Just for fun, I did a quick, and I mean quick, prediction of how I believe each team in the SEC will do this season. I'll post my predictions in alphabetical order.
Alabama - Rookie head coach Mike Shula finds there are major adjustments to be made after jumping from the NFL to the SEC. His Alabama team goes 7-6, winning against non-SEC cupcakes South Florida, Northern Illinois and Hawaii. They also defeat SEC opponents Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU and tough non-SEC opponent Southern Miss. They lose to powerhouse Oklahoma and SEC opponents Georgia at Athens, Ole Miss at Oxford, Tennessee in Tuscaloosa, Mississippi State in Starkville and Auburn in Auburn. Their SEC record winds up being 3-5.
Arkansas - Houston Nutt, even though his team returns 18 starters, sees his team go 6-6. Arkansas lost their last two games of 2002 and won the previous three by 15 points. In 2003, they aren't so lucky with the close games. They lose to Texas in Austin, Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Auburn and Florida in Fayetteville and Ole Miss in Oxford. They also lose to LSU in Baton Rouge. They defeat hapless Tulsa in Fayetteville, North Texas in Little Rock, SEC foes South Carolina and Mississippi State in Fayetteville, Kentucky in Lexington and New Mexico State in Fayetteville. Their overall SEC record winds up being 3-5.
Auburn - Tommy Tuberville, whose Auburn teams win big, then have an average year, buck the trend this year by winning 10 games of 12 games after winning 9 in 2002. Their wins are against Southern Cal in Auburn, Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Vanderbilt in Nashville, Western Kentucky in Auburn, Tennessee in Auburn, Arkansas in Fayetteville, Mississippi State in Auburn, Louisiana-Monroe in Auburn, Ole Miss in Auburn and Alabama in Auburn. Their two losses are on the road against LSU and Georgia. They win the SEC West with a 6-2 record and Tuberville gets another big raise.
Florida - After losing 13 starters, Florida was a team with a lot of question marks coming into the season. Florida surprises everyone by going 8-4 against a very tough schedule. Second-year coach Ron Zook learned from his numerous mistakes of last season and defeats SEC foes Tennessee in Gainesville, Kentucky in Lexington, Ole Miss in Gainesville, Arkansas in Fayetteville, Vanderbilt in Gainesville, South Carolina in Columbia. Their other two wins are against no-names San Jose State and Florida A&M. Their four losses are against powerhouses Miami (in Miami) and Florida State (in Gainesville) and SEC foes LSU in Baton Rouge and Georgia in Jacksonville. Florida goes 6-2 in the SEC.
Georgia - Another team with big player losses from last season, Georgia reloads and goes 10-2. Their two losses are to LSU in Baton Rouge and Tennessee in Knoxville. Their non-SEC wins include teams such as Clemson in Clemson, Middle Tennessee in Athens, UAB in Athens, and Georgia Tech in Atlanta. SEC wins include home games against South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky and road wins against Vanderbilt, Florida (Jacksonville). They go 6-2 in the SEC.
Kentucky - Kentucky wins 5 of 12 games after losing 12 starters and their head coach. Their wins are against non-SEC opponents Louisville, Murray State and Ohio, all at home. Their two SEC wins are against Mississippi State in Lexington (a place where MSU usually struggles) and Vanderbilt in Nashville. Their one non-SEC loss is against Indiana in Bloomington. They lose on the road to SEC opponents Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and at home to Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee. Their SEC record winds up being 2-6.
LSU - Nick Saban, who many media types believe is the best head coach in the SEC, proves them wrong by seeing his team win 8 games for the third time in his four-year career at LSU. The Tigers defeat non-SEC opponents Louisiana-Monroe, Western Illinois and Louisiana Tech. They lose to Arizona in Tucson. SEC teams who fall to the Tigers include Georgia in Baton Rouge, Mississippi State in Starkville, Florida in Baton Rouge, Auburn in Baton Rouge, Arkansas in Baton Rouge. Their three SEC losses include South Carolina in Columbia, Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Ole Miss in Oxford. Their SEC record ends up being 5-3.
Ole Miss - In Eli Manning's - and 8 other starting seniors that few Rebel fans can name - last hurrah, the Rebels, using the softest schedule in the SEC, wind up wining 9 of 12 games. Their victories included wins over non-SEC teams Louisiana-Monroe (in Oxford), Texas Tech (in Oxford), Memphis (in Memphis) and Arkansas State (in Oxford). Their SEC wins included home games against Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and LSU. Of their four SEC road games, they lose to Florida, Auburn and Mississippi State and defeat Vanderbilt. Their SEC record ends up at 5-3. Eli's Heisman hopes are dashed after Mississippi State's defense completely dismantles the Ole Miss offense. At the conclusion of the season, Ole Miss changes their Rebels nickname to Ringers after a New Orleans public relations firm hired by Chancellor Robert Khayat advises him that more rich Ole Miss folks prefer it to the Rebels. That same New Orleans firm also advises him that the name Mississippi should be used instead of Ole Miss because rich Rebel fans also prefer it.
Mississippi State - Coach Jackie Sherrill proved once again he still has what it takes by helping his team win 7 games. After winning their opener against Oregon at home, the Bulldogs go on the road and defeat Tulane and Houston. LSU comes to town and wins a close one against the battling Bulldogs. MSU, playing with the confidence that the Bulldog teams of 1997-2000 had, win the next two games against Vanderbilt and Memphis. A close loss to Auburn in Auburn, followed by a surprising loss to Kentucky in Lexington caused concern among the Bulldog faithful. The Bulldogs, however, defeat Alabama in Starkville, lose two close games to Tennessee and Arkansas on the road, then defeat the soon-to-be named Ole Miss Ringers by three touchdowns. MSU defensive end Tommy Kelly sacks Eli five times while Demetric Wright intercepts two of his passes, ending Eli's Heisman hopes. Although MSU winds up 3-5 in the SEC, optimism soars among the Bulldog faithful due to so many returning lettermen and a big bowl win over Nebraska. Coach Sherrill, now with a new contract in hand, feels comfortable enough that he sells his New Orleans public relations firm.
South Carolina - Lou Holtz, despite returning just 9 starters, sees his team win 7 games. The wins are against Louisiana-Lafayette, Virginia, UAB and Clemson, all in Columbia. Their three SEC victories are against Kentucky, LSU and Vanderbilt, also all in Columbia. The five losses are against Georgia, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Florida. South Carolina's SEC record is 3-5.
Tennessee - Tennessee, after an injury-plagued 2002 season, stays healthy this season and wins 9 of 12 games. Their three losses include Florida in Gainesville, Auburn in Auburn and Miami in Miami. With wins over non-SEC foes Fresno State, Marshall and Duke and SEC wins over South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, Tennessee goes 6-2 in the SEC East.
Vanderbilt - Vanderbilt, as expected, wins two games for the third straight year. Their two victories are against Tennessee-Chattanooga and Navy. Their losses are against the soon-to-be Ole Miss Ringers, Auburn, Texas Christian, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. Their SEC record winds up being 0-8.
Well, now you know what my predictions are for this season. By the way, it took me all of 5 minutes to come up with these guesses while sitting in my car just before Mary Ann and I went to see the movie Seabiscuit (great movie, by the way). Mary Ann made me keep the SEC schedule that I wrote them on so we could see how accurate - or inaccurate as will probably be the case - I was. I suppose, by the end of the season, these guesses will be worth about the same amount of time that I spent on them.
Have a great Bulldog week!
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.