HOOVER, Ala. - Expectations for Derek Dooley's first Tennessee football team have been low, but just how low was made clear Friday.
In the annual vote taken at Southeastern Conference media days, the Volunteers were picked to finish fifth in the East Division behind Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky. The projection was the lowest for Tennessee since the league went to divisional play in 1992.
Tennessee was behind Kentucky in the East pecking order for the first time despite winning 25 straight in that series.
"I think that's kind of the way we like it right now," Vols senior defensive end Chris Walker said. "People aren't looking for us to do too much, and that's kind of how we're working. We're working to surprise people and to let them know that Tennessee is coming back. We have a great coaching staff to put us in that position."
Alabama was picked to win the West Division ahead of, in order, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. In the tally for league champion, the Crimson Tide racked up 143 votes to overwhelm Florida (17), Auburn (7) and Arkansas (3).
The last time Alabama was picked to win the SEC was 2000, when the Crimson Tide went 3-8 and fired coach Mike DuBose.
Should Friday's predictions hold true, Alabama and Florida would meet for a third consecutive year in the SEC title game. Those two teams haven't met in the regular season since 2006, but they will collide Oct. 2 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in a CBS prime-time matchup.
"There is a rivalry, and I think that rivalry stems from a mutual respect in the fact that the last two SEC championships have come down to those two schools," Tide quarterback Greg McElroy said. "I wouldn't consider it a bona fide rivalry, but it's a game we'll definitely have to be up for."
Said Florida defensive end Justin Trattou: "They got the best of us last time, and we'll see them at their home field and see where it goes from there."
Alabama produced a league-high 12 representatives on the media's preseason All-SEC teams, including five first-team offensive selections and three first-team defensive picks. Florida had 10 total selections, while Auburn and Georgia were next with six.
Making the first team for Georgia were receiver A.J. Green, offensive lineman Clint Boling, kicker Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler. Linebacker Justin Houston and defensive back Brandon Boykin were second-team picks.
Tennessee was shut out of first-team selections, but tight end Luke Stocker and linebacker Nick Reveiz made the second team.
"We know we've got a lot of new faces coming in this year, especially on the offensive side of the ball," Stocker said. "I think a lot of the preseason hype is based on your team's success and the individual production from the previous year. We have a lot of new faces, so you can't really put a guy who didn't play last year on there."
PREDICTED SEC FINISH
South Carolina 790
Miss. State 320
Ole Miss 293
* voted overall champ