BEFORE YOU ASK...A PREVIEW OF OUR PREVIEW FAQ:
Q: Why is Team A listed as a toss-up in Team B's preview, but Team B listed as a loss in Team A's preview?
A: Each preview is done from that individual team's perspective. Therefore, if you are looking at Southern Cal's preview, that is written from a USC mindset. Just for example: while USC may be Arizona State's toughest game of the season and a pretty sure-loss from the ASU perspective, it is possibly the toughest game the Trojans will play all year and therefore not a guaranteed win.
The Tigers lost just one conference game last fall after going unbeaten the season before and look to continue that recent run of success in 2006. Coach Tommy Tuberville is entering his 8th year on campus and has averaged nearly 9 wins per season since taking over on the Plains. Matching that mark again this fall looks to be well within reach thanks to a solid core of returning starters. Among those back are RB Kenny Irons and QB Brandon Cox. The former ran for nearly 1300 yards and 13 scores last fall, while the latter threw for almost 2400 yards and 15 scores. Cox will have to replace each of his top three targets, however.
A home game with Washington State opens the season, and a road trip to Mississippi State follows before a huge home showdown with LSU in week three. That matchup of Tigers will go a long way in determining both the SEC title and the conference's representation in this year's BCS. A trip to South Carolina ends the first month before Arkansas and Florida come to town in consecutive weeks. The schedule then eases up for a few weeks before a two-week closing run at home against Georgia and on the road at rival Alabama. The toughest conference games are at home this fall, making AU a solid pick to make a run at the SEC West title in 2006.
Projected Wins: WSU, at MSU, BUF, ARK, TUL, at MISS, ArkSt, UGA
Coach Urban Meyer led the Gators to 9 wins in his first season on campus last fall, but only five of those victories came in SEC play. Like Auburn, UF returns a dozen starters, including one of the league's better QBs. If senior Chris Leak, who threw for over 2600 yards and 20 TDs last fall, can become more consistent and improve his play, it's likely the rest of the squad will follow. Also back are the team's top three backs from a season ago, including top runner DeShawn Wynn. Though leading WR Chad Jackson has left campus, back are both Dallas Baker (700 yards, 5 TD) and Andre Caldwell (broken leg last fall).
A pair of challenging non-conference games against Southern Miss and UCF open up the 2006 campaign before the annual showdown against Tennessee, set to take place in Knoxville this fall. UF then returns home for three straight, including matchups against Alabama and LSU. A trip to Auburn follows, and by then, the Gators should have a very good understanding of where they sit in this year's SEC East race. The schedule eases up a bit from that point forward, though there are still matchups against Georgia, South Carolina, and on the road at Florida State left to be played. Will this be the year Chris Leak finally takes the Gators to the championship game?
Projected Wins: USM, UCF, KY, ALA, UGA, at VAN, SC, WCU
Coach Les Miles won 11 games his first year on campus, and eleven starters return this fall in an effort to take the Tigers to their third SEC title game in the past five years. The QB position is where much of the focus has been since last winter, and Miles certainly has plenty of options to choose from. JaMarcus Russell (2400 yards, 15 TD) and Matt Flynn (450 yards, 7 TD) both saw action last fall, and both are likely to see the field again in 2006. Though RB Joseph Addai will have to be replaced, both Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent will be back to carry the load for the squad this season. Also back are the team's top three wideouts, though all-everything man Skyler Green will be difficult to replace.
The Tigers should win the first two against ULL and Arizona before the big showdown at Auburn in week three. An early-October battle at Florida, meanwhile, could be a preview of the SEC title game depending on how things went on the Plains a few weeks before. Fresno State comes to town later in the month in one of the better non-conference games on the schedule all year. The Tigers close out the schedule at Tennessee, vs Alabama, and at Arkansas, so it's likely their SEC West fate won't be decided until late in November.
Projected Wins: ULL, AZ, TUL, MSU, KY, Fresno, ALA, MISS, at ARK
Though the ride hasn't been entirely smooth, Coach Steve Spurrier is entering his second year in Columbia after taking the Gamecocks to their first bowl in four years last fall. A dozen starters return for 2006, including many of the team's top playmakers on offense. QB Blake Mitchell is back after throwing for almost 2400 yards and 17 TDs last year but needs to cut down on the turnovers this fall. Leading RB Mike Davis also returns, as do others like WR/RB Syvelle Newton, RB Cory Boyd, RB Bobby Wallace, and WR Noah Whiteside. The star of the bunch, though, is likely WR Sidney Rice, who hauled in 70 catches for nearly 1200 yards and 13 scores a season ago.
The opener at Mississippi State will tell a lot about where both teams stand before USC returns home to face Georgia in week two. A pair of easy victories should follow before a big home showdown with Auburn to close out the month of September. Two road trips to Kentucky and Vanderbilt follow, and depending on how the team has fared in the first month of the campaign, wins there could either put them back in the bowl hunt or keep them in the SEC East chase. Tennessee and Arkansas then come to town in consecutive weeks before the Gamecocks play two of their last three on the road at Florida and Clemson, whom they've not beaten in four years. Another bowl trip should be expected, and SEC East contention is certainly not out of the question if the team can perform well in tough games at home.
