Regular readers of this site know that I approach the 2009 season with an attitude which vacillates between utter trepidation and mere pessimism. Where Manic Kyle ruled the roost a year ago, Depressive Kyle now declares all hope is lost and 7-5 is inevitable. Whence, though, are the wins and losses going to come?
I, like vineyarddawg, am going to try to take a stab at answering that question. Here, from least stressful to most frightening, are the Bulldogs’ games, arranged according to the fear factor they represent, in my estimation:
12. Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles: In spite of the fact that Watson Brown evidently was quite the looker back in the day, I’m not terribly worried that his Division I-AA squad is going to come to Athens and Appalachian State the Red and Black. This is the only relaxing game on the slate.
11. Florida Gators: Let me be perfectly clear upon this point: Florida will win the SEC East without the need to rely upon any tiebreakers; Florida will attend and win the SEC championship game; Florida will attend and win the BCS national championship game; Florida will be crowned the undisputed No. 1 team in the land in January 2010 . . . and the Gators, who inevitably will lose a game, will come up short in Jacksonville, thanks to the open date, the 19-year cycles, the Bulldogs’ record against defending national champions, and Lane Kiffin’s offseason antics. It’ll be 1985 all over again as the Red and Black beat the top-ranked Sunshine State Saurians to card their only truly significant victory of the autumn.
10. Vanderbilt Commodores: The Music City Sailors have never been to bowl games in back-to-back seasons. Heck, they’ve only once been to bowl games in back-to-back decades. Even in Nashville, I ain’t afraid of no ‘Dores.
9. Kentucky Wildcats: Even though Georgia gets the Blue and White between the hedges, Rich Brooks’s squad is apt to be a wee bit better than Vandy, so I’ll sweat this one slightly more than I’ll sweat the one against the Commodores. I’m still putting this one in the "reasonably safe win" column, though.
8. Arizona St. Sun Devils: Here is where I start to get nervous. Yes, I know Rudy Carpenter is gone and ASU is 0-4 against SEC teams and the Sun Devils haven’t played in the humidity of the Southeast in more than a decade, but Arizona State has Dennis Erickson, a boatload of offensive linemen, and designs on righting the ship after this debacle in the desert. The Devils may not get the win, but the ‘Dawgs will get their best shot.
7. Tennessee Volunteers: The Big Orange faithful know just how big a game this is for the Vols. On paper, it shouldn’t be much of a contest, but it is in Knoxville and, frankly, the fear that accompanies this game this year (unlike in the 1990s, when it was genuine Florida-type fear) is a lot like the fear that annually accompanies the games against South Carolina and Georgia Tech: "What kind of crap are we going to have to take for the next year if these guys somehow find a way to get out of this game with a win?" I didn’t like losing to them when they had Phillip Fulmer, David Cutcliffe, and John Chavis, but those were talent-laden, well-coached teams and there is no dishonor in falling to a superior force. The shame of losing to Lane Kiffin would be almost too much to bear.
6. South Carolina Gamecocks: 25 of the 61 series meetings have been settled by margins of seven or fewer points. In six of the last eight seasons, we have seen final scores of 14-9, 13-7, 20-16, 17-15, 16-12, and 14-7 in this matchup. What possible reason could we have for doubting that the Classic City Canines and the Palmetto State Poultry will battle down to the wire one more time?
5. Arkansas Razorbacks: I’m not worried about Bobby Petrino (assuming he is still the head coach of the Hogs by September 19) or anything funky Arkansas does offensively. I am, however, worried about having to travel that far to face a team that gets to tune up against Missouri State and take a break before facing the Red and Black.
4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Unlike many folks, I am not getting starry-eyed over the Engineers’ 18 returning starters, 61 returning lettermen, and "flexbone" offense; I remember Pepper Rodgers, I know how motivated that made the Red and Black, and I know Georgia Tech handles expectations even worse than we do. However, the MVP of the 2009 Ramblin’ Wreck squad is the guy who made up the schedule. In the five weeks leading up to their game against Georgia, the Yellow Jackets face, in succession, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and Duke before getting an open date the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The Golden Tornado starters will have played about eight quarters’ worth of football in the five weeks prior to facing the ‘Dawgs. A road game against a rested opponent is always dangerous, especially against a rival that spends the other eleven games of the year singing about you.
3. Auburn Tigers: Admittedly, it’s looking pretty bleak for the Plainsmen, what with Gene Chizik being their head coach and Bobby Lowder’s bank folding and all, but those dastardly devils in the so-called Loveliest Village are just lulling us into a false sense of security. They have us right where they want us, since Georgia almost certainly will have a better record than Auburn and the game will be played in Athens. Having the home field and the higher ranking are the dual kisses of death in this series. You want further proof of the risk the Bulldogs are running in this game? Fine: Georgia currently has a three-game series winning streak. The last three times the Classic City Canines had a three-game series winning streak against the Tigers were from 1950 to 1952, from 1966 to 1968, and from 1980 to 1982. Auburn beat Georgia in 1953, 1969, and 1983. I hate Auburn.
2. LSU Tigers: Stick a great big question mark next to Jordan Jefferson’s name if you must. Defense still wins championships and the Bayou Bengals have returning talent and a proven new coordinator on that side of the ball. Louisiana State should cruise through the first four games on the slate, making the showdown in Sanford Stadium the Tigers’ first real test of the season. You’d better believe they’ll be ready.
1. Oklahoma St. Cowboys: If we rearranged the schedule to move Tennessee Tech to Labor Day weekend and bump the Pokes to November 7, OSU might not worry me quite so much, but this is one of the biggest games in Cowboy history and is being played on the road. Mike Gundy and company understand how huge a step their program can take on the national stage with a win on September 5, and Oklahoma State wants revenge for the last time the two teams met. If the crowd gets into it early, it could get ugly for the visitors. Although I’m looking forward to being there, I’m not so sure I’m going to like what I see when T. Kyle King enters T. Boone Pickens Stadium.
All right, now it’s your turn. Which teams have I underrated? Which ones have I overrated? From whom and to whom should my fretting be shifted? Which opponent scares you the most?