This is a preview for the upcoming PAC-10 season that I wrote for Chalk.com that was featured in Blitz magazine in the United States.
The Tide ended the year with a convincing Independence Bowl win over Colorado, but at mid-season, backers were primed for a whole lot more. At 6-2, expectations in Tuscaloosa were very high but a lack of depth and consistency brought the program back to earth with a four-game losing streak to close out the regular season (7-6 SU, 3-9 ATS). Head coach Nick Saban has the pieces in place for a huge year with nine starters returning on offense and six on defense including building blocks Andre Smith on the O line and Rashad Johnson in the secondary. On paper the Tide should profit thanks to a weak non-conference schedule. They face Tulane, Arkansas State and Western Kentucky before getting into SEC play where they have home dates against Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Getting by Clemson on opening day could lead to a big first half of the season.
The Razerbacks ended 2007 hot, winning five of their final six regular season games (covering four), to finish 8-5 (7-5 ATS). With a chance to end the season ranked, however, the Razorbacks got smoked by Missouri 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl. In 2008 new head coach Bobby Petrino should bring a new fire and a new look to the offense even though he still needs to find his ideal quarterback. For now the Hogs are going to live and die with Casey Dick (1695 yards). He has to be far more efficient and a more dangerous passer with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones gone. Looking at the schedule, things gets tough with the first two dates in October when they host Florida and visit Auburn. Arkansas has potential to be an exciting young team that should get better but at the same time it could be a long season for Petrino.
After starting the 2007 season with three ATS losses in a row, the Tigers were on the brink of destruction in September. From there they were money in the bank for backers finishing the year on a 7-2 ATS run. Auburn ended the season with an overall 9-4 record including a Chick-fil-A victory against Clemson. Now, eight starters are back on offense and six of seven starters return in the defensive back. If the new coordinators and defensive line changes can be worked out early on, there will be no excuse for the Tigers to not be in the national title hunt. There are plenty of big-time games on the 2008 schedule, but luckily for the Tigers, almost all of them are at home. Going on the road to face West Virginia is the only road date problem until the season-ender at Alabama.
The 2007 season was all about retooling for Florida. Despite sporting Heisman winner QB Tim Tebow (3286 yards) and one of the most prolific offenses in the country, the Gators struggled to fill the gaps on a defense that was gutted by graduations and defections to the NFL. The end result was a solid 9-4 record (8-4 ATS) and a Capital One Bowl loss to Michigan. In 2008 the Gators come out loaded with eight starters returning on offense, including Tebow, eight on defense and punter Chas Henry, who helped them finish first in the SEC in net punting. Once again, the gators will not have an issue with finding the red zone after a stellar 9-3 O/U record in 2007. If the defense shores up, the Gators could be a favorite to walk away with a National Title and possibly go unbeaten in 2008.
The Bulldogs caught fire following After an ATS loss to Tennessee on Oct. 6 the Bulldogs caught fire and never cooled off. They closed the season with seven straight wins (covering five) including a blowout of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Even better than the Dawgs’ 11-2 overall record, was that it was achieved with a slew of freshmen and sophomores that entered the season with limited relevant experience. Nine starters are back on defense and eight are back on offense including RB Knowshon Moreno (1,334 yards), who is emerging as a superstar. Georgia’s odds of being a contender could be decided by as early as week four with road trips to South Carolina and Arizona State and a home date against two-time defending MAC champion Central Michigan. If Georgia can get through their schedule with just one blemish, they have a great shot at being in the national title game.
For the second straight year, the Wildcats posted an 8-5 record (6-5-1 ATS) with a Music City Bowl win over Florida State. Riding the strong arm of QB Andre Woodson (3,709 yards), Kentucky started the year 4-0 ATS but tailed off in the second half as injuries mounted and the schedule stiffened. With Woodson gone, the offensive line will revolve around three decent starters and RB Tony Dixon, at least early on, while the defense gets back eight starters and both kickers. The Wildcats might not be as good as last year but given their weak non-conference schedule, they may earn some line value because of it in their early conference games. Avoiding LSU and Auburn will be a big plus, but given Kentucky’s back-heavy slate of games from October 25th on, another eight-win season would represent a commendable effort.
