Five Burning Questions about the SEC East

  Gainesville, Fla.–I spent yesterday at Florida’s practice and will spend today at the football offices meeting with players and coaches. I will file a report on the Gators later this week. But first, let’s look at Five Burning Questions about the SEC East as Spring practice gets into full gear. (Note to my ACC friends: I’m finishing the week with Jimbo Fisher at Florida State and will preview the ACC early next week).

 

1. Who is going to make the plays for the Florida offense? Based on what I saw at practice on Monday, there are going to be a lot of guys making plays. Yes, Tim Tebow is gone but I saw a lot of speed and a lot of talent. After waiting his turn, John Brantley takes over at quarterback with an NFL arm. This kid is good and he’s going to have a bunch of weapons at his disposal. Chris Rainey is moving to the Percy Harvin position and will have a big year. The list of receivers goes on and on: Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson, and Andre Dubose (didn’t practice Monday) are all big-time. Emmanuel Moody, the transfer from Southern Cal, is expected to have his breakout year at running back. With a veteran offensive line returning (minus center Maurkice Pouncey) Florida looks like a team that is going to score a bunch of points. They have to be the early favorite to repeat as SEC East champs.

 

2. Will the Georgia offensive line jell early? This time last year I thought the Georgia offensive line of 2009 would be the best since the SEC championship team of 2002. That was based on depth that had been developed after two years of playing a bunch of young guys plus the return of LT Trinton Sturdivant, who had missed all of 2008 with a knee injury. Well, Sturdivant was hurt again before the season and was lost. The offensive line, for all its promise, really struggled until the final third of the season, when it played well and Georgia was able to run the ball consistently. Now Sturdivant is back and there is a lot of experience including right tackle Josh Davis, guards Cordy Glenn and Chris Davis. I really like center Ben Jones. Georgia certainly has the running backs (Washaun Ealey, Caleb King) to move the football. But the offensive line needs to be a cohesive unit from Day 1. If Georgia can run the ball at the beginning of the season, the quarterback situation will take care of itself.

 

3. Will South Carolina FINALLY be able to run the football and protect the quarterback? For all the discussion about quarterback Stephen Garcia, the fact remains that South Carolina has had the worst running attack in the SEC the past three seasons. The Gamecocks also gave up 37 quarterback sacks, which tied LSU for last in the conference and was 105th nationally. In Shawn Elliott, Steve Spurrier has hired his third offensive line coach in the past three years.. Elliott, formerly at Appalachian State, will bring a lot of energy to a group that returns three starters up front. South Carolina already has a quality running back in sophomore Jarvis Giles and signed one of the nation’s best high school running backs in Marcus Lattimore, who arrives this summer. If South Carolina can improve in running the ball and protecting the quarterback, then the offense doesn’t fall completely on the quarterback. Like most quarterbacks, Garcia makes better decisions when he’s not running for his life.

 

4. Is Nick Stephens the quarterback at Tennessee? Yep. I think so. Stephens started six games in 2008, Phillip Fulmer’s final season as head coach. But last season Lane Kiffin and his staff settled on Jonathan Crompton early and Stephens only attempted 13 passes. Still, he’s the only guy in camp who has attempted a pass at this level of competition. When I was in Knoxville last Friday I was assured that it was a three-man race among Stephens, JUCO transfer Matt Simms, and Tyler Bray, a newcomer from California. I was also told that every guy will get a lot of throws in practice and that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and head coach Derek Dooley will scrutinize each man very carefully. I don’t believe a starter will be named until this summer but my money is on Stephens for pretty obvious reasons: The second game on Sept. 11 is against Oregon, the defending Pac-10 champs. The third game is against Florida, which has won 26 of its last 28 games. Can’t throw a rookie into that fire no matter how good he looks in practice.

