SEC surprise team predictions

Just one more day to go.

With the first SEC games of the season kicking off on Thursday night, our panel of SEC writers continues its preseason preview with predictions for the surprise teams within the conference:

Edward Aschoff: Kentucky

I like this Kentucky team. I don’t love it; it’s not a team that’s going to compete for the SEC East title, but the Wildcats will make a bowl game and pull and upset or two. Mark Stoops thinks his offense will be better with receiver Ryan Timmons heading a group of talented, yet unheralded, receivers. The secondary is getting more length from the freshmen, and the interior of the defensive line could be nasty with Melvin Lewis and Matt Elam. Watch out for Cory Johnson and Jason Hatcher on the outside. Kentucky will win seven games.

David Ching: Missouri

I’m not letting Gary Pinkel lull me to sleep this year. Georgia and Tennessee are the most popular choices to win the East, but it might wind up being Pinkel’s Tigers for a third straight season. They have a strong running back, a good offensive line and a veteran quarterback, plus what should be another effective defense -- even if the pass rush isn’t what it was in the previous two seasons. Also, when you continuously play an easier schedule than your fellow contenders, you own a distinct advantage. Mizzou doesn’t play Auburn and Alabama like Georgia does, and Tennessee’s slate that includes Oklahoma and Alabama is tougher than what the Tigers will face. To me, that says Mizzou could finish with the best record in the East again even if it is not the most gifted team.

Sam Khan: Texas A&M

The Aggies were chosen sixth in the SEC West at SEC media days. I think they could finish much higher. Their schedule is advantageous: They play nine games in Texas, seven at Kyle Field. They get Alabama and Auburn at home; they don't leave the state until late October. They have a quarterback (Kyle Allen) who has already won an SEC road game (at Auburn last season) and has real star potential. They have the best crop of receivers in the league. New defensive coordinator John Chavis should help the young, but talented, unit take a significant step forward. If the defense can be at least decent, they should score enough points to win nine, maybe 10 games.

Greg Ostendorf: Texas A&M

Everybody is talking up Auburn, saying the Tigers are the favorite to win the West. What about Texas A&M? The Aggies have a prolific offense, and they, too, went out and hired a high-profile name in Chavis to fix the defense. On paper, the two are not all that different. Add in the fact that Texas A&M plays nine of its 12 games in the state of Texas, including both Alabama and Auburn at home, and there’s no reason why this team won’t challenge the Crimson Tide and the Tigers for the division title.

Alex Scarborough: LSU

I can't believe I'm typing this. To think that LSU could surprise anyone with their success was once a foreign concept. But then Zach Mettenberger left and the QB situation turned dismal. Now the Tigers begin the season ranked 14th in the AP poll, behind Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, and barely above Ole Miss and Arkansas. Well, remove the quarterback spot and I could argue LSU has the most talented roster, top to bottom, in the conference. They're loaded at receiver, running back and on the offensive line. The pass rush can't get any worse and the secondary could develop into the best in the conference. With even a slightly improved Brandon Harris under center, I can see LSU winning it all.