New York–Gary Danielson is about to enter his fifth season as an analyst for the SEC game of the week on CBS. I caught up with Gary during a recent trip to New York where we were putting together a preseason show for CBS. I asked him for five good SEC story lines as we approach the start of the 2010 season.
1. Nobody in the SEC will go undefeated: People are saying there is a gap between Florida and Alabama and everybody else. I don’t agree with that. I think the league will be a little more compact this season because the middle has gotten better. Auburn, LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss will be better. South Carolina will be better. Georgia will be better. Nobody is going to run away from it and everybody in the conference will lose at least one game. I think the SEC will be the only conference in the country where a one-loss team could reach the national championship game.
This could be a year where the SEC looks like the ACC because everybody has 1, 2, or three losses. People will say the whole league is down but just the opposite is true. Except for a couple of teams like Tennessee and Vanderbilt, the whole league is up.
2. Aaron Murray has a very good surrounding cast: I was critical last year when Mark (Georgia coach Mark Richt) didn’t give Murray some reps. I know it would have burned his redshirt year but I thought it was important to get him ready to play this season. I know he had some shoulder problems but I just think it would have helped him to play last year.
That said, he really has a lot of weapons around him what will help him as he grows into the position. He has what may be the best wide receiver in the country (A.J. Green). He has the best kicker (Blair Walsh) and the best punter (Drew Butler). I think with an experienced offensive line they can hide him enough until he gets more comfortable. If Georgia can get past South Carolina (Sept. 11) I think they have a chance to catch fire and make the Florida game (on Oct 30 in Jacksonville) really a high stakes game.
3. Can Florida stick with the spread after Tim Tebow? First of all, Florida has a lot of good football players. When you look at recruiting over a five-year period, which is what I do, Florida has been the best.
Now I’m not the biggest fan of the spread (offense). I know Tim Tebow’s version of the spread works in the SEC. But now you have to look at Florida with John Brantley as quarterback. The SEC is the closest thing to the NFL because of the size and speed of the defensive linemen. And Brantley’s too valuable to take 15-20 hits a game the way Tebow did. So how will this offense work for Brantley?
I thought the spread peaked when Rich Rodriguez went to Michigan. Texas has dropped it. Alabama has shown that you have to have a tight end and a power rnning game. The big worry I have for Florida is what they will do on third and three.
4. South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia is not that far away from being a good SEC quarterback. His light flickers. I’ve seen that before. When I was doing Big Ten games Brian Griese (of Michigan) was not that well thought of and then all of a sudden the light went on late in his career. I’ve seen glimpses of what Stephen can do. He has the natural, raw ability but he has to earn the trust of Steve Spurrier.
We know that Steve is not the most patient guy in the world when it comes to his quarterbacks. But if you can earn his trust, Steve also understands that quarterbacks don’t play perfectly. He understands that you’ll throw the odd pass every now and then. If he trusts you and you’re his guy, he’s a good coach to play for. But if he doesn’t trust you Steve tends to look for the other putter in his bag.
5. Why Alabama is picked to repeat despite losing nine starters on defense: First of all, they are loaded on offense: Heisman Trophy winner at tailback with a backup like Trent Ricahrdson. Good offensive line. Solid quarterback. They are loaded everywhere.
Secondly, it’s a little misleading to say they lost that many starters on defense. There were a lot of role players on that defense and a bunch of guys got playing time. (Defensive end) Marcell Dareus wasn’t considered a starter. The backup nose tackle (Josh Chapman) played a lot for Terrence Cody. (Linebacker) Dont’a Hightower comes back. They will miss the mental side of Rolando McClain but I think Hightower will be able to replace him physically.
But the guy they are going to have the toughest time replacing on the defense is (cornerback) Javier Arenas. He was a smart blitzer. He had a great alter ego from that slot position which is a difficult one to play. He was a great tackler. If they can find a replacement for Arenas they will be fine on defense.
The real challenge for Alabama is that they’ve have gone two straight regular seaons going undefeated. That is so hard to do in this league. Who’s going to block the kick this year? Who is going to engineer the two-minute drive like they did to beat Auburn? It just seems like the clock is ticking against them. You can be the best team in college football and still not win the championship.
BONUS STORY LINE
The addition of Jeremiah Masoli at Ole Miss is a game changer: If he can get comfortable and take advantage of what Houston Nutt likes to do–which is run the ball downhill–he is going to make a difference.
They’ve got a great defensive front seven–really a legit SEC front. Houston’s always found a running game and so if he also has a running/passing quarterback it is definitely a game changer. Is it a game changer to win the Western Division? No but they could impact who does win the division.
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