Original Article Published on SEC Sports Report
ATLANTA, Ga—If you want to know about a team, look at the coaches first. I listen to what they are saying and what kind of moves are they making and can successfully predict outcomes.
It’s one week from the first game and one thing I know is the 2009 football season will be great. There have been a whole lot of moves made in the last six months and I’ve been watching it closely.
Here is my take on how the SEC East will play out in 2009:
1) Florida Gators— This team will dominate. Top to bottom they are loaded with talent and experience. The team worked hard on the offseason which is the best indicator for results during the season.
A more reasonable schedule makes division championship probable. With preseason No. 1 target on their back, they will not go undefeated. Should win SEC Championship. Could win BCS Championship game.
Florida Coach to watch: New offensive coordinator Steve Addazio. Tough to replace offensive coordinator Mullen who had been with Meyer for eight years. Will he call the right plays at the right time? How will he handle more responsibility with the pressure of being No. 1?
2) Georgia Bulldogs—Team unsatisfied with 2008 season. Talented team with every player from a top 10 recruiting class. Stronger team leadership will carry over to better performances on the field. Minimized off-field incidents is great indicator of newer focus for 2009. First two games with No. 6 Oklahoma State and South Carolina will set the tone for the season.
Georgia Coach to watch: Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. Martinez is on the radar from 2008 and a high powered offense of Oklahoma State could bring Martinez in the spotlight early which would be a negative for him.
3) South Carolina Gamecocks—New staff, better attitudes and a re-energized Ole Ball Coach. This is a whole new team with talent but little experience. Too much attention given to quarterback Stephen Garcia by coaches in media discussions. New coaches are significantly better than last year’s group. Players are working harder. Toughest schedule in SEC makes a 7-5 season a success.
USC Coach to watch: Offensive Line Coach Eric Wolford. The Gamecocks need a strong offensive line if they are going to have any success. A much improved line allows for a running game and Garcia to excel in passing. Wolford seems to be the man for the job.
4) Tennessee Volunteers—Lots of new energy which will be tested early with UCLA and Florida games. Lane Kiffin has hyped up his coaching staff so much it will be hard to watch if the team does not perform well. The barometer for this team will be if there is an significant improvement to the offense. A simplified offensive playbook will help. Defense has been fine so it can’t improve much.
Tennessee Coach to watch: Coach Lane Kiffin. How Lane Kiffin handles the adversity that is coming will be huge. If he shows more professionalism, it will increase his stock. If he comes unglued, the train will be off the track and will make for a great case study for future young coaches taking big jobs early in their careers.
5) Vanderbilt Commodores—Coach Johnson believes he can build on last season which was a huge success in Vandy terms. No-huddle offense could be interesting to watch. Look for another upset this season of a good SEC team by Vandy. Will probably return for a bowl game.
Vandy Coach to watch: Coach Bobby Johnson. Switching to a no-huddle offense requires a level of depth to his offense. If it doesn’t work, it requires depth on defense, too. Does he have enough good defensive players to substitute? I think they will use the no huddle intermittently to catch teams off guard.
6) Kentucky Wildcats—Coach Rich Brooks said his team would be better in 2009 but so did everybody else. First flag is it seems like things are chaotic in Kentucky right now which hurts winning environments. Distractions hurt focus. Former basketball Coach Gillespie is suing the University. He also got a DUI this week. Former Coach Pitino was involved in a sex scandal and is made it worse by calling a press conference this week.
Joker Phillips is in transition for the head coaching job which creates leadership issues which is a whole column by itself. Recruiting numbers are down. There seems to be less enthusiasm coming from Lexington than other schools. They can still win in the SEC and go to a bowl game.
Kentucky Coach to watch: Coach Rich Brooks. A losing season puts him on the hot seat and ends the head coach in transition problem.
On any given Saturday, any SEC team can beat any other SEC team if the conditions are right. I love predicting upsets and I will making my predictions each week so stay tuned and enjoy SEC football. There is no greater conference and no better sport. I will see you on the ball field.
Jay Holgate is an SEC analyst and editor of SEC Sports Report and a freelance writer. He can be heard around the South on sports radio. He can be reached at editor@SECsportsReport.com