We continue examining the SEC with a look this week at the East, considered the weaker division compared to the West.
There are a lot of losses on both sides of the ball. Lots of new faces and a new coach can be big trouble. But just as significant is how much talent has been acquired in the past few years by the Gators. They should have one of the most talented and deepest rosters in the country. If new head coach Jim McElwain can get the team playing up to their potential, UF could be a real force.
The offense was a disaster last year. Even though only four starters return, I would expect quarterback play to be significantly better. I also think the offensive line will be all right, if not much better. There is talent, but it will be young and largely untested.
The Gators were largely disappointing last season, enough to get their coach fired, but they did lose two games by 3 points and one by 5. They won a few close ones, too. They might reach a bit closer to their potential this season.
A solid nucleus returns for the offense. The Bulldogs will have to find a quarterback and the O-line will help in making the transition. As of yet, the Dogs are not set at quarterback. Not a good sign.
Georgia was +16 in turnovers last year, and that will be almost impossible to duplicate with a new QB. The defensive line will be the area of highest concern. Now with all three positions newly manned, it will likely be worse, at least at first. The rest of the D is in good shape.
Mark Stoops has recruited better than any of his predecessors. Kentucky needs to start with improved play at QB and the OL. There is a good chance of both. If that happens the rest will fall into place offensively.
The defense will have to improve as well, especially on the line. That could be a problem. The rest of the defense should be OK. Unfortunately it all could unwind if the DL doesn’t improve.
Kentucky will be better, but how much is debatable. The Cats were sitting at 5-1 then lost the last six games of the season. With more depth they should not fall apart as badly as last season.
There are a lot of returnees, but the losses were to some very key players. The offense should be ok as long as they find some receivers. QB Maty Mauk needs be more consistent and a solid receiving corps sure would help. He has a good OL in front of him, which will help him and the running game.
The D, which was very good, loses some key personnel up front. The pass rush has been particularly strong the past couple years, which has led to a lot of Mizzou’s success. They will need to find some good replacements to keep that going.
The Tigers play in the easier half of the SEC, which has helped their overall record. Again the schedule doesn’t look all that bad. The front four will be vulnerable, but they might avoid being tested for a few weeks, giving them a chance to work things out. They also finished +9 in turnover ratio. I don’t know if they can repeat that.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks were one of college football’s biggest disappointments last season. Expected to be solid defensively, they were anything but that. This year a lot of those same starters return and SC hopes to get where they should have been last season. The bodies are there, now they need the performance.
There isn’t a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball, at least not much that’s evident. Steve Spurrier might continue to play musical quarterbacks as he has in the past. Not always with the greatest amount of success either, by the way. WR Pharoh Cooper is a key player they can’t afford to lose. He will be huge for whoever is the QB.
Look for at least a partial rebound this year.
This is suddenly a very dangerous team. They only had one bad game all last season. The Vols have a lot of returning starters and have recruited very well. The offense got better when QB Joshua Dobbs got his feet under him. This season the entire offense should be better with a better OL leading the way to a better running and passing game.
The defense was good last season and improved as the season went on. With eight returning starters it should also get significantly better this season. Rocky Top will be a solid contender, not for conference honors, but for winning a lot of games. In their half of the conference, anything could happen.
Things started bad last year and got worse. There is still some pretty good talent here, compared to what has been historically present at Vandy. Now that players are a little more used to head coach Derek Mason, I wouldn’t expect the team to fall apart so quickly, even when they inevitably face some adversity.
The offense has a lot of returning starters, but where they really need to improve is at quarterback. The new offensive coaches will have their choice of quite a few competitors, but none have proven they can play.
The OL also needs to dramatically improve. There is a chance for that occurring considering there are so many returning starters. The skill position players (other than QB) have shown some talent. With better OL and QB play, they will have a chance to show their ability.
Mason made his bones as a defensive coach. He needs to replenish and bolster the D line, which was arguably the best part of a very poor D. The rest of the D has enough returnees that some improvement is reasonably expected. Mason’s year should be better than the first.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. Check out his new website at www.againstthenumber.com and www.sharpssports.com.&n bsp;You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Contact Chris at [email protected].