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SEC Banter: Looking into the crystal ball for this season's predictions
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Southeastern Conference football triumphantly returns tonight as South Carolina takes on North Carolina in Charlotte.

And don’t forget about that big Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt game tonight as well (hey, it’s SEC football; I’ll take it).

I’m more excited than Navin R. Johnson in “The Jerk” when the new phone book arrived. If you’re not familiar with Navin R. Johnson, take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’ve done with your life.

Artful cinematic references aside, since January one song has been on repeat in my head, as it captures my longing for SEC football during the brutal eight-month offseason: “Baby Come Back,” the smash hit by Player, released in the oh-so-magical year of 1978.

You may have tired of SEC football at the end of last season. May have even cursed it. Said to heck with your team.

That’s why, after the passage of eight long months, Player’s lyrics prove deeply provoking:

“Baby come back, any kind of fool could see
There was something in everything about you
Baby come back, you can blame it all on me
I was wrong, and I just can’t live without you”

I’m issuing an official SEC Banter challenge: if you Google the video for “Baby Come Back” and last more than 10 seconds without laughing, I will send you a free prize. Something really good, like a frozen Stouffer’s lasagna. Do it!

Thankfully, our baby has come back. Before toe meets leather tonight to officially kick things off, let’s gaze into SEC Banter’s crystal ball and predict the fortunes of the 14 teams comprising the nation’s finest football conference. Sit back, crack open a cold pop, and preview the 2015 campaign, SEC Banter style.

We begin in the East, losers of 10 of the last 15 SEC Championship Games, and 5 of the last 6.

Georgia: The Bulldogs are solid across the board and have a bowling ball for a running back in Nick Chubb. No seriously, he’s an actual bowling ball. The only major question mark is quarterback, where Greyson Lambert was on Monday named the starter over Brice Ramsey.

Only Georgia and perhaps Alabama have quarterbacks with names like that — Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey. They sound like presidents of Sigma Chi or winners of the Piedmont Driving Club member-member golf tournament. In any event, if Georgia gets halfway decent QB play, it will win the East.

SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball says the Bulldogs go 10-2 and make a return trip to the Georgia Dome.

Tennessee: The Vols are a trendy pick to win the division as head coach Butch Jones enters his third year on Rocky Top. Jones, as you all surely know, is a graduate of the esteemed Ferris State University which, to my utter dismay, bears no relation to the all-time greatest movie of the 1980s, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

We’ll find out early if UT is for real as Oklahoma visits Neyland Stadium on September 12.

SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball predicts a very respectable 9-3 season for the Vols.

Florida: A light early schedule will have the Gators undefeated until late September, when Florida enters a treacherous midseason swing (No. 25 Tennessee, No. 17 Ole Miss, at No. 24 Mizzou, at No. 14 LSU, and vs. No. 9 Georgia).

Head coach Jim McElwain will turn the Gators around but not entirely in his first year. And, if he fails, McElwain has a bright future selling cars. Doesn’t he sound like a car dealer?

Q: “Hey, where’d you buy that new Yukon?”

A: “I went over to Jim McElwain GMC. They gave me a great deal.”

SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball: 7-5.

South Carolina: Oh, how I want the Gamecocks to do well this year. See, if you can follow this complicated equation: South Carolina winning = more media coverage = more Steve Spurrier = a better college football season for everyone.

But it looks like a down year for the Gamecocks. At Georgia, at Mizzou, LSU, at Texas A&M, at Tennessee, Clemson.

Ouch. Banter’s Crystal Ball has the Garnet & Black at 6-6.

Kentucky: Optimism is building in the Bluegrass State that the Wildcats will sneak up on SEC foes this year. But Banter simply isn’t prepared to anoint Kentucky anything other than . . . well, Kentucky. SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball: 4-8.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores will anchor down to the depths of the SEC East, as I don’t see them winning a conference contest. The only private school in the SEC needs to get serious about football by becoming a state school or, at the very least, stop taking academics so seriously. Get your priorities straight, Vanderbilt!

