We’re 17 days from kickoff, and already I know how The Only League That Matters will go. I know because I’ve applied the special Bradley brand of forecasting and come up with this detailed look at the SEC in 2009. Read it quickly, lest I run afoul of the league’s new media policy. (Section 3-a-iii: No writer can mention our school’s names without first slipping Verne Lundquist 10 bucks.)
1. Florida: I don’t know how Urban Meyer does it. Every other year he takes a bunch of no-names and wins the national championship. This year, however, he’ll fall just short. He’ll win the first 13 games and then lose No. 14. Regular season: 12-0. SEC title game: Beats LSU. BCS title game: Loses to Texas.
2. Georgia: Joe Cox will be better than Joe Tereshinski III but less good than D.J. Shockley. A loss in Stillwater on Sept. 5 will set the tone for a solid season by most standards but a middling one by Mark Richt’s. Regular season: 8-4, losses to Oklahoma State, LSU, Florida and Georgia Tech. Outback Bowl: Beats Michigan.
3. South Carolina: The Gamecocks will start 0-2, which will set off speculation that Steve Spurrier will quit after the season. They’ll get better thereafter, but not so much better that Spurrier decides to stick around in 2010. Regular season: 7-5, losses to N.C. State, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Florida. Music City Bowl: Beats Miami.
4. Kentucky: Rich Brooks has taken the Wildcats to bowl games the past three seasons, and who said he was a lousy hire? (Actually, me.) This year Kentucky beats Tennessee for the first time since 1984. Regular season: 7-5, losses to Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Auburn and Georgia. Liberty Bowl: Beats Southern Miss.
5. Vanderbilt: Every half-century the Commodores up and win a bowl game. Last year’s victory over Boston College in the Music City Bowl will have to suffice until, say, 2060. But Vandy will get a consolation prize: It’ll upset Georgia Tech. Regular season: 5-7, losses to Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky.
6. Tennessee: Lane Kiffin is the new coach. He’s a humble sort of fellow. His humility will be tested. He’ll finish 4-8, one game worse than in the record that season saw Phillip Fulmer shoved out the door. But UT will win on Signing Day, which is all that counts. Regular season: 4-8, losses to UCLA, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
1. LSU: The best hire by any SEC school over the offseason — better than Chizik, better even than Kiffin — was the Tigers nabbing defensive coordinator John Chavis, who kept Tennessee afloat the past decade. He’ll put things right posthaste. Regular season: 11-1, loss to Florida. SEC title game: Loses to Florida. Capital One Bowl: Beats Penn State.
2. Alabama: The Tide got a bit ahead of itself last season by rising to No. 1 in the land, but it’ll be in the top five when LSU arrives in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 7. Then it’ll drop out. But there’s a national title coming soon. Regular season: 11-1, loss to LSU. Sugar Bowl: Loses to Oklahoma.
3. Arkansas: Hate him all you want, but Bobby Petrino can coach. And here’s where he gets it rolling and becomes the toast of the Ozarks. Then, being Bobby Petrino, he’ll leave to coach the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Regular season: 8-4, losses to Georgia, Alabama, Florida and LSU. Cotton Bowl: Beats Oklahoma State.
4. Ole Miss: The chic pick to win the West, but it won’t happen. The schedule sets up nicely — both LSU and Alabama come to Oxford — but the team isn’t quite that good. A Sept. 24 upset loss in Columbia will grease the chute. Regular season: 8-4, losses to South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. Chick-fil-A Bowl: Loses to Virginia Tech.
5. Auburn: Gene Chizik is the new Tiger coach, and I think I speak for everyone when I say, “Gene Chizik?” But give G-Chiz this: Alongside Lane Kiffin, he looks like Lombardi. And he does have that limo thing going for him. Regular season: 6-6, losses to Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. Independence Bowl: Loses to Missouri.
6. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen has a great pedigree, having coached alongside Urban Meyer. Dan Mullen now has a great impediment — he’s coaching the other Bulldogs. He seems a good hire. Then again, so did Sylvester Croom. Regular season: 4-8, losses to Auburn, LSU, Georgia Tech, Florida, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
And now a word from Verne Lundquist: Actually, it’s still me. Due to my periodic bout of temporary insanity, I did not, in the first take of this post, have a winner in the Georgia-Arkansas, Tennessee-Florida or Tennessee-Auburn games. Actually, I had them in my mind, but I neglected to make them show up above. They’re here now — Georgia over Arkansas, which finishes 8-4; Florida over Tennessee, which finishes 4-8 and finishes sixth in the East, and Tennessee over Auburn, which finishes 6-6 but is still bowl-eligible.
Thanks to all those who pointed out the omissions/errors. I’m in your debt. And I am sorry. There’s no excuse for sloppiness. Except the usual one: That I’m a big fat idiot.