SEC Media Preseason Poll
All-SEC Preseason Team (Coaches)
All-SEC Preseason Team (Media)
Last year, The Congrove Computer Rankings' preseason projections had USC and Texas staging a rematch for the national title.
With two games left to play, Texas had climbed back up to number 5 in the BCS Standings after losing to Ohio State early in the year. The Longhorns shockingly dropped their last two contests to Kansas State and Texas A&M to eliminate them from national championship contention. Texas rebounded with a 26-24 win over Iowa in the Alamo Bowl to finish 10-3.
USC lost at Oregon State midway through the season, but had climbed back up to 2nd in the BCS Standings and merely had to beat UCLA to cement a spot in the championship game against Ohio State. USC was apparently driving for the game-winning touchdown when Eric McNeal tipped, then intercepted, John David Booty's pass at the UCLA 20-yard line with 1:10 left in the game to secure a 13-9 upset for the Bruins.
USC's loss meant that - for just the fourth time in fourteen years, and the first since 2001 - the computer did not forecast at least one of the national championship game participants.
A one-loss Florida team jumped over a one-loss Michigan team in the voter polls after the final week of the season. The Wolverines had suffered a heartbreaking 42-39 loss to Ohio State in both teams' regular season finale, and the prevailing sentiment of pollsters was that they didn't want a rematch.
Michigan's poor showing against USC in a 32-18 Rose Bowl loss, seemingly proved the voters made the right choice.
Florida took advantage of its opportunity with a 41-14 romp over Ohio State to earn a BCS title that went largely undisputed. However, Boise State's stirring 43-42 upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl left the Broncos as the nation's only undefeated team and left more than a few people wondering if they hadn't been wrongly omitted from the equation. Ironically, a Bronco entry into the title game would have omitted Florida.
In retrospect, 2006 was a wild ride. Looking forward, 2007 may require you to buckle your seatbelts even tighter.
The computer doesn't foresee a return trip for Florida to the BCS title game. However, an 11-1 record and a spot in the SEC Championship game surely doesn't eliminate the Gators from thought. It also can't go unnoticed that SEC East teams are 10-5 in conference championship games with Florida winning six of those.
Florida's only forecasted regular season loss is at LSU (+10.20). Ultimately, they are the underdog again to LSU (+7.20) in the SEC Championship rematch. The Gators will also face a crucial home test against Auburn, and a daunting road trip to South Carolina to face former Florida coach Steve Spurrier. Florida is favored by fewer than 6 points against Auburn, and by less than a point at the Gamecocks. Spurrier has played Urban Meyer tough, winning 30-22 in Columbia two years ago, and losing 17-16 in Gainesville last year.
Of the five SEC titles won by West Division teams, two have gone to LSU.
The 2003 championship propelled the Bayou Bengals to the BCS title game where they defeated Oklahoma 21-14. That was the year that a lot of people wanted to see a USC-LSU match. Oklahoma was 12-1 after suffering its first loss of the season in the Big 12 title game to Kansas State. But the Sooners maintained the number one spot in the BCS thanks to strong numbers by the participating computer rankers.LSU was also 12-1, and in second place in the BCS Standings, after a 34-13 romp over Georgia in the SEC Championship. USC was 11-1 and in 3rd place, just 0.16 points behind the Tigers. USC romped over Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl and was voted number one in the AP Poll (the AP Poll withdrew itself from the BCS prior to the start of the 2005 season and was replaced by Harris).
LSU fans have forever been incensed when the media refers to the 2003 season as a "split title" conclusion. And when USC won the BCS game over Oklahoma the following year, outrage grew stronger as the media labeled it a "repeat" championship for the Trojans. The next year, Tiger fans endured the media references to USC's "three-peat" bid against Texas. For what it's worth, USC fans (and coaches) were never happy to have been left out of the 2003 BCS title game. They are confident that, had they been given the opportunity, they would have defeated LSU.
Four years later, the computer believes USC and LSU will finally get to decide matters on the field with the Trojans favored by 3.56. If that game does take place, it would be difficult to deny the entertainment factor - even if it doesn't end all of the animosity stemming from past events.
The computer's preseason pointspreads give LSU an unobstructed path to the BCS title game. The Tigers' 9.93-point home edge over Virginia Tech is their smallest advantage of the regular season. LSU is favored by 10.20 in its regular season home game with Florida, and by 7.20 in the conference title game.
LSU begins the year more than 10 power points in front of second-place Auburn, and over 15 points ahead of third-place Arkansas. But no one should discount either of those teams.
Arkansas made a run at the BCS party last year until losing its final three games to LSU, Florida and Wisconsin by a total of 18 points. Unfortunately, bowl preparations were interrupted with the distraction of complaints from three parents about their freshmen kids' roles in the Razorbacks' run-oriented offense. The fallout included the departure of second-leading receiver Damian Williams, and QB Mitch Mustain who appeared in 11 games. Williams and Mustain are now at USC. Tight end Ben Cleveland is still in Fayetteville.
