We're expected to be a very good team this year. I agree with that expectation. While there is the prospect that certain things will fail to fall into place, leading to great disappointment, I think the most likely scenario is that we end up being a very good team. Yes, we could even challenge for the SEC and national championship (more on that in coming days/weeks).
We will have titanic home struggles against the likes of Auburn and Florida. We will also have a tough early-season matchup against Virginia Tech, which may be the most anticipated non-conference game in all of college football this year. We also play the new Saban-led Bama here in Tuscaloosa this year; a game that is sure to have lots of drama and attention.
If you're looking for a "lesser" game to trip us up, I have a couple for you:
- September 22: Home game against South Carolina
- October 13: Road game against Kentucky
This year will be different. Kentucky has the best quarterback in the conference. South Carolina has tremendous skill-position players, a lot of experience returning, and some real playmakers on defense.
Blake Mitchell, as established, was the 2nd most effective QB in the league on a per play basis. He loses his most talented receiving target in Sidney Rice, but returns Kenny McKinley, whose numbers last year were excellent in the #2 role. Also returning is arguably the 3rd best running back in the country in Corey Boyd. The defense will be solid with the return of Jasper Brinkley at linebacker and his twin brother Casper. Don't overlook the return of kicker/punter Ryan Succop, who didn't miss an extra point or a field goal from under 40 yards last year, all while punting for a 44 yard average without putting the ball in the end zone once.
These players return to a team that only had one bad loss in 2006, and played Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Auburn close.
This is a team that, if its offensive line is good, and if it can find a solid #2 receiving target, is a really good team. We really need to be looking at this game as a big matchup, especially if they manage to beat Georgia on September 8, which could be their coming-out party. If they win that game, I think they challenge for the division title. They will have to overcome a tough road schedule though, which includes games in Baton Rouge, Athens, Fayetteville, and Knoxville (and in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but I'm not counting that one).
The good thing is that game is sandwiched between games against Middle Tennessee State and Tulane. We won't be beaten up, and we won't be looking ahead. We should be up and ready for this game.
Andre Woodson makes Kentucky dangerous. Finding a running game would make Kentucky REALLY dangerous. I don't know if they can do it, but that Kentucky game sits between games against Auburn and Florida. If there is any game in which we will be either beaten up or looking ahead, it will be the Kentucky game. Put that game on the road against a dangerous QB, and there is the potential of trouble. I think we're a lot better than Kentucky, but if we aren't ready for them, they can beat us.
The good news is that Kentucky had a poor running game, a poor defense, and poor pass protection last year. That's pretty much every phase of the game other than passing and special teams. (Special teams weren't that great either). The weakness showed as LSU beat Kentucky 49-0 at home, but Woodson alone was good enough to lead Kentucky to a bowl game, and a bowl win. I don't think you can ever say a team with a QB that good doesn't have a chance, particularly given where Kentucky falls on the schedule.
So, definitely look forward to the big matchups, but don't forget about these two.