Spring practice is over. We’ve learned a lot in the past month but there is still a lot that we won’t know until the teams return in August to begin drills for the 2010 season. This week we are going to break down every team in the SEC and ACC. We’ll talk about what we learned and what we still don’t know. What we do know is that every team, even the defending national champion (Alabama), has issues. How they deal with those issues, and what kind of summer the team has in avoiding off the field problems, will determine what happens come September.
Here is the schedule for the week:
Today: SEC East
Tuesday: SEC West
Wednesday: ACC Atlantic
Thursday: ACC Coastal
Friday: Tony’s Spring Top 25
Feel free to add your own comments to what we learned and what we still don’t know about each team. This exercise is meant to be fun and to give you a football fix that will (hopefully) last until two-a-days.
SEC EAST SPRING REVIEW
**–Last season: 13-1, 8-0 SEC; lost to Alabama 32-13 in SEC championship game; defeated Cincinnati 51-24 in Sugar Bowl.
**–Coach: Urban Meyer, 96-18 in nine years, 57-10 in five seasons at Florida.
**–Key losses: QB Tim Tebow, LB Brandon Spikes, DE Carlos Dunlap, C Maurkice Pouncey.
**–Returning starters: Offense 6, defense 5, specialist 2.
**–Players to watch: QB John Brantley, OL Mike Pouncey, S Ahmad Black, RB Jeff Demps.
**–What we learned: Florida’s offense will be very good again. Yes Tim Tebow and four other starters are gone from a unit that was seventh nationally in total offense (457.86 ypg). But don’t expect a significant drop off from the 2010 Gators. New quarterback John Brantley has an NFL arm and four of five starters return from a very good offensive line. The Gators are loaded at receiver as Andre Debose and Carl Moore return from injuries. Chris Rainey, who played running back last season, moved to the hybrid “Percy Harvin” position and should have a big year. Florida has a couple of young players, Trey Burton and tight end Jordan Reed, who can run the ball from the quarterback position.
**–What we still don’t know: Can the defense overcome the losses? Five starters from the 2009 defense, which finished fourth nationally (252.57 ypg), were taken in the NFL draft. The other lost starter, linebacker Ryan Stamper, led the team in tackles last season with 78. Also gone is defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, now the head coach at Louisville. That’s a lot of talent to replace, but there is a lot of talent waiting in the wings. Look for safety Ahmad Black to have a huge season.
**–Opening game: Sept. 4 vs. Miami of Ohio.
**–Last season: 8-5, 4-4 SEC; beat Texas A&M 44-20 in Independence Bowl.
**–Coach: Mark Richt, 90-27 in nine seasons at Georgia.
**–Key losses: LB Rennie Curran, DT Jeff Owens, S Reshad Jones, DT Geno Atkins.
**–Returning starters: Offense 10; defense 5; specialist 2.
**–Players to watch: WR A.J. Green, RB Caleb King, RB Washaun Ealey, OT Clint Boling, C Ben Jones.
**–What we learned: The offensive line has to be good from day one. After OT Trinton Sturdivant was lost after the first game of 2009, a veteran Georgia offensive line struggled to find the right five guys who could work together. With players like tackle Josh Davis (6-6, 305) back in the lineup, the Bulldogs finally found that chemistry in the second half of the season and ran the ball significantly better. Georgia and O-line coach Stacy Searels do not have that luxury in 2010. Georgia has to be able to run the ball and take the pressure off Aaron Murray, the redshirt freshman quarterback. Sturdivant is back at 100 percent. If he can stay healthy, there are a couple of bell cows in this group (Clint Boling, Ben Jones) who give Georgia a chance to be good up front.
**–What we still don’t know: Is the new 3-4 defense going to create more turnovers? Last season Georgia played 13 football games and somehow recovered only two fumbles, which was 120th (dead last) nationally. The Bulldogs were 76th nationally with only 10 interceptions. Todd Grantham was hired as defensive coordinator to install the 3-4 and (hopefully) make Georgia a more opportunistic team. Georgia was 118th nationally in turnover margin (minus-16) last season. By contrast, Alabama was plus-19 in turnovers (31 takeaways, 12 giveaways). That has to change if Georgia wants to compete again for the SEC East championship. We also don’t know, for all the work that was done in the spring, if Georgia can get a handle on its penalty problem. Georgia committed 105 penalties in 13 games. Only five teams in college football (Troy, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas Tech, Arizona State) had more.
**–Opening game: Sept. 4 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette.
3. SOUTH CAROLINA
**–Last season: 7-6, 3-5 SEC; lost to Connecticut 20-7 in Papajohns.com Bowl.
**–Coach: Steve Spurrier, 177-68-2 in 20 years; 35-28 in five seasons at South Carolina.
**–Key losses: LB Eric Norwood, DE Clifton Geathers, WR Moe Brown.
**–Returning starters: Offense 8, defense 7, specialist 2.
**–Players to watch: WR Alshon Jeffrey, QB Stephen Garcia, S Chris Culliver, DE Cliff Matthews.
**–What we learned: Quarterback Stephen Garcia is going to be on a very short leash in 2010. Last season South Carolina “pretty much had to live with what Stephen gave us,” coach Steve Spurrier said. That will not be the case in 2010 as Spurrier spent the spring taking a hard look at early-enrollee Connor Shaw of Flowery Branch. Spurrier threw down the gauntlet to Garcia to work harder and spend more time in the film room this summer. “We’re going to have two quarterbacks ready to go this year,” said Spurrier. Understand that Garcia’s numbers (55.3 percent, 2,862 yards, 17 touchdowns) are not terrible. But there is a certain way that Spurrier wants the position played and Garcia needs to make the reads that Spurrier gives him. Under pressure (and he was under a lot of pressure as South Carolina allowed 37 sacks last season), Garcia starts to free-lance. The Head Ball Coach doesn’t like that.
