This story was originally published in CFN, Y'all Play Nice. SEC East Deep Dive, August 5, 2009. Grades are marked in-line in green/red.
3 SEC EAST QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who is the most overrated/underrated team in the SEC East?
We could go out on a ledge and take Florida as our most overrated - since they're everyone's darling to be the "Best Team Since Time" – at least the best team since the advent of moonshine. Really, there's no other way to go. Unless you actually are the best team since white lighting - minus an injury to Mr. Perfect, Florida repeats as SEC/National champions. So we'll go instead with UGA. Thanks to the relative weakness of the East (which has to be the story this season), UGA still finishes with 8-9 wins. But come on - if we have to read one more article comparing Joe Cox to Tee Martin (yes, you too Fiu)… Sure, Cox did complete ~75% of his attempts last season. ‘course that was only 15. Add to that a Blue Cross Oline (and Dline), no proven WR across from Green, no RB stepping forward in the Spring… What's there to worry about? Toss in a ‘lil world-beating Gator program down south, and all this chatter about UGA having a special season is putting the cart a wee bit in front of the horse. Feels like August 2008 all over again. (The Georgia schedule is also overrated, but we'll save that dissection for another column.)
I am not privy to Russ' inbox, but if it is anything like mine, every UGA fan in the country agrees with this overrated statement. Even CFN's own Pete Fiutak missed, as he ranked UGA in the preseason Top 5. Not sure if Russ still thinks UGA will finish with 8 or 9 wins, but they were absolutely overrated heading into the season.
Why has everyone jumped off the Vandy bandwagon. Sure, they lost their Mr.-Everything-Senior-QB, but look a little deeper. We forgive you for not paying close attention to the Commodores, but HC Bobby Johnson has significantly improved the talent depth across the roster. We're not kidding. QB Mackenzi Adams might spell his name like a girl, but he has some steady experience to match his confidence (almost), the WR core is much improved, and the defense will be steady. Yes, the entire Oline has been replaced, but remember - Vandy went bowlin' last season with a pretty ‘spotty' offense at best (112th in passing and 110th in efficiency). The defense will come to the rescue again this year, particularly the Dline… So jump back on.
Russ, I believe the Vandy bandwagon fell off the tracks at Army last weekend, and it doesn't look like it will be getting back on anytime this year. The ‘Dores quarterback play has been bad, the rest of the offense isn't much better, and it is hard to see them heading back to a bowl game unless they start upsetting teams this weekend. Conveniently, a wounded UGA teams travels to Nashville this Saturday… You man enough to match your Vandy upsets from last year, Mr. Mitchell. :) (RM Note: No.)
Right now there aren't really a lot of overrated teams in the SEC East, only two stand out as potential fits, Georgia and South Carolina. Both teams could crash and burn this season, but since only one of them is ranked in most preseason Top 25 polls, Georgia is the most overrated team in the SEC East. The QB situation is still dicey with Joe Cox; sorry, no matter how many emails I get from UGA fans, I am still not 100% sold on the offensive line, and as usual Georgia lost a ton of underclassmen to the NFL draft. UGA is always one of the 2 or 3 most talented teams in the SEC, but lately their rankings make more sense in October than in August.
Shocker! An overrated UGA team. It's not like this call was that surprising. As such, we will resist any victory laps. At least long ones. A solid A grade, Mr. Harbach.
Tennessee. Tennessee is my Mr. Irrelevant this preseason, but it may make more sense to call them unknown. It is hard to really gauge what we are going to see from Lane Kiffin's motley crew this year, and that makes them one of the most intriguing teams of 2009. The schedule is tough out of the gate, and there is not an SEC QB on the roster right now. Still, Kiffin seems to be a crafty guy - he might be able to shock some teams with good defense and a trick play or two. It seems like a mistake to count Kiffin and the Vols out based on off-season rhetoric, but until he proves he can coach in the SEC, it appears Tennessee is an underrated team.
