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2008 Early SEC Lookaheads
Georgia QB Matthew Stafford
Georgia QB Matthew Stafford
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jan 31, 2008


With a few national title candidates, like Matthew Stafford's Georgia, and a loaded league of coaches and talents, it's the SEC's world and everyone else seems to be taking up space. Here's an early look ahead at each SEC team with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.


2008 SEC Early Lookaheads

East  Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt 
West Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Ole Miss | Miss State

2007 Pages
2007 SEC Season | 2007 SEC Lookbacks/Recaps
East  Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt 
West Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Ole Miss | Miss State

East

Florida
Why to get excited: The Gators spent last year retooling and reloading after a national title winning 2006, and now they come out loaded with eight starters returning on offense, including QB Tim Tebow, eight on defense and punter Chas Henry, who helped them finish ninth in the nation, and first in the SEC, in net punting. Not only that, but they're even better with former USC RB Emmanuel Moody ready to roll. The four true road games (Georgia doesn't count): Tennessee, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Florida State. After the trip to Knoxville, that's not that bad.
Why to be grouchy: While Miami might not be Miami, when it comes to battling for the national title, it's still asking for trouble to play the Hurricanes, along with the trip to Florida State and games against Hawaii and The Citadel. Getting Ole Miss and Arkansas from the West is a big break, but LSU has to go to The Swamp. Most of the starters are back on defense, but there wasn't much of a pass rush last year and now Derrick Harvey is gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Better play from the pass defense. Massive changes were needed in the secondary going into last year, and it showed with the SEC's worst pass defense. The group had problems with accurate passers, bombers, and everyone in between, and while part of the problem was a lack of a pass rush, the corners have to be better. The spotlight will be on Wondy Pierre-Louis and Joe Haden.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Andre Caldwell
Biggest defensive loss: DE Derrick Harvey
Best returning offensive player: QB Tim Tebow, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Brandon Spikes, Jr.

Georgia
Why to get excited: Does anyone have a better buzz coming out of the 2007 season? Last year was supposed to be a stepping-stone season to this year, and all the questions were answered with the offensive line turning into a strength, RB Knowshon Moreno emerged as a superstar, and the defense was a killer with a terror of a pass rush and a rock-solid run D. Nine starters are back on defense and eight are back on offense.
Why to be grouchy: The margin between being great and being a national title contender is razor thin in the SEC. The loss of huge-legged PK Brandon Coutu might be enough to cost the Dawgs a game. The schedule isn't conducive to win a national title with road trips to South Carolina, Arizona State, LSU, Kentucky and Auburn, along with the neutral site day against Florida. The SEC West slate doesn't get much worse than at LSU, at Auburn, and Alabama.
The number one thing to work on is:
Yeah, this was a nasty team over the second half of the season with almost everything clicking, but the passing game was merely average and might not be all that better. Matthew Stafford has the talent to be a top pro prospect, but he needs targets to work with. Mo Massaquoi is fine, but nothing special, and Sean Bailey is gone.
Biggest offensive loss: C Fernando Velasco
Biggest defensive loss: DE Marcus Howard
Best returning offensive player: RB Knowshon Moreno, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Dannell Ellerbe, Sr.

Kentucky
Why to get excited: The program has a plan with Rich Brooks coaching his final season before passing the torch over to Joker Phillips, a former UK receiver who was a key reason the offense took off over the last few seasons. The offensive line will revolve around three decent starters and RB Tony Dixon, at least early on, while the defense gets back eight starters and both kickers.
Why to be grouchy: QB Andre Woodson. Gone. WR Keenan Burton and RB Rafael Little. Gone. TE Jacob Tamme. Gone. The offense put up big numbers, but it struggled in under pressure late losing four of the final five regular season games. The Florida State academic suspensions saved the day in the Music City Bowl. The schedule is built for several losses with road trips to Louisville, who'll be bent on payback, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State and Tennessee.
The number one thing to work on is: Better line play. There's experience returning on both fronts, and now everyone has to be better after having a nightmare of a time in pass protection and getting little to no consistent pass rush. Until the new starting quarterback emerges, the O line needs tackles Garry Williams and Justin Jeffries to play at another level, while someone has to emerge on defense to take the heat off Jeremy Jarmon.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Andre Woodson
Biggest defensive loss: LB Wesley Woodyard
Best returning offensive player: OT Garry Williams, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Jeremy Jarmon, Jr.