The Tigers won a second national championship in five years but it was not easy. They lost twice in triple-overtime as the No. 1 team, and squeaked out a number of close games to get to New Orleans. Those close games added up to a poor 6-7-1 ATS record for a team that ended the season at 12-2. This season the LSU offense was going to be focused around QB Ryan Perrilloux but he is no longer at LSU. So head coach Les Miles has to hand the reigns over to Jarrett Lee or Andrew Hatch. With Tyson Jackson coming back along with Marlon Favorite and Ricky Jean-Francois, the defensive line will move forward without Glenn Dorsey. The defending national champions don’t get much of a break from the SEC scheduling gods having to travel to Florida and South Carolina before hosting Georgia in Death Valley.
When you have a record of 3-9 and fail to win a league game for the first time since 1982, chances are there will be changes. Ole Miss pulled the plug on head coach Ed Orgeron to close the chapter on a failed three-year experiment with an inexperienced head coach. The Rebels at least put some cash in backers pockets by covering six times including games against Florida and Alabama. This season new head coach Houston Nutt does have some nice pieces to work with, including Texas transfer QB Jevan Snead. The offense has to start scoring more this season. It moved the ball at times, but closing was a huge problem averaging only 20 points per game. The road schedule looks harsh playing at Wake Forest, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and LSU but only having the five games away from home could play a huge factor in the Rebels improvement.
After another three win season, head coach Sylvester Croom’s team finally began to deliver signs of progress. Despite quarterback problems all season, the Bulldogs clawed their way to eight wins (six ATS), capped by victories over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and UCF in the Liberty Bowl. Expectations are sky-high in 2008 with eight starters back on a senior-laden defense, and seven starters back on offense. QB Wesley Carroll (1,392 yards) was forced to survive a baptism under fire in 2007 and now has almost an entire season of experience, good news for the league’s worst offense. Overall the Bulldogs schedule is not that bad getting a pretty easy non-conference schedule and dates with Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Three killer road games, at Georgia Tech, at LSU, and at Tennessee, will make it hard to improve on last season’s breakthrough campaign.
In 2007 South Carolina started out 6-1 (4-1 ATS), ranked No. 6 in the country, and playing like it planned on fighting for a national championship. Then the wheels fell off and just over a month later, the Gamecocks were 6-6 (5-6 ATS) and completely out of the bowl picture. This season the pressure is on head coach Steve Spurrier to finally show off some of that legendary magic. If everyone stays healthy this team could be a true SEC title contender with solid replacements for the losses on offense, and ten starters returning on defense. USC gave it away 28 times and only came up with 21 turnovers to finish 101st in the nation in turnover margin last season. To have any sort of a shot at winning the SEC East, players like QB Chris Smelley have to be better, and there can’t be as many mistakes.
The 2007 season was a profitable one for those backing the Volunteers. They won 10 games (nine ATS), captured the SEC East, and the Outback Bowl over Wisconsin. After a 41-17 upset loss to Alabama on Oct. 20th, Tennessee rallied to win six of their last seven games to end the year. This season ten starters return on offense including the entire offensive line that led the nation in fewest sacks allowed. RB Arian Foster’s (1,193 yards) decision to come back for his senior season is a big plus as well. The two biggest changes in 2008 will be a new head coach in Dave Clawson and the replacement of QB Eric Ainge. That job will likely go to Jonathan Crompton. The Vols season hinges on how they come out of their top-heavy early schedule. Trips to UCLA, Auburn and Georgia and a home date with Florida fill two-thirds of Tennessee’s first six games.
For the third consecutive year, the Commodores entered November within striking distance of bowl eligibility, only to lose their final four games (failing to cover in three). Looking ahead to 2008, the QB situation looks in excellent shape with Mackenzi Adams (1,043 yards) and Chris Nickson providing solid veteran options. The defense that finished 16th in the nation will see everyone return to the secondary, led by top corner D.J. Moore and big hitting safety Reshard Langford. The team’s two best pass rushers, DE Broderick Stewart and LB Patrick Benoist, are back also. This unit played a large part in Vandy only playing over the total twice in 12 games in 2007. Vanderbilt could have problems in the back half of the year with no easy November home games playing Florida and Tennessee to go with two tough road games at Kentucky and Wake Forest.
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