2010 College Football SEC East Preview

In the last two weeks, College FootBlog has unveiled our Preseason Rankings for the ACC and the Big Ten.  This week, we take our shot at the SEC in another two-part breakdown.  We start with the SEC East and we will roll out our SEC West breakdown later in the week.  The SEC has long been known for being the best conference in college football, and this year should be no different.  Here is how we see the rankings going into the summer:

Florida QB John Brantley will put up big numbers this fall, but he will need a physical RB to join him in the backfield in the red zone (google images).

1.  Florida:  The loss of Tebow will certainly hurt the Gators’ chances, but Florida fans will quickly realize that John Brantley is a much more polished passer than their former Heisman Trophy winner at QB.  Brantley has more arm strength and more accuracy, and with UF’s speed at wide receiver, he will put up big numbers this fall.  There are two unknowns for Florida going into the fall that have been strengths of the team the last three years–talent and experience on defense and short-yardage plays on offense.  The Gators lost some key players on defense, including DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Brandon Spikes and big-play CB Joe Haden.  Urban Meyer has recruited with the best of them, but replacing those three impact players will be extremely difficult.  The issue that could cost the Gators a game or two this season is that without Tebow, they have no proven short-yardage running back.  With the goal line defenses in the SEC, that will likely cost them dearly in 2010 unless they find someone by August.  If they solve that problem, they will again be the team to beat in their division.

2.  Georgia:  The ‘Dawgs struggled with a conference record of 4-4 last season, but they have a lot of reasons for optimism in 2010.  Head coach Mark Richt will have a new defensive staff going into the fall, as the Bulldogs try to take a page out of Nick Saban’s book and institute the 3-4.  Even though it is an entirely different system, new D-coordinator Todd Grantham has some great players returning, headlined by NT DeAngelo Tyson.  After the spring workouts, Richt announced that Freshman QB Aaron Murray is first on the depth chart, but his inexperience should be offset by All-American WR candidate AJ Green and sophomore RB Washaun Ealey.  With the departure of Tebow from Florida, solid skill players on offense and a revamped defense, 2010 should be a year that UGA challenges Florida for a SEC Championship.

3.  South Carolina:  Steve Spurrier’s “Fun & Gun” offense has never quite materialized since he took over in Columbia, and last season was an offensive season he would like to forget, and much of those issues were due to a very bad offensive line that surrendered more sacks than any team in the SEC and were also dead last in rushing in the conference.  Spurrier brought in Shawn Elliot from Appalachian State to coach the offensive line.  That should help an O-line that can’t get any worse.  The good news for the Gamecocks is that they have some very talented skill players on both sides of the ball.  Offensively, quarterback Stephen Garcia threw for over 2,800 yards and 17 TDs, despite the poor play on the line in front of him.  Look for those numbers to improve behind a better running game.  Defensively, South Carolina returns several players from a defense that finished 15th nationally in total defense.  That defense and an improved line will result in more respect in Columbia this season.

After just one season in Knoxville, Lane Kiffin departed for USC and left the Vols high and dry in the thick of the recruiting season (google images)

4.  Tennessee:  The Vols lost several key players on defense, including NFL first rounder Eric Berry.  The lone bright spot on offense was running back Montario Hardesty, and he has left for the NFL.  Former five-star prospect Bryce Brown announced this past spring that he was leaving the program as well, leaving little in the cupboard for what was already an anemic offense. The key losses on both sides of the ball, in addition to all the coaching changing leave the Vols with an uphill battle this fall.  Now for the bad news.  New head coach Derek Dooley must clean up the mess that former coach Lane Kiffin left behind when he abruptly departed the Vols for USC, just weeks before National Signing Day, which put a major strain on recruiting. The Vols should still have the talent to compete in the SEC, but they are at least another year away from being a serious contender.

5.  Kentucky:  Joker Phillips officially moves from assistant coach to running the show this fall, and he will have his hands full.  The Wildcats must replace four starters on the offensive line and several key players on defense, including linebackers Sam Maxwell and Micah Johnson.  Quarterback Matt Hartline returns this year from injury and should have the upper hand for the starting job, but Morgan Newton, who started seven games last season has a legitimate shot at taking the starting role away during two-a-days.  With all the losses on both sides of the ball, it could be a tough season in Lexington.

6.  Vanderbilt:  If last year’s 2-10 season was any indication, it could be another long season for the Commodores this fall.  It’s not all doom and gloom, though.  Running back Warren Norman returns after being named last season’s SEC Freshman of the Year.  Also on offense, quarterback Jordan Rogers (brother of Green Bay Packers’ QB Aaron Rogers) comes to Vandy after leading his junior college team to a Juco National Championship last season.  Rogers is expected to battle Larry Smith for the starting job.  Regardless of who lines up under center, the Commodores must improve their offense, which finished 110th nationally last season,  if they want to have a shot at a .500 season.

Check College FootBlog later this week for our breakdown of the SEC West!

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