Sunday, August 30, 2009

2009 SEC East Preview

The 2009 SEC season is just days away and, as usual, promises to be full of intrigue. Some of the major questions facing teams this year include: Will Florida be able to handle the unbelievable and expectations? How will the Volunteers do with their new coacheing staff? Will Steve Spurrier finally admit he just doesn’t have it anymore and retire like he should’ve done after last season? How will Georgia replace Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno? Was Vanderbilt’s bowl season a fluke or can Bobby Johnson get the ‘Dores back to postseason play?

Here’s how I see the SEC EAST playing out:

1) Florida: Yeah, I know, real original, but how do you not pick the Gators here? They return 18 starters from a national title team, including all 11 from a nasty defense that gave up more than 21 points only once last year. They have one of the greatest players in NCAA history in Tim Tebow leading the offense and one of the best OLs in the country. Anything less than another national title is a disappointment for these Gators.

2) Georgia: Sure the Bulldogs have to replace more than anyone in conference – first round draft picks Stafford and Moreno – but they return a very solid group of players, particularly on the OL, which is key to winning in the SEC. No one will confuse new QB (5th year senior) Joe Cox with Stafford, but the coaching staff won’t ask Cox to do as much. Instead, they’ll rely on a capable group of RBs to pound the ball behind the OL. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have AJ Green as a bailout option should Cox get in trouble.

3) Tennessee: The Volunteers spot here is as much an indictment of the rest of the SEC East as it anything else. Without getting into the shenanigans coming of out of Knoxville since new UT HC Lane Kiffin was brought in, this team is basically average at best. Eric Berry is one of the all-time great DBs to play in the SEC, and if weren’t playing in the era of Tebow, he’d get a lot more publicity than he does. The staff Kiffin has assembled is impressive, but it doesn’t help the fact that Jonathan Crompton was named the starting QB for this season. That can’t bode well. With 8 home games, including 5 of the first 6, the Vols will get back to a bowl this year.

4) South Carolina: Steve Spurrier is hitching his wagon to Stephen Garcia this season, for better or for worse. I can’t imagine that this will end well for the Gamecocks. There’s no reason to believe the Gamecocks will be better than last year, which ended with 3 straight lackluster blowout losses. USC had one of the worst rushing offenses in the country last year and lost their starter from last season. With a tough schedule, I’d be surprised to see the Gamecocks reach bowl eligibility. For Spurrier’s sake, I hope he gets out while he still has some hair.

5) Vanderbilt: There’s really not a way to explain how Vanderbilt made it to a bowl last year. It’s similar to Sylvester Croom leading MSU to the Liberty Bowl or Les Miles leading LSU to an MNC. The ‘Dores were kissed by an angel last year, ranking near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive and defensive category. They return 17 starters from last season’s Music City Bowl champion team, but it’s hard to imagine them catching the same breaks over and over like they did last season. Like the Gamecocks, I’ll be surprised if the Commodores are bowling after this season.

6) Kentucky: This year’s ‘Cats could very closely mimic the 2008 version. They return 12 starters from the Liberty Bowl champion team, but, in all honesty, they just weren’t all that great last year. They benefitted from a ridiculously soft non-conference schedule and limped into bowl eligibility. This year, the non-conference slate is a little more difficult, but the SEC schedule is not as favorable. That 6th win may not come this season. CB Trevard Lindley is the 2nd best DB in the league, but that might not be enough to get UK to a 4th straight bowl.

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