 

5. Can Kentucky keep it going under Joker Phillips? There have been a lot of really good coaches at Kentucky—Bear Bryant and Jerry Claiborne quickly come to mind. But no coach in the history of the school had ever taken the Wildcats to four straight bowl games until Rich Brooks, who retired after the 2009 season and turned the program over to his offensive coordinator, Joker Phillips. Phillips has a lot of work to do if Kentucky is going to go to its fifth straight bowl. I met with Phillips a couple of weeks ago when he was passing through Atlanta. I see two major areas of concern: 1) Cornerback Trevard Lindley and linebacker Micah Johnson were All-SEC caliber players and won’t easily be replaced on defense. They were difference makers. Redshirt freshman Qua Huzzie could take Johnson’s place and be as effective. While Kentucky will be solid at the quarterback position, where sophomore Morgan Newton will compete with Mike Hartline and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski, the Wildcats must find four new starters on the offensive line. That’s not easy in this league.

 

BONUS QUESTION

 Can Vanderbilt do something—anything–about its offense? After last season head coach Bobby Johnson had seen enough. His team averaged only 8.9 points in SEC games which is a big reason why the Commodores went 2-10. Johnson shook up one of the most stable coaching staffs in college football moving Jimmy Kiser, the play caller, into the offensive coordinator’s position. Quarterback Larry Smith, who looked to have so much promise going into last season, was very inconsistent and completed only 46.9 percent of his passes. He will be challenged in the spring by JUCO transfer Jordan Rodgers (brother of Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers) and redshirt freshman Charlie Goro, a former Parade All-America. Goro led his high school team in the Chicago Area to a 14-0 record and a state championship as a senior.

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227 comments Add your comment

leland

March 23rd, 2010
8:19 am

leland

March 23rd, 2010
8:24 am

1. I don’t know. Who?
2. They might. They might not.
3. No.
4. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t.
5. No.
Bonus. Yes

kenny d

March 23rd, 2010
8:26 am

good to see you are back to the SEC homer

tony's a homer

March 23rd, 2010
8:27 am

Your #2 question is about UGA’s offensive line. Come on Homer. How about, is this CMR’s last season as head coach. With all the less than expected season records, off field arrests, and junior’s leaving early, its a legit question.

alpharettadawg

March 23rd, 2010
8:31 am

Sounds like Vandy has a better QB situation than Tennessee.

same ol' same ol'

March 23rd, 2010
8:31 am

Please tell me Mr. College Football isn’t back on the SEC weekly talking points? Come on Tony. Let’s not start this year the same as you finished last year. A blind SEC homer with his head stuck up a bulldog’s white painted butt…

toga

March 23rd, 2010
8:44 am

Tony – demoted to the bottom of the page? I can see you behind Schultz and Bradley but behind the High School guy?

Paul H

March 23rd, 2010
8:45 am

Hey same ol’ same ol’, if TB is so stuck on the bulldogs, why don’t you ask him why he has YET to acknowledge UGA’s victory over Tech – AFTER picking Tech to whip UGA?

WonderDawg

March 23rd, 2010
8:47 am

Boy, the nerds are quick this morning. Gotta love those sissies.

Jake

March 23rd, 2010
8:48 am

Great to hear from you again Tony,,We are all still here,, thanks for the visits to these schools and the updates. Keep bringing it home.

Gator Mike

March 23rd, 2010
8:53 am

Tony, it is great to see you back contributing your objective views to the SEC Football landscape.

FBR

March 23rd, 2010
9:02 am

Line play, on offense and defense, ultimately determines how good a football team is. Let’s hope that CMR and his coaches realize that.

Bulldog59

March 23rd, 2010
9:07 am

TB, welcome back, some good questions. 1)UF will make plays because Meyer is the second-coming of the Evil Genius. But, lets see how “great” JB is over the long haul. It’s easy to come in during mop-up duty against a deflated D, lets see how good of a QB he is over a full season. 2) EXCELLENT point, it took Coach Searels entirely too long to find the right mix on the O-line at UGA last year. He has to have it right by the time UGA goes to Columbia in 2010. 3)The USC game will define UGA season, expect Spurrier to pull out all the stops this year, implement Lattimore early, and have very high expectations from the O-line for both run production and pass protection. 4) Who cares, UT is in shambles. They put all they had into P.T. Barnum last year, in the end, he blew town in the middle of the night citing his classic line, “there is a sucker born ever minute.” No matter the QB, UT only wins 4 games in 2010. Poor DD is in a no-win situation, fans won’t be happy until he’s gone. 5) A tough year for UK’s Joker, lots of holes to fill and Rich Brooks is a tough act to follow.

joe

March 23rd, 2010
9:25 am

dog59,
You may be right about UT “being in shambles” or you might not be right…but either way, UT will still put a whippin’ on your pups…just like last year.

