If figuring Southeastern Conference football creates a head-scratching puzzle during the season, imagine the challenge of bringing reason to next year in college football's toughest league today.
Impossible, of course, but the debates -- even with unanswered questions dangling -- make for an entertaining pastime.
The picture is ever fluid; a player's decision to leave early for the pros -- or to remain in school -- can alter perceptions in the twinkling of an eye.
The strength of schedules becomes a point of focus, and wondering about the impact of coaching changes, both at the top and at the coordinator level, add to the mystery.
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Then, projecting how new faces will influence teams becomes an "x" factor. The higher profile the position, the more magnified the venture into the unknown.
One guarantee: Crystal balls will be cloudy today, just a few days after one of the lodge members, LSU, wrapped up another national championship for the conference.
Yet, be assured the uncertainty matters not at all in territory where football is king. The discussions will not be dull.
The wild, wild East
Put this up there with death and taxes on the sure-thing list: SEC football in 2008 will be more passionate and perhaps more unpredictable than ever.
Put the Bulldogs and Gators together and watch the temperature rise in the debate over SEC East supremacy. They can argue the merits of Stafford against Tebow, Moreno against the touted transfer Moody, the defenses.
Hey, what about us, the Volunteers say. Remember which team won the East a year ago.
Yep, Tennessee did in a topsy-turvy 2007, the kind of year that makes SEC football so impossibly delicious. The Vols pulled off more great escapes than Houdini, return a posse of starters and step into a new year almost an afterthought in some precincts.
The loss of quarterback Erik Ainge and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe leads to the lack of respect. After all, how can a newcomer at the game's most vital offensive position compete with Georgia's Matthew Stafford and Florida's Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy winner?
Do not forget about us, the division's other three team shout. Good idea; teams that overlook South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky could be in for a jolt.
The Gamecocks can point to a 2007 victory against Georgia. Vandy threw cold water on USC's ambitions and fell to both Georgia and Tennessee in the final seconds.
Be sure of this: There will be no free lunches in the East next fall.
No free lunches on schedules.
Go West, Horace Greeley advised long ago, and SEC observers who heed those words find plenty of reason for debate, too.
The coaching merry-go-round left familiar names in unfamiliar places.
Let's see now. The Arkansas coach is now at Mississippi, the Mississippi State defensive coordinator landed at Arkansas, and the South Carolina defensive guru found a home at Mississippi.
Auburn and LSU lost defensive coordinators, too, and Bobby Petrino became the latest coach to land in the SEC, at Arkansas, after a fling with the pros.
The national champions will have a new quarterback, and Auburn's offense, with a new guy in charge, will have a new look.
In examining the schedules, finding soft spots can be a challenge. Still, some are more imposing than others.
Just ask Georgia.
The Bulldogs trade Ole Miss for LSU in the SEC's rotation of nondivision opponents and will face the past two national champions in back-to-back games. Add an early season stretch of games at South Carolina, at Arizona State and Alabama at home, and that is without mentioning Tennessee.
The Gators will shed no tears at finding Arkansas on its schedule in Auburn's place -- assuming Darren McFadden and Felix Jones trade college eligibility for the riches of the NFL. LSU faces five consecutive conference games: road dates at Auburn, Florida and South Carolina to go with Mississippi State and Georgia at home.
Of course, the Gamecocks face their usual back-loaded schedule with LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson.
Sit back in the early days of January and savor the possibilities -- without knowing which players will bolt for the pros, which teams will have stars of the future emerge in spring practice or which teams will adapt best to turnover in the coaching ranks.
Drawing concrete conclusions will be impossible, but that matters not at all. The debates are part of the beauty of SEC football.