The 2006 SEC season will be a year of transitions for a lot of the traditional powers. Off the field distractions have been relatively few in this hyper active league, which leaves most of the changes thankfully in player personal changes. There are some intriguing questions that will be answered over the next few months.

Being from the Upstate of South Carolina, an ACC enclave, surrounded by SEC territory, I have always been a bit fascinated by the spectacle of the SEC as much as the actual competition, in a rubber necking, looking at a traffic accident sort of way. A lot of the soap opera action in the SEC has been toned down.

Time will tell if the academic fraud accusations against Auburn will stand, but heat will turn up if the Tigers advance far up the national polls. All fans will still hate Georgia, Spurrier will get more media attention than his team, fans will still have a love/hate relationship with Mike Shula and the world will go on. Should be fun to watch from my natural ACC perspective.
Will Georgia have a a stable QB and O line? Will Tennessee recover from last season’s disaster? Can Auburn survive the preseason hype? Will probation cause depth issues to appear at Alabama? Will Arkansas and South Carolina make a move from the middling pack of the conference and show signs of being competitive for the league crown?

SEC East

The eastern division should be the more compelling this year, if for no other reason than there really is not a clear cut favorite at the end of the summer. Saying that, the following is my prediction for how the East will shake out.

1. Florida – Chris Leak ends his college career on a high note as the transition to Coach Meyer’s offense becomes more complete. Defensive depth should carry the team against teams like Georgia and USC.

2. Georgia – The Bulldogs defense should carry the offense, as they transition a new quarterback the first half of the season. I expect the Bulldogs to play quite well towards the end of the year.

3. Tennessee – The Volunteers will rebound and win 8 or 9 games this season and yes, David Cutcliffe’s return will pay dividends, but the Vols are still predictable enough to lose to both Georgia and Florida.

4. South Carolina – In Steve Spurrier’s second the season, the Gamecocks will have the benefit of an easier schedule, with only Florida and Clemson as difficult games on the road. But struggles on the lines on both sides of the ball will prevent this team from controlling any evenly matched team.

5. Kentucky – The Wildcats will show some signs of life this season, especially running the ball. The October match-up in Lexington vs. USC will be for a bowl game.

6. Vanderbilt – Without Cutler, the most underrated QB in years in the SEC, the Commodores settle back to earth, win 3 to 4 games.

SEC West

The SEC West this season will be a two team match-up. Arkansas and Alabama will be playing for third and the Egg Bowl is for pride only.

1. Auburn – Probably the best overall team in the South, the Tigers rightfully have national title hopes. Kenny Irons and a fast defense will have huge years.

2. LSU – Les Miles may end up being a better coach than Saban on the bayou. Were the Auburn game at Baton Rouge…

3. Arkansas – an improved Razorback squad coupled with an easier schedule makes this third place choice in the west a no-brainer.

4. Alabama – after the high of the Cotton Bowl, a lack of depth on defense plus a one dimensional offense means the Crimson Tide will struggle to 7 wins this year

5. Mississippi – plays Kentucky and Vanderbilt plus new quaterback and the Rebels have a nice break even year, might squeak into a bowl

6. Mississippi St. – Lack of talent continues to haunt the Bulldogs. If they can beat South Carolina to start the season, a 6-6 campaign is possible. But the skill positions just will not be consistent enough.

SEC Title

Auburn will defeat Florida for the second time and if all goes well, will use the SEC title to advance to the BCS title game in the first week of January.