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Old 07-25-2009, 10:04 AM   #1
Dublin Mike
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Default Dublin Mike's annual SEC East predictions, the 2009 edition

Here we are again, another college football season is almost upon us. And with that comes my favorite part: making previews for the upcoming season. Sure they are usually completely wrong and leaves me scratching my head at the end of the season thinking “What was I doing?” but I keep cranking them out anyway.

I figured I would start off with the conference that is near and dear to my heart, the SEC East. I have been a Georgia fan for as long as I can remember, and there is nothing I would rather be doing than sitting in Sanford Stadium on a Saturday afternoon watching the “Dawgs.” The SEC was a bit down last year. Yes the Gators won the national title, but other than Florida, no one really stepped up as a team you didn’t want to be playing on Saturday afternoon. That may change this year as teams that have recruited well in the past may finally see that talent start to break thru.

1. Florida – This shouldn’t really be that big of a shock, even though it turns my stomach to put them here. The Gators are easily the best team in the East this year. The obvious starting point when talking about UF is Tim Tebow. “Superman” is probably the best leader in college football. His desire to win shows on the field. He gets in players faces, he cheers on the defense. He has mastered coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense and seems to be able to score at will. He is surely the Heisman favorite starting out the season. He lost WR and all around playmaker Percy Harvin, and underrated Louis Murphy, but he has an elite tight end in Aron Hernandez. He is a big time playmaker. Beyond that WR is a question mark. Another question is will Emanuel Moody finally step up and be the big time running back? He has yet to live up to his big play potential. If not, Jeffrey Demps is a speed demon that can go the distance at any time.

The defense is downright nasty. MLB Brandon Spikes reminds me of his cousin Takeo. He can play coverage and stuff the run. And when he hits, his target usually goes down hard. He is a fierce tackler. The Gators return all four starters from the defensive line, and the best among them is Carlos Dunlap, who had 9 sacks last year. Last year at this time, I questioned the Gators secondary, and boy did they prove me wrong. Arguably the best group of defensive backs in the country last year, they are led by Ahmed Black and Major Wright. This defense will make scoring difficult for every team they play. Just ask Oklahoma last season.

For the most part, the Gators have an easy schedule by SEC standards. They start the season with two cupcake games in Charleston Southern and Troy before getting Tennessee in what should be a beat down unlike anything Vols fans have seen in some time. The one tough spot in their schedule will be the road game in Baton Rouge vs LSU. It’s extremely difficult to go into the Bayou Bengals home turf and take them down. Other than that, the only other games that will present any challenge at all will be UGA in Jacksonville, at South Carolina and FSU at home, although the latter isn’t the challenge it used to be. The Gators should get through the season with one loss and be playing in the SEC title game.

2. Georgia Bulldogs – This is a bit optimistic for me. The Bulldogs lost two great players in Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, but, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. This season UGA will focus more on team play, rather than big name players. The offense will be ran by fifth year SR Joe Cox, who doesn’t have the arm strength of Stafford but is far more accurate. And who needs arm strength? Anyone remember David Greene? If Cox struggles, expect either Logan Gray, more of an option QB, or true freshman Aaron Murray to step in. UGA will probably return to the runningback by committee approach this season, as not one back has stepped up and shown that he can be an every down guy. Caleb King has yet to live up to the hype surrounding him, and Richard Samuel may be playing either RB or LB. The ground game for UGA could be average this year. What shouldn’t be average is UGA’s wide receivers. AJ Green is a spectacular playmaker who makes highlight catch after highlight catch. Michael Moore should start on the other side of Green, but incoming freshman Marlon Brown may see some significant playing time.

The UGA defense will return defensive tackle Jeff Owens, after he missed all of last year with an injury, as well as hard hitting linebacker Rennie Curran. Other than those two, the defense must do one thing: tackle better. Missed tackles were a common theme last year for the defense, the main offender being returning safety Reshad Jones. Jones makes plenty of big hits, but to often finds players bouncing off of him because he doesn’t wrap up. Watch out at corner for newcomer Brandon Boykins. He could be a star in the making.

Overall, the schedule is really to tough for UGA to have a shot at keeping up with Florida. The start the season at OK State, then come home to play South Carolina, on the road to Arkansas before coming home to games vs AZ State and LSU. 3-2 record after that stretch is amazing, and they still have road games vs Tennessee and Ga Tech, and the dreaded cocktail party vs the Gators. Anything better than 9-4 would be spectacular.

3. South Carolina Gamecocks – There is good news and bad news for Gamecock fans. The good news is, Stephen Garcia is playing quarterback. The bad news is, Stephen Garcia is playing quarterback. Garcia has a ton of talent, of that there is no doubt. But he has been way to inconsistent in the past. Part of the reason could be because he was splitting time with Chris Smelley, but Smelley has transferred, so Garcia should be the sole QB this year. Of course, with Steve Spurrier you never know. South Carolina averaged under 95 yards per game last season. For Garcia to succeed, they must find someone to carry the ball. Brian Maddox is a power back who can pound it out between the tackles, but freshman Jarvis Giles could push him for the starters role. The wide receivers took a big hit losing Kenny McKinley, but Jason Barnes could be a deep threat Spurrier has been looking for.

The defense is led by monster linebacker Eric Norwood. At 6’1 250+ lbs, the guy is built like a defensive end, and he is almost impossible to block. The Gamecocks always have a solid defensive line and should have another good unit this year. Anchored by Nathan Peppers in the middle, and ends Cliff Matthews and Clifton Geathers could both have breakout years. The secondary is key, as SC runs a 4-2-5 defense. The top three corners from last season are gone, and they will be replaced by sophomore C.C. Whitlock and freshman Stephon Gilmore. Chris Culliver and Darian Stewart are both excellent safeties.

