News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

A capsule look
at each school

Western Division


2006 record: 6-7 (2-6, tied for fourth in SEC West)

2006 bowl game: Lost 34-31 to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl.

The Big Story: Since Alabama lured Nick Saban away from the Miami Dolphins six months ago, the talk in Tuscaloosa and throughout the conference has centered on him. That trend will continue throughout Bamaís season. The highest paid coach in college football undoubtedly will be under the microscope as he tries to resurrect the Crimson Tide. At a salary of about $4 million, Tide fans will expect more than just a mediocre season.

The Big Game: Against LSU on Nov. 3. Yes, the Florida State game will be important, but thatís not the way to Atlanta. Alabama will have to go through the Bayou Bengals, Nick Sabanís former team, to win the West.


2006 record: 10-4 (7-1, first in SEC West)

2006 bowl game: Lost 17-14 to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

The Big Story: Arkansasí offseason has been full of turmoil. After losing its last three games of the 2006 season, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and highly-touted quarterback Mitch Mustain left the team abruptly. Malzahn went to Tulsa, and Mustain to Southern Cal. Through all of this, though, the Razorbacks still have Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden in the backfield, along with a hoard of other backs. Another brutal running attack awaits the Razorbacksí opponents this season.

The Big Game: At Alabama on Sept. 16. A win like this on the road early in the season could set the stage for another run at the SEC West crown for the Razorbacks. Now, if they could just win the title game. (They lost in 2002 and 2006.)


2006 record: 11-2 (6-2, tied for second in SEC West)

2006 bowl game: Won 17-14 over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl.

The Big Story: Filling holes on offense will be Tommy Tubervilleís biggest challenge. The Tigers lose a record-breaking running back and receiver, along with four offensive linemen. And donít forget about special teams. The Tigers have to replace two kickers and a punter, but Auburn and Tuberville have proven in the past that when expectations are low, they excel.

The Big Game(s): The Tigersí road schedule is brutal: at Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and LSU. If they go 2-2 through that stretch, they may find themselves in the hunt for yet another SEC West title.


2006 record: 11-2 (6-2, tied for second in SEC West)

2006 bowl game: Won 41-14 over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.

The Big Story: The pressure on coach Les Miles has never been greater. The Tigers may find themselves as one of the top three teams in the nation when the preseason polls are released. But can quarterback Matt Flynn deliver? He has started one game in his three years at LSU, a lopsided win in the 2005 Peach Bowl. Tiger fans, no doubt, expect a national championship this year. The pressure on Miles and Flynn will be high as LSU opens the college football season against Mississippi State on Thursday night.

The Big Game: Against Virginia Tech on Sept. 8. The Tigers canít afford to slip up early in the season. A win against a good Hokies team will make a statement and is needed to get to the national championship game.

Mississippi State

2006 record: 3-9 (1-7, sixth in SEC West)

2006 bowl game: None.

The Big Story: Win more than three games. The welcome mat has been yanked from under the feet of coach Sylvester Croom, who, heading into his fourth season, is 9-25 with just four conference wins. A bowl would be nice for the Bulldogs, but a win total of more than three might suffice for one more year. Athletics Director Larry Templeton, who hired Croom, will be gone this time next year. No doubt, a new AD will want to see the Bulldogs playing in the postseason in 2008 or else.

The Big Game: Against LSU on Aug. 30. MSU again kicks off the college football season on national television. One canít expect the Bulldogs to beat the Tigers. But if they keep it close (within two touchdowns), it would be a solid start to the year.

Ole Miss

2006 record: 4-8 (2-6, tied for fourth in SEC West)

2006 bowl game: None.

The Big Story: Running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis will have to carry the Rebels to the postseason if there will be one. Green-Ellis was the one bright spot in a second dim year under coach Ed Orgeron, who has gone 3-8 and 4-8 in two seasons with the Rebels. Green-Ellis averaged more than 4 yards a carry last season. The real question lies with a passing game that ranked dead last in the SEC last season. The quarterback situation must be rectified so the pressure is taken off Green-Ellis. Ole Miss quarterbacks completed 47 percent of their passes last year.

The Big Game: At Vanderbilt on Sept. 15. The Rebels have had trouble with the Commodores in past, although they have won four of the last five, the average margin of victory is five points. Ole Miss must get this road win early in the season to have hopes of going bowling in postseason.

