Friday, May 16

Don't Look Now...

We're starting to see some information trickle out about college football's 2008 season. Sure, there's nothing big that's happened yet - well, Ryan Perriloux's gone, but you've probably heard about that by now. Ohio State is once again slated to be in the BCS Championship race (God help us all) and we aren't going to see any surprise national title contenders. None of the coaching changes really mean a lot for 2008, but because everyone's going to be talking about why these moves are so critical, here's why they're not (SEC version):

- Ryan Perriloux's dismissal and transfer to Jacksonville St. Honestly, it was probably the best thing for his pro prospects to move to 1-AA, since Joe Flacco will likely prove that *someone* will take a shot on a guy if it looks like he could be a pro. For LSU, it doesn't mean as much - sure, losing Perriloux means they'll lose the only QB with game experience, but the story out of LSU will be how they respond to losing a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball.

Yes, the Tigers also lost Bo Pelini to Nebraska (have fun!), but there's enough raw talent both on the field and off that his loss won't be noticed. It helps when a lot of the front seven comes back, especially Ricky Jean-Francois, who's the best d-lineman you probably don't know anything about.

- Houston Nutt's whirlwind tour to Ole Miss will rejuvenate the Rebels, making them a player in the SEC West. This one's probably partly true, but any rejuvenation will be due to A) Jevan Snead's transfer and B) drawing South Carolina and Vandy from the East. Couple that with likely wins over Samford (not Stanford) and ULM and they're bound to at least kind of improve. I doubt they'll make much noise before '09, though.

As an aside, I've always liked the way Nutt puts together teams; unquestionably McFadden was the most talented skill position player he's had on his teams, but he's always been able to put out 8-9 win teams and has never really gotten enough credit for consistently putting Arkansas in the SEC West discussion, even if it was normally as the 2nd or 3rd team in the conference. While that doesn't sound like a lot, ask anyone in Oxford how they'd like being 2nd in the SEC West - it's been nothing but dark times there recently.

I'm not 100% sure if Ole Miss is the best spot for Nutt, though; he got run out on a rail in Fayettesville for reasons I still don't get, but he goes to a school that ran David Cutcliffe out of town for - near as I can tell - having Eli Manning graduate. Nutt is from a similar mold; he's done a good job getting the most out of his guys without really getting credit for it. I'd love to see Nutt do right at Ole Miss, but it's pretty easy to see the fans turning on him the year after Snead leads the team to a 9-4 record (which'll be his senior season, of course).

- Bobby Petrino's taking Arkansas to the next level, right? Not anytime soon - it sucks when your best skill player returning is your QB, and it sucks even more when that guy is Casey Dick. If Petrino gets a 60% completion rate out of him that'll be Dick's best year ever by nearly 3%. Couple that with a total of 10 starters returning on both sides of the ball and it'll be a painful season, even with the infusion of Ryan Mallett (who's not playing this year anyway - way to bail out from Michigan, kid).

If nothing else, expect Arkansas fans to get a little restless early when Dick doesn't light up the field (although I guess he could light the bag of crap he'll likely drop against Texas). Of all the teams who are likely to move significantly in one direction, Arkansas's that team for a number of reasons that I may or may not get to. The bottom line for here is that even with a high-profile coach arriving in town, it doesn't actually mean you'll be good.

- Speaking of high-profile coaches, Alabama's going to have heightened expectations. Well, duh - but they draw Georgia and Kentucky out of the East to go with Tennessee; ouch. Thank god they downgraded from ULM to Tulane on their OOC slate, otherwise it could get bad. They'll be more explosive on offense, and they honestly got a bit unlucky last year; this could be a year where they look a lot better as a team than what they are due to scheduling quirks; last year's 6-6 could turn into this year's 9-3, but it doesn't mean the Tide are back.

While the backfield is back, the WRs certainly aren't (well, maybe Tyrone Prothro is still taking classes), meaning John Wilson (I refuse to use three names for a guy, unless he's yachting) will be in a similar position that Erik Ainge was in last year. Granted, that turned out pretty well, but Wilson isn't as good as Ainge - and Major Appelwhite bolted for Rice, meaning this'll be the third system Wilson's learned in as many seasons. That doesn't bode well, especially early - which that recruiting class won't help with.

