SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, Part 3
Thumbs up or down for UGA this season?
Who is the most overrated player in the SEC? Who is the most underrated player in the league? Which teams are going to crash and burn in 2009? Our SEC Bloggers take on these topics and more in the third installment of their Roundtable discussion.
Just when you thought you couldn't handle any more from Barrett, Billy and Brian, the SEC Bloggers are back with Part Three of their SEC Roundtable Discussion. Three of our Collegefootballnews.com SEC Bloggers (Billy Gomila, Brian Harbach and Barrett Sallee) are back to get you through the summer until the season starts. This monthly SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion should fire up our loyal CFN SEC readers and give you something to talk about during the College Football's dead period. Each month the guys will dive into a handful of juicy topics to give your off-season water cooler discussions some life. Our guest writer for Part Three of this series will be Outsidethelines from RollBamaRoll.com. This month they look at the overrated/underrated players in the SEC, which SEC teams will be pleasant surprises, which SEC teams will be bitter disappointments and more.
Who is the most overrated and underrated player in the SEC going into the season?
146 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 15 sacks. If you heard a college football analyst spout out those numbers over the last two seasons, most SEC fans would probably assume they belong to a Brandon Spikes, Rolando McClain or Rennie Curran. But it's South Carolina's Eric Norwood, who for two years has been a run-stuffing, pass-rushing force for the Gamecocks, yet always forgotten in discussions of the SEC's best defenders. Norwood would be a superstar in Gainesville, Baton Rouge or Athens, but he's toiled in anonymity in Columbia.
24 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and one half-sack. These numbers somehow made Alabama's Terrance Cody an All-American. The reality is, "Mound" would be a better nickname for "Mount" Cody, who has to be one of the best-marketed players in recent memory. He received ample credit for Alabama's run defense in 2008, and an almost weekly slurping at the hands of television analysts. The truth is Bama's great 2008 group had far more to do with: a) one of the worst seasons this decade for offense in the SEC , b) the Crimson Tide's own clock-killing offense, and c) outstanding play by linebackers Rolando McClain, Brandon Fanney and Dont'a Hightower, than it did the stay-puffed nose tackle. The truth is that Cody, while an overweight folk hero, is an average defensive lineman. Proponents are fond of saying that Cody's role is solely to eat up blocks and free up other defenders, but that defense doesn't hold up to film study or the facts of the nose tackle position. In a 3-4 defense, nose guards are always asked to occupy blockers, but that's not the all they do. NFL nose tackles like Shaun Rogers, Vince Wilfork (who plays in a defense very similar to Alabama's), Jay Ratliff and Haloti Ngata average 3-4 tackles per game. There are even college nose tackles (and there aren't many college teams who run the 3-4) that have out-produced Cody, such as Navy's Nate Frazier and Air Force's Ben Garland, who had 44 and 39 tackles each in 2008. Heck, Josh Chapman, Cody's own backup, had more solo tackles (nine) and just as many tackles for loss in just two starts, and nobody's naming land-masses for him.
Eric Norwood is definitely under the radar and it was great to see him come back to school, holding off on the NFL in favor of his senior season, but it is a good thing the SEC is full of amazing players that don't get the publicity they deserve to choose from. Usually players that are underrated tend to play on lower profile teams and one of the most underrated players in the SEC is Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon. Dixon is a bruising 235 lb running back who has rushed for over 2600 yards in 3 seasons to go along with 34 total touchdowns. When the Bulldogs hired Dan Mullen it didn't seem like Dixon was going to fit into a fast paced, spread offense but Mullen made it clear in the spring that Dixon will be a large part of the offense. Not only is that a smart decision on Mullen's part, it will help showcase Dixon even more to the rest of the league as one of the SEC's best backs. Expect big numbers from Dixon this year with an offense that is so spread out, he may find a lot of space to run through.
