I’ve been putting off making these picks.
I’ve been looking for a reason to choose somebody other than Florida; looking for a team other than Georgia and the Gators that might win more than seven games; waiting for a few more Tennessee players to get arrested so that I’ll know whether to slot Vols in fourth, fifth or sixth place.
But alas, Hurricane Lane has come and gone, and the status quo has returned to the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division. The Gators are great. Georgia is good. Vandy is bad. And so it goes.
1. Florida. Even without God’s gift to quarterbacks and jockey shorts taking snaps, the Gators are the pick in the East, almost by default. The Gators look as vulnerable at the beginning of the season as they have in maybe five years, but no team in the division is in position to knock them off their perch.
Six starters are gone from either side of the ball, including the best six to eight players on the roster, but there’s just enough left at Urban Meyer’s disposal to put Florida back in Atlanta for the third straight season.
2. Georgia. Quarterback. Defense. The two issues that troubled the Bulldogs in 2009 remain the biggest obstacles in the path to 2010 prominence.
The bad news:
— The only quarterback on the roster who’s ever thrown a pass in an NCAA game might be lining up at receiver.
— Last season’s defense gave up more points than all but two SEC teams, and half of the players who won starting jobs on that unit are gone.
The good news:
— The other 10 guys on offense are back, and if the offensive line can push around SEC defenses like it did Georgia Tech’s in the regular season finale, the quarterback won’t be that important.
— Todd Grantham’s gotta be better than Willie Martinez. 29 points allowed per game can’t be the players’ fault… can it?
3. South Carolina. The Gamecocks will win seven games, just like the always seem to do. Along the way they’ll lose competitively against Georgia, quarterbacks will change with the weather, and Steve Spurrier will throw his visor and make funny faces on the sideline.
South Carolina has faded down the stretch each of the last four years. With Arkansas, Florida and Clemson on the November schedule, don’t be surprised if it happens again.
4. Tennessee. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better in Knoxville.
Save for a date with Tennessee-Martin and UAB, the first two months of the season look brutal, and 2-6 start to the season is possible, if not likely. But even with the attrition brought on by an astonishing rate of player incarcerations and coaching changes, the Vols still have better athletes that Kentucky or Vanderbilt.
If they can pull it together for the last four games, a low-level bowl bid isn’t out of the question.
5. Kentucky. With a plush out-of-conference schedule, the Wildcats should be able to open the Joker Phillips era with a fourth straight bowl game, even if it is played before Christmas in Detroit.
6. Vanderbilt. Bobby Johnson may have been one of the best six coaches in the league last year and he couldn’t coax more than two wins out of this team.
He’s now gone, but quarterback Larry Smith — he of the 3.8 yards per pass attempt — returns. Double whammy.
If new coach Robbie Caldwell’s performance at SEC media days is any indication, at least the postgame press conferences will be entertaining.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him on Twitter @gtimesbholloway.