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Let the preseason gridiron buzz begin

The football jerseys aren't even dry from their final cleaning of the year and talk of next season is abuzz.

See when you are in the South, college football doesn't have an offseason. It just takes a brief break between May and July before cranking back up.

During that time, though there is plenty to talk about. By the first week of June every possible sports magazine like Athlon and Lindy's, just to name a few, will have their preseason magazines on newsstands waiting for rabid college football fans to scoop up.

Athlon began releasing its Top 25 preseason poll one week at a time. So far in the Top 25 we see some recognizable names like Alabama, Georgia and Auburn.

But I bet you can't guess their order - unless of course you have already seen the list.

Auburn, which closed out a perfect 13-0 season, was the first school from the Southeastern Conference to land on Athlon's radar screen.

The publication ranked Auburn No. 20, while Alabama comes in at No. 16 and Georgia No. 14.

Don't stroke out Auburn fans, because you had better get used to it. Most would agree that it will be hard to duplicate an unbeaten SEC championship season with four first-round NFL picks playing on Sunday. But the Tigers are used to being the underdog. Auburn was ranked No. 17 before climbing up the ladder to become arguably one of the best teams in the nation.

Alabama's high preseason ranking would also raise an eyebrow by everyone, including a Crimson Tide fan.

Sure the Tide has talented quarterback Brodie Croyle returning to guide the Crimson and White, but the book is still out on Mike Shula's coaching ability.

As you well know Shula's ability has been questioned a time or two each day on sports radio talk shows throughout the state. Now it seems that Shula is on the hotseat.

I have heard that a 7-5 season and a bowl loss will not cut it this season at the Capstone.

Just as the Tide's season took a slide last year when Croyle suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Alabama's success this season will hinge on Croyle's health.

Alabama has the talent to win, but Tide fans need to have patience. I don't think that the fans understood what probation did to the football program.

And for the last three years, Alabama fans have had to learn the hard way.

Georgia may also be a surprise pick to be ranked as low as it is, but the Dawgs also have a lot of talent to replace.

So who will be the king of the SEC this year?

The early indication is that LSU and Tennessee will be the odds-on favorites to win the West and East divisions.

Both are certainly loaded with talent, but only time will tell.

And don't forget the Steve Spurrier factor. As long as the visored-one is back in the SEC, the conference title will forever be up for grabs.

Until the season kicks off, let the debate begin.

Kevin Taylor is sports editor of The Greenville Advocate. You may e-mail him at kevin.taylor@greenvilleadvocate.com or call 383-9302 ext. 122.