Journalists are currently spilling a lot of ink over the question of which SEC division will be better in 2009. Over most of the past decade, the East has been better, with Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee serving as the league's elite and South Carolina playing competitively with most teams. Of course, one of the reasons for the East's superiority over this period is that Alabama, traditionally the West's best program, has been down due to probation. Now, however, 'Bama is back among the nation's elite, and with Ole Miss and LSU also projecting to have very good teams this year and Auburn and Arkansas looking like solid middle-tier bowl teams, the West looks very stiff for 2009. The East, on the other hand, looks down this year, largely due to Tennessee's recent demise.
But is the West really going to be better than the East this year? If you take most of the preseason rankings at their word, then yes. After the jump, let's take a look at how the divisions stack up based on a very unscientific method I've devised of analyzing prediction trends:
Elite (many polls rank these teams in the top 15 or better)--Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU
Solid (most polls predict that these teams will bowl, with the possibility for a big season)--Auburn, Arkansas
OK (these teams might go bowling, depending on who you ask)--none
Bad (almost no one expects these teams to bowl)--Mississippi State
Solid--South Carolina, Tennessee
So, using the distinctions I've devised, the West does appear to be the better division, with three "elite" teams to the East's two and a tie in the "solid" category. The only thing that can be said for the East is that it's possible that all Eastern division teams might bowl, whereas it's unlikely that Mississippi State will earn a bid.
Will the results of the season bear out these predictions? A lot depends on how Ole Miss does. The Rebels are perhaps the biggest wild card of all the SEC teams. The hype is there for a big season, but there's a lot of reason to doubt whether they can truly be the top-10 team some are calling for them to be. If they falter to a seven- or eight-win season, the divisions may look much more even at season's end than they do now. There's also the possibility that teams like Auburn, Arkansas, USC, or Tennessee might have a breakthrough season. All of those teams, though, face significant questions and, in some cases, schedules that make more than eight wins seem unlikely.
My own thinking is that the West will end up with more teams ranked at the season's end. However, the divide between the divisions won't be as large as current prognostications suggest, as Ole Miss will probably end up closer to the bottom of the top 25 than the top. I believe they'll have a good year, but 'Bama or LSU will be the Gator bait in Atlanta. In future years, the competition between the divisions will continue to be tight, as many of the middling teams in the conference appear to be on the way up. The conference looks to be extremely deep in coming years.