I've been on here screaming about the lack of respect for LSU by the national media. Today I read a fair and responsible article by a sports journalist and I almost fell off of my chair. This is a great preview of the SEC by Pete Fiutak who is now on my radar as one of the few journalists who is not a complete jackass. I'm not happy because it says things I want to hear, I simply find it refreshing to see a sports journalist state the obvious and use common sense to make a point. SEC Preview - Pete Fiutak - College Football News When analyzing teams and players I always make it a point to be as fair and even-handed as possible. Beyond anything else, I try to void myself of any personal biases to give the most objective viewpoints that I can. Not here. Below are my brutally honest notes and thoughts for each team going into the season giving both positive and negative views. On the SEC - The SEC is, of course, strong, but it isn't quite the murderous top-to-bottom league of years past. Even so, the schedules are so brutal for the top teams that it will make a repeat national champion from the league almost impossible. Stick LSU or Georgia in the Pac 10 and give them USC's schedule and they go unbeaten without so much as a scratch. If USC had LSU's road slate playing at Georgia, Auburn, Florida and Arkansas (along with a possible rematch against Georgia in the SEC title game) you could kiss all Trojan Orange Bowl dreams bu-bye. It's easy to forget that LSU, as dominant as it was last year, and Georgia in 2002 each had an SEC loss. If two other BCS teams from other leagues go unbeaten then the SEC is hosed. If you're an SEC fan you should be rioting in the streets over the loss of strength-of-schedule in the BCS formula. Alabama - Push out the jive ... Bama fans are bursting with excitement as the Tide looks to be better after the first off-season in a long time without any major drama and with a coaching staff that's not going anywhere. Also helping is a somewhat easy opening seven games with the only killers coming up later at Tennessee, at LSU and Auburn. It's hard to believe that the Tide won't slip twice before Tennessee; this won't be the walk in the park many Tide fans are thinking it will be. Arkansas and Kentucky aren't great, but they'll be tough wins on the road. Ole Miss and South Carolina are better than you think. Bring in the love ... Part of the reason for the optimism was the way Bama lost five games last year by a touchdown or less. With QB Brodie Croyle feeding off the stability in the coaching staff to run the passing attack well and a defense that has the potential to be as dangerous as the great Tide teams of a few years ago, this is the sleeper team in the SEC West. Never discount how excited the program is about being able to go back to a bowl game this year. Arkansas - Push out the jive ... Much has been made about the Hogs' frightening lack of overall experience and it's 100% totally justified. Head coach Houston Nutt might be one of the SEC's better head coaches, but this year is a recipe for a major disaster with almost no returning starters on either side of the ball and schedule that couldn't look any more frightening outside of the layups against New Mexico State and UL Monroe. Bring in the love ... No one is going to take this team seriously and that could be a major mistake. It's not like Arkansas isn't going to be able to field an SEC quality team and it's not like the home field advantage that Nutt and his program have created will suddenly go away. Don't be shocked if one of the preseason big boys (Texas, Georgia and/or LSU) come out of Arkansas very, very upset. Auburn - Push out the jive ... If Auburn couldn't win the SEC championship with the defensive front seven it had last year, how is going to happen now with so many replacements needed for so many stars? The experienced pieces are in place for a better passing attack, but is offensive coordinator Al Borges really going to make that much of a difference right away? The jury is still out. Even so ... Bring in the love ... ... I still think the Tigers are going to either win the SEC West or come very, very close. If you take a hard look at last year, Auburn lost to two national champions, lost at Georgia, lost to Ole Miss because of a dropped touchdown pass that would be caught 99 out of 100 times, and the letdown after the USC loss against a good Georgia Tech defense. That's really not that bad. There's so much experience on offense and enough good players on D to pull off a few of the brutal games against LSU, Georgia, and at Tennessee. Florida - Push out the jive ... I honestly can't figure out how and why Florida is being given so much respect in all of the preseason rankings. What about this team is so much better than the wildly inconsistent five-loss squads of past seasons? The only thing I can come up with is an overhyped love for QB Chris Leak and Florida's overall brand name value. The secondary needs to be completely rebuilt and there really isn't anything about this team that stands out over and above other SEC teams. It's a solid team from top-to-bottom, but merely solid SEC teams usually end up with five losses. Bring in the love ... Ron Zook recruited his tail off since arriving in Gainesville and has enough good young players to hope for a good all-around season if everything comes together. After getting destroyed by Iowa, many have forgotten that it took miracles for Miami and Florida State to beat the Gators and there was a three-point loss to Ole Miss. Any team good enough to beat Georgia and LSU in the same season is potentially good enough to play for the SEC title. Georgia - Push out the jive ... You know at some point the ship is going to hit the iceberg and there's nothing that can be done to stop it. Georgia is one the three most talented teams in America (even without LB Odell Thurman and RB Kregg Lumpkin), but you can almost set your watch to the inevitable brain cramp against Florida. Even if the Dawgs pull off the win at the Cocktail Party they'll have games at South Carolina, at home against LSU and Tennessee, at Arkansas, and at Auburn will be a nightmare to get through unscathed. Bring in the love ... Georgia was able to win 11 games and get