I almost put the Gamecocks ahead of Georgia, but their schedule isn’t much better than the Bulldogs. They start on the road @ NC State before heading to Athens to play UGA the next week. They do get Mississippi and Florida at home, but they go on the road to play Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas. The grudge match with Clemson ends the season. They can easily finish ahead of UGA, or they could be the 5th best team in the conference.

4. Tennessee Volunteers –Lane Kiffin’s 1st year at Tennessee could be a difficult one. Yes QB Jonathon Crompton is a SR, but he has had four different offensive coordinators over that time. Hard to progress as a QB with that kind of turnover. JR Nick Stephens could see some playing time. There will be pressure on Kiffin to play incoming freshman running back Bryce Brown, but I think Montario Hardesty will probably be the starter on opening day. Hardesty is quick and hits holes fast. Gerald Jones is the Vols best WR, but he will see a lot of double coverage. The other Tennessee wideouts must step up in order to take pressure off of him.

The best defensive (and possibly best overall) player in the country plays in the UT secondary. Eric Berry is an outstanding safety, maybe the best college defensive player in the past 5 years. He can play coverage. He can hit (he just doesn’t hit, he punishes.) He does it all. Having him in the defensive backfield will allow the undersized but aggressive defensive line to get to the quarterback. Chris Walker is fast off the edge and should give opposing quarterbacks nightmares. The linebackers are led by returning star Rico McCoy, but he is the only returning starter. Berry is joined in the secondary by corner Brent Vinson.

Lane Kiffin is about to be welcomed to reality. He has been talking a lot and stirring up controversy, and as they say in the south, his chickens are coming home to roost. That means things are about to get bad. He has trips to both Florida and Alabama, and if either of those teams have a chance to bury the Vols, they will. It’s been said that if Florida can score 100, they will. I agree completely. Tennessee may be good in a couple of years, but this year they will take their lumps.

5. Vanderbilt Commodores – Coach Bobby Johnson has turned the corner in Nashville. Unfortunately, it still isn’t enough to do any better than 5th in the league. Vanderbilt’s offense last year was putrid, ranking 117th in the nation. The quarterback position must be stronger this year. Mackenzie Adams is presumed to be the opening day starter, but look out for Larry Smith, who shined in the Music City Bowl last season in a win vs Boston College. The running back position could be interesting. Jared Hawkins is an okay back, but he doesn’t possess big play potential. But Johnson is expected to give three incoming freshmen chances to compete and get playing time. The WRs are starting over from scratch. Two starters graduated, the other, Justin Wheeler, tore his ACL. Transfer Terrence Jeffers will probably be the ‘Dores top threat.

The defense usually doesn’t sport big name stars, but they work harder than any other unit in the conference. They function well as a unit. All four starters from last year return on the defensive line, led by defensive tackle Greg Billinger. Broderick Stewart is very fast at the end spot, but his size (225 lbs) could cause him to get ran over in the running game. The linebackers are led by Chris Marve. Much like UGA LB Curran, Marve is small for the position, but he plays huge. 105 tackles last season as a freshman, he roams the field and makes big plays. Vandy will be looking for someone to replace corner D.J. Moore, who was a true shutdown corner. Casey Hayward and Jamie Graham look to be the starters.

Vanderbilt started last year 5-0, before losing a heartbreaker to Miss State. They won’t get off to such a fast start this season. Their 2nd game they travel to LSU, and their fifth they get Ole Miss, who is looking for revenge, at home. Their other road games are @ South Carolina, @ Florida, and @ Tennessee. I don’t think they can make a bowl game two years in a row.

6. Kentucky Wildcats – And last but not least. Kentucky is hard to judge. They are talented on both sides of the ball, but can’t seem to put everything together. Quarterback Mike Hartline was a good game manager last season, winning 6 games. But he must improve his TD/INT ratio. He threw 9 TDs last season, but 8 picks. Expect Alfonso Smith to start at RB for the Cats. He will be used much like Reggie Bush was at USC, catching a lot of balls behind the line and expected to turn them into big plays. Converted QB to WR Randall Cobb is expected to start for UK, and 6’5” Chris Matthews should be starting opposite him. Expect a lot of (aptly named) wildcat formations from Kentucky.

The defense is anchored by LB Micah Johnson. Johnson is an NFL talent in the making. My original preview talked about how Jeremy Jaron would anchor the defensive line, but that didn't work out to well as he was suspended for performance enhancers. Trevard Lindley is an outstanding cover corner. He can shut down one side of the field. Randall Burden will start on the opposite corner spot. Winston Guy will be an all SEC candidate by season’s end at the safety spot.

The Wildcats have talent, but their lack of experience is concerning. They start off SEC play with Florida visiting in week 3, followed by Alabama the next week. They then travel to South Carolina and Auburn. If they somehow win 2 of those 4, they will be in contention for the East, but more than likely they will be 0-for and out of the race halfway into the season.

And that’s it for the SEC East. Other than Florida, there is no sure fire team coming out of the division. 2-4 is a toss-up, with any one of those teams swapping spots. Should be a fun season to watch this division, as almost every game will be competitive.
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Old 07-28-2009, 02:57 PM   #2
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Can Kentucky get some respect? We've been to consecutive bowl games and won them. I think we've got some momentum and experience from those winning teams, even if it's only 6 or 7 wins. I agree that Hartline will need to play better for us to get to another bowl, but the team has enough talent to finish higher in the conference. I mean below Vanderbilt, REALLY?!
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