South Carolina
Why to get excited: It's now or never for the Steve Spurrier era. After a rough collapse over the second half of last year losing the final five games, the pressure is on Spurrier to finally show off some more of that magic that made him such a legend in the first place. If everyone stays healthy (a major problem last season), this could be a true SEC title contender with solid replacements for the losses on offense, and ten starters returning on defense, not including LB Jasper Brinkley, who chose to return for his senior year with a knee injury. The first three road games of the year, before mid-November, are at Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Kentucky, but ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the final two games of the year are at Florida and at Clemson. Along with home dates against Georgia and Tennessee, the Gamecocks have to face LSU. Yes, enough talent returns to hope for a much, much better season, but losing RB Cory Boyd won't help the SEC's worst rushing attack, while the health of Jasper Brinkley alone might not be enough to resurrect the league's worst run D.
The number one thing to work on is: Turnover margin. USC gave it away 28 times and only came up with 21 turnovers to finish 101st in the nation in turnover margin. To get through the nasty SEC slate and to have any sort of a shot at winning the SEC East, everyone has to stay healthy, players like QB Chris Smelley have to be better, and there can't be many mistakes. Winning the turnover battle is a major part of that.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Blake Mitchell
Biggest defensive loss: DE Casper Brinkley
Best returning offensive player: WR Kenny McKinley, Sr.
Best returning defensive player:
LB Jasper Brinkley, Sr.

Tennessee
Why to get excited: Considering the league the Vols play in, the schedule isn't all that bad, especially late. Road trips to UCLA, Auburn and Georgia, along with the home date against Florida, makes things nasty early on, but if Phil Fulmer can get through 4-2, things get as good as can be reasonably asked for playing Mississippi State, Alabama, at South Carolina, Wyoming, at Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Ten starters return on offense including the entire offensive line that led the nation in fewest sacks allowed. RB Arian Foster's decision to come back for his senior season was a big plus.
Why to be grouchy: Yeah, most of the key parts are back on offense, but the two biggest parts, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and QB Erik Ainge, are gone. The defense was shockingly average, and now it has to replace three starters on the line, heart-and-soul playmakers Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Hefney, and solid tackling LB Ryan Karl.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting into the backfield. Outback Bowl win over Wisconsin aside, the Vols had a nightmare of a time getting to the quarterback and struggled way too much to stop the running game behind the line. With only two starters coming back on the defensive front seven, the coaching staff needs the off-season to figure out how to manufacture more of a pass rush.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Erik Ainge
Biggest defensive loss: LB Jerod Mayo & FS Jonathan Hefney
Best returning offensive player: OG Anthony Parker, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: SS Eric Berry, Soph.

Vanderbilt
Why to get excited: The quarterback situation is excellent with Mackenzi Adams and Chris Nickson two strong, veteran options who can each keep defensive coordinators up at night. The defense finished 16th in the nation and was tremendous against the pass. Everyone returns to the secondary, led by top corner D.J. Moore and big hitting safety Reshard Langford, and the team's two best pass rushers, DE Broderick Stewart and LB Patrick Benoist, are back.
Why to be grouchy: The window might have slammed shut. Vandy should've been able to get to a bowl game in each of the last two seasons, didn't, and now it's rebuilding time with all five starters gone off the offensive line, top linebackers Jonathan Goff and Marcus Buggs gone off the defense, and all-star receiver Earl Bennett leaving early for the NFL. The rest of the SEC East, outside of Kentucky, appears to be better, while Vandy has gotten a lot worse.
The number one thing to work on is: Throwing the ball. Good luck. Again, Adams and Nickson can play, but they can't do it all on their own. The passing attack only averaged 176 yards per game, and things aren't going to get much better with Bennett gone. George Smith has to step up and become a number one go-to guy on the inside, while Justin Wheeler has to do more on the outside.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Earl Bennett
Biggest defensive loss: LB Jonathan Goff
Best returning offensive player: QB MacKenzi Adams, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: CB D.J. Moore, Jr.


