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SEC East Breakdown: Florida 3-peat, UGA Closes The Gap

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College football season kicks off in 10 days.  10 days!  I’ve been obsessively reading blogs, fan sites, ESPN.com, and any other college football preview information I could get my hands on.  Many try to deny it but football is different for SEC fans.  There is no offseason.  This is always what it’s about.

Regular BC contributor J. Newcastle, the mighty Eddie McCoy, and I have started a weekly podcast dedicated to SEC Football and we call it the SEC Football Breakdown.  For the first week, we released two podcast episodes previewing the East and West divisions of the SEC.  What follows are some of the notes I used to prepare for the podcast.  I have notes, thoughts, questions, and predictions for each of the SEC East teams.  What are their strengths?  Weaknesses?  What don’t we know about them yet? 

Give these a read.  What are your thoughts about the upcoming SEC East season?  I’ll have my SEC West thoughts up soon!

Download the SEC East preview podcast if you want to hear Jay and Eddie’s thoughts as we agree, disagree, and discuss all six division teams.

 

Florida Gators
Offense

  • Did you hear Tim Tebow is no longer their QB?
  • Running Game: Jeffrey Demps has elite, track speed but seems to lack football instinct and RB polish.  Tim Tebow won’t be there to provide the interior ground game.  They need complementary running threats to emerge
  • Passing Game: Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez were two of Tebow’s top targets and go-to guys.  John Brantley has more polish as a passer but will need to establish a rapport with a new crop of receivers

Defense

  • Pass Rush: Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap are both in the NFL. 
  • Charlie Strong is no longer the DC, having gone to Louisville as HC. 
  • Joe Haden is gone and he was able to take away one side of the field from opposing OCs and QBs.  Combine that with the loss of Strong and their two DEs and you have to wonder how Florida will stack up against the pass

 

Kentucky Wildcats

Offense

  • Randall Cobb could start for any SEC team and can hurt you receiving, running, returning, and even has some passing ability. 
  • Derek Locke is no slouch at RB.  He may not be good enough to unseat guys like Ingram and Richardson at Alabama but he’s a quality back and Donald Russell brings talent and speed to the position. 
  • Kentucky has to replace four lineman but if they do, returning QB Mike Hartline – or whoever comes down with that job — has two good RBs and a spectacular playmaker to help Kentucky score points. 
  • Sustaining drives will be their challenge.  They will get explosive plays but will they be able to consistently move the ball down the field with all the changes on the o-line.

 Defense

  • They return seven defensive starters but among the four who left were some of their leading tacklers. 
  • Can the defense be adequate, can they do enough to keep opponents close?  Can they keep opposing offenses from playing keep away from their playmakers on offense?

 

South Carolina Gamecocks

Offense

  • Stephen Garcia has played a lot of football but has that translated to experience, maturity, and judgment on and off the field?
  • Head coach Steve Spurrier has praised the play of true freshman Connor Shaw.  Shaw has outplayed Garcia in all three scrimmages to this point in the season and we all know Spurrier isn’t afraid to pull a QB or shake up that depth chart on a whim.  Garcia has never endeared himself to the coaching staff.  Shaw may not have to do much more to get on the field.  Many national experts love the Gamecocks.  Will they love them as much if there is a true freshman under center?
  • The Gamecocks return four starters on their offensive line, but is that a good thing?  Have these guys improved or are they simply the most experienced guys on the roster and the best of what’s there?
  • Kenny Miles projects as the starter at RB but newcomer Marcus Lattimore was among the most highly touted RBs in the country in the recruiting wars.  Spurrier kept him in state.  Can they get a running game from somewhere?
  • Alshon Jeffrey is the first elite playmaker Spurrier has put at WR since he’s been there.  Can he be a difference maker this year?  Do they have any other options for Garcia?

Defense

  • They return eight starters but lose pass rushing phenom Eric Norwood.
  • Ellis Johnson had this unit in the Top 15 last year nationally, third in conference.  Can they duplicate that effort?

 

Vanderbilt Commodores

  • Can they get a win?  This team has a very real shot at going 0-for the season.  More than 1 win would be a major upset.

 

Tennessee Volunteers

Offense

  • The offensive line has 0 returning starters.
  • Phil Simms’ first QB son was a middling college QB and failed at the NFL level.  Can Matt Simms fare any better?  He’s not going to have a lot of help because:
    • Monterio Hardesty is gone as is promising but troubled Brice Brown at RB
    • Gerald Jones hasn’t shown consistent ability at WR
    • His protection could be brutal
  • Should Simms falter, true freshman Tyler Bray has looked good.  He was a four-star recruit and may be the better QB of the two but Simms’ junior college experience likely gives him the early nudge.
  • Speaking of brutal: after an opening game against UT-Martin, Tennessee plays Oregon and Florida at home, UAB at home, followed by consecutive road trips to LSU and Georgia.

Defense

  • Their DTs have a combined three starts and help is not on the way.  Juco transfer John Brown did not qualify according to the Knoxville News Senteinnel and sophomore Ben Martin has sustained a serious Achilles injury, potentially a season ender.
  • DE is the deepest position on the defense but Ben Martin has also hurt his Achilles and his injury also looks like a potential season ender.
  • With the great Monty Kiffin and Eric Berry, this was still a defense that finished fifth in the conference and 22nd nationally.  They’ve lost experience on the sideline, in the secondary, and up the middle on the line.  They still have Janzen Jackson at FS but the best you can say about this unit is they have fewer question marks than the offense.

Georgia Bulldogs

Offense

  • Georgia has an amazing, brilliant receiver in A.J. Green and a potentially spectacular running back in Washaun Ealey as well as five starters returning on the offensive line.  10 starters return on offense overall.
  • Is Aaron Murray ready and capable to lead this offense and put his weapons to good, consistent use?  He will be the lone new face this season on offense.
  • Are the five returning starters on the OL ready to give Georgia the kind of physical presence upfront they’ve lacked the past few seasons?

Defense

  • DC Willie Martinez was fired at least one season too late.  This unit was a war crime last year.  Can they stop anyone?  Can they stop teams consistently?
  • New DC Todd Grantham comes from the Dallas Cowboys and is bringing a 3-4 defense with him.  Does Georgia have a true NT on their roster?  Do they have enough LBs to make this system run?
  • Toughness:  the Bulldogs have not shown it against top-level competition in too long.  Georgia has as much speed as anyone in the conference but winning in the SEC takes discipline and physical play.  Georgia has lacked that even when they’ve had the stars like Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno.  They have to add intensity to their speed and skill if they want to win in this conference.

My SEC East Division Prediction:

  1. Florida
  2. Georgia
  3. Kentucky
  4. S. Carolina
  5. Tennessee
  6. Vanderbilt
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About Josh Hathaway