Auburn's Kodi Burns has been hailed as a dynamic playmaker ever since he started making plays during August two-a-days two years ago. He had a big arm, quick feet and he seemed like the perfect QB in today's College Football. The problem is Auburn is still waiting for the light to go on in Burns' head and for him to turn into the quarterback they expected when he came in 2 + years ago. In his defense he has had two offensive coordinators that have had no clue how to use him, but the one thing that really can't be blamed on coaching is his accuracy. As a junior he is still doesn't look like an SEC quarterback and this spring he continued to throw ill-advised passes as well as short hopping a number of throws to receivers in the spring game. Burns is not a dynamic athlete in the Pat White mold and he isn't as good a passer as current back up Neil Caudle. If Gus Malzahn can turn Burns into the quarterback Auburn expected it will be impressive, but right now he is just overrated.
Arkansas RB Michael Smith. The senior finished 2008 averaging 107.2 yards per game, only a half-yard behind Georgia RB Knowshon Moreno, who bolted early for the NFL draft. Smith is the best back that nobody talks about. Tiny in stature, at 5-7, 173 lbs., Smith racked up 1,072 yards last season, making him one of only four SEC RB's to top the 1,000-yard mark, along with Moreno, Alabama's Glen Coffee and LSU's Charles Scott. And Smith did that with very little help through the air. Now that Arkansas has Ryan Mallett taking the snaps, common sense says that the running lanes will be a little bigger for Smith in 2009. If Arkansas is going to bounce back from a disappointing 5-7 season in head coach Bobby Petrino's first year, Smith will be one of the major factors in doing so.
Gator-hater's are probably begging one of us to say Tim Tebow – but it won't be me. It's really hard to make a pick like this, but I am going to go with LSU QB Jordan Jefferson. And, before my inbox gets flooded by LSU fans again, I am not saying that he won't be a good, or even great QB. Rather, I'd like to temper the enthusiasm a bit. It's easy to get excited after seeing Jefferson torch the Georgia Tech defense in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, but he only saw significant time in two other games (Ole Miss and Arkansas), and didn't exactly have stellar performances in those. Jefferson is likely to beat out Jarrett Lee and Russell Shepard for the starting QB role, but I don't expect him to put up All-SEC numbers just yet. Much like Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead at the start of last season, Jefferson will have to conquer a few speed bumps as he matures in 2009.
Outsidethelines from Rollbamaroll.com:
The most underrated player in the league almost certainly has to be Kentucky's Trevard Lindley. After earning a starting job as a freshman, Lindley has consistently been one of the defensive backs in the league. Last year he led the league in passes broken up, and he has had many important interceptions throughout his career at Kentucky. Rich Brooks says it is almost impossible to measure Lindley's true value to the Wildcats, but at the least it seems clear that without Lindley they certainly would not be coming off of three straight bowl victories. Furthermore, Lindley has prototypical size and speed for a corner at the next level, and many think he will be a first round draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Nevertheless, despite all of this, Lindley is largely an unknown to most SEC fans, so it would be hard to find a more underrated player than him.
The most overrated nod ought to go to LSU's Charles Scott. This is not, of course, to say that Scott is a bad player or anything of the sort, and to the contrary he has proven on several occasions that he is a very capable player. On the other hand, those who like to cast Scott as a true star and the next member in the long line of great SEC tailbacks are simply off base. Scott did very well in the early-to-mid 2008 season when his offensive line was consistently creating gaping holes galore for him, but when the offensive line struggled down the stretch, Scott's production fell through the floor, averaging only 3.3 yards per carry in the final five games. That tells me, in other words, that Scott is like most tailbacks... largely interchangeable, productive when the offensive line is getting the job done, and unproductive when the offensive line struggles. That makes Scott a solid, capable player, but a great one? Not quite.
Billy: 2009 could be a big-time bounce-back year for offense in the conference with some new blood at the coordinator and quarterback spots. Defense is usually the headline in the SEC, but 2009 will lack a truly dominating unit. We all might see offense pull out of the shadows a little more.
In the first Roundtable you gave us a Sleeper SEC Offensive Player of the Year, who is your Sleeper SEC Defensive Player of the Year?
