More than usual suspects have shot in SEC race


There is a tendency when you are listening to coaches or players or other members of the media who you trust or even the guys on the SEC Network to see the path.

You know all about the path and how different it can be from school to school. The path leads back to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game, which is the goal of all 14 teams we just saw at the College Football Hall of Fame.

Of course, some of those paths are a little more treacherous than others. But when you are there listening to the optimism, you can close your eyes and imagine how it could go right for each of the teams and they could play in that over-the-top stadium. (It’s amazing, by the way.)

It’s funny, but you go there thinking it’s Alabama and then everybody else and you come away thinking Vanderbilt has a real shot at the East. Certainly, Derek Mason sounded like the Commodores do.

Then you step away from it all for a couple of days and common sense returns and you decide the conference race really comes down to a handful of teams. That’s usually the case, but there are reasons to think that this year may be a bit of a crapshoot.

Alabama lost 12 players to the NFL draft and six coaches and didn’t even win the SEC last year and had a major quarterback controversy, so isn’t Nick Saban vulnerable this year?

Sure. In fact, I can see a path for a lot of teams.

Let’s start at the top.


It doesn’t take a genius to know the Tide will simply reload. Saban talked a lot about how nothing is settled at so many positions and he’s still grouchy that he can’t have 124 interns with headsets on. But we all get it. Nobody evolves and adapts better than Saban.


It’s a big year for Kirby Smart, because of the success of last year and all of the Mark Richt recruits who have left. But the Bulldogs were picked by 271 of the 285 media members who bothered to vote because they are loaded with talent. And they are well-coached. And with the SEC game in their backyard, the defending champs certainly can see a path with fewer obstacles than anyone else in the East.


Is it just me or has Auburn celebrated a little too much over a season where it lost the SEC title and its bowl game? But I digress. The Tigers are loaded and if QB Jarrett Stidham can improve there is no reason to think they can’t win the West again. Yes, there may be a few potholes, but the path is manageable.


Man, the team that Dan Mullen left behind is reason for optimism for the future of Gator football because these were a lot of guys who weren’t that highly recruited who became really high-end SEC players. And he and his staff developed them. There were a lot of people at the SEC Media Days who wanted to pick the Bulldogs in the West but couldn’t pull the trigger.


You can see the Gamecocks winning the East, although I am a big believer that if they lose to Georgia the second week it could be tough to recover from. This is a path with a driver who seems to have learned how to “stay in your lane,” as he said Thursday. Which means stay away from the offense.


OK, so you may need a machete to clear this path, but let’s not forget that Jimbo Fisher knows how to win, is one of the best play-callers in the game and seems rejuvenated by the move away from his issues at FSU.


Just being on the path with a coach who likes being on it with you has Gator fans feeling better than they have in a while. Look, I’m not saying Florida will win the East, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. These guys believe this will be a special year. They see a more clear path than I do.


This path is cluttered with old license plates, broken down cars and turned-over pots of gumbo. If Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow turns out to be a special quarterback, there is enough talent. But not many people believe in Ed Orgeron to make the Tigers anything more than an X-factor.


Hey, we just got lost on the path. Anybody have GPS? Look, the Wildcats were in the East race last year in November. You can’t rule them out.


Hello? Can anybody hear me? I wandered into a cave and can’t find my way out. Seriously, quarterback Drew Lock is really good, really confident and if the Tigers can figure out a way to stop people and start faster, it’s not ridiculous to think they have a shot. It’s also not ridiculous to think they may not make a bowl game.


So who are we ruling out as having no path? Vanderbilt, as always. Arkansas has too much of a rebuilding project. Ole Miss can’t stop anyone. Tennessee doesn’t have enough players.

But here’s the thing — it’s going to be a thrill a minute and I can’t wait to see all of these teams banging. That’s what SEC Media Days does to you. It fools you into thinking that football season is right around the corner and you start planning your tailgate menus.

Relax. We still have a long way to go.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. Fast forward to the part about “thrill a minute”.

    OK…..just about it……no, skip that commercial…….wait, is that Larry Culpepper? No? OK, a little more and…..

    WALAH! IT’S SEPTEMBER 1st! Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? August really wasn’t important anyway.

  2. It’s truly quite safe to pick U.F. 7th (middle of the SEC pack) in the pre-season, like Dooley did.
    But I choose to BELIEVE NOW! Like it’s easy (and ”un-safe”) to say, ”I believe in Heaven!” after one dies.
    But the truth is you have to believe BEFORE that happens. So, we’ll see! But today on July 22nd, ”I choose to BELIEVE now!” Go Gators!

  3. Robbie Andreu just did an offensive line ranking and SoCar was 10th in the SEC. That, along with very raw defensive backs tells me they are not winning the East. Oh, and Muschamp is still their coach.

    It will be Florida or Georgia in the East, and Auburn or Alabama in the West. Here’s hoping for the first ever Florida-Auburn title game.

  4. I don’t see a crazy ivan that overthrows the saban dominance of the conference happening just yet. between recruiting, the computerized emphasis on a cautious strategy, and ther returning players in place, I don’t see short run change in the expected results at the top, and of course other than the gators who cares what happens to Arkansas, south Carolina and Missouri, at least I don’t.
    but I think we should see some new changes soon. first the new generation of players born after 2000 are just now arriving on the scene. they will change football, they will change the world quite a bit. IMO they will be quite willing to disrupt a cautious order towards something much more exciting to watch. I look forward to seeing the years ahead, no offense to the millennial players, but I’m ready for a new style of player who isn’t as worried about what the computer says, isn’t as worried about just repeating what someone else did, and really plays to win and isn’t afraid to change things if they think that is what is needed. I look forward to it. I think coach Mullen will do well with this kind of player, and I think the saban tree will not burn out but will get pruned as this plays out.

  5. Dooley never writes today that Florida has no chance, Daz. And the Gators certainly have enough talent offensively and defensively to win a lot of games, take on Georgia in Jacksonville with everything on the table, and even upset the Bulldogs. Last year Florida had the best bad team in the country… poorly prepared, poorly coached, multiples of suspensions and injuries. This time around that negative scenario will be washed away. We’ve got a team with confidence, embarrassed by last season, and determined to achieve a far different outcome. We’ve got a head coach, at last, with demonstrated qualification for the job. It’s been a long time coming but the program is ready for another surge.