Media favor Vols for SEC title

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2005

HOOVER - When it comes to football in the SEC, expectations are high no matter which program you work for.

The expectations are especially high for new Louisiana State University coach Les Miles and the Tigers, who were picked by members of the media to win the SEC West division crown.

"I never really paid much attention to polls and pre-season predictions," Miles said on Friday. "I think it’s a compliment to the talent that’s on our team. I don’t think talent in and of itself is the reason why you win championships. I don’t think that that will determine where we finish."

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The talent is certainly there, even after the departure of Nick Saban to the National Football League.

Then again, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said that his Tigers are more talented than his team that went 13-0, won the SEC Championship and won the Sugar Bowl.

Members of the media attending obviously didn't buy it.

Auburn is predicted to finish second in the West, while Alabama was tabbed to finish a close third.

Arkansas was voted to finish fourth followed by Ole Miss and Arkansas.

Tennessee, which returns 16 starters, edged out SEC East rival Florida as the favorite to win the conference championship.

"I think that we can have a very good football team," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said on Wednesday. "Š A lot of things will center around our quarterbacks."

Last season it was a two-way battle for the starting job between Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer. Both went down with shoulder injuries during their Oct. 2 game with Auburn. So a familiar name jumped in to take over the offense.

All-SEC quarterback Casey Clausen's brother, Rick, jumped in and led the Volunteers to seven wins in their last nine games of the season.

"Rick Clausen comes in like a white knight and saved the day, leading us to the SEC Championship game," Fulmer said.

Florida, led by preseason All-SEC quarterback Chris Leak, was voted to finish second in a top-heavy division. Georgia was tabbed to finish third, while Steve Spurrier's South Carolina squad was voted fourth.

Vanderbilt was voted to finish one rung above the cellar, while Kentucky was picked to finish dead last in the East.

Alabama and Auburn combined to have nine players named to the First Team All-SEC preseason team.

Auburn offensive lineman Marcus McNeil, who is projected to be a high first-round pick in next years NFL Draft, was the leading vote-getter among all the players.

Joining McNeil on the first team from Auburn included wide receiver Courtney Taylor, defensive end Stanley McClover, linebacker Travis Williams, place kicker John Vaughn and punter Kody Bliss.

Alabama linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Freddie Roach were tabbed as first-teamers followed by defensive back Roman Harper.