**–What we still don’t know: What will be the impact of freshman Marcus Lattimore? The incoming freshman from Duncan, S.C., was rated the No. 1 running back in the nation by some recruiting services. Lattimore, 5-11, 215, is a special talent who will be thrown into a mix of running backs that includes sophomores Kenny Miles (626 yards) and Jarvis Giles (5.3 ypg). But Lattimore can’t make a significant contribution if the offensive line doesn’t get better. Spurrier hired his third offensive line coach (Shawn Elliott from Appalachian State) in three years. South Carolina was dead last in the SEC in rushing (121.23 ypg.) That has to improve.
**–Opening game: Sept. 2 vs. Southern Miss.
**–Last season: 7-6, 4-4 SEC; lost to Virginia Tech 37-14 in Chick-fil-A Bowl.
**–Coach: Derek Dooley, 17-20 in three years, first season at Tennessee.
**–Key losses: S Eric Berry, RB Montario Hardesty, DT Dan Williams. .
**–Returning starters: Offense 4, defense 6, specialist 2.
**–Players to watch: TE Luke Stocker, WR Gerald Jones, DE Chris Walker, LB Nick Reviez.
**–What we learned: The offensive line is a mess. The Volunteers had only one starter coming back up front, sophomore tackle Aaron Douglas. But Douglas, a freshman All-America last season, suddenly left the program in March and now the Vols are confronted with starting as many as three freshmen on the offensive line. Not good. Tackle Ju’Wuan James looks like he can play but there are still a lot of questions at the guard and center sports. Tennessee has to be able to run the ball and shorten the game to have any shot at a winning record. Tauren Poole is finally ready to step up as a running back but he has to have someplace to run.
**–What we still don’t know: Who will be the starting quarterback? Nick Stephens, the only quarterback in camp who had taken a snap for Tennessee, decided to transfer to Tarleton State, a Division II school, in April. That leaves the Volunteers with Matt Simms, a junior college transfer who started his career at Louisville, and true freshman Tyler Bray, who enrolled in January. Bray performed a little better in the spring game but Simms gained experience last season in junior college. We also don’t know how this group of players is going to respond when times get tough. And times are going to get tough. In a six-week period Tennessee will play Oregon, Florida, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama. Dooley is the third head coach at Tennessee in three years. The players, who are rightfully a little shell-shocked, have bought into Dooley’s way of doing things. What happens if the losses start to pile up?
**–Opening game: Sept. 4 vs. UT-Martin.
**–Last season: 7-6, 3-5 SEC; lost to Clemson 21-13 in Music City Bowl.
**–Coach: Joker Phillips, first season at Kentucky.
**–Key losses: CB Trevard Lindley, DT Corey Peters, LB Micah Johnson, PK Lones Seiber.
**–Returning starters: Offense 5, defense 7, specialist 1.
**–Players to watch: WR/QB Randall Cobb, TB/RS Derrick Locke, LB Danny Trevathan, QB Mike Hartline, QB Morgan Newton.
**–What we know: Kentucky has some good options at quarterback. A year ago the Wildcats had to take the redshirt off of Morgan Newton, the 2008 Indiana high school player of the year, when starter Mike Hartline went down with an injury. Newton completed 55.6 percent of his passes in six games. Now Hartline has returned and joining the mix is Ryan Mossakowski, a strong-armed redshirt freshman. Hartline had an edge coming out of spring practice but expect two quarterbacks to play. Kentucky has two great offensive weapons in running back Derrick Locke (907 yards rushing) and wide receiver/quarterback Randall Cobb (447 receiving, 573 rushing). The quarterback has to get the ball to them.
**–What we still don’t know: Can new coach Joker Phillips keep things rolling at UK? Rich Brooks decided to retire after taking Kentucky to a school-record fourth straight bowl game last season. Phillips, a former Kentucky player under Jerry Claiborne, takes over. The former OC has to replace the entire offensive line and the defense is missing three big-time players in DT Corey Peters, LB Micah Johnson, and CB Trevard Lindley. Can Phillips rebuild this team and get Kentucky to a fifth straight bowl game?
**–Opening game: Sept. 4 at Louisville.
**–Last season: 2-10, 0-8 SEC.
**–Coach: Bobby Johnson, 89-102 in 16 years, 29-66 in eight years at Vanderbilt.
**–Key losses: CB Myron Lewis, C Bradley Vierling, LB Patrick Benoist.
**–Returning starters: Offense 6, defense 4, specialist 1.
**–Players to watch: LB Chris Marve, TB Warren Norman, TB Zac Stacy, S Sean Richardson.
**–What we know: It was a costly spring for Vanderbilt. Starting DT Adam Smotherman suffered a torn ACL during a scrimmage and may miss the first half of the 2010 season. OT Ryan Seymour dislocated a shoulder which required surgery. Seymour should make it back for the first game. A total of six players scheduled to be starters missed all or part of spring with injuries.
**–What we still don’t know: Can the Vanderbilt offense get better? The numbers in SEC play last season were just staggering. In eight conference game the Commodores scored only 71 points (8.875 ppg). In three games Vanderbilt scored in single digits and only once (a 31-16 loss to Tennessee) did Vanderbilt score more than 13 points in a game. Johnson shuffled his offensive staff, moving offensive coordinator Ted Cain to tight ends and replacing him with Jimmy Kiser. Quarterback Larry Smith, who completed only 46.7 percent of his passes last season, held off a challenge by Jared Funk and JUCO transfer Jordan Rogers. Vanderbilt has to get better on offense if it wants to improve on last season’s 2-10 record.
**–Opening game: Sept. 4 vs. Northwestern.
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