I enjoyed reading Jerry Hinnen’s SEC preview which he posted today – for one thing, he’s been struggling over many of the same issues that I’ve batted around in my head the last four weeks and I’ve always been a big fan of letting somebody else do the heavy lifting if possible – but, try as I might and with as much as I find in what he writes that I agree with, I can’t quite bring myself across the finish line that he erects:
I’m predicting that either Georgia or Auburn will make it to Atlanta at one of the Big Two’s expense.
I like that (especially because I agree with Jerry that Georgia’s a more likely bet to win the East than Auburn to win the West), but I don’t think it’s gonna happen this season, for more than a couple of reasons.
- Der Gap. Unfortunately, as Jerry notes, the story in the SEC last season was the two teams at the top and the yawning divide between them and the rest of the conference. I also agree that the margin is likely to shrink in both divisions. It’s just that I don’t expect it to shrink enough. Think about it for a minute: both divisions were won by four game margins last season, so to erase that completely this year, a school would have to engineer a three-game swing against either Alabama or Florida (or a two-game swing with a win in the head-to-head match). I don’t see it in either division. It looks much more like a two-season project to me.
- The Tigers have to claw. Auburn has the kind of schedule in 2010 that would make Houston Nutt envious, but it still has a tougher row to hoe than Georgia in that it has to fight its way to the top with two other schools also looking to catch Alabama (and Arkansas, as Jerry notes, with its offense has a puncher’s chance to win any game on its schedule). On paper, Georgia looks to have only South Carolina to duke it out with to run down the Gators.
- 3-17. Lose the Cocktail Party and Georgia has to play the rest of its conference schedule two games better than Florida. How likely is that to happen?
- Auburn’s defensive depth. Yes, the Tigers enjoyed a terrific recruiting class this season. But it’s a stretch to think that you can count on a bunch of true freshmen to step in and be major contributors on defense. And starting out, Auburn looks thin on the front seven.
- Georgia’s defensive changes. Count me as somebody who believes that Aaron Murray is going to absorb all the turnover direction he’s been receiving from his coaches and take it to heart. Georgia’s offense should be good enough. But it’s just not realistic to expect a smooth defensive transition with three new coaches and a new scheme, if for no other reason than some old habits die hard. It’ll get better as the season progresses, but somebody’s going to catch Georgia early on, and as I’ve already noted, the Dawgs don’t exactly have a big margin for error with the Gators this season.
- Gary Crowton really can’t be that bad an offensive coordinator, can he? Okay, maybe he can. But, damn, LSU is a talented squad that’s been no worse than third in the conference in recruiting over the past three or four seasons. There are certainly more highly ranked players suiting up in Baton Rouge than in either Auburn or Fayetteville.
Bottom line – I hope he’s right, but I expect that Jerry’s a year early here.