If you’ve watched the Olympics over the past few weeks, no doubt you’ve been inspired by the world’s elite athletes laying it all on the line not just for Olympic glory, but for national pride and a permanent place in their country’s sporting history. Packed stadiums, an international stage, and competition at the world’s highest level.
But let’s be honest. You’d take SEC football over the Olympics any day. Men’s volleyball or LSU vs. Bama? Some Russian dude on a pommel horse or Saturday afternoon in Athens? Heck, at this point, give me Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky in that awful 12:30 p.m. game over the Olympics. Give me SEC football, please!
Fortunately, the SEC football drought is about to end and a return to normalcy is near. It’s back to planning entire fall calendars around your team’s schedule and investing far too much emotional well-being into what 18-22 year-olds do on a football field. But this is the SEC — home of last six national champions, the most egomaniacal coaches, the best tailgate food around, and by far the prettiest girls — and it’s our way of life.
In the first of two SEC Banter season previews, let’s set our gaze upon the Eastern division of the finest conference in college football.
The SEC East is Georgia’s to lose. The Dawgs don’t face Alabama, Arkansas or LSU and have an otherwise manageable path for a return trip to Atlanta. A questionable offensive line and the lack of a killer instinct, however, cast doubt on UGA’s championship prospects. Can Georgia take the next step and hang with the SEC West champ? As the ancient Chinese proverb teaches, you can’t run with the big dogs if you pee with the puppies. I’m not sure whether that actually makes sense, but it sure is fun to say.
Georgia’s biggest threat is Steve Spurrier’s Sakerlina squad. Solid recruiting classes have helped Spurrier regain some swagger. The Oct. 6 showdown with Georgia looms larger than (insert cliched analogy here). Even with a win over the Dawgs, the Gamecocks must travel to Baton Rouge and Gainesville in back-to-back weeks and host Arkansas in November. Ouch.
Then we have Florida. The Gators are a wildcard entering year two of the Will Muschamp experiment. While stingy defensively, on offense Florida is forecast to score as much as Chevy Chase did with Christie Brinkley in National Lampoon’s Vacation, which is to say, not much.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley’s seat is warm but the Vols can lean on star QB Tyler Bray to take the heat off the lawyer-turned-coach. I’ll stick my neck out and boldly declare that Tennessee will better its 2011 SEC record of 1-7. You only get these hard-nosed, no nonsense predictions from SEC Banter, folks.
In any other year, this would conclude our SEC East preview. After all, Kentucky is looking forward to basketball season and Vanderbilt, though it has a fiery coach and could make some noise here and there, is Vanderbilt. But this isn’t any other year. We’ve got a new entrant in the SEC Eastern division. The school is west of the Mississippi River and its Southern credentials may be suspect, but don’t underestimate the Missouri Tigers.
Mizzou has a dual-threat quarterback in James Franklin and landed the No. 1 recruit in the nation last year in receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Isn’t that a great receiver name? He just sounds like a playmaker. Offensive guards never have names like that.
Missouri has the chops to compete in the SEC East and, come Sept. 8 for its SEC opener against Georgia, the fans in Columbia, Mo. will be as excited as Missourians get. I’m told that’s even more excited than Chevy Chase was when he dove into that motel pool with Christie Brinkley in Vacation.
So, there you have it. Tune in next week as we look into the SEC Western Division crystal ball. In the meantime, as I write this, a group of women from Bulgaria are on TV prancing around a gym with streamers in what’s called “rhythmic gymnastics.” SEC football can’t get here fast enough.
Ben Prevost is a contributing columnist for The Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.