Our long national nightmare is over. It's game week.
Week 1 of the college football season marks the beginning of the journey for several teams, and for others, it marks the end of the offseason phenomenon known as "universal hope."
Let's kick the regular season off in style with a game-week Q&A, which has moved to Tuesdays during the regular season.
@BarrettSallee What would be the biggest turn around? roper at UF or Pruitt at UGA? If both units succeed.— John (@jnorris10000) August 14, 2014
They both are similar in the sense that they don't need "Malzahn-like" turnarounds for their teams to be successful. They just need to be adequate.
I'd say turning around Florida's offense would be a bigger turnaround for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper than new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt turning around Georgia's defense.
Georgia's defense actually has a solid foundation. The Bulldogs finished sixth in the SEC in rush defense last year and showed flashes of being the kind of stifling defense that can lead the program to a championship. The front seven absolutely shut down LSU and Jeremy Hill to the tune of 77 rushing yards and were particularly stout in the first half. The majority of that front seven returns sans defensive end Garrison Smith.
Florida, on the other hand, didn't have much go right for it offensively last year. It finished last in the SEC in total offense (316.7 YPG), 12th in passing offense (170.9 YPG) and 13th in rushing offense (145.75 YPG). With running back Kelvin Taylor, dual-threat quarterback Jeff Driskel—who should thrive in Roper's no-huddle system—and wide receivers Demarcus Robinson and Andre Debose on the roster, the foundation is there.
It's just more of an uphill climb in Gainesville.
With that said, both coordinators will find relatively instant success in their first years at their respective gigs. The personnel base is there for both coaches, and that should lead to, at the very least, adequate turnarounds.
@BarrettSallee is Georgia a legitimate contender without Ramik Wilson and Malcolm Mitchell?— Sam Simpson (@samsimpson24) August 25, 2014
Since we neglected Georgia's defense in the previous question, we'll hit more on Pruitt's crew.
Ramik Wilson—the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago (133)—was not listed as the starter at "Mike" linebacker in Georgia's Week 1 game notes. Wilson had missed several practices this fall with what is reported to be a concussion, according to The Red & Black. Because of the injury, it's not terribly surprising that he's "behind," and I'd be floored if he isn't a big part of the game plan sooner rather than later.
If not, Georgia's front seven is still rather loaded, particularly at linebacker. Amarlo Herrera is fundamentally sound, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is a star in the making, and "Jack" linebacker Jordan Jenkins is one of the most underrated defenders in the SEC.
Malcolm Mitchell's absence wouldn't be great, but if there's any spot on the roster where Georgia can absorb some injuries, it's at wide receiver. Mitchell had his knee scoped earlier this summer and missed virtually all of last season after tearing his ACL in the opener vs. Clemson.
In his stead, Chris Conley emerged as a star, Michael Bennett continued to prove that he's a reliable target, Justin Scott-Wesley should be back after sitting out the season opener with an ankle injury/possible suspension, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Reggie Davis and Jonathon Rumph certainly have the talent to provide mismatch opportunities when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gets creative.
I don't believe Scott-Wesley's absence is long term, nor do I think Mitchell's is. Even if one or both are, Georgia will still be competitive. Those injuries just can't pile up like they did last year.
@BarrettSallee which running back is this years tre mason. Bound to break out and not really known... I nominate kelvin Taylor— YepFB (@YepFB) August 25, 2014
This year's "Tre Mason" is the man who is replacing Tre Mason—Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne.
The senior split carries with Mason last year before Mason got hot down the stretch, and he still managed to rack up 610 yards and six touchdowns for the Tigers during their run to the SEC title. Now, Artis-Payne is the feature back, with quarterback Nick Marshall and speedster Corey Grant still in place to replicate last year's success.
That's exactly what will happen.
Mason was a great running back in a great system, and that great system is still in place. Head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons as either a college head coach or assistant coach. It's no secret that Grant wants more of a responsibility, redshirt freshman Peyton Barber has potential and incoming freshman Roc Thomas has the makings of a superstar. That's just making Artis-Payne better.
"It's nice having those guys, they help push me to get better every day," he said earlier in fall camp, according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "I don't really worry about competition; I'm just worried about getting better myself."
No, it won't be easy to replace Mason. But at 5'11", 210 pounds, Artis-Payne has the size to be a force between the tackles, jets to be a home run hitter and is surprisingly shifty in space. I like Kelvin Taylor, too, but Artis-Payne is in a spot that's ready-made for instant ground success.
@BarrettSallee has Bo Wallace shown enough growth over last two seasons to lead Ole Miss to SECCG or will they depend more on defense?— Ken Sanders (@kenosando) August 25, 2014
Both, really. But I don't think either will lead Ole Miss to the SEC Championship Game.
I picked Ole Miss to tie for third with LSU in the SEC West at 9-3 but lose the tiebreaker to LSU.
Quarterback Bo Wallace is a big reason why I'm picking the Rebels to have a good year. He's thrown 40 touchdown passes over the last two seasons with a bum shoulder that was never really allowed to heal properly due to Wallace's responsibilities as a runner between the tackles. Bigger backs Mark Dodson and Jordan Wilkins should take some of that off Wallace's plate with I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton still showing off the jets on the edge, which will allow Wallace to be more of a passer and less of a runner.
Ole Miss might have one of the most underrated defenses in the SEC this year, led by a remarkably deep and talented secondary. That secondary will get a huge boost from a full season of Robert Nkemdiche at defensive tackle and a healthy C.J. Johnson at defensive end.
Will that get Ole Miss over the hump and to the SEC Championship Game? No, because that's a big hump—especially for a team that's playing its first-ever game in the Georgia Dome on Thursday against Boise State. The Rebels will, however, be competitive in most (if not all) of their games, which is still a step forward for the program.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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