That wraps up the SEC East division. It should be Georgia’s for the taking, which is why . . . Wait, what’s that you say? Oh, that’s right, Missouri is in the SEC now. Silly Banter.

Missouri: The streak of SEC East championships ends for Mizzou, unfortunately. In all seriousness (a rare thing for Banter), as longtime readers know. Missouri has been a terrific addition to the nation’s finest football conference.

I just don’t see them knocking off the Vols or Bulldogs to capture a third straight East crown, which means they probably will.

SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball has the Tigers at 8-4.

Now over to the West, college football’s most competitive division from top to bottom.

Alabama: Fans of other SEC squads often ask how long has Alabama’s dominance been going on? Undoubtedly they ask that question to the tune of the underrated 1974 single, “How Long,” by the British group, Ace.

The answer to the question is too long for non-Alabama fans, and Banter’s Crystal Ball predicts the Tide will roll again: 11-1, SEC West Champion, and SEC Champion with a win over Georgia in Atlanta.

(Incidentally, during a conference call with the media this week — including SEC Banter — CBS college football analyst Rick Neuheisel picked Alabama and Georgia to meet for the SEC Championship.

“It will be a whale of a game in Atlanta,” said Neuheisel.

So I’m in good company with these crystal ball picks.

Auburn: Several pundits are high on the Tigers, or Plainsmen, or War Eagles, or whatever Auburn wants to be called at any given moment in time. Banter isn’t one of those pundits.

Despite a loaded roster, Heisman hopeful Jeremy Johnson at quarterback, and facing UGA and Alabama at home, I’m calling an off year on the Plains, if nine wins can be considered an “off year.”

SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball says 9-3 for Auburn.

Mississippi: The Rebels are the only SEC West team never to play in the conference championship game. The Rebels haven’t won an SEC title in football since John Fitzgerald Kennedy was president.

But hey, they do throw a nice tailgate party. SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball has the Rebels at 8-4.

LSU: The most unpredictable team in the conference, coached by the most unpredictable man in the world.

As one longtime reader is fond of saying, “First, LSU has to beat Les Miles. Then it has to beat the other team.” The Tigers also don’t have a quarterback, which I hear is a somewhat important position on the gridiron.

SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball has difficulty seeing through the heavy, bourbon-laced bayou air, but 9-3 seems about right.

Texas A&M: The Aggies’ high-octane offense had the fans in College Station going bonkers last year. “Gee whiz, Timmy, did ya see that pass? Wowzers!” But the defense couldn’t do its part, which led A&M to lure defensive coordinator John Chavis away from Baton Rouge. The Aggies will improve, but not by enough.

In a strange scheduling twist, they don’t leave the state of Texas until Oct. 24, and they play nine games in Texas during the season — but none against teams from Texas.

SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball: 8-4.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs can’t wait for “The Return of the Dak,” as in the SEC’s best returning starting quarterback and Heisman candidate, Dak Prescott. While a solid season is in store in Starkville, the pixie dust won’t be as abundant as last year.

Banter calls 8, possibly 9 wins for Mississippi State.

Arkansas: When Arkansas does well, we’re treated to more of head coach Bret Bielema, which is nice for pure entertainment purposes. But their best running back is out for the season with an injury and Banter isn’t sure the Hogs can survive the three-week stretch of Texas A&M in Arlington, TX, at Tennessee, and at Alabama.

Oh, and their punter just got arrested for urinating on a light pole.

SEC Banter’s Crystal Ball: 7-5.

Enjoy the first weekend of Southeastern Conference football. In the meantime, inspired by Ace’s classic song, I’ve asked myself “how long” I’ve been driving this old clunker of a car. I’m heading to Jim McElwain GMC for a new ride. Wish me luck!

Ben Prevost is a contributing columnist for The Times. SEC Banter runs on Thursday during the college football season. He can be followed on Twitter at @SECbanter.

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