to the SEC championship game despite all of the off-season problems, all the in-season injuries and replacing the whole offensive line along with some All-America caliber defensive stars. While 2004 has gotten off to a rocky start with the problems with Thurman and Lumpkin, this is nothing the Dawgs can't handle compared to last year. Now there's just that pesky Florida problem. Kentucky - Push out the jive ... So what is the plan for Kentucky football? To be honest, Kentucky simply can't play it straight and hope to be a factor in the SEC; there has to be a wrinkle or two in the offense and something more than a bend-but-don't-break aspect to the D. The 2004 Wildcats don't look like anything more special than the group that went 4-8 last year. Bring in the love ... UK has to look at the schedule and demand four wins against Indiana, Ohio, at Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. A sweep of those four means the Wildcats are only two wins away from a bowl game and a very nice step in the right direction. The coaching staff is one of the most experienced in the SEC and should do a solid job getting the team up for every game. LSU - Push out the jive ... Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell are more talented quarterbacks than Matt Mauck and certainly have the potential to make the offense more explosive, but do they have the intangibles that Mauck had? All that matters is winning games and Mauck was able to do that as the steady leader in two SEC championship games to go along with the national title run. The Tigers are going to miss him more than they think. Bring in the love ... Find the hole. O.K., so the D line needs some rebuilding and the receiving corps has to hope the superstar recruits of the last few years start to shine right away, but the Tigers won the national title about two years ahead of schedule. Look for LSU, with all of the elite recruiting classes about to come through, to stay in the championship chase and among the top five teams in the nation for several years to come. Ole Miss - Push out the jive ... While Ole Miss was more than just Eli Manning last year, it's still a major loss to lose a player of his caliber. The Rebels could get past his graduation and still make a run at a great season and another good bowl if everything went the right way. The last thing they needed was off-the-field problems like the suspensions of RB Jamal Pittman and LB Ken Bournes and the distraction could become a major problem. The line in the SEC between success and failure is always razor thin; there can't be any more problems. Bring in the love ... While Micheal Spurlock won't put up the numbers that Manning did, don't be shocked if he turns out to be just as effective thanks to his mobility. The offensive line should be strong and the defense will eventually come together Mississippi State - Push out the jive ... Lost in all of the excitement of getting a new head coach is the fact that there's still little to no talent compared to the better SEC teams. Exactly where are the Bulldogs comparable with anyone in the SEC West? New head coach Sylvester Croom wants to run a West Coast attack using the pass to control the tempo, but the pieces aren't quite in place to do that yet. Bring in the love ... The defense has the potential to be very good if the secondary can come through right away. The run defense will be surprisingly good while there could be more consistent pressure than there was last year. There's no pressure right away to produce so the team can come out and focus on being competitive. This could be a sleeper team to watch for 2005. South Carolina - Push out the jive ... It seems like ten years ago since South Carolina was that up-and-coming force in the SEC under Lou Holtz. The pressure has been on over the last few seasons and it's really on this year with this looking like Holtz's last shot to make some SEC noise. At the very least the team needs to show signs of life after last year's collapse. The defensive tackles had better stay healthy or the run defense will be a major issue. Bring in the love ... If the quarterback situation becomes a slight strength, the potential is there for the Gamecocks to be a major thorn in the side of some teams with BCS dreams. Moe Thompson and George Gause have the potential to be the SEC's best defensive end pair if there's a little help from the tackles. The ground attack will dominate if Demetris Summers can live up to all of the hype being heaped upon him. Tennessee - Push out the jive ... What the heck happened to the days of Tennessee's high flying passing attack? The school of Manning, Price, Clausen, Shuler, Washington, Pickens and seemingly countless other great quarterbacks and receivers are gone. Where are the receivers? How could a program that consistently recruits as well as Tennessee be so empty at such a big position? This is a team full of million-dollar talent that has yet to play up to potential. Bring in the love ... I don't care about the bowl problems or the occasional issues of the last few years, winning 29 games in three seasons is impressive by any standard. If there's consistent play from the quarterbacks and the running game gets in high gear, this is a big sleeper for the BCS. The schedule looks brutal on paper but isn't all that horrible if the Vols can go unbeaten at home. The key will be to avoid slipping to teams like Ole Miss and South Carolina on the road. Vanderbilt - Push out the jive ... There's so much returning experience that this has to be the year Vandy shows a major sign of life in SEC play. It's Bobby Johnson's third season and there can't be any more concerns about the SEC being too tough. Northwestern, Stanford and Wake Forest have been viable programs over the last several years with many of the same restrictions the Commodores face. The time is now to be a factor. Bring in the love ... I know Florida, Alabama and Georgia fans might argue, but Jay Cutler has the most pro potential of any SEC quarterback. He's big and mobile only needing to become a bit more accurate and cut down on his interceptions before the scouts really start to take notice. Vandy will be a very interesting team if Cutler takes a step up in his overall play.