Brian: Auburn's Antonio Coleman is going to have a monster season and he could very well end up being the defensive player of the year if he can stay healthy. Coleman, a fifth year senior, spurned the NFL draft this past April when his evaluation came back as a likely second round pick and Auburn's coaching change could have validated his thoughts of leaving. Antonio was on his way to a break out season last year, but injuries to himself and the Auburn defensive line slowed his play significantly. Coleman is 10 sacks away from being Auburn's all time sack leader and it isn't out of the question to think he can get that number this year. The last year Gene Chizik was in Auburn as the Defensive Coordinator in 2004, two defensive ends similarly sized to Coleman had monster seasons. Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves were both tied for third in total sacks, McClover lead the SEC in forced fumbles and Auburn had the second most sacks in the league (36). Chizik's defense knows how to get after the quarterback and that is what Coleman does best.
Barrett: Tennessee CB Art Evans has a golden opportunity to make a BIG name for himself this fall, playing in the same secondary as Mr. All-Everything Eric Berry. Evans, a 6-1, 173-pound sophomore, had a strong spring after seeing limited action in 2008. He likely will win a starting spot this fall, especially considering former WR Brent Vinson is having off-the-field issues, and CB/S Dennis Rogan's eligibility is in question. Offenses will make a concerted effort to not let Berry beat them, so Evans will have plenty of opportunities to put up some strong numbers. Not to mention new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has made a career out of strong, opportunistic defenses. It's put on a tee for Evans, and everyone else in the Tennessee secondary for that matter, to knock it out of the park.
Billy: In the ten-plus years that Monte Kiffin led the Tampa Bay Buccaneer defense he put a premium on smaller linebackers who could run the width of the field, and his system (both in Tampa and on other teams) has made stars of players who didn't fit the NFL's mold of the 250-pound, Butkus-type linebacker. Especially at the weakside, or "will" spot, where guys like Derrick Brooks, Lance Briggs and Cato June each made Pro Bowls. At Tennessee, he inherits Rico McCoy, who fits the slight-and-speedy mold of other "Tampa Two" linebackers and with 193 tackles the last two seasons, already has a track record of productivity. In Kiffin's scheme, McCoy may excel.
Outsidethelines: Though not as much of a lock as Tim Tebow, Eric Berry is clearly the smart choice to repeat as the Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He's an exceptionally talented player, and Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense ought to maximize his abilities. Aside from Berry, however, for a sleeper, the odds are probably good for Ole Miss' Greg Hardy. When healthy he is likely the best edge rusher in the SEC, but his stock slipped a bit thanks to off-field issues and some lingering leg injuries from a year ago. If he can stay healthy and out of trouble, Hardy ought to return to being a quarterback terror again in 2009, and thus would make for a good sleeper pick for Defensive Player of the Year.
Brian: This is obviously Eric Berry's award to win this year and he may need to make room for a couple other trophies on his shelf, especially the Thorpe Award. Right now outside of the sleepers this award looks like it will likely be a three person race between Berry, Florida's Brandon Spikes and Alabama's Rolando McClain. Alabama and Florida will likely have the two best defenses in the conference this season and the McClain and Spikes are the leaders on those units. Those two linebackers may make it tough for Berry this year, but in the end he will be the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year.
Which team is going to disappoint this season and which team is going to overachieve?
Billy: This question depends on how you define "over-" and "underachieving." The preseason punditry and analysts like us have our own expectations and fans have their own, and the two are rarely in concert (this year's loaded Florida team may be the exception). And injuries always make for the ultimate equalizer (take Jevan Snead off Ole Miss or Julio Jones off Alabama and the SEC West becomes a completely different race). But as far as teams that could have a lower win total than what we're all used to seeing, I'll go with Georgia. Mark Richt's team has enough talent back that it's hard to call them "rebuilding," but when your schedule includes Florida, Oklahoma State, LSU, Georgia Tech and potentially dangerous Arkansas, plus the general rigors of a normal SEC slate, it's not crazy to suggest the ‘Dawgs could lose four or five games.
Maybe it's blind faith in the Ball Coach, but if South Carolina can get some quality production from Stephen Garcia (this is, admittedly, a large if), they might be able to make a lot of teams sweat. Darth Visor still knows what he's doing, and good quarterback play has been the main thing holding those dark-side force powers in check. If that changes, a few SEC defensive coordinators might start feeling an icy grip on their throats.
