Tennessean.com’s 2008 SEC Predictions

Tennessean.com

SEC West: 1. Auburn:

Offseason objective: The offense needed a quick fix so Tony Franklin, with his fast-paced, no-huddle philosophy, was brought in as the new coordinator. Tigers’ fans, accustomed to a run-oriented attack featuring speedy and powerful backs such as Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, are bracing for a major overhaul. Troy, where Franklin was previously coordinator, threw the ball nearly 100 more times than it ran.
Unanswered questions: Two quarterbacks ? Kodi Burns, last year’s backup to Brandon Cox, and junior college transfer Chris Todd ? will battle for the starting job, which Franklin said he would not decide upon until the fall.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 9-4 (SEC 5-3), defeated Clemson 23-20 in OT in the Chick-fil-A Bowl; 2008 predicted record: 10-2; 2008 key game: Sept. 20 vs. LSU.

2. LSU:

Offseason objective: The Tigers hopes of repeating as national champs might have been sacked when quarterback Matt Flynn scrambled off to the NFL and then Ryan Perrilloux was kicked off the squad. Not only does LSU lack a seasoned QB, but also last year’s most productive offensive player, TB Jacob Hester, must be replaced.
Progress report: Seven of the 10 departed starters were selected in the NFL draft, but the cupboard is hardly bare. Both lines are well stocked and Richard Murphy, who rushed for 145 yards on just 11 carries in the spring game, appears ready to step in at tailback.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 12-2 (SEC 6-2), defeated Ohio State 38-24 in BCS championship; 2008 predicted record: 9-3; 2008 key game: Oct. 11 at Florida.

3. Alabama:

Offseason objective: Improvement at QB was needed and John Parker Wilson, who showed flashes last year, performed well in the spring. Coach Nick Saban also had to decide how to take advantage of the young talent he has recruited. He may be forced to rely on freshman Tyler Love at right offensive tackle.
Progress report: Wilson appeared comfortable and confident in the offense installed by new coordinator Jim McElwain. Redshirt NG Josh Chapman and DT Alfred McCullough were pleasant surprises, alleviating some of the concern about replenishing the defensive front.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 7-6 (SEC 4-4), defeated Colorado 30-24 in Independence Bowl; 2008 predicted record: 9-3; 2008 key game: Sept. 20 at Arkansas.

4. Arkansas:

Offseason objective: New coach Bobby Petrino arrived with work to do on offense, his area of expertise. Gone are running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, and the NCAA ruled last week that Michigan transfer QB Ryan Mallett would not be granted a waiver, meaning he will sit out the 2008 season.
Progress report: QB Casey Dick improved in the spring. That was important since Petrino is apt to throw more than he runs. Michael Smith emerged as the leading candidate to replace McFadden.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC), lost to Missouri 38-7 in Cotton Bowl; 2008 predicted record: 6-6; 2008 key game: Sept. 13 at Texas.

5. Ole Miss:

Offseason objective: Houston Nutt came to Ole Miss hoping to rely on a strong running attack as he did at Arkansas. He signed three highly touted running backs ? Enrique Davis, Brandon Bolden and Devin Thomas.
Progress report: Offensive linemen Michael Oher and John Jerry were recently named to the 2008 Outland Trophy watch list. That should alleviate any concerns about relying on a freshman running back.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 3-9 (0-8 SEC); 2008 predicted record: 4-8; 2008 key game: Sept. 20 vs. Vanderbilt.

6. Mississippi State:

Offseason objective: Starting DT Quinton Wesley and OT Michael Brown left huge gaps when they were booted from the team for firing weapons on campus.
Progress report: Hopes were high for the offense with QB Wesley Carroll returning and Anthony Dixon, a 1,000-yard rusher, also back. But the unit didn’t get much done in the spring game when only one TD was scored.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC), defeated Central Florida 10-3 in Liberty Bowl; 2008 predicted record: 3-9; key game: Nov. 1 vs. Kentucky.

SEC EAST: 1. Georgia:

Offseason objective: Only the offensive line is an area of significant concern for the Bulldogs, who some experts are picking as the nation’s No. 1 team. All but five starters return from last year, including Heisman Trophy candidate TB Knowshon Moreno.
Progress report: As outstanding as Moreno is, redshirt freshman Caleb King outshined him at times in the spring.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC), defeated Hawaii 41-10 in Sugar Bowl; 2008 predicted record: 11-1; key game: Oct. 25 at LSU.

2. Florida:

Offseason objective: Coach Urban Meyer tried to figure a out a way to keep Tim Tebow as effective as he was last year while also keeping him healthy.
Progress report: TB Emmanuel Moody, a transfer from Southern Cal, will take some of the pressure from Tebow. He ran for a game-high 111 yards in the spring game.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC), lost to Michigan 41-35 in Capital One Bowl; 2008 predicted record: 11-1; key game: Nov. 1 vs. Georgia.

3. Tennessee:

Offseason objective: Coach Phillip Fulmer broke from his tradition and hired an offensive coordinator ? former Richmond Coach Dave Clawson ? from outside the Vols program for the first time since Walt Harris took over in 1983.
Progress report: QB Jonathan Crompton underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow last month and also hushed some who doubted his ability by taking a firm grasp of the new offense during spring workouts.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 10-4 (6-2 SEC), defeated Wisconsin 21-17 in Outback Bowl; 2008 predicted record: 8-4; key game: Sept. 20 vs. Florida

4. South Carolina:

Offseason objective: The inability to run the ball has been a glaring weakness since Steve Spurrier became the Gamecocks coach, and getting it fixed was the focus in the spring.
Progress report: There remains work to be done on the offensive line but TB Brian Maddox shined in the spring game, sending a message that he will challenge Mike Davis for the starting assignment.
Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC); 2008 predicted record: 6-6; key game: Sept. 4 at Vanderbilt.

5. Vanderbilt:

Offseason objective: The offensive line was wiped out by graduation, with every starter gone, including left tackle Chris Williams, a first round NFL Draft pick of the Chicago Bears.

Progress report: The battle for the starting QB job between Mackenzi Adams and Chris Nickson spilled into the spring and wide receiver George Smith performed well enough to alleviate some of the concern about losing Earl Bennett.

Looking back/ahead: 2007 record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC); 2008 predicted record: 6-6; key game: Nov. 15 at Kentucky.

6. Kentucky:

Offseason objective: Major reconstruction was needed on the offense with the Wildcats losing their top passer (QB Andre Woodson), rusher (TB Rafael Little) and receiver (Keenan Burton).

Progress report: Curtis Pulley and Mike Hartline engaged in a heated competition for the starting QB job. Derrick Locke is a different type of runner than Little, but appeared capable of taking over at tailback. Wide receiver Dicky Lyons had a monster spring game.

Looking back/ahead: 2007 record 8-5 (3-5 SEC), defeated Florida State 35-28 in Music City Bowl; 2008 predicted record: 6-6: key game: Oct. 11 vs. South Carolina.

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