florida vs. Georgia - How's this for a 4-week span: LSU, at Auburn, vs. Georgia. Wow! This rivalry game is always entertaining. (October 28)
Projected Order of Finish
4. South Carolina
5. Ole Miss
6. Mississippi St.