- Auburn started to install their spread offense before the Peach Bowl last year, and that worked great, right? Well, yes, but they're still a year away from getting the right guys in for the system. Brandon Cox was disappointing during his entire tenure, but Kody Burns couldn't unseat him - how's he going to make this better? Couple that with both major RBs returning and 7 guys coming back on defense and Auburn'll get the job done the same way they always have.

Seriously, when was the last time you saw an Auburn team that was exciting on offense? I can't recall and I've seen way more SEC ball than most people over the last few years. It's kind of impressive; Auburn's been doing this for so long that people are kind of forgetting Tommy Tuberville exists. I think everyone's penciling Auburn in for 9-3 again.

- Mississippi State got ungodly lucky last year, so while it was a great story, ending this year at 5-7 really isn't *that* odd. Of course, other than luck and Anthony Dixon, there's nothing on offense; that hasn't changed. Defense will carry the team again. I'd normally have more here, but what else is there to say? The team won three games last year due to pick-sixes. That's not going to happen again.

- Florida's offense will still scare small children; their defense did get a bit better as the year wore on last year, and returning almost everyone will help. They're probably about equal with Georgia, maybe a notch below, and above everyone else in the East. UF is also the early leader in the "Where the Hell Was This Game Last Year?" contest, playing Hawai(')i to open the season.

Keep in mind that three of the guys in that terrible secondary come back this year; when you get torched that often (and the best offense you face may be in practice), you grow up really quickly. We'll see how that actually translates to real-life, but generally speaking if the D can hold teams to under 24 points that should be good enough.

- Georgia closed the season on a fierce tear last year, and everyone's anointing them the SEC champion before any games have taken place. Honestly, I can't blame them; they were arguably the 2nd-best team in the country at the end of last year and I don't see any reason that's going to change.

It was really amazing to see UGA's transition from getting wrecked against Tennessee (one of the most deeply satisfying games I've witnessed ....well, ever) to wrecking everyone in their path. I still don't like the "let's send everyone on the field and take the 15 yards" tactic from the UF game - I think it was childish and gimmicky - but I can't deny it worked. I'm curious to see what tactics Richt has up his sleeve.

- A bunch of new coordinators, some defensive losses, a new QB, and a stable running corps - who's this sound like? If I told you the new coordinator's last name sounded like Claussen, would that help? The net result at Tennessee is that this season looks a lot like 2004; oh boy. Where do I sign?

I don't expect it to be that bad, but I'm not too excited. That's neither here nor there; the big change here is the secondary being the team strength instead of the LB corps, but they'll still struggle on the line - which means the D will be spotty. As good as the secondary is (or will be), it's tough to cover someone for more than 5 seconds. The offense should be good enough, I hope. Lord knows I'll have Randy Sanders flashbacks if it's not.

- Vandy will likely suck but has hope they'll be good. We've been saying this (or they'll outright suck) for the last 20 years. Next!

- Kentucky lost a ton of talent on offense, but they'll retain the coaching staff, the gimmick offense, and a stupidly easy out-of-conference slate (Norfolk State? Really?) - sounds like a December bowl! Who's with me? It's teams like these that make me really hate that 6-6 can get you to a bowl; they're likely sitting on 4 wins to start with (3 of which are guaranteed, and if you want to get really particular you can probably assume they'll split Vandy and MSU, which is being pretty harsh), meaning they have to basically go 2-6 against decent to good teams. How's that deserve a bowl?

- South Carolina returns a ton of starters again (20 last year, 16 this year), but has no QB, no real running game, and a defense that should dictate how the team performs. They probably won't lose to Vandy again this year, but there's no reason to think they'll be ...y'know, good. Sure, Spurrier's handed over play-calling duties, but he's going to yank around the QBs enough to offset it. On the plus side, Captain Munnerlyn (who will be henceforth known as Cap'n Munner) is back - not that he's good, but good god I love his name.

Jasper Brinkley is back, but I don't think it'll be a huge difference. Sure, he says he's lost some weight and haven't lost a step, but that's one of those stories that we read about 400 times during Spring Training; why should I believe it now? In addition, the defense should be solid enough whether or not he's playing. South Carolina has taken the Auburn Path to Success, which isn't bad - unless you're trying to watch them.