Football season's so close you can practically taste it. We're less than 24 hours away from actual SEC pigskin, which means it's time for me to finish my list of the things I'm looking forward to this season in the SEC. Among other things, I'm looking forward to:
10) The Auburn offense: Cam Newton is about as close physically as Gus Malzahn's ever going to get to Tim Tebow. He brings an additional dimension to Malzahn's offense that Chris Todd just never could. If the WarTigerSociologists can keep Lee Ziemba onsides and prevent him from tearing anyone's arms off, they should put up a lot of points in year two. Malzahn's offense is just a lot of fun to watch. A lot more fun than it is to scheme against, I'm sure.
9) The Auburn defense: Remember your crazy college roommate? The one who engaged in all sorts of capers that were at once hilariously funny and painfully stupid? That's kind of what it must be like to be the flipside of the frantic gerbil-on-a-wheel that is the Auburn offense. They score a lot of points, in a hurry. They also could go 3 and out more times in one quarter than most plodding offenses will in an entire game. The price you pay when Malzahn's fast-paced offense starts rolling snake eyes? Less time for your defense to rest and make adjustments, and more time to exchange dirty looks with your offensive counterparts as you swap places on the field once again. A lot of Auburn fans believe that last year's poor defensive stats happened in spite of an unprecedented offensive explosion. I would submit that the defense was often under pressure because of the offense. It will be very interesting to see if 2010 is any different.
8) Alabama at Arkansas, September 25th: Alabama's defense has been the subject of much conjecture this offseason. The Tide have as much talent on defense as anyone in the country. But you don't replace guys like Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas without some growing pains. If ever there was an offense calculated to test Bama's young secondary, it would be the attack led by Ryan Mallett and featuring Greg Childs, Joe Adams and D.J. Williams. If 2010 is to be Arkansas and Bobby Petrino's coming out party in the SEC West, they must show up for this one.
7) Les Miles to Michigan rumors: It seems like only yesterday that Les Miles was telling us all to have a great day and denying any interest in the Michigan job. Funny how time slips away, isn't it Les? And you could be forgiven for thinking that anyone who seriously broaches the notion of the Mad
Chronographer Hatter moving up to Ann Arbor should be committed themselves. But if LSU is 5-0 on October 3rd (not an unreasonable prediction given their soft early schedule) and Michigan drops its first two to Connecticut and Notre Dame, somebody's gonna say it. And most of the SEC will giggle uncontrollably in response.
6) Florida at Alabama, October 2nd: A rematch of the 2009 SEC Championship Game, sure. The premiere matchup of the conference schedule? Quite possibly. But more than anything this is the game on the Gators' early schedule that they are most likely to drop, and we may very well need the Gators to have at least one in the L column going to Jacksonville if the Cocktail Party is to be a battle for the SEC East. Plus, I just like to see Florida lose. It puts a smile on my face and a spring in my step. So sue me.
5) Orson Charles: Every year there are a handful of guys who seem to me primed for a breakout. While Orson had a great freshman campaign (21 catches for 366 yards and 3 TDs) I believe that this will be the year in which he really asserts himself. Charles is bigger, faster, stronger, and perhaps most importantly, wiser than he was in 2009. He'll also be called upon to help A.J. Green make Aaron Murray look good. He will. I'm guessing something in the neighborhood of 32 receptions for 520 yards. Those are big numbers for a tight end, but I think Orson Charles is a bigtime tight end.
4) Tennessee in transition: First, a confession. Most of the Tennessee fans I know are supremely nice people. Seriously. I don't know if it's because below the gnat line the Volunteer diaspora is so thin that they all know better thaN to be arrogant or if I've just been lucky. But even the ones I contact through the internet are really smart, insightful and even-handed college football fans (I'm looking at you, Rocky Top Talk crew and Holly, among others). But as a Georgia fan who really came of age in the mid to late 1990's, the suffering of Urnge Nation as a whole is like a fine wine to me. I can drink it in, bottle after bottle. The Vols are not likely to be better than last season, and I am looking forward to it. Because that 1997 lashing still stings, 13 years later.
3) Aaron Murray: Remember that warm, fuzzy feeling you had about David Greene coming into his 3rd and 4th seasons as the Bulldog starter? This season is (hopefully) the first step in that direction for young Murray. I take all the attaboys from coaches about his work ethic and leadership with a grain of salt. I heard all of those things about Joe Cox and Joe Tereshinski. But I've seen Aaron Murray throw the football, and he is simply better at throwing a football than those guys were at the same point in their careers. If Murray masters the mental game, the sky is the limit for him. He is going to struggle, especially early. But I am really looking forward to seeing his development as the season progresses.
2) Justin Houston: The young man from Statesboro could make himself a lot of money this season if he takes to Todd Grantham's defense the way that I think he will. Houston stayed out of trouble this offseason and has been committed to getting better. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be his last season in the red and black. If the season ends with 12 sacks and a host of tackles for loss, I think I'm ok with that.
1) The 1st Annual Dawg Sports Sacrificial Goat Roast: This event epitomizes what the SBNation community concept is about. Thanks to podunkdawg for taking the lead in organizing, all of you who have contributed suggestions to improve the event, who submitted teeshirt designs, and who will be there either in person or in spirit. I can't wait.
As always, your lists are welcome and encouraged in the comments. Until Thursday . . .