Running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were the two reasons the Hogs didn't need to rely on Williams, Mustain and Cleveland. The dynamic duo amassed 3,956 total yards last season.
McFadden was the number two vote-getter in last season's Heisman Trophy race with 1,647 rushing yards. He ran for 14 TD's, caught 1 TD pass, threw a TD pass, and returned a kick-off 92 yards for another score.
Jones scored 6 TD's rushing, 3 receiving, and had a 100-yard kick-off return for a touchdown as he compiled 1,168 rushing yards and 554 kick return yards.
Forecasted Arkansas wins over Alabama and Kentucky have preseason spreads under five points, while losses to Auburn and South Carolina have spreads under 3 points. Three of those four contests are home games for the Razorbacks.
Alabama is given a 5-7 forecast in its first season under Nick Saban, the Tide's fourth head coach since 2000. With Saban at the helm, anything could happen. He has the track-record of a quick-change artist, but he has also been a journeyman.
Saban hasn't stayed anywhere longer than five years - neither as an assistant or a head coach. From 1995-1999, he led a probation-saddled Michigan State. The Spartans won 9 regular season games in his final year at East Lansing, giving the school its highest single-season win total since 1966. But, prior to their 1999 bowl win over Florida, Saban left the Spartans to take the job at LSU. He stayed there from 2000-2004 and led the Tigers to their 2003 BCS title. A two-year stint with the NFL's Miami Dolphins from 2005-2006 produced a pedestrian 15-17 record.
Saban is 91-42-1 as a college head coach
Saban replaced Mike Shula who was 26-23 in four seasons with
Alabama, including a 10-2 season in 2005 that was capped by a victory in the Cotton Bowl over Texas Tech. But Alabama took a step backward in the 2006 season with a 6-6 finish that included a home loss to Mississippi State for the Bulldogs' only conference win of the season. Shula also was 0-4 against state rival Auburn.
Shula's defensive coordinator, Joe Kines, coached the Tide in
a 34-31 loss to Oklahoma State in the 2006 Independence Bowl.
The computer's Crimson Tide forecast includes a home loss to
Houston (+3.57) that shouldn't come as such a shock - not after the home loss to Mississippi State last year, and Northern Illinois in 2003. Besides, there is good news in the forecast as the projected Cougar loss, as well as setbacks to Arkansas (+2.59) and Georgia (+2.57), are all by fewer than four points and all three games are in Bryant-Denney Stadium. If things fall in place for the Tide, a 5-7 forecast could easily improve to 7-5 or better.
Mississippi State and Mississippi are expected to bring up the
rear of the division for the third straight season. However, the gap between the two schools and the rest of the division is closing. Last season began with the Bulldogs 11 power points behind the fourth-place team, and the Rebels trailed by 19. This year, Mississippi State is 9 points back while Ole Miss lags by fewer than 7.
Four of Mississippi's losses have spreads under 7 points. Mississippi State only has one such game.
The East Division race is much tighter. Florida opens the season just 3.84 points ahead of South Carolina, and 4.48 points in front of Tennessee.
Despite the power point advantage, the Gamecocks are picked to
finish behind Tennessee in the division as they have to face the Volunteers in Knoxville. Several close spreads indicate that a 9-3 forecast could easily be reduced to a third consecutive 7-win season. In addition to the narrow home loss to Florida, the computer pegs South Carolina as an underdog at Tennessee (+2.36) and at LSU (+14.04). Gamecock fans should also be concerned that their teams' favorable pointspreads in road games at Georgia (-0.93) and Arkansas (+1.09) are by very slim margins.
The Volunteers improved to 9-4 last year after a disastrous 5-6 season in 2005. The forecast calls for further improvement this year and puts them in strong contention for the SEC East Division title. The computer's 10-2 projection tags Tennessee with a non-conference loss at California. But it's the lone SEC defeat at Florida (-7.48) that keeps the Vols from being picked for the SEC title game.
Georgia fans might need to break out the Cardiac Care kits. The over-all forecast of 7-5 includes four wins with spreads under 6 points, and four losses by less than 8 points. The only breathers are double-digit advantages over Western Carolina, Mississippi and Troy.
Kentucky gets a 5th-place prediction from the computer, but the forecast isn't as bleak as it seems. The Wildcats trail Georgia by just 1.41 power points, Tennessee by 4.70, and South Carolina by 5.34. The schedule is advantageous in the fact that the four highest-ranked teams on their schedule - Louisville, LSU, Florida and Tennessee - have to visit Lexington.
The forecast for Vanderbilt also provides opportunities for a much better finish as the Commodores are underdogs by small numbers in home games against Alabama (+0.02), Georgia (+5.77), and Kentucky (+4.36). If Vandy can win the games they're expected to win, and take just two of those three home contests, they're looking at a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility.