BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Georgia enters this season with sky-high expectations, but the Bulldogs will end the year looking up in the standings at their fiercest rival.
At least that's the opinion of the Southeastern Conference media, who selected Florida to win the league title Friday by a surprisingly substantial margin.
Florida received 45 first-place votes in the Eastern Division poll and was the choice to win the entire conference by 36 of the 70 voters. Georgia got 23 first-place votes to win the Eastern Division and 18 votes to win the entire league.
SEC champion: Florida (36), Georgia (18), Auburn (13), LSU (1), Tennessee (1), Ole Miss (1).
Auburn was the Western Division favorite with 48 first-place votes, while defending national champion LSU was second with 21 votes. Auburn also received 13 votes to win the entire league, while only one of the 70 voters predicted the defending national champions would win a second straight SEC crown.
Florida and Georgia are expected to open the season ranked among the top six teams in the nation. Players and coaches from both teams have said the Florida-Georgia rivalry has intensified in the wake of the Bulldogs' 42-30 victory over the Gators last year.
"I think it will be a very big game, to say the least," Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said earlier this week. "It could be (one of) the top few teams in the country, playing that game with the right to play in the SEC – or maybe the national – championship for the winner."
Of course, neither Florida nor Georgia won the Eastern Division last year. That honor instead belonged to Tennessee, which was picked to finish third this season and received only two first-place votes. Only one voter selected the Volunteers to win the entire conference.
That's no surprise to Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who assumed his team would be picked to finish third or fourth when he spoke to the media Thursday.
"I am excited about the fact that you're always looking for ways to motivate your football team any way that you can," Fulmer said. "I appreciate (your) help by picking us third or fourth in the East. It has served us pretty well at different times. We'll certainly use that."
Auburn led all teams with nine selections to the preseason all-SEC team, though defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and punter Ryan Shoemaker were the only first-team picks. LSU followed with eight selections.