Brian: Two huge factors in a successful SEC team is schedule and quarterback and those two things are whyTennessee is going to once again underachieve this season. The most important position in college football is the quarterback and the Vols don't have one. There is a lot of young talent at running back and the secondary has the nation's best defensive player in Eric Berry, but QB play will once again be their downfall. Looking at the Tennessee schedule through the first 7 games it is brutal. The Vols play UCLA, at Florida, Auburn, Georgia, at Alabama and South Carolina. The two road games are obviously the toughest in that group, but any of those other 4 teams are capable of beating Lane Kiffin's team if they don't get the QB position sorted out fast. It is very likely that even with the great recruiting class, the excellent staff and the positive momentum Kiffin has built up in Knoxville that it could all come crashing down before they get to November.
Last year's surprise team was Ole Miss, thanks in part to a transfer QB (Jevan Snead) providing the talent at a position that the Rebels had not had in years. This year's team that is going to overachieve is Arkansas and they will follow the same formula that Ole Miss did last year. A transfer QB, Ryan Mallett, is going to provide the athleticism and stability that the Razorbacks have been lacking for years. The Hogs return nearly their entire defense, their top running back and they have the SEC's second most innovative offensive mind as their head coach. If it wasn't for their schedule they would be a dark horse team for the SEC West, but they will win 8 or 9 games this season and get back to a good bowl game.
Barrett: I am going to go with Alabama as the team that is most likely to disappoint. Alabama fans have dreams of National Championships, after posting an unblemished regular season last season. But, I don't see the Crimson Tide at that level quite yet. The Crimson Tide isn't replacing a lot of starters, but they are replacing them at very key positions like quarterback, left tackle and safety. Head coach Nick Saban has put up quite a few solid recruiting classes, so it's no doubt that there will be talented players stepping in to fill those shoes, but that's a lot of experience that walked out the door, and you can't coach experience. Expect some growing pains from the Crimson Tide, especially early on, as they work out the kinks. The match-up vs. Ole Miss is key because Alabama may need that tie-breaker to repeat as SEC West Champions.
Billy actually stole my overacheiver with South Carolina, since you would think, at some point, Steve Spurrier would find an offense to compliment that D. But, for the sake of diversity, I'll go with Georgia. Bulldog fans are quietly comparing this season to the 2005 season that saw D.J. Shockley lead them to the SEC Championship in his fifth-year of eligibility, after waiting in the wings behind David Greene. The 2009 edition of the Bulldogs has a similar storyline, with fifth-year senior Joe Cox likely assuming the QB role after the departure of first-overall draft pick Matthew Stafford. Like Shockley, Cox saw meaningful action a time or two during his last three years in Athens. Georgia's still got to go down to Jacksonville and beat the Gators, which hasn't happened that much over the last 15 years. But, if they clear that hurdle, they could be right there come November competing for the division title.
Outsidethelines: The most disappointing team in the 2009 team may very well turn out to be Georgia. Though the Dawgs should have nowhere near the injury issues they experienced a year ago, replacing Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, and others will not be easy. Making matters even worse will be a murderer's row schedule that includes games against Oklahoma State, Arizona State, LSU, Florida, and Georgia Tech, not to mention the usual gauntlet of South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Auburn. 7-5 is not out of the question for UGA, which would make for the worst year of the Richt era, and would clearly be a disappointment to all Bulldog fans.
The surprise overachiever of the 2009 season may very well turn out to be Kentucky. Despite three straight bowl victories, everyone still overlooks the Wildcats in preseason discussions, but they could surprise a bit again this year. The non-conference schedule has four easy games, and they are fortunate enough to pick up the two teams who will probably finish at the bottom of the SEC West, Auburn and Mississippi State. You would be hard-pressed to find any coach who has consistently done as much with as little as Rich Brooks has during his time with Kentucky, and no one should be overly surprised if he has Kentucky back in 2009 with another bowl appearance and seven or eight wins.
Billy: The 2009 Georgia football team may be the classic case of a team that may end up being better than its record indicates. The Bulldogs' slate is pretty brutal, with at least two potential top-10 teams, several other teams that may spend time in the top 25 next year. Joe Cox is no greenhorn, but that's hardly the kind of schedule you want to break in a new quarterback against. Another team that has some intriguing potential is Kentucky, who seems to have reached a stride under Rich Brooks as a steady 7-plus win team that can't be discounted on any week. But they haven't reached the kind of level where a player like Jeremy Jarmon can be replaced easily and he will likely be missed.
