SEC Football: Who is ready?

"Throwing beer bottles at cars, really?"

Before we get down to Kentucky Wildcats specifics in the week leading up to the Governor's Cup, here is a 360 look at various subplots around the SEC. As always, there will be no lack of intrigue or talent. The best football this side of the NFL kicks off its season in just 4 days, when the South Carolina Gamecocks travel to Nashville to meet the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Both the 'Dores and the Cocks will be dealing with increased expectations. Steve Spurrier's crew starts off the season as consensus top ten team. We've been down this road, it always seems like South Carolina is picked to have a breakout year. This time it seems realistic, since they are coming off an 11-2 season, finally have a settled QB situation with Connor Shaw, and hopefully have Marcus Lattimore back for the year. The Cocks do add a game at LSU to the mix in 2012 (October 6).

As for Vandy, the rise of the program is well chronicled. James Franklin has serious recruiting chops, and more importantly (in the short run) has his team and the fans believing in the program. The Commodores have a dream schedule (no LSU, Alabama or Arkansas) so a return to a bowl game seems like a good bet. If Vandy can win its opener at home, Franklin will start thinking bigger thoughts. A big key for Vandy will be how they handle two out of conference road games against BCS opponents. Northwestern (September 8, 8:00pm Big Ten Network) and Wake Forest (November 24th) await.

*The Arkansas Razorbacks return 13 starters, including QB Tyler Wilson, and add RB Knile Davis (who sat out with an injury last year) back into the mix. Missing is coach Bobby Petrino, who paid for an ill advised fling with a 25 year-old employee with his job. (On an offhand note, if I lined up every coach in the SEC last year and asked you who'd get canned for shtupping a young blonde former college volleyball player, would anyone have guessed this troll? I mean, he's always been a lousy guy, but he deserves some props for finding more than one person to sleep with him). John L. Smith in on hand to pick up the pieces. The Razorbacks get both Alabama and LSU at home, and have more skill position talent than either. How they react to the scandal and Smith's softer touch is anyone's guess. I do know this: In an SEC fantasy draft, no way Wilson or Davis last past the fifth pick.

*Will Muschamp was once the fair haired boy of college football. Muschamp left Texas (where he was coach-in-waiting) for a chance to helm the Florida Gators. After a lackluster 2011, where the Gators were a 5 point win over Vandy away from losing 6 straight, his butt is already a little warm. Florida has yet to settle on a QB, with sophomores Jeff Driscoll and Jacoby Brissett both expected to play extensively next week against Bowling Green. Gator fans are used to winning, and not blessed with a ton of patience. Florida was 105th in the country in total offense last year. That ain't going to cut it. If the Gator offense does turn things around this year, look for offensive coordinator Brent Pease's name to appear on the lips of restless Kentucky Wildcats fans.

*The Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers figure to remain among college football's elite, and each has a legitimate chance to extend the SEC's National Championship string to seven. I'm not concerned about LSU getting over the loss of Tyrann Mathieu. After all, he wasn't even their best corner last year, and there are several All-SEC type talents waiting in the wings there. I'm going to focus on Zach Mettenberger, who people seem to assume will step in and cure all the Tigers' passing game woes. Question: if Mettenberger is so good, why couldn't he beat out either of the shaky guys who were back there last year?

As for Alabama, they are Alabama. There is no reason to believe the Tide won't keep rolling.

*Finally, there is the curious case of Derek Dooley. Make no mistake, Tennessee was bad last year. But for an overtime home win against Vandy, the Volunteers would not have won an SEC game. The crescendo came in an inexplicable season ending (and bowl eligibility denying) loss to quarterbackless Kentucky. This summer, things got worse, with talented dingbat QB Tyler Bray involved in a couple incidents and the indefinite suspension of WR Da'Rick Rodgers, the team's best player. Tennessee fired a school legend three years ago, so it deserves all the bad karma it gets (well, because of that but also just because it is Tennessee). Dooley, on the other hand, he is just the poor schmuck walking around with a rain cloud over his head. My guess is he's gone unless UT can get back to a bowl in 2012.

* ** *** **** ***** **** *** ** *

OTHER SUBPLOTS:

1. Missouri Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies join the league. Who will have the most immediate impact?

2. Will the West continue its dominance over the East?

3. Will UK or the Ole Miss Rebels (or both) end up wearing the SEC collar with an 0-8 record? Many predict so.

TOP GAMES:

September 1: Alabama v. Michigan Wolverines (at Arlington, TX-ABC 8:00pm)

September 15: Alabama at Arkansas (CBS 3:30pm)

October 6: Georgia Bulldogs at South Carolina

October 13: Florida at Vanderbillt

October 27th: Florida v. Georgia (Jacksonville, FL)

November 3: Alabama at LSU

November 23: LSU at Arkansas (CBS 2:30pm)

November 24:Auburn at Alabama

Follow me on Twitter @AlexScutchfield

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