Hm… We really want to give you a failing grade here, Sir. Don't believe the AU score; the Tigers controlled that game. Same with the Florida game, where Baby K and the Kiffin Kids were playing the clock, not the Gators. And you would think the conference stat charts would chronicle a litany of frustrations. However, you would be mistaken. Sure, Mr. Crompton has struggled, but the Vols rank in the top half of the SEC in 13 of the 17 major statistical categories. Now THAT'S shocking. And only in KRs (11th) and Sacks (10th) do they rank near the bottom. In fact – brace yourself – if you average Tennessee's ranking in everything from Total Offense to Tackles for Loss, UT ranks sixth in the SEC (5.9) and 44th in the nation (out of 119 teams). Record be damned, Mr. Harbach! We give you a B/B-, if not an attaboy.
(ii) Who emerges from the SEC East shadows for a breakout season?
The safer bet here is Sophomore RB Jeffrey Demps out of Florida. Percy Harvin's gone, in case you haven't heard, and Demps is just electric. However, we're going deep, deeeeeep into the shadows, though staying with the same team, in selecting standout true freshman recruit Andre DeBose. Florida's offense (read: Tim Tebow) is accustomed to playing with the "Harvin Option", and we're not talking about the pitch. Though that'll work too. DeBose had a minor hamstring strain this Spring, but that appears to be behind him – like a lot of SEC players will be this season. If this is the first time you've seen Andre's name, follow this jump – and remember, that's Florida 6A football you're watching. Actually, just remember the name – Andre DeBose.
Russ gets a pass on this one (or a note from the doctor), as a leg injury knocked DuBose out of contention during summer workouts. Save this call for next year though; if DuBose comes back healthy in the spring, there is a great chance he assumes the role in 2010 that several SEC analysts expected in 2009.
For a running back that has never started a game at Georiga, Caleb King seems to have been thrown under a bus by the entire UGA fan base. King was always a quiet, unassuming player in high school. He was not a vocal leader - he lead by example. So far in his short time at Georgia, King has not had the opportunity to lead by anything, thanks to some guy named Knowshon Moreno. Completely overlooked by Bulldog Nation and the SEC, King is poised for a breakout season, which he will get started come August. He won't be an All SEC player this year, but he will be the Georgia starting running back all season, and will get back the credit he seems to have lost while waiting patiently in Moreno's shadow.
F. (There's an Excessive Celebration joke in here somewhere, but we're tired.) We truly wanted to stop at the "F", to avoid the impression of piling on. But... Not only has King failed to develop into a star, but the oft-injured TB isn't even the leading his own team. That "honor" goes to Richard Samuel. King returns this week, after missing the Tennessee pasting thanks to a concussion/broken jaw suffered in the loss to LSU. His inability to separate himself from the rest of the Georgia RBs has left the Bulldogs in something of a quandary – Georgia has played six games, and in five of them has had a different back lead the team in rushing. The most recent being Carlton Thomas in Knoxville (30 whole yards). Not surprisingly, the Dawgs rank last in the SEC in Rushing Offense (and 104th in the nation). Where have you gone, Mr. Moreno? (…think Simon and Garfunkel. Google it, you whippersnappers).
(iii) What every SEC East fan should be talking about this preseason, but isn't?
Well, that leaves out anything to do with Lane Kiffin's mouth (although we note that mouth has spared his team the scorn it richly deserves for folding during the 2008 campaign), whether going 6-6 will be enough to save Steve Spurrier's job, and really, just how special is that Tim Tebow… (i) The entire two-deep of Florida's remarkable defense is returning; that simple fact is just crushing, especially when you consider… (ii) During the regular season, the Gators set a conference record for Margin of Victory in spectacular fashion – by an average of 32 points per game! For the mathematically challenged among us (read: non-Vandy grads), that's outscoring your SEC brothers by more than 4 TDs and a FG per game – a lopsided display of such magnitude we're surprised Mom didn't step in and stop it. That includes the 31-30 loss to Ole Miss. As much as both units are required for Margin of Victory, it was Florida's defense that was more responsible for the startling figure. Now revisit point (i). Ok, breathe… (iii) We first wrote about the SEC backing the truck up to ESPN way back in January, but it's gotten even better. In mid-July, Fox Sports announced it wanted in at the table, sub-letting ~91 SEC events from ESPN. Happy Days! (iv) Auburn's fielding 7 QBs with a (somewhat) realistic chance of starting… Think they could spare one for Tennessee? Maybe draw a name out of a hat? (v) Speaking of Vol signal callers, there is no truth to the rumor that baby blue is Jonathan Crompton's favorite color (19/41, 189, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 1 Fumble); do over on 9/12… (vi) Florida's Demps is the only SEC East RB on the list of candidates for the Doak Walker Award. Ouch. Not to call anyone out (Caleb King), but someone better step up or it's going to be even uglier than we think… and (vii) it hurts that stud Wildcat DE Jeremy Jarmon lost his eligibility for using a banned dietary supplement, but he was picked up this July by the ‘skins in the NFL's supplemental draft. The Cats? Already way thin at defensive end, Kentucky was dealt another blow when it was recently announced Donte Rumph would play JC ball this season rather than don the blue and white. Kentucky needs its defense to perform like 2008 to have any chance of improving on its 2-6 conference record, and that's unlikely if it can't put pressure on opposing QBs.
