Sallee: SEC New Year's Resolutions
Will A&M learn to finish in its first SEC season?
CFN SEC Columnist Barrett Sallee takes a look at the top New Year's Resolution for each SEC team.
By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee
It's that time of year where smoking stops, gyms fill up (at least for a month) and we all make our New Year's resolutions. SEC football programs should be no different. Here are what the New Year's resolution should be for each of the 14 SEC schools.
Develop a functioning offense. Florida's offense was downright embarrassing the last two seasons, due in large part the the fact that former head coach Urban Meyer recruited a track team rather than a football team. The transition from the spread option to the pro style didn't go so well last season, and whoever head coach Will Muschamp taps as the new offensive coordinator, he needs to turn things around in a hurry. Otherwise, Muschamp himself may be in some trouble.
Keep it going. Todd Grantham's defense improved by leaps and bounds in his second year as defensive coordinator. Now that the Bulldogs have re-established themselves as the class of the SEC East, Georgia needs to jump up to the same class as LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. Sure, competing with the big boys is a lot to ask, but with the recruiting base in place in the state of Georgia, there's no excuse for Georgia not to be an annual SEC contender.
Be consistent. Under former head coach Rich Brooks, you could count on the Wildcats pulling one upset per year and at least looking like a competitive football team. That trend continued in Joker Phillips' first year, but Year 2 was nothing short of a disaster - despite beating Tennessee for the first time in a quarter-century. Consistently making the minor bowl games will be good enough at a basketball school.
Contend. If the same James Franklin that played in the Independence Bowl shows up in SEC stadiums next season, the Tigers will be in the mix in their inaugural season in the SEC. Big early games vs. Georgia and South Carolina will dictate the way the season will go. If Missouri wins just one of those games, don't be surprised if the Tigers are hanging around the top of the SEC East standings when the calendar turns to November.
Diversify. The South Carolina offense was the Marcus Lattimore show in 2010 and for the first half of 2011, before the star running back injured his knee at Mississippi State. All was not lost though. Quarterback Connor Shaw progressed nicely after taking over the starting job midway through the season, and that will have to continue into 2012. Even though Lattimore is a stud, and probably the best running back in the SEC, you can't be one-dimensional in the SEC and be successful.
Take the next step...whatever that is. It's clear that this is a make-or-break year for Derek Dooley in Knoxville, so whatever happens this year - whether it be 8-4 and marked improvement, or 6-6 and a third coaching search in four years - Vol Nation needs to get behind new athletic director Dave Hart. A fractured fan base is a horrible thing for a football program, and Tennessee's has been fractured for a while now.
Capitalize on the momentum. Liberty Bowl loss aside, James Franklin's first season in Nashville was nothing short of a rousing success. Sure, 6-7 at other schools would have coaches worried about job security, but at Vandy, it deserves a parade. Was Vandy's success a product of Franklin and his methods, or can it be chalked up to a down SEC East? If Vandy doesn't make a bowl next season, it'll still be considered the same old Vandy.
Stabilize the kicking game. Granted, there's not much room for improvement in Tuscaloosa, but the kicking game needs some attention. Four missed field goals vs. LSU nearly cost Alabama its shot at its second national title in three years. Using Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley as long and short kickers, respectively, clearly hasn't worked; which shouldn't come as a shock since routine is such a big part of the mindset of kickers. Nick Saban prides himself on coaching teams that run the ball and play defense, but having a sound kicking game is the third part of that equation.
Just a bit of defense will go a long way. Head coach Bobby Petrino has built an offensive machine in Fayetteville, but the Hogs have been unable to take the next step and compete on LSU and Alabama's level because the defense has been consistently inconsistent. No. 9 in the SEC won't cut it - at least if you want to be taken seriously. New defensive coordinator Paul Hayes needs to hit the ground running, because LSU and Alabama aren't getting any worse.
Learn to tackle. A trademark of Auburn's defense under former defensive coordinator Ted Roof was an incredible lack of fundamentals - tackling, in particular. Granted, that's an epidemic in all levels of football, but it has been very prevalent on the Plains these last three years. The Auburn defense responded well when head coach Gene Chizik called the shots for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, so whoever steps in to replace Roof, he will need to keep up the same methods that Auburn worked on during bowl week. Tackling, being job No. 1.
Develop a top tier quarterback. As is the case in Tuscaloosa, there's not a lot of room for improvement in Baton Rouge. The one thing LSU didn't have in 2011 was a game-changing quarterback. Sure, Jarrett Lee was good for the first half of the season, and Jordan Jefferson has been efficient since taking over against Alabama, but neither of them come close to be considered elite. Can junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger or incoming freshman Gunner Kiel be that guy? If either one of them can, LSU will be knocking on the door of attaining dynasty status.
Right the ship. After entering the season with so much hype, 2011 can only be viewed as a disappointment in Starkville. The offense sputtered and the defense was hit-or-miss after the departure of former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and several key seniors. If the Bulldogs stumble to another six-win regular season, there will be legitimate concerns that 2010 was the aberration, and if Dan Mullen is the right guy for the job.
Don't panic...no matter what happens. It's not going to be a good year in Oxford. Talent-wise, the Rebels are in light years behind the rest of the SEC West; and to compound issues for new head coach Hugh Freeze, they must travel to LSU, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia next season. It's not going to be pretty in 2012, and it'd be wise to accept that fact early and just roll with the punches...because there will be plenty.
Finish. The trademark of the 2011 Aggie squad was squandering leads in second halves of games, and that trend nearly continued against Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Last time I checked, the SEC plays four quarters too. New head coach Kevin Sumlin will have to adjust his style a little bit in the SEC anyway, and teaching his team to finish will be his most important task in his first season at the helm.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @BarrettSallee
2011/2012 Offseason Column Archive
SEC New Year's Resolutions - January 1, 2012
Thoughts On The SEC Schedule - December 28, 2011
End Of The Year Accountability - December 25, 2011
Click here for the 2011 Three & Out Archive
Click Here for the 2011 regular season column archive