West

Alabama
Why to get excited: Second half collapse aside, Nick Saban set the foundation in a decent first season, and now the pieces are in place for a huge year with nine starters returning on offense and six on defense including building blocks Andre Smith on the O line and Rashad Johnson in the secondary. If the Tide can get past Clemson in the season opener in Atlanta, the chance is there for a big first half of the year playing Tulane, Western Kentucky, at Arkansas, Kentucky and Ole Miss, along with a rough trip to Georgia, before the end of October.
Why to be grouchy: Yeah, the schedule isn't bad early, but it gets rough late going to Tennessee and LSU along with the date against Auburn. The passing game was explosive at times, but it was rarely consistent. John Parker Wilson has the potential to be a quarterback to win big things with, but he'll have to do it without top targets D.J. Hall, Keith Brown and Matt Caddell.
The number one thing to work on is: Scoring. The attack was able to put points up on the board against Tennessee, LSU, and Arkansas, and then things fell off the map scoring 12 against Mississippi State, 14 against UL Monroe and ten against Auburn. The 30-24 win over Colorado in the Independence Bowl gives hope, but there were problems in the second half showing how the scoring has to come on a consistent basis. It starts with Wilson. If he's not efficient on a regular basis, the offense is going to struggle.
Biggest offensive loss: WR D.J. Hall
Biggest defensive loss: CB Simeon Castille
Best returning offensive player: OT Andre Smith, Jr.
Best returning defensive player:
FS Rashad Johnson, Sr.

Arkansas
Why to get excited: Bobby Petrino. Whatever the world might think about him and the way he left the Atlanta Falcons high and dry, the guy can coach. He was tremendous for Louisville and should bring a new fire and a new look to the offense over the next few seasons. With the way he's recruiting early on, the potential is there for this to be an exciting young team that should get better and better as the season goes on.
Why to be grouchy: The whole thing got blown up, and now the program is making a 180-degree turn. With NFL first round talents like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones gone, along with the right side of the offensive line, the most talented receivers, and five starters on defense, this year will be a step back to potentially take a giant leap forward. Before mid-October, the Hogs have to go to Texas, Auburn and Kentucky and host Alabama and Florida, and there's still LSU to deal with to close out the year.
The number one thing to work on is: Finding a quarterback. Mitch Mustain would've been the perfect fit for what Petrino wants to do, but he's off as the likely starter for USC. Ryan Mallett is on the way from Michigan, but he won't be eligible until next year. In the meantime, it's Casey Dick as a stopgap as he has to grow into a far, far more efficient, more dangerous passer with McFadden and Jones gone. Dick has to make everyone around him better.
Biggest offensive loss: RBs Darren McFadden & Felix Jones
Biggest defensive loss: CB Michael Grant
Best returning offensive player: C Jonathan Luigs, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Freddie Fairchild, Jr.

Auburn
Why to get excited: This was a young Tiger team last season and it still had a strong year. Now, eight starters are back on offense and six starters return in the defensive back seven. If all the issues (new coordinators, defensive line changes) can be worked out early on, there will be no excuse whatsoever to not be in the national title hunt if it can hold serve at home. Is this one of the nation's best teams? Maybe it's not a top five team in talent, but here's the road schedule (outside of a nasty date with West Virginia): at Mississippi State, at Vanderbilt, at Ole Miss and at Alabama. Merry Christmas. However ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the home schedule is a nightmare hosting LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, Southern Miss and Georgia (along with UL Monroe, who beat Alabama last year, and UT Martin). Auburn is getting an influx of receiver speed, but the proven talent isn't there with Montez Billings and Robert Dunn merely average starters. The D line is the biggest issue with Pat Sims leaving early for the NFL. Quentin Groves and Josh Thompson are also gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting the new offense in place. With Kodi Burns most likely to be the main man under center early on (with JUCO transfer Chris Todd to also get a shot) to be able to implement the Tony Franklin attack right away, there will be a lot more running, a lot more asked out of the quarterback, and a night-and-day different look from the Brandon Cox era. The running backs are there, and the line is in place, for a huge year on the ground.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Brandon Cox
Biggest defensive loss: DE Quentin Groves
Best returning offensive player: RB Ben Tate, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Sen'Derrick Marks, Jr.

