No surprise: Georgia, LSU are favored

BY PARRISH ALFORD
Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – The drama at SEC Media Days was provided by the absence of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer – certainly not by the preseason poll released Thursday.

As expected, the writers and broadcasters who regularly cover the Southeastern Conference had LSU and Georgia winning division titles.

Georgia was picked to defeat LSU in a rematch of the 2003 SEC Championship game in Atlanta. The Bulldogs received 61 of 88 votes to win the overall title. LSU was second with 19 votes.

Both are consensus top 10 picks in preseason football magazines, with The Sporting News picking Georgia to win the national championship. LSU won the SEC title last year and shared the national championship with Southern California.

On the advice of lawyers, Fulmer skipped Media Days to avoid being subpoenaed in a lawsuit brought by a group of Alabama attorneys. His team was picked third in the East, behind Florida. Following the Vols are South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Ole Miss was picked third in the Western Division behind second-place Auburn. Alabama was fourth, Arkansas fifth and Mississippi State sixth.

The Rebels shared the Western Division title with LSU last season.

“We better not drop back, because it's hard to make up ground in this league,” Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said. “We've had seven straight winning seasons. That's something we want to build on as we continue to try and compete for Western Division championships.”

MSU coach Sylvester Croom talks of winning championships too but concedes there are baby steps to make along the way first.

“Our players have to make a conscious choice that they want to win and that they will pay the price,” he said. “That may take a year; it may take two years. Our players will make that determination.”

LSU coach Nick Saban says his team must not compete against what last year's Tigers accomplished.

“Last year we were able to climb the mountain and plant the flag,” he said. “This year we have won zero games. We are at the bottom of the mountain at base camp. How do the mighty fall? Complacency.”

Georgia's strongest challenger in the Eastern Division, if projections are correct, will be Florida. The Gators closed the 2003 regular season strong but finished with five losses for the second straight season under head coach Ron Zook.

Figuring out the Gators would go a long way in helping Georgia reach goals for the SEC and beyond.

“In the past people would be cordial and ask, How's your family,'” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Now it's just, When are we going to beat Florida?' It has to be psychological to a degree. We need to win one time and feel more comfortable about being able to do it. I don't know the answer, but we need to find it quick.”

Preseason All-SEC team

Ole Miss placed two members on the first team: offensive guard Doug Buckles and kicker Jonathan Nichols. Four more Rebels made the second team: guard Marcus Johnson, wide receiver Mike Espy, free safety Eric Oliver and punter Cody Ridgeway.

MSU had one representative on the second team, junior linebacker Marvin Byrdsong.