Projected Wins: at MSU, Wofford, FAU, at KY, at VAN, ARK, MTSU
The Vols missed out on postseason play for the first time since 1988 last fall, and coaching changes resulted. Head coach Phil Fulmer does return however and will begin his 15th year as UT's head man. Also back are a dozen starters, including RB Arian Foster. The sophomore dashed for nearly 900 yards and 5 scores last fall while splitting time with Gerald Riggs. QB Eric Ainge returns as well after sharing time under center with Rick Clausen last fall but must improve his consistency in 2006. The team's top two WRs are also back, which could help Ainge in his transition to full-time starter.
The home opener against California, who we've projected to win the PAC 10 title this fall, should be one of the best week one matchups in the entire country. Air Force comes to town the following week before the annual showdown with Florida in week three. Beginning with a late September trip down to Memphis, three of the next four are on the road, including trips to Georgia and South Carolina. The home date with Alabama is also mixed in as well. LSU pays a visit to Knoxville in early November before the Vols trip to Arkansas the following week. While a winning season and bowl trip should certainly be expected, it will take much more than that to keep the Vol fans happy. As always, the schedule is tough, and if they were to lose the opener, things could get ugly again. However, a more likely scenario sees UT soaring back above the .500 mark, both overall and in conference play.
Projected Wins: AF, MAR, at MEM, ALA, at ARK, at VAN, KY
The Bulldogs won at least 10 games for the fourth straight season last fall, but matching that total in 2006 could be quite a challenge. Just nine starters return, and QB D.J. Shockley, TE Leonard Pope, and three of the team's top seven tacklers are among the losses. Back, however, is the tailback duo of Thomas Brown and Danny Ware. That pair combined for more than 1200 yards and 5 TDs last fall. The QB situation still needs settling, but Joe Tereshinski saw action in 2005 and should be the early favorite. Mohammed Massaquoi is back to lead the WR corps, but three of the team's top four pass catchers from a season ago have left campus.
Three of the first four are at home, though neither the road trip to South Carolina nor the home battle with Colorado will be easy. The schedule then seems to ease up a bit, with the exception of an early October matchup with Tennessee in Athens. The annual showdown with Florida concludes the month of October before a trip to Auburn in November and the rivalry throwdown with Georgia Tech to end the season. UGA avoids LSU and gets the West's two weakest teams, so the schedule could be worse. It's also worth noting that the toughest games seem to be spread throughout the schedule, so that could be a factor in UGA's run at their third SEC title game appearance in the last four years. Still, though, I look for the Dawgs to slide off the pace just a bit this fall but still earn a quality bowl berth.
Projected Wins: WKY, UAB, at MISS, VAN, MSU, at KY
Coach Mike Shula's third year on campus was easily his best yet as the Crimson Tide won 10 games and came within a single victory of making an appearance in the SEC title game. Though thirteen starters are back this fall, just four of them return from the team's stout defensive unit, and QB Brodie Croyle will have to be replaced as well. Back, however, is RB Kenneth Darby and the almost 1300 yards he ran for a season ago. Basically every WR that caught a pass in 2005 is also back, including team leaders D.J. Hall and Keith Brown, as well as Tyrone Prothro who is attempting to return from a devestating leg injury. On the defensive side, meanwhile, LB Juwan Simpson is the only one of Bama's top seven tacklers from a year ago returning this fall.
The first three games are at home and should be wins, though the opener against high-powered Hawaii could be dangerous. Road trips to Arkansas and Florida follow, but by the time UA is done with another homestand in mid-October, they should be no worse than a single win away from bowl eligibility. Road trips to Tennessee and LSU still remain, as does the annual showdown with Auburn. Tide fans should look for another quality bowl this fall, though the tough SEC road schedule will likely keep the team out of contention in the SEC West.
Projected Wins: VAN, ULM, Duke, MISS, FIU, MSU
No team in the SEC returns anywhere near the number of starters (19) that Arkansas does, and though the squad has missed out on postseason play each of the past two seasons, that could very well change this fall. Back are RBs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, though a recent injury could keep the former sidelined for the first portion of the schedule. Also back is bruiser Peyton Hillis as well as top WR Marcus Monk, who led the team with 7 touchdown receptions a season ago. Coach Houston Nutt has a plethora of QBs to choose from, including Robert Johnson and Casey Dick who both played last fall. True freshman Mitch Mustain could get the nod, though, especially since the Hogs' new offensive coordinator is his old high school coach.