LSU
Why to get excited: Coming off the national title season, Les Miles is bringing in a phenomenal haul of recruits to keep the program among the elite of the elite for years to come. For this year, the return of Ciron Black and Herman Johnson will make the left side of the line among the most dominant in college football, and two other starters are back up front. Jacob Hester might be gone, but all the other running backs return along QB Ryan Perrilloux, who has the show all to himself now. With Tyson Jackson coming back along with Marlon Favorite and Ricky Jean-Francois, the defensive line will go on without Glenn Dorsey.
Why to be grouchy: Can the team really count on Perrilloux to go through an entire season without being a knucklehead? Matt Flynn might not have been as talented, but he was the team's heart-and-soul offensive leader. LSU might be a factory, but you don't get better by losing Dorsey, LB Ali Highsmith, CB Chevis Jackson and SS Craig Steltz.
The number one thing to work on is: The return game. Considering LSU might have college football's fastest player, Trindon Holliday, and a slew of other speedsters, there should be more big returns. The Tigers averaged a mere 5.91 yards per punt return and 19.69 yards per kickoff return, both among the worst in the nation.
Biggest offensive loss: FB Jacob Hester
Biggest defensive loss: DT Glenn Dorsey & SS Craig Steltz
Best returning offensive player: OG Herman Johnson, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Tyson Jackson, Sr. & LB Darry Beckwith, Sr.

Ole Miss
Why to get excited: It's not like Ed Orgeron was kicked out with an empty cupboard. He did a decent job of bringing in some good talents at key spots, and Houston Nutt will benefit. As long as his head is screwed on straight, Greg Hardy will be one of the nation's premier pass rushers and the star of a defense loaded with experience. Michael Oher's decision to return for one more year gives Nutt a strong O line to work around.
Why to be grouchy: The road schedule is harsh playing at Wake Forest, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. There's a ton of experience back on both sides of the ball, but is there a lot of talent compared to the rest of the SEC? The West is nasty, and it'll be hard to make a quick move up in the standings unless there's a huge improvement in just about every area. With all the veterans coming back, many Rebel fans will be hoping for miracles from Nutt, but they'll have to wait a little bit.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting the new backfield transfers in place. Texas transfer Jevan Snead has to take the quarterback job by the reins from day one, and UCLA transfer Jeremy McGee and Cordera Eason have to replace BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The offense has to start scoring. It moved the ball at times, but closing was a huge problem averaging a mere 20 points per game.
Biggest offensive loss: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Biggest defensive loss: CB Nate Banks
Best returning offensive player: OT Michael Oher, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Greg Hardy, Jr.

Mississippi State
Why to get excited: Coming off a breakthrough season under Sylvester Croom, the expectations are sky-high with eight starters back on a senior-laden defense, and seven starters back on offense. The schedule gets a huge break getting Vanderbilt and Kentucky from the East, both at home, along with at Louisiana Tech, SE Louisiana, Middle Tennessee, and at Ole Miss. In other words, the slate is in place to go back to another bowl.
Why to be grouchy: Does the offense have any talent? It has experience, and the running backs are excellent, but the passing game still won't be in place to come up with any explosion. If the defense wasn't creating turnovers and wasn't dictating the game, MSU had a hard time. The problems will likely continue.
The number one thing to work on is: Throwing the ball. Michael Henig hasn't been able to stay healthy, and while Wesley Carroll was only a freshman, he still isn't an efficient passer who'll keep the chains moving without the running game working. MSU is never going to bomb away for 350 yards per game, but there can't be so many interceptions and there has to be more production on third downs.
Biggest offensive loss: C Royce Blackledge
Biggest defensive loss: DE Titus Brown
Best returning offensive player: OT Michael Brown, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: FS Derek Pegues, Sr.