There were several attempts to figure out the many mediocre teams in the SEC last year, but one of the best explanations was offered by peachy rex back on Oct. 31 when he called them "the gooey middle":
Welcome to the gooey middle of the SEC -- you’re either consistent but uninspired, or high-variance, balancing your moments of brilliance with ones of ineptitude. There are only two -- maybe three -- teams in the conference that are pretty consistently good, with more moments of brilliance than "WTF was that?"
Which doesn't make the league that easy to break down as we head into 2010. And has confounded your humble correspondent's efforts to come up with something original to say to wrap up each team.
Sure, we know Vanderbilt is probably going to be bad, but after that? Kentucky could go either way. So could Mississippi State. So could (maybe maybe) Tennessee. So could Ole Miss. So could South Carolina. So could even Auburn. And so when I went to write an ending for Kentucky, the thought occurred to me: What about the uncertainty for UK going into 2010? Then I thought you could include Mississippi State, and then I thought ... well, you get the point.
The uncertainty's not over. We start previewing LSU on Monday; anybody know what to expect from that team? Not "do you have an idea," but "do you know?" We know Alabama and Florida are probably going to be good if slightly flawed. We know Vanderbilt is going to be bad. Aside from that -- who knows? Which means LSU could be fifth-best, where they are in SEC 2010, or could be third-best, or could be seventh-best ... and none of those outcomes would really "surprise" me. And it's not clear if that would change because they're better than they "should" be, or other teams or worse, or other teams are better.
Of course, if Alabama or Florida end up being worse than expected, we could really have some chaos. The best hope for SEC fans outside of Tuscaloosa and Gainesville is that a couple of teams have unexpectedly good seasons and challenge for the conference lead.
Good luck figuring out which teams those would be.