SEC Eastern Division


2006 record: 13-1 (7-1, first in SEC East, SEC Champions)

2006 bowl game: Won 41-14 over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game.

The Big Story: Tim Tebow, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound sophomore, will call the shots from behind center. Last season, he played mostly in a running role, but his arm will be the focus this year as he tries to lead the defending national champs back to Atlanta and beyond. Last season, Tebow completed 22 of 33 pass attempts, threw five touchdowns and only one interception. He rushed for 469 yards and scored eight touchdowns.

The Big Game: Against Georgia on Oct. 27. The Worldís Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party once again may decide the SEC East crown. Florida has won 15 of the last 17 meetings.


2006 record: 9-4 (4-4, tied for third in SEC East)

2006 bowl game: Won 31-24 over Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl.

The Big Story: For the first time in 33 years, Georgia lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the same season. The Bulldogs had many woes 2006, including freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had seven touchdowns to 13 interceptions. But Stafford improved late in the year and Georgia won its last three games. More will be expected of the young QB this season.

The Big Game: At Tennessee on Oct. 6. Before facing Florida, the Bulldogs must go to Knoxville where they have won in their last two trips.


2006 record: 8-5 (4-4, tied for third in SEC East)

2006 bowl game: Won 28-20 over Clemson in the Music City Bowl.

The Big Story: Andrť Woodson may be the SECís best quarterback. Woodson, who was selected by the league coaches to the All-SEC preseason first team, led the conference last season in passing yardage and total offense and was second in passing efficiency. Wide receiver Keenan Burton, a second-team preseason All-SEC selection, and running back Rafael Little return for their senior season. But the defense is the concern for the Wildcats, who allowed 269 yards passing a game last year, ranking 118th in the nation.

The Big Game: Against Tennessee on Nov. 24. Another eight-win season will be tough for the Wildcats, but they do have eight home games for the first time in school history. The home finale against Tennessee may be the win they need to go bowling for a second straight year.

South Carolina

2006 record: 8-5 (3-5, 5th in SEC East)

2006 bowl game: Won 44-36 over Houston in the Liberty Bowl.

The Big Story: The loss of receiver Sydney Rice to the NFL will hurt coach Steve Spurrierís Fun íN Gun offense, but the defense returns a whopping 10 starters. In his first two years, Spurrier has taken the Gamecocks to back-to-back bowl games and nearly won the SEC East in his first season, beating Tennessee and Florida. The question is whether South Carolina can join Tennessee, Georgia and Florida as an SEC East powerhouse and can they ever win the division crown?

The Big Game: Against Florida on Nov. 10. If the Gamecocks are to vie for the East title, theyíll need to beat Florida at home in the conference finale. Last year, they lost 17-16 in Gainesville, Fla.


2006 record: 9-4 (5-3, second in SEC East)

2006 bowl game: Lost 20-10 to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

The Big Story: Phillip Fulmer has found it difficult over the last few years to compete with Georgia and Florida, but now South Carolina and even Kentucky and Vanderbilt are legitimate foes. (Vandy beat the Vols in 2005.) Fulmer has an experienced quarterback to trust in this year: Eric Ainge. But the top three pass catchers have gone, leaving Ainge with inexperience for hands. Fulmerís seat has cooled some since the team went 5-6 in 2005, but Vol fans want to be back in Atlanta.

The Big Game: Against Georgia on Oct. 6. The Vols have two road worries on the schedule (Florida and Alabama). They must take advantage of an early, crucial SEC home game against the Bulldogs if they want to be back in the Georgia Dome.


2006 record: 4-8 (1-7, sixth SEC East)

2006 bowl game: None.

The Big Story: A bowl game. For the last two years, Vandy has let six-win seasons slip through its fingers. The program has been to just three bowl games in history, the last in 1982. In 2005, a 4-0 start was followed by a six-game losing streak, and in 2006 the Commodores lost back-to-back games to Alabama and Arkansas by a total of five points. When is six-year coach Bobby Johnsonís team going to win the close ones and get to that elusive bowl game?

The Big Game: Against Kentucky on Nov. 10. The winner of this game may be bowling, while the loser sits in the basement of the SEC East.

- Ross Dellenger

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