LITTLE ROCK — About 40 percent of Americans did it last year.
In Arkansas, the percentage was even higher.
We’re talking about early voting and, on this ballot, there are 14 candidates. My vote doesn’t count, but I wanted it on the record prior to the tabulation this week at the Southeastern Conference media days in Hoover, Ala. If Alabama doesn’t prevail in the Western Division or Georgia falls short in the East, it won’t be the first time I have backed a loser at the ballot box.
The only way to pick against Alabama in the West is to emulate the O.J. Simpson jury and ignore the evidence.
On the side of the Crimson Tide are a proven winner at quarterback, arguably the best running back and wide receiver in the SEC, the defensive genius of Nick Saban, and a cushy schedule. Alabama, circa 2013, might not be as good as the back-to-back national championship teams and yet have an easier time getting to Atlanta.
LSU and Texas A&M are the only teams on the regular-season schedule with a serious chance to beat the Crimson Tide, but there is the perpetual question mark at quarterback in Baton Rouge and the surprise element is gone in College Station.
Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Auburn were never considered.
Although Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida are the only legitimate contenders, the East is far more difficult to decipher. My pick is Georgia, primarily because of stability at quarterback.
Connor Shaw is 17-3 as the South Carolina starter, but he hurt his throwing shoulder in the 2012 season opener and missed some playing time. Later, he injured his left foot and watched Dylan Thompson guide the Gamecocks to a 10-point victory in the season finale against Clemson.
Because of surgery, he missed winter workouts and spring practice and Thompson was so effective that coach Steve Spurrier said he would platoon quarterbacks. Spurrier couldn’t care less, but I’m not a fan of a two-quarterback system.
Shaw is more efficient with the zone-read out of the shotgun and Thompson is more comfortable under center in a pro-style formation, so the defense should have some clue about what to expect once they see whether No. 14 (Shaw) or No. 17 (Thompson) is on the field.
Shaw contends that the system is best for South Carolina because he and Thompson don’t see it as a competition. “We root for who’s ever on the field,” he said in May.
South Carolina has an easier SEC schedule than Georgia or Florida with games against Arkansas and Mississippi State from the West. Both Georgia and Florida play LSU.
Based solely on doubts about platooning quarterbacks, I expect South Carolina to slip up once in the SEC. Last year, the Gamecocks had one of those head-scratchers at Gainesville, turning the ball over four times in a 44-11 loss to Florida.
That said, I also believe Georgia will lose a conference game despite Murray and his established complement, running back Todd Gurley. In this scenario, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta because of a victory over the Gamecocks.
Florida has more question marks than either of the other contenders.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are trending in the right direction, but the league has a top-heavy look, same as the last two years. In 2012, Alabama, LSU, and A&M were 6-2 or better in the league and none of the others in the West did better than .500. In the East, the bottom three were 3-21. The year before the SEC expanded, half of the league’s 12 teams won a total of 10 conference games.
The final tally:
East — 1. (tie) Georgia, South Carolina. 3. Florida. 4. Vanderbilt. 5. (tie) Missouri, Tennessee. 7. Kentucky.
West — 1. Alabama. 2. LSU. 3. A&M. 4. Ole Miss. 5. Mississippi State. 6. (tie) Arkansas, Auburn.
Harry King is sports columnis for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.