What was the most interesting story line to come out of the SEC Meetings last month?
Barrett: Without a doubt, it's the money. $132.5 million was split among the 12 member institutions of the SEC, setting an all-time record, and marking a 4 percent increase from 2008. Considering the economy, especially since mid-September 2008, that figure speaks volumes on the importance of football in the south, and to the 12 schools. Don't get too comfortable with that figure though. The new TV deal with CBS and ESPN, which will put virtually every game on national TV in some way, shape or form, that dollar figure is sure to increase in 2010, no matter what the economy does between now and then. The SEC has been dominant in recent years, winning the last three National Championships and four of the last six. That success, coupled with the financial windfall being enjoyed by its member institutions, is sure to keep the SEC at the head of the class for years to come.
Billy: It's admittedly a half(hearted) start, but I for one was glad to see the SEC finally take on the issue of oversigning, and I hope that the NCAA takes the rule a step further. But a 28 letters-of-intent limit is merely cosmetic. The real oversigning comes when a team like Alabama adds 25 players to replace 11 departures (nine seniors and two underclassmen), noting only that "the numbers will work themselves out." The Crimson Tide are far from the only team to engage in this practice, but the fact is right now some coaches are approaching the yearly attrition of scholarship players as less of a natural process and more of a necessity. If Johnny Four-star isn't hacking it on the field in a few years, he can be replaced by Jimmy Five-star, scholarship commitment be damned. Attrition will always happen in football, so long as there are, injuries, academics and off-the-field issues. But if coaches are going to treat players as free agents to be cut, those players should at least have the freedom to take their talents to the FBS school across the street without iron-clad transfer limitations. Or let those limitations tie the hands of coaches as well. A signing limit tied to 85 scholarships would be far more effective than one tied to 28 letters of intent. It may be tip-toe step, but the SEC took a small one in the right direction on this.
Brian: Not trying to be too repetitive here, but the best thing that can out of the SEC meetings was hands down Mike Slive going daddy on the SEC coaches to stop them from acting like children in the media. For years the SEC has had issues with coaches running their mouths to the media, to fans and to the NCAA regarding possible violations. It used to be that these things were handled in house and not out in the public. The same type of communication that is expected in a corporate atmosphere should be how things are done between SEC coaches. As an SEC coach, if you have a problem with someone or with something that another coach did get on the phone and call them. It is extremely immature to call out other coaches in press conferences or interviews when all that needs to be done is to call the man you have a problem with. It was good to hear that Slive wants to try and run his conference like the type of successful business it is and not like a high school team project where the students go tattle to the teacher. Every SEC coach needs to pay attention to this…you are adults, you are men, make a phone call and stop using the media to do your dirty work because you aren't man enough to do it yourself.
Outsidethelines: The two biggest headlines coming out of the SEC meetings were (1) the imposition of a cap on the number of players a school is allowed to sign each year, and (2) Mike Slive's order to SEC coaches to stop the back and forth bantering. Of course, though, simply to say that they were the biggest headlines is not to say they were particularly important. To the contrary, neither storyline is likely to result in any real changes. The cap on signing classes is nice, I suppose, but the majority of signing classes now have fewer than 28 players, and those that occasionally have more generally only have a couple of more players; coaches will now just knock out the last couple of recruits at the bottom of the class, no big deal. Likewise, there is no legitimate reason to expect the banter will cease just because Slive said so. At the end of the day, it's hard to see anything of any serious relevance coming out of the meetings.
Barrett: The edict by Slive urging coaches to stop acting like children is one that will be interesting to watch as the season progresses. I think that we all expect that Urban Meyer will give Lane Kiffin a good ole' fashioned butt-whippin' in mid-September. But, if any of these personal jabs carry over to anything more than good, hard play on the field within the rules, Slive my be signing a different tune next year in Destin.
We hope you enjoyed our Third SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, please email any of us or all of us with your comments. Also, if there are any questions you want us to answer go ahead and send them our way.