1eyedJack

March 23rd, 2010
9:27 am

Welcome back Tony.

Don’t mind the Techies, they’re just frustrated that they had their best year in decades and still nobody gives them any respect….And now with the rats deserting the ship they see their slide back into football oblivion. Plus they have Hewitt, so there’s that, and they can’t go anywhere around campus without instituting the “buddy system”.

Somebody take that sword away from the old man! Has anybody seen Al’s hoveround? Come on guys…quit playing.

TommyJack

March 23rd, 2010
9:27 am

Note to Bulldog59. TN was in shambles last year too and look what happened with you mullets.
NO team can squander talent like you guys.
GBO

collegeballfan

March 23rd, 2010
9:38 am

UGA will run the ball really well if Richt & Bobo will commit to the running game. You know if you have a 2nd and 7 you do not need to throw a 20 yard pass everytime. Run it two more times; you will have a first down.

Russ the Temporary Mascot

March 23rd, 2010
9:39 am

6. Will Russ be promoted to become UGA VIII?
7. Will the a$$-painting and talk about him being old and sick finally stop?
8. Will we finally get a bowl location better than Shreveport?

Tony Barnhart

March 23rd, 2010
9:47 am

Please watch the profanity.

h8uat

March 23rd, 2010
9:52 am

Good to have you back. However, can we retire the worn out term, “burning questions”? The phrase “burning questions” is so overused that it has become meaningless. See, e.g., http://tinyurl.com/burningquestions1
http://tinyurl.com/burningquestions2
http://tinyurl.com/burningquestions3
You’re a better writer than to rely on such a worn out cliché week after week.

Yoda

March 23rd, 2010
10:02 am

SC could win big, but they gotta get rid of the weird “Space Odyssey” thing (I mean it is so passe & dated that only the old folks in Spartanburg get excited about it)

UT96

March 23rd, 2010
10:05 am

Don’t make the the mistake of counting the Vols out. We won’t be great this year but we won’t be near as bad as you guys think. Dooley is the right guy for the job. We win at least 7 games year.

RAMBLE ON!!!

March 23rd, 2010
10:14 am

What, there’s no cussing in SEC football Tony?

Isn’t that what makes the SEC so great, PBR’s, trashing the N. Campus, and cussing.

Whoops, my bad. This is a college football blog. Hah!

Dawg Bone

March 23rd, 2010
10:19 am

Florida lost their 3 best players on offense and 3 best on defense. GA returns a ton of top talent. The Dawgs will beat florida in jacksonville this year—bank on it! The Dawgs are loaded, angry and ready for revenge. Richt may run it up to get back at meyer for calling those timeouts 2 years ago.

JB

March 23rd, 2010
10:19 am

No doubt florida has super athletes due to top 5 signing classes the last few years, but do /will they have a great team. No more Tebow and ask any OL coach in the SEC about training/coaching a offensive line to mesh with any running back. Florida will not have trouble making plays on the corner, but they will be lost in any type of SEC power running game. They will get better as the year goes on. How much will they miss coach Strong on defense ? Athletes alone will win them 10 games, but Bama……and yes Georgia will give them trouble.

And we wonder why there's stereotyping

March 23rd, 2010
10:24 am

This just in…more black people are robbing any and everyone near the Tech campus…surprise surprise…this low life had the courage to rob someone on CRUTCHES….i couldn’t make this up if I wanted to.

Dink

March 23rd, 2010
10:32 am

Tony, “Not so fast my friend!” Not sure Moody is as great a RB as people think & there are plenty of questions regarding the Gators’ D. BTW, didn’t Brock Berlin have an NFL arm?

