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August 26, 2008
The parity in the SEC makes it hard to predict every season. Rece Davis, the host of ESPN's College Football Live and ESPN's College GameDay Final offers his opinions on the SEC and the national scene.
Davis said it's even more difficult to predict the SEC Western division this season because of so much balance.
"I don't know that I can pick a winner because I believe the SEC west will be similar to the SEC east last year. I believe the winner will have two conference losses," Davis said.
He went against the norm with his selection.
"I will stick to what I predicted on ESPN.com. My gut feeling is that Alabama will win the west. Alabama, LSU and Auburn are all very capable of winning the west. Potentially, Auburn's schedule may set up a little bit more favorably. I am not necessarily saying Alabama is the best team in the west, but I'm going with a little bit of a gut feeling that they might emerge from a tie in the SEC west," Davis said.
Alabama's seasoned signal caller made a difference.
"LSU and Auburn don't have a lot of experience at quarterback. I know that (Alabama quarterback) John Parker Wilson has taken a lot of grief, but he's got an experienced offensive coordinator in Jim McElwain, who is a very quarterback friendly guy. McElwain aided and facilitated monumental improvement in Fresno State's Tom Brandstarter, if he could do similar things for Wilson that would give Alabama has an edge. I know that John Parker has made some game- changing mistakes, but he's been through a lot of the wars. He has talent and some weapons around him. If he gets some improvement from the offensive line which is strongly needed, I think that his experience could be the difference in the west," Davis said.
Who wins the SEC Eastern division?
"I have Georgia preseason No. 1, but the more I have watched the Bulldogs during the preseason I am beginning to think that the stars are not quite aligning for Georgia. I know that everyone is talking about the difficulty of the schedule. I am going with Florida in the east. It wouldn't make me bat an eye if LSU or Auburn won the SEC west. The same could be said for Georgia or Tennessee to win the SEC East, but for now I am going with Florida. I think their defense will be much improved. They played a lot of young players last year. I think they will have a very good pass rush."
Who is the sleeper team in the western?
"In the west that is easy for me. My enthusiasm for them has been tempered a bit because of their injuries on the defensive line, but I think its Ole Miss. Houston Nutt's arrival should inject some enthusiasm into the program. Coach O had plenty of that, but Nutt has won a lot of games in this league. He takes over a roster that is more talented that they are given credit for by most people. The injuries to Greg Hardy and Peria Jerry put a damper on that prediction because I thought the Ole Miss defensive line might be one of the best in the SEC and still might be by the end of the season with all due respect to LSU who has the defensive line that others dream about in the SEC," Davis said.
The biggest thing that could make Ole Miss the" X" factor is quarterback Jevan Snead.
"If you go down the list of quarterbacks in the SEC and I'm not talking about experience level or years in the system. What I'm basing it on is raw talent. I think you could make the case that there are only two teams in the SEC where Jevan Snead wouldn't be the starter or contending to be the starter and that would be Florida and Georgia. Florida's Urban Meyer thought he was pretty good when he had him committed to Florida coming out of high school. Snead could potentially be a superstar quarterback for Ole Miss and with the talent they have on the defensive line they could be the sleeper coming out of the SEC West, "Davis said.
Who is the sleeper in the SEC east?
"Predictions are a dangerous thing because no matter what you say or do in our line of work, people remember the predictions. After picking them to win the East last year, I hesitate to go back to the well with South Carolina, but I'm going to do so anyway. I like their defense but I'm skeptical of their offense which sounds bad to say with as much admiration that I have for Steve Spurrier's offensive acumen. I question their quarterback situation. I'm not sure that they really have game changers in the backfield, but I know they have some pretty good receivers. However, I am picking them because of the experience they have on defense and Ellis Johnson taking over as defensive coordinator and a little bit of a shakeup with having (Steve Spurrier) Junior call plays and their favorable schedule. Three of their big games-- Georgia, LSU and Tennessee-- are at home," Davis said.
Who will be in the BCS National Championship game?
Davis picked a national championship game between Ohio State and Oklahoma.
"Ohio State has a bit of a bad rap despite being a very talented team. They didn't play their best game against a very talented Florida team a few years ago, but I thought they played pretty well against LSU. I don't know when it became shameful to make it to the national championship game two years in a row. The Big Ten is down, but Ohio State is head- and- shoulders above those teams," Davis said.
The Ohio State at Southern Cal game will be crucial for the national championship race.
"I'll be watching very carefully on Sept. 13 when Ohio State goes to S.C. to get a reading on how they respond in a big game. If they go to USC and lose a close game and then run the table in the Big Ten and their only loss is to USC in a tight game, should they be held out of the national championship game based on strength of conference? Come on, I just don't believe that," Davis said.
Oklahoma is getting little attention.
"For a preseason top five team, no team is flying under the radar like Oklahoma. There's talk about Florida and Georgia and Texas Tech, Missouri or Clemson. Oklahoma is just sitting there and no one is talking about them," Davis said.
The Sooners are a talented team.
"They have all those studs on the defensive line like DeMarcus Granger and Gerald McCoy. They have Auston English who was as good of a pass rusher as anyone in the conference last year. They have Lendy Holmes back in the secondary which was a sore point for them last year, but I think they will be improved. Quarterback Sam Bradford has a brilliant record-setting season. He finished above Tim Tebow in quarterback efficiency. The offensive line which I think is the best in America will all be back. I think Coach Bob Stoops is loaded. If they avoid coughing up a game such as the Colorado game last year, I believe they will be in the national championship game," Davis said.
"If I had to choose a winner, then it would be Oklahoma," Davis said.
Will college football fans see Davis in his usual role this season?
"We'll be with you. Mark (May), Lou (Holtz) and I will be manning the studio all year long. We'll get on the road early for the Tennessee-UCLA game as far as a studio presence. We'll call some play- by- play of some midweek games. The first one is Kansas State at Louisville on Sept 17," Davis said.
Brent Beaird writes for Rivals.com, Samsportsline.com and Gator Bait magazine. He can be heard on 1010XL sports radio in Jacksonville, Fla. Brent can be contacted at [email protected]