From the Magazine: Projecting the SEC (before suspensions)

No, really, thank you, Isaiah Crowell. You better believe I went looking for a picture of you in a Pro Combat jersey in a game you lost. Nope, I'm not bitter.

You know how much fun it is to spend hours and weeks of your life confirming everything you can, making sure every I is dotted and every vert is accounted for, only to have a starting RB get kicked off the team you had picked to win the SEC East, and then have them get set up perfectly for failure thanks to a top-6 preseason ranking?

Yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of Georgia right now. And yet, I think they're still okay for the SEC East crown (boy, that line is going to win me some admirers around here), and the reason is simple: they still have enough without him. Aaron Murray isn't going away, their offensive line should be good, and their defense is among the tops in the nation.

Beyond that, though? Everyone else in the SEC East has huge questions, either at quarterback (South Carolina, somewhat, Florida), running back (I see us, Florida again), scheme (Florida), defense (hi!, possibly South Carolina depending on if you believe in their defense after Ellis Johnson's departure - short story: he's really good), or kicking (yeah, okay, that's basically everyone). Georgia just - and still - has less questions.

As for the SEC West? Yeah, you know the drill.

Our full projections for placement of each team in the SEC East and the SEC West are below the jump. Make sure to bookmark this page for maximum amusement come December. We'll stand by our rankings (until Georgia loses to Missouri in their first conference game) (and Texas A&M is somehow way better than we realize) (and Florida's way worse than we realize). And if you want to see something whose source of humor isn't dramatic irony, well, check back on Friday. I've got you covered.

1. Alabama. They’re still the best team in the conference, top-to-bottom. Even with the graduation and early defection of multiple key players, they’re a machine. Road games in Baton Rouge and Fayetteville (now much less dangerous) won’t change that.

2. LSU. Although the Tigers should be steadier on offense, they can’t possibly get as lucky with turnovers as they did last year, right? Last year was the first year a Miles-coached team lost less than two games in 11 seasons with Miles at the helm, and it’s likely that the Tigers will regress. Getting the Crimson Tide at home helps, but the road games at Florida and Arkansas will be tricky to navigate.

3. Arkansas. While they might’ve been challenging the top of the conference before the offseason turmoil, they’re much closer to the pack now. That being said, Knile Davis makes up for a lot. Last year was probably Arkansas’s best shot at the title. It’s not their fault ’Bama and LSU peaked at the same time. Fortunately, their key non-Alabama and LSU games are reasonable: at South Carolina, Texas A&M (on a neutral field), and home against Mississippi State.

4. Mississippi State. Sometimes the schedule helps. In MSU’s case, the road games in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge do them no favors, but they probably weren’t going to win those games anyway. On the other hand, getting Texas A&M, Arkansas, Auburn, and Tennessee all at home matters far more to the Bulldogs, who can easily win at least three of those four.

5. Texas A&M. It’s a decent first-season slate for the Aggies, all things considered. Working against them will be the transition to an even more pass-heavy offense and a nasty in-conference four-game stretch where the most reasonable game is at Auburn. The other games? LSU at home, at Mississippi State, and at Alabama.

6. Auburn. This is going to be the season where things fall apart for the Tigers. With the departure of Gus Malzahn (and Michael Dyer) and replacing Ted Roof with Willie "errant plastic bags" Martinez, Gene Chizik has done nothing to address the Tigers’ problems. Given that mess, their schedule, which, to be fair, is manageable, is largely irrelevant. There are just too many questions.

7. Ole Miss. And yet, even too many questions aren’t enough to get Ole Miss out of the basement. At least they get Vanderbilt and Auburn at home, which look like their best chances to get wins.

SEC East

1. Georgia. Not only do the Bulldogs have the talent to win the SEC East, they also have the schedule. Somehow, Georgia manages to avoid LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas from the West again (drawing Auburn and Ole Miss, in case it wasn’t easy enough), and with the exception of South Carolina (and, of course, Florida in Jacksonville), all their difficult games are at home. (Man, it’s going to be disappointing for them when they go 8-4, isn’t it?)

2. Florida. Although questions abound on the Florida offense, its defense is elite. There’s also the simple "a team this talented can’t continue to be this bad" corollary that’s well in play. A tricky double-dip opening slate on the road (at Texas A&M, at Tennessee) should establish Florida as a contender early, or just bounce them entirely from relevance.

3. South Carolina. Even with the departure of a few key players, this is a talented Gamecock squad. That alone should be enough to carry them through a few tricky games. It also helps that most of their key rivals (Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee) all come to Williams-Brice. Florida’s the only true road game of the lot.

4. Tennessee. As much as I hate to say this, there are simply too many unresolved questions on this Tennessee squad to put them higher than 4th right now. Converting to a 3-4 takes time, and early games against Florida and Georgia might come a bit too fast for the Vols. Furthermore, the schedule isn’t particularly favorable. Their placement in the East will likely come to how they fare at Starkville and against Missouri.

5. Missouri. Although they’re in a better place than Tennessee at the moment, the Tigers got hazed by the schedulers. Their home games are either deadly (Georgia, Alabama) or easy (Vanderbilt, Kentucky). Meanwhile, the road games are all against teams close to them (Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee). Add it up and the final result is something less than the sum of its parts.

6. Vanderbilt. Vandy’s back, y’all! The schedule isn’t awful – home games against Auburn and Tennessee are winnable, at least in theory – but the roadies at Ole Miss, Missouri, and Kentucky are all tricky. Factor in the wild season-to-season variation of a James Franklin offense and it’ll be tough.

7. Kentucky. Yeah, Joker Phillips is in trouble, even by the standards of Kentucky football. Getting Vanderbilt at home is probably their best chance of a conference win.

So, how wrong am I? Let me hear it, because I'm going to be totally right with all of my descriptions on Friday. You just don't know it yet. (Unless you bought the magazine. Then you know how right I am. And we might have a few monsters that didn't make the magazine, too.)

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The article quoted above is from our preseason Tennessee football magazine. If you're late to the party, it's 116 mostly ad-free pages of nothing but the stuff Vols football fans care about. It's not too late to get the Rocky Top Tennessee 2012 print edition ($19.99), the Kindle version ($9.99), or the ebook (a downloadable PDF) for $7.99. Enjoy!

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