Maybe Russ is onto something here with Crompton's favorite color being baby blue: he has made Tennessee fans turns shades of it with his accuracy issues all season, and then he made UGA blue when they left Knoxville last week. But what stands out the most are the comments about the Florida defense, it may be the most talented group Meyer has ever had, and for all the pub Alabama is getting right now, it is hard to argue against Florida. They are scary good. Good calls, Russ.
Vanderbilt seems to get better and better each year, and with the duo of quarterbacks lining up under center for the Commodores, the SEC better take notice quickly before Bobby Johnson's group starts upsetting teams again. Quarterbacks Larry Smith and Mackenzie Adams should help an offense that struggled much of last year take some big steps forward. The quantity of losses on the defensive side of the ball was not large (2 starters), but the quality of those players will hurt. Still, even with the loss of a great SEC player like DJ Moore, by no means will the defense be a liability. With an improved offense, a bowl game is something Vanderbilt fans should not hope for, but expect, in 2009.
Yeah, well I missed this one too.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC East Coach / Player is in the Spotlight this season?
It's gotta be the ol' Ball Coach. South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has had all the time he needs to bring in the recruits, to get his coaching staff in place, and to incorporate his special offense. It hasn't worked. And that's being kind. Note to some talking heads: since when did being "above .500" become the bell weather for Steve Spurrier??? If this were any other program in the SEC, he'd have been fired by now. Steve's lunching off the low expectations of South Carolina fans. To date, USC has at best underperformed its talent level, let alone its talented coach. Given significant questions yet again at QB, Oline, a RB by committee and poor (Offensive) team leadership, and it'll once again be a stellar defense that's called upon to save this team. The OBC doesn't call the defensive plays, right? That's what we thought. You hear that bell coach? It's calling for you.
Six games in and Spurrier has South Carolina right where he wants them, 5-1 and in the Top 25. At this point, I have to give a failing grade. However, there's a big caveat that I know Russ is expecting: the OBC is one to watch all year long. The typical South Carolina crash-n-burn is just a week or two away, unless Spurrier can find a way to win big games on the road. As Russ mentioned, the defense has been stellar. But will the Gamecocks get enough offense to push South Carolina into that 9-win range that has been so elusive for Spurrier in Columbia? This might be a passing grade come December…
Mark Richt, Georgia Head Coach This is a very interesting year for one of the most likable coaches in the country. Mark Richt has done a fantastic job at Georgia, two SEC Championships, three BCS Bowl games yet there seems to be some worry about how he will handle Urban Meyer. Last year's loss was a jarring defeat for the program that was a pre-season number one in both polls. Richt is facing his toughest schedule while at Georgia, with OOC games against Arizona State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State. Tech and OSU are road games and when you add the rest of the SEC schedule to the mix it is not the best time to be breaking in a new starting QB. A bowl game is expected and that goal should be met, but how well UGA performs this year will go a long way to how Richt is perceived in 2010.
A good call. Richt is starting to face some heat in Athens, though we think that's unwarranted. Chances for a National Championship don't come around every season, and Richt took his shot at the brass ring last year. As a result, the cupboards are bare (certainly inexperienced) this year. And Richt has proven he can coach/recruit. As such, it's time to look forward to next year - Bench Cox and play Logan. Georgia football is (or should be) about competing for Championships – not jockeying for bowl position. At this point, with no realistic shot at a trip to Atlanta, best not to enter next year with a QB that once again has little experience. Ask Les Miles.
