Football

Mark Story's prediction: Tide, Gators to return to SEC title game

Florida's John Brantley, who threw for 10 touchdowns with just one interception over the last two seasons while backing up Tim Tebow, is the new quarterback for the Gators.
Florida's John Brantley, who threw for 10 touchdowns with just one interception over the last two seasons while backing up Tim Tebow, is the new quarterback for the Gators. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Southeastern Conference football enters the year 1 AT on the "Tebowian Calendar."

Nevertheless, the league pillars of this new era look remarkably similar to the recent past.

Two years ago, Urban Meyer led Florida past an undefeated Alabama in the SEC championship game en route to the national championship.

Last season, Nick Saban led Alabama past an undefeated Florida in the SEC championship game en route to the national championship.

This season could yield two galactic confrontations between the conference titans: Meyer's Gators and Saban's Tide play Oct. 2 in Tuscaloosa and, if my predictions hold, will meet yet again in the league title game.

The biggest threats to the older order are Georgia in the East and Bobby Petrino and Arkansas in the West. (Predicted records in parentheses.)

SEC East

1. Florida (11-1 overall; 7-1 SEC): John Brantley will be the trivia answer to the question "Name the quarterback who followed Tim Tebow." The strong-armed junior should combine with some athletic new receivers to ensure the new QB an identity of his own.

1. Georgia (11-1, 7-1): Reports of Mark Richt's demise will prove exaggerated. Loss to Florida in Jacksonville will knock Dawgs out of title game.

3. South Carolina (7-5, 4-4): The Head Ball Coach has nine starters back on offense and seven returning on defense. Still, I don't see the kind of breakthrough year some are predicting.

4. Kentucky (7-5, 3-5): The schedule is favorable, but question marks in the defensive front will prevent Joker Phillips from "taking the next step forward for UK football" in his initial season.

4. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6): Third head coach in three years and player attrition will catch up with Vols.

6. Vanderbilt (1-11, 0-8): You think the loss of 26 lettermen played a role in Bobby Johnson's abrupt decision to exit?

SEC West

1. Alabama (11-1, 7-1): Tide haven't lost an SEC regular season game since 2007 — but will lose at Arkansas this year.

2. Arkansas (10-2, 6-2): Giving as gifted an offensive strategist as Bobby Petrino a quarterback as talented and experienced as Ryan Mallett is almost unfair.

3. LSU (9-3, 5-3): Since 2007 national title, Tigers are only 8-8 in SEC games — which is why there's a bit of heat forming beneath Les Miles' seat.

4. Auburn (8-4, 4-4): Some have Tigers starting 11-0, but I'm not that sold just yet on Gene Chizik.

5. Mississippi (7-5, 3-5): Houston Nutt teams usually fare better as underdogs, so the unheralded Rebels should be dangerous in 2010.

6. Mississippi State (3-9, 0-8): I like Dan Mullen, but MSU's schedule (road games with LSU, Houston, Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss; at home vs. Auburn, Georgia and Arkansas) is too brutal to overcome.

SEC Championship

Florida 21, Alabama 20: Assuming, as I do, that Alabama will win the regular season game against Urban Meyer & Co. in Tuscaloosa, there's no chance the Mighty Gators go down a third time in a row to the Saban-ic forces.

Is there?

SEC bowl teams

BCS Championship Game: Florida

Sugar: Alabama

Capital One: Georgia

Cotton: Arkansas

Outback: LSU

Chick-fil-A: Auburn

Gator: South Carolina

Music City: Mississippi

Liberty: Kentucky

Papapjohns.com: No other SEC team bowl-eligible

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