Head coach: Urban Meyer (44-9 in four seasons at Florida, 83-17 overall).
2008 record: 13-1 (7-1 SEC).
Players to watch: QB Tim Tebow (2,746 yards passing, 30 passing touchdowns, 673 yards rushing, 12 rushing touchdowns in 2008); LB Brandon Spikes (93 tackles, two sacks); KR/PR Brandon James (1,248 return yards); RB Chris Rainey (652 rushing yards, four touchdowns); RB Jeff Demps (605 rushing yards, seven touchdowns)
Game of the year: Oct. 10 at LSU. While the annual rivalry game against Georgia could be the key to winning the East for Florida, it will be the Gators’ game at Death Valley two weeks earlier that will be their first true test.
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Meyer says: “Expectation as far as the season, our goals are always the same as it was in 2005, as it is in 2009, and that is we want to do everything we can to get to Atlanta. That’s our whole … we wake up every morning to try to achieve that goal.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: It’s hard to pick against the Gators, who return nearly every starter from last year’s national championship team and have a favorable schedule outside of dates against LSU and Georgia.
Schedule: Sept. 5 vs. Charleston Southern; Sept. 12 vs. Troy; Sept. 19 vs. Tennessee; Sept. 26 at Kentucky; Oct. 10 at LSU; Oct. 17 vs. Arkansas; Oct. 24 at Mississippi State; Oct. 31 vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville, Fla.); Nov. 7 vs. Vanderbilt; Nov. 14 at South Carolina; Nov. 21 vs. Florida International; Nov. 28 vs. Florida State.
Head coach: Rich Brooks (32-41 in six seasons at Kentucky, 123-150-4 overall).
2008 record: 7-6 (2-6 SEC).
Players to watch: LB Michael Johnson (93 tackles, 13 tackles for loss in 2008); CB Trevard Lindley (39 tackles, four interceptions); QB Mike Hartline (1,666 passing yards, nine touchdowns); WR Randall Cobb (316 rushing yards, 542 passing yards, 197 receiving yards, 11 combined touchdowns)
Game of the year: Sept. 26 vs. Florida. The good news is, Kentucky gets the Gators at home. The bad new is, it’s still the Gators. But Kentucky can gain a lot of respect with a strong early-season performance in this one.
Brooks says: “All I have to do is think back about three years ago, Andre’ Woodson’s sophomore season, what he accomplished his junior season, and it was significantly improved. I think Mark Hartline will see a lot of that same type of improvement.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Brooks has done a nice job of turning things around at Kentucky, taking the Wildcats to three straight bowl victories, and in a weak SEC East, things look good for a fourth.
Schedule: Sept. 5 vs. Miami (Ohio) (in Cincinnati); Sept. 19 vs. Louisville; Sept. 26 vs. Florida; Oct. 3 vs. Alabama; Oct. 10 at South Carolina; Oct. 17 at Auburn; Oct. 24 vs. Louisiana-Monroe; Oct. 31 vs. Mississippi State; Nov. 7 vs. Eastern Kentucky; Nov. 14 at Vanderbilt; Nov. 21 at Georgia; Nov. 28 vs. Tennessee.
Head coach: Steve Spurrier (28-22 in four seasons at South Carolina, 170-62-2 overall).
2008 record: 7-6 (4-4 SEC).
Players to watch: LB Eric Norwood (75 tackles, nine sacks in 2008); DE Cliff Matthews (32 tackles, three sacks); QB Stephen Garcia (832 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, 198 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns)
Game of the year: Nov. 14 vs. Florida. The Gamecocks have struggled down the stretch the past two seasons, and changing that trend won’t get any easier as South Carolina wraps up its SEC schedule against the Gators.
Spurrier says: “We’ve averaged seven wins a year, 28 in four years. Certainly we hope to get up to the 9, 10 wins a year level. We’re not there yet. I’ve not done as good a job as I hoped to have done. I would have hoped we had a whole lot of fourth- and fifth-year guys ready to play. Hasn’t worked out that way.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: A slew of veterans left Columbia after last season, leaving a distinct lack of offensive firepower to complement Garcia. That’s a recipe to drive Spurrier crazy.
Schedule: Sept. 3 at N.C. State; Sept. 12 at Georgia; Sept. 19 vs. Florida Atlantic; Sept. 24 vs. Mississippi; Oct. 3 vs. South Carolina State; Oct. 10 vs. Kentucky; Oct. 17 at Alabama; Oct. 24 vs. Vanderbilt; Oct. 31 at Tennessee; Nov. 7 at Arkansas; Nov. 14 vs. Florida; Nov. 28 vs. Clemson.
Head coach: Lane Kiffin (first season).
2008 record: 5-7 (3-5 SEC).
Players to watch: DB Eric Berry (72 tackles, seven interceptions in 2008); RB Montario Hardesty (271 rushing yards, six touchdowns); DT Dan Williams (48 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss).
Game of the year: Sept. 19 vs. Florida. Kiffin made headlines this offseason by criticizing Meyer. The Gators’ head coach will get his shot at revenge in a nationally televised game three weeks into the season.
Kiffin says: “It’s not time to say something, now you have to back it up. That’s not it at all. It’s part of the plan. It’s part of the timing of things. Now that we got out there, have this energy about our program nationally, that’s what we needed to do.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Kiffin spent the offseason recruiting players and rubbing opposing coaches the wrong way. The result is a lot of young players with giant targets on their backs.
Schedule: Sept. 5 vs. Western Kentucky; Sept. 12 vs. UCLA; Sept. 19 at Florida; Sept. 26 vs. Ohio; Oct. 3 vs. Auburn; Oct. 10 vs. Georgia; Oct. 24 at Alabama; Oct. 31 vs. South Carolina; Nov. 7 vs. Memphis; Nov. 14 at Mississippi; Nov. 21 vs. Vanderbilt; Nov. 28 at Kentucky.
Head coach: Bobby Johnson (27-56 in seven seasons at Vanderbilt, 87-92 overall).
2008 record: 7-6 (4-4 SEC).
Players to watch: CB Myron Lewis (76 tackles, five sacks); C Bradley Vierling; MLB Chris Marve (105 tackles); RB Jared Hawkins (593 rushing yards, four touchdowns).
Game of the year: Nov. 21 at Tennessee. Vanderbilt managed to make a bowl game for the first time in 25 years last season, and beating its in-state rival might be the deciding game on whether the Commodores make it back.
Johnson says: “I was really proud of the team last year. They stepped up when we had a lull in the middle of the season, came back, became bowl eligible. I think they know what it takes. Yeah, it is satisfying, but not satisfying enough.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Johnson has done an amazing job of making Vanderbilt relevant, but the team struggled down the stretch last year, and a slip back to below .500 seems likely.
Schedule: Sept. 5 vs. Western Kentucky; Sept. 12 at LSU; Sept. 19 vs. Mississippi State; Sept. 26 at Rice; Oct. 3 vs. Mississippi; Oct. 10 at Army; Oct. 17 vs. Georgia; Oct. 24 at South Carolina; Oct. 31 vs. Georgia Tech; Nov. 7 at Florida; Nov. 14 vs. Kentucky; Nov. 21 at Tennessee.