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Early Season SEC Projections

Week three is now in the books, and by this point, we can get a pretty good read on the SEC teams and just how good they are. Here goes:

Alabama: The miraculous comeback win over Arkansas was easily the biggest early season win the Tide has had in several years, and considering the struggles of Auburn, the Tide now holds the tiebreaker over Arkansas and thus becomes the favorite to finish second in the SEC West. The only real problem on the schedule is LSU, though granted that is a rather big problem. There are still a lot of concerns for Alabama, and first and foremost of those has to be the play of John Parker Wilson. He can play very well (see first quarter and last minute comeback), but he can also make a lot of dumb mistakes that will eventually cost us if they continue (see early sack, two interceptions, and fumbled snap). The Georgia, FSU, Tennessee, and Auburn games are all very winnable. 8-4 or 9-3, with a second place finish in the SEC West, is very attainable from the looks of things.

Arkansas: The Hogs aren't a great team by any stretch, but as long as the triumvirate of McFadden, Hillis, and Jones stay healthy, this team will be very potent and will do pretty well. Kentucky next week will be a challenge, but they are still in pretty good shape. Even with a loss to Kentucky, the Hogs still likely win four straight following that showdown (North Texas, Chattanooga, Auburn, Ole Miss, and FIU), and will still be 6-2 going into the final quarter of the season. It gets tougher in those final four games (South Carolina, Tennessee, MSU, and LSU), but they'll still probably win one, maybe two, of those games. The Hogs have some problems, but again, as long as their vaunted rushing triumvirate stays healthy, they will probably go at least 7-5, with a shot at 8-4 and perhaps a bit better.

Auburn: I stated all off-season that Auburn wouldn't be that good in 2007, but they are much worse than I thought. The Barn is indeed burning. Their offense is terrible, and they are very lucky that they aren't 0-3. The defense is quite good, but the offense is killing them with turnovers (see five against MSU), and Burns is no savior. They'll probably beat New Mexico State next week, which isn't saying much, but after that it's a brutal stretch with games against Florida, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and LSU. The Arkansas game is likely a loss, and Florida and LSU are going to massacre them. Even Vanderbilt will likely be a close game, and Georgia and Alabama will be definite favorites over them as well. At the moment, 6-6 with a berth in the Weedeater Bowl is about the best this team can legitimately expect, and it could get much worse. Just getting to six wins will require wins over New Mexico State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Tennessee Tech, and at least one upset in the stretch against Florida, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, and Alabama. This could well be their worst year since 1999.

Florida: Every one expected the Gators to kind of fall off a bit, but it really doesn't look like that's going to happen. Their defense is a bit of a concern, but it's definitely improving (see Tennessee game), and their offense looks pretty unstoppable with Tebow. On that side of the ball, things are just running at such a high efficiency in the passing game, combined with a great rushing attack, that they are very difficult to defend. Considering a win over Georgia is likely, and also considering that FSU is so weak, this is a team that is the favorite to win the SEC East, and also a team that will pretty much be guaranteed ten regular season wins. The LSU game should be one of the best all year, and that could easily go either way. I don't think they'll actually do it, but as long as Tebow stays healthy and Florida keeps playing like this, the Gators are a legitimate national championship contender.

Georgia: Of all of the teams in the SEC, we probably know less about UGA than anyone else. Sure, they beat Oklahoma State with ease, which was impressive, but they dropped one at home to Spurrier and his Gamecocks, and even Troy hammered the Cowboys much worse than the Dawgs did. All told, we just don't know that much about this team. With the loss to South Carolina though, combined with the almost certain loss to Florida, they are pretty much guaranteed not to win the SEC East even if they go undefeated the rest of the way in conference play. What can you say? Tiebreakers are killers.

Kentucky: You have to give the 'Cats and Rich Brooks a lot of credit. I don't think they can sustain this after Woodson leaves, but as long as he's there, they are a good team. Louisville isn't that great of a team, honestly, but it's still a big win for Kentucky. I doubt they can beat LSU or Florida, but the games against Georgia and South Carolina could get quite interesting. A second straight bowl appearance should be rationally expected.

