Until the Big Ten expands to 12 (or more) teams, the SEC probably will remain the most powerful force in the college football universe. It has produced the past four national champions. It has ultra-lucrative television deals. Many of its fans would travel to the moon to watch their teams play. One of its teams (Alabama) probably will start the season ranked No. 1.
Still, this feels like a season of change in the league.
All that change isn't necessarily good or bad. It's just different. It also means this could be a lively spring.
The simple answer is that Alabama must find replacements for some very good defensive players. The reality is that it's more complicated than that. Alabama fans won't want to hear this, but only one of those SEC national champs (LSU in 2007) was the favorite coming into the season. Auburn was the trendy pick in 2006, and Florida won the BCS title. Georgia was the favorite in 2008, and Florida won the title. Florida and Ole Miss were favorites in 2009, and Alabama won the title.
Looking around the country, Alabama seems like the only SEC team with the pieces to compete for a national title. Another team with a deep roster -- the usual suspects are Florida, Georgia and LSU -- might rise up and enter the conversation, but at the moment, the SEC's hopes will ride with Alabama, which has several issues to address.
The Crimson Tide bring back a Heisman Trophy-winning tailback (
The most important spring decision for Alabama may take place in the SEC office. As currently constituted, the SEC's master schedule would force the Tide to play their final six conference games against teams coming off bye weeks. This was
We'll know more Wednesday, when the Gators open spring practice, but until someone in the know says anything different, I'll assume Florida coach
Meyer's health scare, sudden resignation and equally sudden change of heart have dominated the headlines for months. Those events obscured a good news-bad news scenario for the Gators. The good news is that, just as they did in 2007, the Gators signed a fantastic recruiting class. The bad news is that, just as it did in 2007, Florida will have to replace most of its defense from the previous season. Anyone who watched future star cornerback
First-year defensive coordinator
On offense, redshirt junior
Absolutely. Consider this: One of the Mississippi schools likely will be picked to finish last in the west, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if either one winds up playing in a New Year's Day bowl. This is yet another reason why West favorite Alabama will have a brutal road if it hopes to repeat as BCS champ. Of course, any team that can survive this gauntlet with one or zero losses deserves a crack at the title.
At Arkansas, the Razorbacks should light up the scoreboard behind quarterback
LSU must replace most of its rushing attack, linebacker corps and safety
Meanwhile, on the Plains, coach
This is as open as the East has been in years. If
After a defensive staff overhaul in Athens, Georgia could return to the SEC title game for the first time since 2005. Defensive coordinator
On offense, the
Meanwhile, in Knoxville,
And Dooley, the son of an SEC coaching legend, should know this already, but he learned quickly in his first few months on the job that every move will be scrutinized. Dooley
Dooley personally called former Vol
While we're talking East contenders, let's not forget Kentucky.
Of course, the other contender in the East is still Florida. While the Gators have plenty of holes to fill, they still have several pieces from the teams that went 26-2 the past two seasons.
We could see several new quarterbacks put up huge numbers thanks to experienced offensive lines. Brantley and whoever wins the quarterback derbies at Auburn and Georgia should enjoy the benefit of playing behind at least four returning offensive line starters.
The situation at Georgia might be the best one for a young quarterback. Whether it's Murray, Gray or Mettenberger, the winner will play behind an experienced line and have the privilege of throwing to
If all this sounds vaguely familiar -- quarterback competition, solid offensive line, an emerging young back bolstered by a steady older one -- it should. Georgia found itself in this situation during coach