Burns is at the wheel of Saban’s black Mercedes S550, and because he knows Saban’s musical taste veers toward the Eagles, Al Green, and the Rolling Stones—no country—he’s got “Gimme Shelter” cued up on the stereo. Saban sits shotgun, and I climb in the back. As Burns guides the sedan past columned fraternity houses on the arbored Alabama campus, Saban mentions he’s seen the Stones twice. In an attempt at levity, I tell him I’d recently tried to turn my four-year-old daughter on to the Stones but that she had responded by earnestly asking me, “Dad, how come the man in these songs can’t sing?”
Saban spins around from the front seat and shoots me the bug zapper.
“Mick Jagger can sing,” he says, before turning back to face the windshield. “Mick Jagger is a great entertainer.”
Maybe he can get the Stones to play a halftime show at Bryant-Denny sometime.
I’ve worked this format twice out of necessity – once because I didn’t have a clue about what to expect from Georgia and once because Missouri and Texas A&M came in with clean slates – and I’m sticking with it. “It” being described as follows:
Rather than give you my predicted records, I’ll list the schools in the order they finished in the conference last year, look at areas of potential improvement and decline and assess in what direction I expect each to go by comparison to 2010.
In other words, pure seat of the pants BS.
So starting with last season as the baseline (teams are listed in their 2012 order of finish), here goes nothing.
ALABAMA (13-1, 7-1)
Pros: Skill position talent; team depth; Nick Saban; unparalleled program stability; dream schedule
Cons: Less experience on defense; losses on the offensive line
Outlook: You want to be the one who predicts the Tide doesn’t play in the SECCG? Be my guest. I’m having a hard enough time figuring out which regular season game ‘Bama loses. It won’t be any worse than that.
LSU (10-3, 6-2)
Pros: Solid team depth; John Chavis
Cons: Losses on defense; new offensive coordinator (again); cross-division schedule less favorable than Alabama’s
Outlook: Early CW: Expect LSU to have a down year because of the departures on defense. Late CW: don’t sleep on LSU! My CW: LSU does what it tends to do under Miles – lose two regular season games, one in an inexplicable fashion.
TEXAS A & M (11-2, 6-2)
Pros: Johnny Football and Company; favorable cross-division schedule; Kevin Sumlin
Cons: Replacing key departures on the defensive side of the ball; dealing with a seriously heightened level of attention
Outlook: That offense combined with that schedule should make for an easy nine wins at least. The question is whether TAMU is anything more than the new Arkansas.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-5, 4-4)
Pros: Coaching stability; quarterback stability; Alabama and LSU at home; offensive line; running back depth
Cons: Secondary must replace three who are now in the NFL; top four receivers gone; tougher overall schedule than last year’s; special teams
Outlook: MSU could very well turn out to be an example of one of those programs that improves, but doesn’t show it in the won-loss record. Six or seven wins look about right.
MISSISSIPPI (7-6, 3-5)
Pros: Rising talent level; lots of returning starters; coaching stability; perhaps most momentum of any school in the conference
Cons: Overall depth not up to standards of top teams in West; tough early schedule
Outlook: Should be bowl eligible again. Opener against Vanderbilt will tell much about how far team’s record can go this season.
ARKANSAS (4-8, 2-6)
Pros: Offensive line; departure of John L. Smith
Cons: Brutal midseason stretch against four preseason top ten teams; back seven on defense; inexperienced receiving corps
Outlook: Between the empty personnel cupboard left to Bielema and the tough cross-divisional draws of South Carolina and Florida, this shapes up to be a long season. I’m having a hard time seeing how the Hogs top last year’s win total.
AUBURN (3-9, 0-8)
Pros: Departure of old staff; return of Malzahn; solid recruiting; special teams
Cons: Implementation of new offensive and defensive schemes; change at quarterback (again)
Outlook: Last year’s team gave up on Chizik and his staff, so a change is likely for the good. Reasonable goal should be achieving bowl eligibility.
Cons: Losses on defense; special teams; early season schedule
Outlook: Can the Dawgs get out of September with no more than one loss? If so, an eleven-win regular season and a return trip to Atlanta is likely. I’d like to say that’s what will happen, but I wonder if special teams cost Georgia a game it would otherwise win.
FLORIDA (11-2, 7-1)
Pros: Defense; special teams; coaching stability; restocked talent base;
Cons: Quarterback depth; receiving corps/replacing Jordan Reed; running back depth; regression to the mean on turnover margin; replacing Caleb Sturgis; OOC schedule
Outlook: IMO, hardest team in the conference to handicap. Yes, the Gators can win in double digits again. Yes, the Gators could lose four games. Keys will be keeping Driskel and the running backs healthy and maintaining something close to last year’s impressive turnover margin.
SOUTH CAROLINA (11-2, 6-2)
Pros: Steve Spurrier; steadily increasing level of talent; defensive line; cross-division scheduling advantage over Florida and Georgia; quarterback depth
Cons: Replacing losses in back seven on defense; special teams; replacing Marcus Lattimore; tough non-conference schedule
Outlook: They get the leg up on surviving a loss in the game against Georgia this year. Best thing the ‘Cocks have going for them is that they won’t see another conference team after Georgia that can challenge their secondary. SC won’t do worse than ten wins in the regular season.
VANDERBILT (9-4, 5-3)
Pros: Respectable defense by SEC standards; coaching stability; returning number of starters; Jordan Matthews
Cons: Depth issues in comparison with elite SEC teams; Chris Boyd suspension; losses at quarterback and running back
Outlook: The schedule is tougher, so the Commodores won’t win nine games this year, but they should be bowl eligible for the third year in a row. Ole Miss game will give an indication of win ceiling.
MISSOURI (5-7, 2-6)
Pros: Coaching stability; vastly improved team health; receivers; soft early season schedule
Cons: Offensive line depth; questions in the defensive back seven
Outlook: Injuries decimated this team last season. Missouri is in better shape going into 2013. Between the OOC slate to start the season and Kentucky, there are five likely wins on the schedule. That leaves three games – Vandy, Tennessee and Ole Miss – to decide the Tigers’ bowl eligibility fate. Assuming Mizzou can dodge the injury bug that was so devastating last year, a seven-win season feels about right.
TENNESSEE (5-7, 1-7)
Pros: November schedule; offensive line; some front line defensive talent
Cons: Dearth of quality skill position players; transition to new offensive and defensive schemes; brutal mid-season schedule with five preseason top ten teams; defensive depth
Outlook: This will make the third straight year UT implements a new defensive scheme. And even though the Vols finish with their usual soft landing in November, you wonder how much gas they’ll have left in the tank after getting running that mid-season gauntlet. Bowl eligibility is about as much as you can expect.
KENTUCKY (2-10, 0-8)
Pros: Defensive line
Cons: Lack of quality talent on both sides of the ball; coaching staff change; schedule with five preseason top ten opponents
Outlook: What I wrote last year about the Wildcats – “Remember that Seinfeld episode when Elaine is horrified by the realization that she’s turned into George? Well, Kentucky has turned into Vanderbilt. It’s hard to see where the ‘Cats get a conference win, or beat Louisville. Three wins, tops.” – hasn’t changed. UK has the worst personnel in the conference and that isn’t something you fix overnight.
“And Georgia fans, don’t be turds. Enjoy this. Soak it up. It’s awesome. If you don’t win this year, it’s still not a failure. It’s a heck of a run. Back-to-back in the Playoff era hasn’t been done. So, to ask for a third I feel like it’s gluttonous. I feel like it’s not OK. But we’ll be in the mix.”-- David Pollack, On3.com, 5/9/23