JB

March 23rd, 2010
10:36 am

Hell, Stafford had an NFL arm…..He won nothing while at UGA.

JB

March 23rd, 2010
10:39 am

Tech really does need to get security under control near/around the campus. They need plain clothes
people all over the campus busting these yahoo’s and run them elsewhere. I’m a Dawg fan, but attacking these college students is not right and a problem.

NoGaGator

March 23rd, 2010
10:41 am

If anything, expect UF to be more potent on offense this year. Early reports are good also for Patton and Alli at WR.

Defense will be the question mark. They have a lot of talent but are losing experience in key spots. Who steps up at MLB (Bostic, Beal) and CB (Brown, Shaw, Watkins) will be key along with how fast new DC comes up to speed.

RAMBLE ON!!!

March 23rd, 2010
10:47 am

Tony, your services are no longer need here, too bias and wrong on most points.

Look, I’m sure you’re a good person, but please move along. Valdosta probably has a paper better suited for you.

Have a nice day.

Call It Like It Is

March 23rd, 2010
10:48 am

Gators win the East again in 2010!

Who is in their way? NO ONE!

Enough Said!

Mark

March 23rd, 2010
10:52 am

She said her son was pulled over for failing to use a turn signal, but believes he was targeted because he was driving a high-priced car and is black.

What a surprise. Another black using the race card. Hey lady, your son was pulled over at 4:30 in the morning and was drunk. That is why he was pulled over. You are are an easy target driving that late. Duh.

Doug

March 23rd, 2010
10:54 am

Until someone else wins the sec east, the gators are the easy pick. I don’t see anything changing this year.

JC in Powder Springs

March 23rd, 2010
11:22 am

Tony – You don’t think you’re overhyping Florida just a little? Brantley – NFL arm. Receivers/backs – ALL BIG TIME. I see a young team that’s going to miss Charlie Strong on D this year more than they missed Dan Mullen on O last year – Although their ‘10 schedule with App State and Miami/OH looks almost as easy as ‘09.

McDawg

March 23rd, 2010
11:40 am

the question for UFs offense is O-Line/sack the QB you stop UF

UGA O-Line ??????????????????? (who knows)

Joke Phillips is the coolest name in coaching and can’t wait to get to Lexington this fall-babys’ gonna get a new pair of shoes

jumbeauxtiger

March 23rd, 2010
11:46 am

If the Dawgs are going to win the East this is the year to do it as the Gators have some reloading to do. That said I still think the Gators are the team to beat as Brantley is more talented and better prepared at this point to take over than Murray in my opinion. The Dawgs also have question marks on defense and even with a new DC it takes time to implement a new system and see positive results.

I don’t recall the East being as down as it appears for 2010 since the SEC went to divisional format.

Geaux Tigers
Go SEC

Mikey

March 23rd, 2010
11:51 am

Oops, didnt know that RAMBLE was in charge of this blog.

NoGaGator

March 23rd, 2010
11:59 am

-JC in Powder Springs-

Brantley does have an NFL arm, better than Tebow’s even given that Tebow had a 66% completion rate at UF. I’ll give you the point on missing Strong on Defense.

re: schedules – UGA has scheduled CMU, same conference as Miami U. (MAC) the last couple of years. Also, last time UGA played Miami, the Bulldogs lost to them. So did UF. It was a few years ago, mid 70’s, just a few years before UGA’s Nat’l Championship that seems like only yesterday in Bulldog years. Just saying…

Gator Mike

March 23rd, 2010
12:12 pm

What are you talking about NoGa? I thought Lindsay Scott was last week given how often they go to that well. But all they really have is that and jean short jokes so what are we gonna do?

I love it. Every off-season we get to hear about how UGA is going to beat UF and then every year… well, you know. Maybe one day UGA fans will wake up and realize that UF is a superior program with better administration, coaches, and athletes. Maybe they should worry more about beating Kentucky on a regular basis before convincing themselves that they can take down Florida.

