Doug at the great UGA/political humor blog Hey Jenny Slater is hosting the roundtable this go-around. Here are my answers to his questions.
1. What's your prediction for the matchup in the SEC championship game, and has that changed at all from what you were predicting in the preseason?
At this point, I'm going with LSU and Georgia. The West will come down to the LSU-Bama game, which is a tough one to call. I'm going to go with LSU because the game is in Baton Rouge and also because I think Bama is a young team that lacks depth LSU's depth, which will cost the Tide if they suffer any injuries. I expect Georgia to take down Vandy and win the Cocktail Party, which should be enough to get them in. It's worth saying that while Auburn is probably out of it, they can still serve as a spoiler because they play Georgia and Alabama.
At the beginning of the season, I was going with Auburn and Florida, as I expected Auburn to run through their Western Division schedule unscathed. Obviously, at this point Auburn would have to win out and have LSU and Bama lose down the stretch. I don't expect the Bengal Tigers or the Tide to lose other than when they play each other, and the idea of Auburn winning out at this point is almost unfathomable due to their QB situation. Florida is obviously still in it in the Eastern Division, but I think Georgia has been the better team so far and that makes me think that Georgia will take the Cocktail Party. Vandy and Kentucky aren't out of it in the East either, although I expect both to stumble down the stretch.
2. Knowing what you now know about your team, how have your expectations for this season changed? What would constitute a successful season in your eyes, and what would be a disappointment?
Although the Gamecocks got off to what the media viewed as a slow start, my W-L and bowl expectations remain the same. I still think the Gamecocks will win eight games and will play in their best bowl of the Spurrier era, although it probably won't be a New Years Day bowl. Why do I think this despite Carolina's slow start? Well, I think when the season is over, we'll see that we won eight games but that the wins didn't always come against the teams we expected to beat. Sure, we lost to Vandy. But we'll likely be favored against Tennessee and Arkansas, two teams that I thought would be tougher than Vandy at the beginning of the year. We should win those games, and that will get us to six wins. I also think we'll beat Kentucky this weekend, although I'm a little less confident about that pick. That's seven. We also play Clemson, of course, and unless the Tigers improve, I think we'll beat them. That's eight, the magic number. We also play LSU and Florida, two teams that we obviously will have trouble with, but could possibly beat. I could see us losing to Kentucky or Clemson and beating LSU or Florida, which would also equal eight wins.
All in all, I think we're in very good shape to make a run right now. The offense seem to be improving as the year goes on (this has been typical of Spurrier's offenses here), and the defense, unlike last year, is still very healthy. The whole team is actually very healthy now that McKinley is returning.
Would it surprise me if I'm wrong about winning eight games? Not too much; I've seen us stumble before. But I think we can do it.
3. If your team has Vanderbilt coming up at some point on its schedule, are you worried? If not, which team should be the most worried?
Well, Vanderbilt already nipped my team, so I can only be bitter at this point. Who else needs to worry? I would say Florida. Georgia luckily gets Vandy in Athens, and I think they'll be the the first to take out the Commodores. However, Florida has to travel to Nashville, which has suddenly become a tough place to play. The talent differential between Vandy and Florida is absurdly huge, but Florida has shown flashes of being the kind of mistake-prone team that Vandy is adept at taking advantage of. The Gators are also the last traditional SEC East power that Vandy has yet to take out--the Gators are due for a loss in this game.
I see it as a bygone conclusion at this point that Vandy will beat Tennessee.
4. Other than perhaps Alabama's season-opening win over Clemson, the SEC doesn't really have any marquee non-conference wins thus far, and a couple of traditional powers (Auburn and Tennessee) are struggling in high-profile fashion. Is it too early to call this a "down year" for the conference?
Yeah, I think it's too early to do that. It's certainly possible that the SEC is down a little, but just as we haven't had many high-profile OOC victories, we also haven't had many high-profile OOC losses, unless you want to count the Vols' loss to UCLA, which I don't think is representative of the conference because Tennessee is obviously falling hard this year. I say we wait until the bowls until we decide how good the SEC is this year. People thought we were down last year after Tennessee lost to Cal and Auburn lost to South Florida, but we ended up 7-2 in the bowls. It's just too early to say.