It's June, 79 days before the first real night of the college football season. That can only mean one thing:
The predictions are pouring in.
Some of the predictions are well, predictable. Virtually every playoff scenario includes Ohio State and the TCU-Baylor winner. Oregon and Southern Cal are splitting the Pac-12 support. And it's still hard to pick against Florida State, even without Jameis Winston, because it's so easy to see the Seminoles running the table in the ACC.
One SEC team that seems to be getting a lot of love, and it's somewhat surprising because it's not Alabama.
Just about every playoff prediction I've seen so far includes the Tigers among their four teams in the playoffs.
Sorry, I can't buy it just yet.
Oh, I understand the logic. Of all the teams replacing their quarterbacks, Auburn is in the best shape with Jeremy Johnson. He's a better passer than Nick Marshall, and a quite capable runner. Add the hire of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator and the return of Carl Lawson to boost the pass rush, and it's easy to see how the Tigers' defense could be improved.
The schedule also is conducive to a championship season. There's one credible but manageable non-conference opponent in Louisville. Three of teams that Auburn lost to last season have to visit the Plains this season -- Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama.
Maybe they're right. But it seems a bit presumptuous to think that hiring Muschamp will have such a magical effect that the Tigers are suddenly the team to beat in the SEC.
To me, there are several SEC teams that have a legitimate chance to win the conference and make the playoff. Auburn is one of them. But so are Alabama, LSU, Georgia, maybe even Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M or Missouri.
Some of the four-team playoff projections include two SEC teams. That's going to be hard to pull off. Most of the top SEC contenders play each other. That includes the near-consensus top three SEC teams -- Alabama, Auburn and Georgia. With Alabama on Georgia's schedule this year, there are only two possible scenarios:
Either all three have at least one loss, or one of the three will have two losses and therefore be out of the playoff picture, possibly even with a 10-2 record and top six ranking.
The possibility of a rematch in the SEC Championship Game gives Georgia a slight advantage as far as redemption. On the other hand, the SEC title game also poses greater risk. It will be hard for the selection committee to justify picking a team that just came off a loss over champions from other conferences.
There are some scenarios where that could happen. Say Auburn goes 11-1 with its only loss to Georgia in a tight game. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs go undefeated -- which would mean having beaten Alabama, Auburn and Georgia Tech among other possible top 25 teams such as Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee. Then Auburn beats Georgia in a close game in the rematch. How would they justify leaving off a 12-1 Georgia team?
Again, that's not a likely scenario, but neither is it that far-fetched. It's a lot less far-fetched than the 2013 Auburn team beating Georgia and Alabama on back-to-back miracle finishes.
Based on ease of schedules, four teams have the inside track on three spots: Baylor-TCU winner, Ohio State and Florida State. Of course, things never play out the way we think they will. Some team like Texas Tech or Oklahoma State could beat TCU or Baylor and throw a wrench into everything. That happened last year when West Virginia beat Baylor.
So who do I see winning the SEC? The team that has amassed the most talent over the last five recruiting classes, the team that has the best coach in college football, the team that dominated the best conference in the country is hard to pick against. That team, of course, is Alabama.
Yeah, I know. So predictable.