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No clear favorite in SEC

POSTED: August 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.

 

Georgia and Florida are rivals with much in common.

Both have a talented junior quarterback, a dynamic playmaker and a youthful-looking coach with a ridiculous career winning percentage.

One of them is also the hot Southeastern Conference team du jour. Which one depends on who’s picking.

They both fit the bill, but coach Urban Meyer, quarterback Tim Tebow and the Gators already have a national title and a Heisman Trophy.

The Bulldogs have averaged a hair above 10 wins in coach Mark Richt’s seven seasons, but they haven’t added to the SEC’s expanding trophy collection.

Might this be their year? Richt’s peers think so, picking Georgia preseason No. 1 in the coaches poll. League media, on the other hand, picked Florida to win both the SEC East and the overall championship.

Tough crowd, this SEC.

The ‘Dawgs will leave any politicking to the end of the year. They’re already trotting out references to last September’s Appalachian State win over Michigan.

The message: Beware Georgia Southern, the opening opponent.

"We can’t listen to the hype and the media," Georgia defensive tackle Jeff Owens said. "We don’t want to end up like Michigan last year losing to App State. We’ve got to learn from their mistake."

Games at South Carolina, Arizona State, LSU and Auburn are more dangerous. Not to mention the Florida rivalry across the state line in Jacksonville, intensified by the Bulldogs’ end zone dance in last season’s win.

Defending national champ LSU is getting overshadowed largely because, unlike Florida and Georgia, there’s no proven quarterback on the roster. Ditto for Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina.

LSU’s Les Miles is the fifth current SEC coach to win a national title, and new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino had a pair of one-loss seasons at Louisville. Not to mention Tommy Tuberville’s unbeaten 2004 season at Auburn.

"To claim that many national championships among your group of coaches, it’s kind of intimidating sometimes, I guess," Richt said.

Then again, he ranks fourth among active coaches by winning 79.1 percent of his games, right behind Meyer, No. 3 at 81.4 percent.

Florida and Georgia both have the bulk of their starters back, and each has at least one legitimate Heisman candidate.

Bulldozing quarterback Tebow is going for two in a row, but versatile Percy Harvin also is getting plenty of buzz. So is Georgia’s sophomore tailback Knowshon Moreno.

The Bulldogs also have quarterback Matthew Stafford and a potentially dominant defense that returns nine starters from a group that held high-powered Hawaii to 10 points and forced six turnovers in the Sugar Bowl.

The Gators should be improved on defense, with eight starters back from a unit that ranked last in the SEC against the pass. Meyer, though, knows he has plenty of company among SEC teams with notions of a title.

"Once again, any given nine think they’re going to play in a conference championship," he said. "I don’t know if you see that anywhere else in America."

His quarterback is hungry for victories after the Gators followed up a national title by losing four games.

"I’d trade (the Heisman) for a national championship any day of the week," Tebow said after an offseason that included three mission trips to foreign countries. "It was a dream come true to win the Heisman, but it doesn’t compare to a national championship."



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