Anonymous

March 23rd, 2010
12:16 pm

“Dawg Bone,” all bark and no bite.

Bulldog59

March 23rd, 2010
12:18 pm

Ah a comment from an Average Joe, too bad UT won’t even be average this year. Thanks to Kiffin and later fueled by the Da’Rick Rogers recruitment, UT has moved to the TOP of the UGA hit list. Even a few of my friends that are longtime UT faithful, and knowledgeable about the program, have conceded UT will get hammered in Athens this year. They are not even coming to the game for the first time in 20 years! This is one time CMR will not call off the Dawgs. Expect UGA to win by a 30 point margin. Maybe UT will even put Rogers and Nance in the game, our new D would love to say hello.

Lord of the Lizards

March 23rd, 2010
12:25 pm

What you will see from UF this year…alot more diversity in the offense. Last year it was Tebow, Cooper and Hernandez on offense. This year you can expect at least 5 receivers and 3 backs in the mix as well of course, Brantley. There will be alot more timing plays in the passing game to both the receivers and backs. You will more I-formation. Look for the Gators to utilize a position they rarely have…the fullback. And not just in the running game.This also has the potential of being one of the best, if not the best OL that the Gators have had. On defense, the DL will be deep and talented. Many returning players plus incredible incoming talent. Linebackers will have 2 former starters on the outside with Jon Bostic in the middle, a future star. Think of him as Brandon Spikes with speed. Secondary will feature 3 starters with the biggest ? on the team being at one corner. This, along with TE on offense will be the 2 areas of concern on the team as there will be alot of talent but little to on experience. Gators to go 10-2 reg season and win the East over USCe.

Alaska Dawg

March 23rd, 2010
12:27 pm

Way too early for everyone to be worrying about specific games. I do think the Dawgs O line is a key to success this year, but the new defense is a bigger key. The SEC East is wide open. Should be a really fun year.

joe

March 23rd, 2010
12:45 pm

Ah yes, the new 2010 UGA “D”…the lactose intolerant swiss cheese variety. 30 point win…what are you smoking? No way Nance see’s the field…redshirt city. Rogers might play, but he’s got 3 returning seniors ahead of him and 3 other stud WR’s arriving on campus at the same time. No true football fan of any school would ever say they are going to get hammered anywhere, unless it is during pre-game tailgate party, so I dismiss your claim of even having any UT friends. And the Gators are still #1 on most UGA fan lists, since your record is something like 2-18 and 3 out of 4 blowouts to UT…very impressive. Heck, even SC gets you this year.

ga gator

March 23rd, 2010
12:50 pm

Welcome back Tony B.

Jeff

March 23rd, 2010
1:04 pm

Hartline is still at KY? What, is he an 8th year senior?

Gator Mike (Original)

March 23rd, 2010
1:05 pm

I see there is a new Gator Mike on the board. Welcome! This is the one who has been with ya’ll for a few years.
For those who think that UF’s Ol will be down, you are sadly mistaken. Maurkice Pouncy is the only one not returning. Also, the defense will be fine without Spikes and a few others. Haden is the only one who will be sorely missed. We Gators look forward to this year because there is less pressure on the players and coaches. Those who count the Gators out are in for a surprise. This year the TIDE gets to wear the bull’s eye, and someone in the SEC will beat them. I am not saying who because it may actually be a big upset, but the odds are against the TIDE even though they are a great team
This year should be fun for all of us in the SEC.

Cracker Jacket

March 23rd, 2010
1:06 pm

Florida needs a real coach like Johnson at Tech instead of that whimp( can’t handle it) Meyer! Play Tech sometimes instead of those second rate teams! Same for you…Vols and Bama!

knoxdawg

March 23rd, 2010
1:21 pm

Every year in the SEC is great and this year will be no exception. Gators are still the team to beat and will be until somebody beats them and claims the SEC East. UT will field a competitive team but depth will be an issue. No one can afford to get hit by the injury bug. As a Dawg fan I say it is time for us to step up and whip some teams. Until we do that we can’t say anything on here. Now is the time to take it to a new level CMR and company.