SEC EAST POWER RANKINGS
1 Florida – Seriously, it's going to be ugly
2 Georgia – Wow! Such a drop-off after Tebow & Co.
3 Tennessee – On the backs of Kiffin Sr. and Spurrier Sr.
4 South Carolina – The other Florida head coach
5 Vanderbilt – Not a one year wonder
6 Kentucky – Love Cobb, but wouldn't even bet w/ your money
Staring at the ranking right now, Russ isn't too far off-base with Florida leading the pack and the bottom two team winless in the SEC. That battle for second is going to be an interesting one, with any of the UGA/USC/UT group still able to move up with half the season left.
1 Florida – No one else in the division is even close
2 Georgia – Good QB play will be key to successful season
3 South Carolina – O-line will make or break the Gamecocks once again
4 Tennessee – Vols are a team to keep an eye on in 2009
5 Vanderbilt – QB situation at Vandy is better than most in SEC
6 Kentucky – Rich Brooks is making a huge mistake with Cobb
We'll give this a passing grade – it's just too early to tell. Either Kentucky or Vandy will end last – likely depending on the outcome of their game. And with five conference games remaining, the middle is still uncertain. Grade: B.
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Georgia vs. Florida, October 31st. No more Halloween jokes, please. Not even my eight year old is laughing anymore. Historically, this contest has come down to who had the bye the previous week. This season, both have byes – UGA resting in Athens and Florida playing Miss State. Seriously, it's not going to matter. No way, no how. How can I be any clearer… Love all the ESPN hype, but there is NO WAY JOE COX OUTPLAYS the same Florida defense that made Matt Stafford cry, and without KnoMo at that. If Tebow is healthy, Florida wins by a wider margin of victory than last year. Or I'll paint my hair red.
Even with UGA floundering, this game is still SEC must watch TV. However, it is hard to argue with Russ' point that the margin of victory may be worse this year than last year. If UGA is giving up 37 points to South Carolina, how will they stop the Florida offense? Seriously, Russ, if you're right on this spread…
2) Tennessee at Florida, September 19th. Don't tell us you're not looking forward to this game.
Great build up, but the game just didn't deliver. Maybe it was the hype or the UT game plan, but a ten point Florida win seemed so unsatisfying.
3) South Carolina at Georgia, September 12th. It was a toss-up between this or USC/Tennessee. If the Gamecocks get blown out of either of these games, it's over for Spurrier. Book it. And it shouldn't even take USC brass – Steve should resign.
If you told Spurrier he would score 37 points in this game back in August he would have taken it and smiled. There would have been no way he'd have thought his D would surrender 38+. But it happened, and it was one of the SEC's best games at the halfway mark.
1) Georgia vs. Florida, October 31st. By no means is this a "make or break" game for Mark Richt, but another blowout loss to Urban Meyer will bring some harsh criticism for the lovable UGA coach. At the very least a bad loss will cost Willie Martinez his job. But it could bring bigger questions with regard to Richt's ability to win in the future. Regardless of the coaching situation, the Cocktail Party is one of the best College Football environments in the country, and a must see game every season.
Hard to grade you on this one – can't actually tell if you're predicting the blow out or not. But at this point, it remains one of the more highly anticipated games – though not for the contest itself, but the margin of victory.
2) South Carolina at Georgia, September 12th. "Wait 'til next season" usually comes early for South Carolina fans, with the second week containing the traditional Georgia/South Carolina match up. This is a huge game for both programs, who open up on the road with good BCS team road games. South Carolina travels to NC State for ESPN's Thursday night kickoff, while UGA travels to Stillwater for a game with Oklahoma State. The loser of this game could end up 0-2, and neither program expects to start 2009 that way.
Awesome game. Perhaps the best of the season.
3) Tennessee at Florida, September 19th. This game could easily headline any list ranking this year's most anticipated SEC games. It has little to do with on field matters as it does the Urban Meyer/Lane Kiffin off-season hate-fest. It is painfully obvious these two don't like each other, and Kiffin must now back up his mouth. Urban Meyer doesn't handle being one upped very well (see Mark Richt circa 2008), but Kiffin will be desperate to have a good showing in Gainesville making this one a must watch game.
Just a boring game all around. Great long-term (Read: recruiting) strategy by Baby K not to allow a blow out by basically running the football equivalent of "four corners". But it made for some boring sport.
Yell to Brian: Brian Harbach
Yell to Russ: Russ Mitchell