The opener at home against USC is about as difficult as they come, and an injured McFadden doesn't help matters. The next two vs Utah State and at Vanderbilt should be wins before a crucial home game with Alabama. That battle with the somewhat-rebuilding Tide could go a long way in determining how Arkansas' season plays out. A road trip to Auburn begins the month of October, and then the schedule eases up a bit before a trip to South Carolina the first week in November. Tennessee and LSU come to town to close out the season, and it's possible that those games could have SEC West implications. UA avoids Florida and Georgia out of the East and has a relatively easy non-conference schedule (minus the Trojans), so look for the Hogs to return to bowl activity in 2006.
Projected Wins: USU, at VAN, SEMO, MISS, ULM, at MSU
Coach Rich Brooks has averaged just three wins per season since coming to UK back in 2003 and must show improvement this fall if he's to hang around much longer. Sixteen starters are back to help him do that, however, and they'll try to take the 'Cats to their first bowl appearance since 1999. Among those returning is RB Rafael Little. The junior dashed for over 1000 yards and 9 scores last fall and was also the team's leading receiver. Andre Woodson returns under center, and while his stats weren't all that bad, they could improve tremendously with some productive play from the WR corps.
The opener at Louisville isn't likely to go well, but UK then returns home for consecutive winnable games against Texas State and Mississippi. How the 'Cats fare in those two will tell a lot about where the 2006 season is headed. Road trips to Florida and LSU are sandwiched around home matchups with Central Michigan and South Carolina. Kentucky should have compiled at least two and maybe three wins by this point in the season, with winnable games at Mississippi State, vs Vanderbilt, and vs ULM still remaining on the schedule. That means a six-win season and subsequent bowl trip is not entirely out of the possibilities. However, until this team proves they can win every game they should, expect them to fall just short of bowl eligibility while still putting up the best record yet under head coach Rich Brooks.
Projected Wins: TXSt, CMU, VAN, ULM
Coach Ed Orgeron's first year in Oxford went no better than David Cutcliffe's last, and with just ten starters returning, earning enough wins for a bowl trip in 2006 won't be easy. The bright spot, however, is the newly-arrived Brent Schaeffer, a Tennessee transfer who has tons of athletic ability but arrived on campus just last week. He'll replace the Rebels' QB trio of a year ago, and assuming he lives up to expectations, he'll be an improvement. Sophomore Mico McSwain is back at RB and will share time with Indiana transfer BenJarvus Green-Ellis. None of the team's top three WRs return, though star LB Patrick Willis did come back for his senior season and will lead the UM defense.
The Mississippi schedule is just easy enough for a great start but just tough enough to make things difficult for a new QB like Schaeffer. UM hosts Memphis to open the season before making consecutive road trips to Missouri and Kentucky the following two weeks. A three-game homestand against Wake Forest, Georgia, and Vanderbilt follows, meaning UM could have as many as four or five wins by the time the first week of October is complete. The schedule then gets a bit more difficult though, with only two real winnable games left on the slate. A bowl trip is possible, but with the lack of depth and the late start under center, look for UM to fall just short of that goal in 2006.
Projected Wins: WF, VAN, NWSt
It's year three for Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, and while Bulldog fans are happy with the strides he's taken off the field, they're also ready for some much-needed winning on the field. Sixteen starters, eight on each side of the ball, are back this fall, though star RB Jerious Norwood will have to be replaced. The carries will be shared in '06, at least until someone steps up as the unit's leader. QB-turned-WR Omarr Conner will lead a receiving corps that returns five of its top six pass-catchers from a season ago. Also back is QB Michael Henig, who took over under center late last year and guided the Bulldogs to a season-ending win over rival Mississippi.
The home opener against South Carolina is crucial for the direction of the program. A win there, and the team should be no worse than 2-1 after hosting Auburn and Tulane the following two weeks. There are plenty of other winnable games on the schedule, including home matchups with Jacksonville State and Kentucky, as well as road trips to UAB and Mississippi. The difficulty of the SEC schedule will force MSU to win each and every game they're supposed to if they want to go bowling, and the Bulldogs simply haven't been able to do that in recent years. Until they prove they can, look for State's bowl-less streak to extend another year.
Projected Wins: TUL, JAXSt, KY
Record-setting QB Jay Cutler couldn't take Vanderbilt bowling, so it's difficult to see much changing in Nashville this season. A dozen starters are back, however, including leading RBs Cassen Jackson-Garrison and Jeff Jennings. That pair combined for about 1000 yards and 15 TDs a season ago. Leading WR Earl Bennett is also back after hauling in 79 passes for nearly 900 yards and 9 scores last fall, but he'll be taking throws from a new QB in 2006. Highly-touted Chris Nickson looks to be the favorite to take over under center.
Season-opening road trips to Michigan and Alabama are followed by a home game with Arkansas, certainly making it a difficult start to the 2006 campaign. A pair of winnable home games against Tennessee State and Temple follow, though. Other winnable games later on in the schedule include trips to Mississippi, Duke, and Kentucky. Though matching last year's win total of five is likely out of the question, anything less than three victories would be disappointing.
Projected Wins: TNSt, TEMP
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