LSU: I don't think there's really a need to say much about LSU. They are the best team in the conference at the moment, and while South Carolina is coming to town this week, I really don't think they have anything on the Bayou Bengals. Judging by how Florida looks though, they aren't running away with this conference just yet, and the truth is -- though I thought people were stupid for saying it in the pre-season -- LSU v. Florida in Tiger Stadium will be a very close game, and a re-match in Atlanta will most likely decide the SEC. LSU is the slight favorite at the moment, and rightly so. This is a damn good football team.

Mississippi State: The world is probably coming to an end, because MSU is going to start 3-1 with a win over Gardner-Webb, and could very well be 4-2 after beating UAB. Nonetheless, the truth remains that the Bulldogs aren't that good, and even the win over Auburn really was more about Auburn beating themselves with turnovers than anything else. While they may start 4-2, it will probably fall apart late in the season with losses to Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Alabama, though the Tennessee game gives them a huge opportunity to Croom Fulmer. Still, if they could just start 4-2 and somehow beat Ole Miss, they'd finish 5-7 and that would be their best year since 2000. That constitutes improvement, if only at a snail's pace.

Ole Miss: For the fourth season in a row, it looks like a long year coming for the Rebels. After narrowly edging out Memphis, they have since fallen to 1-2, and you can rest assured that will be 1-4 in two weeks after losses to Florida and Georgia. After that, it's probably not going to get much better with Arkansas, 'Bama, LSU, and others remaining. I'd be pretty surprised if Johnny Reb went better than 4-8. With a loss to Mississippi State, Orgeron may very well be fired. Coaches who start out with three straight losing seasons usually don't get a shot at a fourth season.

South Carolina: It was a very lackluster performance by the Gamecocks against South Carolina State -- am I the only one that didn't know they had a team? -- but nevertheless, it's a win and they are 3-0. I think it's very obvious that Spurrier has South Carolina headed in the right direction, and they won't have another five loss season. With that said, however, I still do not believe that the Gamecocks are ready to compete with the true big boys of the SEC, i.e. LSU and Florida. While a win over LSU in Tiger Stadium this week could arguably be the biggest in the history of their program, I just don't think they are ready. They likely lose to both LSU and Florida, but otherwise have a great shot at running the table and finishing 9-3 or 10-2, second in the SEC East.

Tennessee: The Vols really haven't been anything special since 2001, and now they sit at 1-2 after one of the most embarrassing defeats of the Fulmer era. Arkansas State will be a win, and they'll be at 2-2 when Georgia comes to town. After that, they have Mississippi State in Starkville, and to be quite frank, though the Vols almost certainly will, that is perfect opportunity for Fulmer to be Croomed. Still, wins over Arkansas State and MSU with a loss to Georgia, the Vols are still 3-3 with back-to-back games coming up against Alabama and South Carolina. This is a team that could very well be 3-5 or something similar with games still remaining against Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. I imagine that the Vols have five or six wins fairly secured, but beyond that could get tricky. At the very least, you can rest assured that Tennessee will lose at least a couple of more games, and end up 8-4 at best. And it could get much worse. The end isn't necessarily at hand for Fulmer, but it's very easy to imagine a sequence of events unfolding in the near future that would spell the end for Fulmer.

Vanderbilt: You have to give Bobby Johnson credit, he's got the Commodores playing quite well, and the Vanderbilt faithful should be quite proud of the fact that they've got a good, quality coach. The 'Dores are 2-1 at the moment, and they'll be 3-1 next week after a win over Eastern Michigan. A win over Miami (Ohio) will give them four wins, with games against Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, and Wake Forest remaining. They'll need to pull a couple of upsets, but a few of those games should be close, and they have a realistic shot at winning six games and getting their first bowl appearance in forever. Hopefully they'll get it done.