Is Everyone Else Just Playing To Come In Second To Florida? [2009 SEC Preview]
There are tons of story lines coming into the season for the SEC: Can anyone beat Florida, and should everyone just hand them the SEC crown and a free pass to Pasadena? Has Lane Kiffin's mouth wrote a check that his team can't cash? Can any of the first year coaches (Mullen at Mississippi State, Kiffin at Tennessee, and Chizik at Auburn) buck the trend of bad starts for first-year coaches in the SEC? Will Dan Mullen bring any excitement to the usually boring Mississippi State Bulldog team? Is Ole Miss really that good?
While there is a one-trick-pony in the SEC East just waiting for their trip to Atlanta to get here, the SEC West has a log jam at the top with 3 teams (Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss) all expected to make serious runs at the division title. While Mississippi State sits in rebuilding mode under a new head coach, Arkansas and Auburn are sitting back enjoying the spotlight getting pointed at other teams. They both have good teams and will hurt some feelings this season if people keep overlooking them.
While Florida might be sitting on cruise control in the East, it appears that the only real contender to knock them off of their perch is the Bulldogs from Athens. Most people don't expect Mark Richt's team to bring enough gumph to the table to be a real threat, but trust me, there's a good squad waiting between the hedges to prove their worth.
Let's take a look at each team, and in my humble opinion, take a gander at how they will do this season.
13-1, 7-1 SEC - beat Oklahoma 24-14 to win the national championship.
The Gators are coming off of a national championship season, their second in 3 years. Everyone and their brother expects nothing short of a perfect season and another title to send the almighty Tim Tebow off to the NFL (and he respectfully deserves that title). Does anyone know what the 2009 Gators have in common with the 2002 Miami team, 2003 Ohio State team, 2005 and 2006 USC team? They were all expected to cake walk through the season with the greatest team of the century. I'm pretty sure that USC was picked to win the NFC west those two seasons. So Florida better be careful. It's real easy to look in the mirror and get complacent.
What is the key to a successful season for Florida? Simple: stay healthy. They return all of their starters on defense and practically their entire offense minus Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy. Harvin especially will be missed, but they are still sitting pretty at WR. They won't be as electric as last season, but their wideouts will still be faster than most in the SEC. New offensive coordinator Steve Addazio has been tinkering with the I-Formation and plans to use it a bit early in the season to help develop Tebow's NFL passing ability. But the spread will still be alive and happening in Gaineville.
With that much offense, do they need a defense? It doesn't seem like it, but they still bring back one of, if not the best, defenses in the nation. Led by LB Brandon Spikes and super shutdown cornerback Joe Haden, this D should be better than last season.......if everyone stays healthy.
vs Charleston Southern
@ Mississippi State
@ South Carolina
Does anyone really see them losing any of these games? LSU and maybe Georgia are the only real threats until they get to the SEC title game. If they don't make it to Atlanta this year, it will be nothing short of a travesty.
10-3, 6-2 SEC - won bowl game 24-12 vs Michigan State
Everyone seems to be sleeping on the Bulldogs this season. Mainly because they lost Matthew Stafford (QB) and Knowshon Moreno (RB) to the draft. How will they be replaced? And the innevitable question is, do they have a snowball's chance in hades to compete with Florida?
For Georgia to win this season, they will need new senior QB Joe Cox to step in and be consistent. He has the arm and the talent to do the job (he already has the experience, playing a decent amount behind Stafford since his freshman season), he just needs keep his head straight. Can he be strong enough to lead this team for a full season? That's the question. He will be behind arguably the best offensive line in the SEC, so there won't be any excuses. They have a plethora of talent at running back led by Caleb King and super star wide receiver A.J. Green. So the makeup is there. But can they produce? Their biggest hurdle will be finding another WR to complement Green. If someone doesn't step up, Green will get constant double teams and basically put a dagger in the passing game.
With stud line backer Rennie Curran back for another season, the defense should be above average, probably better. So it is safe to say that the season relies heavily on the arm (and mind) of Joe Cox. The defense will be fine, the running game should very good, so it all sits on Cox's shoulders.
vs Oklahoma State
vs South Carolina
vs Arizona State
vs Tennessee Tech
@ Georgia Tech
I'm looking at an 8-4 season from the Bulldogs. Their schedule is already tough enough, but if Joe Cox and the running game can produce, it could take a turn uphill if everyone keeps ignoring them.
7-6, 2-6 SEC - bowl win 25-19 over East Carolina
I don't know about anyone else, but Rich Brooks is pretty confident that he has a squad good enough to contend this season. I guess everyone should be on alert, huh?
Brooks has Kentucky playing good football. They snuck up on a few teams last season, and 4 of their 5 SEC losses last season was by 7 points or fewer. Coming off of a bowl win last year and, despite having nagging injuries, won 7 games, this team will be coming into the season with some confidence. Led by QB Mike Harline and RB Randall Cobb, this offense will probably be a little sporatic: putting up big points sometimes, but not quite finding the handle against superior opponents.
Despite a strong set of linebackers, including Micah Johnson, and an experinced cornerback in Trevard Lindley, this defense will have a question mark next to it until it proves otherwise. It's pretty hard to replace two defensive ends, including Ventrell Jenkins who went to the Buffalo Bills.
vs Miami (OH)
@ South Carolina
vs LA Monroe
vs Mississippi State
vs Eastern Kentucky
Not the toughest of schedules, but I still see them going 7-5 and going to another bowl game. Kentucky will look great some weekends and dreadful during others, but they will be better than the team you will see against Florida.
7-6, 4-4 SEC - lost their bowl game 31-10 to Iowa
The Ol' Ball Coach (I'm pretty sure it's mandatory to start any sort of talk about the Gamecocks like that). Steve Spurrier and company has flown under the radar for the past 4 years, largely due to lack of talent. He finally has a full allotment of his own recruits, but is it enough? This team will be consistently good, but not outstanding. But one thing you can count on, plenty of camera action from the always animated Spurrier. You better believe this team will be fired up and ready to play.
Finally taking over at QB will be Stephen Garcia. Garcia has had ups and downs throughout his brief career, but Spurrier claims that this is finally his team to lead and he won't be getting yanked in the middle of a game after every screw up (I'll believe it when I see it). The offensive line will be the key to this offense. If they play respectably and keep Garcia off of his butt, the Gamecocks will be much improved from last season. With sure-handed Kenny McKinley gone, the running backs might be the strong suit, which doesn't sound like a Spurrier led team. Watch out for freshmen standout Jarius Giles. If he plays as well as expected, this offense will be smoking by midseason.
The defense will be strong, but not as strong as last season's #2 pass defense. 2 key players from that defense left early, and good talent is filling in where it is needed, but experience will play a big roll. If they can step up and silent the critics early on, this team will be a little better than what people are giving them credit for.
@ NC State
vs Ole Miss
vs South Carolina State
Despite the upside to this team, they need one more season to get where they want to be. 6-6 for Spurrier's boys, and sitting on the bubble for a bowl bid.