I'm stealing MaconDawg's clever italics-styled intro. That's not my problem. It's not your problem. It's MaconDawg's problem. And if he wants to ban me for stealing, that's his prerogative, and I'll accept it. Just remember, good artists copy... great artists steal.
When Kyle took his (apparently triennial) vacation last year, he asked several regular contributors, including myself, to post articles in his absence. For that post, I both made a 2009 SEC order-of-finish prediction and paired each SEC team to a counterpart in international
football soccer. That article seemed to be received rather well (even if my predictions were, let's say, not quite as accurate as I'd like), so I've decided to do it again this year.
I would normally wait until a later point in the off-season, or even fall practice, to do this prediction, but the World Cup is starting in just a few short weeks, and the comparisons will be much more fun if they're also serving as a prediction of how the World Cup with play out, as well.
I will start with the division we all care about most.
Florida - Argentina: This team has an incredible amount of talent, and one has to wonder why they don't walk over virtually everyone they play. As usually happens with great players, though, chemistry can cause problems that are hard to fix. Also, their coach is a loud, brash, self-important malcontent that quite possibly has a cocaine problem. (See? This is how rumors start.) Surprisingly, though, this fits right in with their team's and fan base's culture. If by some miracle they can pull it together and stay sober for an entire month, they can win it all.
South Carolina - Côte d'Ivoire: On paper, this team looks like they possibly could be a favorite this year. You can't argue with more than 100 years of tradition, however, and tradition says they haven't got a snowball's chance in hell (which, unsurprisingly, is a descriptive term frequently applied to their home). It's certainly seems accurate to say, however, that if it doesn't happen for them this year, it ain't never gonna happen.
Georgia - England: Georgia is unquestionably like St. George's Army. They play in what is unquestionably the toughest league(confederation) in the land, and they clearly have some of the best players in that league year in and year out. So, the question is, why have they been so terrible when it counts recently? Oh sure, they can put up impressive scores when it only mildly matters, but put them in a prime-time game against a heavyweight opponent with the entire football world watching, and you won't recognize the team on the field. To hope that they will even sniff a championship is laughable.... to pin your hopes upon great success of any kind is foolhardy. The most you can hope is that they will look very impressive in defeat once they get to the big stage, instead of getting thoroughly thrashed by either the opponents or the officials (as has happened several times in the past).
Tennessee - South Korea: This team has had a significant amount of upheaval. They have an unproven coach and some good players have left the team, but they still have a skilled nucleus. The group they're playing in is also weak enough that they should still make a respectable showing this year. If they get a little lucky, they may even finish in a better than mediocre position.
They also both wear ugly uniforms and have crazy fans.
Kentucky - Greece: This is the little team (nation) that could. They've been plucky and shown incredible fight in a division in which they're perennially overmatched, and had great success (by their measure) over the last few years. It's time to revert back to the mean, however... this success simply can't last.
Vanderbilt - South Africa: If they weren't automatically granted the right to be here, they wouldn't even be in the discussion. Their fans have had reason to hope due to results from the past 3-4 years, but the most recent results show that the short-lived success was just that... short-lived. Their place on the competitive stage this year will be short and not sweet. Also, at their home matches, they have loud horns that are incredibly annoying when they get blown.
Yeah, that's about right.
Alabama - Brazil: This team is one of the powerhouses. You look at them and say, "Well, they've lost too many of their best players." Even while saying that, though, you know they're still the team to beat. They can't throw their jerseys on the field and win this year, but everyone that plays them will likely still be an underdog.
There are other quite pleasant similarities, as well.
Arkansas - USA - A few great players, but very little real depth. If they get their best stars on the field, they could certainly make things interesting. Just one or two injuries, though, could spell disaster. This is the team about which it must be said, "I'll believe you can win it all when you actually do it."
LSU - France: You think their coach is an idiot; I think their coach is an idiot. In fact, they think their coach is an idiot. So, why does he still have a job when his team chronically underperforms, he mismanages the wealth of talent he has, and his strategic mastery of football is analogous to a checkers player's strategic mastery of chess? Heck, your guess is as good as mine. This program is on the way down, not up, and if they have success this year, it will be in spite of their coach, not because of him (as usual).
France's coach Raymond Domenech, in the traditional French "I surrender" pose.
Auburn - Serbia: Nobody really knows what to expect from this team. They have a long history of success, but that would surprise most people, since they are widely considered a regional power who can't win big when it matters. They actually have the potential to be quite good, and they'll surprise some people throughout the year.
Mississippi - Uruguay: Hey, remember back about 50 years ago when this team won it all? No? Well, nobody can blame you, since nobody really remembers a time when this team was a legitimate title contender. They've both had some really good players, including this year, and a coach that's crazy, but the good kind of crazy, but you also think there just might be a chance that he might take all of his clothes off, run into the stands, and just sit down and start looking around as if to say, "What are you looking at?"
Mississippi State - New Zealand: This will be the best winless team in the SEC (World Cup) this year. (natch.)
Of course, SEC football and the World Cup also share other similarities. For one, I can think of many worse things to do than spend a whole day watching matches from either. Also, they are without a doubt the most popular sporting events in the states involved in their respective competitions. The World Cup draws in billions in TV revenue... and the SEC draws at least a billion from its TV contract, too.
In short, June 11 - July 11 will be a football lover's paradise, as will be the Saturdays from September 4 - December 4. As a USA and Georgia fan, I'm not so sure of my teams' chances. As a big fan of both varieties of football, however, I'm absolutely pumped about the upcoming months as a whole.