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SEC Preview

New faces will lead the usual suspects to the top

Posted: Thursday August 18, 2005 11:00AM; Updated: Thursday August 18, 2005 7:06PM
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The Skinny
Team on the rise Florida
Team on the decline Georgia
Toughest schedule Tennessee
Most favorable schedule Auburn
Coach on the hot seat Rich Brooks, Kentucky
Newcomer to watch Josh Briscoe, WR, Tennessee
Game of the Year Tennessee at Florida, Sept. 17

By Stewart Mandel, SI.com

How do you know your conference is loaded? When three different teams -- LSU, Auburn and Georgia -- have finished in the top five once in the past three seasons, and two others, Florida and Tennessee, are predicted by many to do so this year. That makes five bona fide contenders, both in the conference and nationally, in one league. You won't see that anywhere else.

Not only does the SEC promise to be tough this season, it's getting a dramatic makeover. Gone are Nick Saban, the defensive mastermind who turned LSU back into a preeminent power and Ron Zook, the poor soul who oversaw Florida's descent from said status. Enter Urban Meyer, whose revolutionary offense could get the Gators back in the right direction in a hurry, and Les Miles, handed the keys to the castle Saban left behind in Baton Rouge. Both coaches have title-caliber teams on their hands, but so does venerable Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. And while Auburn's Tommy Tuberville and Georgia's Mark Richt lost a bevy of superstars, they swear this season's versions will be just as good.

The biggest change of all, however, involves a familiar face: South Carolina's Steve Spurrier returns to the conference he once dominated. Spurrier's mission is to turn the long-mediocre Gamecocks into a contender; but with a shortage of offensive talent, it might not happen right away. A more likely candidate to rise in the standings is Alabama, which, for the first time in three years, boasts a healthy, experienced squad.

CLICK BELOW FOR STEWART MANDEL'S PROJECTED STANDINGS

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