1. Florida: No shock here. And there are some parallels with the UNC hoops squad. You’ve no doubt heard comparisons between both teams’ stars, Tim Tebow and Tyler Hansbrough. Both will go down as among the greatest players in college sports. Tebow may leave Gainesville as the greatest college football player ever. Each also has been dogged by skepticism about their pro prospects and backlash about the media’s love for each. But UF is much more than just Tebow. The defense is loaded, and star LB Brandon Spikes is back, too. Other reasons to like UF to win it all: The next-best team in the SEC East, Georgia, has to replace its two best players, QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno; UF’s nonconference slate is very manageable, with the only top-50 caliber foe being FSU (and that game is in Gainesville). The biggest hurdle in the regular season is a trip to LSU.
4. Ole Miss: This may look crazy, but keep reading. The Rebels are fearless. They won at both Florida and LSU last season. They have a budding star at quarterback in Jevan Snead, some terrific receivers, and potentially the best D-line in the country. They also have the luxury of playing the softest nonconference schedule in the country, with two games against FCS teams, UAB and a Memphis team they beat every year. Better still, they get Alabama and LSU at home. Can the Rebs handle success and expectations now? We’ll see. A Thursday night trip to South Carolina appears to be the toughest road game.
8. LSU: The Tigers still have a ton of talent and rode a dominant bowl performance into the offseason, and that should take some concerns away from the quarterback questions that dogged them all of 2008. Even though their out-of-conference schedule is suspect, the Tigers’ SEC slate doesn’t fall too favorably: at Georgia, followed by a visit from Florida; later they have to go to Tuscaloosa and to Oxford.