Will the Second Best SEC Team Please Stand Up?
Entering the 2010 college football season, there is a consensus number one team in America.
The team sitting a top the AP and Coaches poll is the same team that raised the crystal BCS championship trophy last year. The Alabama Crimson Tide will start the 2010 season where they left off last season, number one.
So, naturally the Tide are the consensus favorite to win a third consecutive SEC Western Division crown and a second straight SEC title. But, the more challenging question is: who looks to be the second best team in the SEC?
We all know that preseason predictions are useless. If I predict Alabama to win the SEC, that doesn’t mean anything. But, we all continue to do it because we enjoy doing it and we want to see if somehow one of our predictions come true.
No matter how bad at it we are and how many games we get wrong, we continue to predict. So, of course Alabama very well could end up losing three or four regular season games and not even winning the SEC West. But on paper, the Tide looks to be the best of the SEC. It doesn’t seem as obvious as to who looks second best.
I think there are several teams that could lay claim to that title. Of course the defending Eastern Division champion Florida, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and South Carolina all could be looked at and called that next team. Here’s an in-depth look at each of those teams.
So the post-Tebow era begins for the Gators and John Brantley is the man who takes the reigns. Although Brantley has looked solid in his minimal appearances, it is a whole different story when you’re the guy. It doesn’t make it any easier that you’re following one of the most decorated players in the history of college football. But, Brantley has a solid supporting cast around him led by speedster Jeff Demps. The offense is going to once again be extremely fast. The offensive line is going to be one of the best in the country. The question mark is going to be at receiver. They have plenty of talent, but they need some guys to step up. Deonte Thompson looks to be the top guy, but needs to be more consistent. Andre Debose, Carl Moore, and converted running back Chris Rainey will be some of the other receivers called on. The defense looks to be very good again even with the loss of Brandon Spikes, Carlos Dunlap, and Joe Haden. The Gators strength looks to be the secondary with arguably the best safety tandem in the country in Ahmad Black and Will Hill. They also return both their kicker and punter.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Many people believe South Carolina has the talent to finally come through and win more than seven games. I am one of those people.
I really feel like they could challenge for the SEC East and I think they will.
The defense is loaded. Chris Culliver and Stephon Gilmore lead very good secondary. Shaq Wilson heads a solid linebacking core and Cliff Matthews leads the defensive line. But, the defense isn’t what is going to get them over the hump.
Oddly enough, ever since the Ol’ Ball Coach took over it’s been the offense that has held the Gamecocks back. The offensive line struggled last season and has to get better. The running back core looks very solid but needs one of the four solid backs they have to step up and be the featured back.
Freshman Marcus Lattimore could be that guy. Alshon Jeffrey is one of the best wide outs in the country and leads and very talented group. But, as it seems accustomed with South Carolina all eyes are on the quarterback. The question is can Stephen Garcia play up to his potential?
Steve Spurrier has been quoted as saying that Stephen Garcia hasn’t separated himself from true freshman Connor Shaw. Garcia has all the talent, but hasn’t been able to put it all together. If the Gamecocks are going to challenge for the SEC East Garcia is going to have to come through.
In my opinion, the hottest seat in the SEC is that of LSU head coach Les Miles. Nick Saban winning the title at Alabama last season didn’t make things any easier for the “mad hatter.”
But, the expectations just are not there this year for the Tigers. Even with that rabid fan base, the expectations for this team are not what they usually are. But, this is the team that won the National Championship just three and a half years ago.
The question mark is on offense. That is where they have struggled. Some experts believe this is the fastest LSU defense in a long time led by preseason All-American corner Patrick Peterson. But again, the question mark is on offense. The LSU offense struggled in the spring and are rumored to have struggled in scrimmages lately.
They have the talent. The talent is there. Some definitely question whether the coaching is there though. But, something is missing. I know I sound like a broken record, but the key to the LSU season like most teams is going to be the play of QB Jordan Jefferson. They have playmakers in Richard Murphy, Terrance Tolliver, and Russell Shepard. But, can Jefferson play consistently enough to exceed expectations? Well, that remains to be seen.
Expectations are high in Auburn, Alabama this year for two main reasons.
First, their biggest problem last year was defense and they look to be much improved. They are a year more experienced now and with all those injuries a lot of players gained experience last season. They also return all of those injured players and look to be a much deeper defense.
Secondly, Cam Newton, a former backup QB at Florida, has transferred to Auburn after one season at Blinn College. Newton has a lot of expectations riding on his back. But, the offense was very good last season for the most part. With the defense looking to be much better and an offense that should be much better off at quarterback, you can see why expectations are high on the plains.
Auburn has become a sexy pick to make a run at the SEC West. With a playmaker on the edge in Darvin Adams and three solid backs in Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb, and true freshman Michael Dyer the offense should be even better.
Michael Dyer is the one most Auburn fans believe will eventually take over the starting role. Dyer comes in and is hoped to fill the void left by now Houston Texan Ben Tate. Although all three backs are talented, they need one to step up and be a featured back. Dyer seems to be that guy.
But to me, the season is going to come down to two things and it happens to be the two things Auburn fans are most excited about: the play of Cam Newton and how improved the defense will be.
The Hogs come into the year looking almost identical to Ole Miss last season. They are a highly ranked team with a lot of expectations that several people do not think they can meet. But here’s the difference: Arkansas is a lot more talented than that Ole Miss team.
Ryan Mallett is arguably the best quarterback in college football, they have a bevy of solid running backs, and an even larger pool of superb receivers. Now, let’s get to the question mark.
The defense was dead last in the SEC in total defense last year. They do return seven starters, if you consider that a good thing. But, the secondary is going to have to get better and I really think it will. The return of Isaac Madison will help and the other three projected starters aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they have to get better as a unit.
Jerry Franklin is the leader of that D and Jake Bequette is a solid end. You know the offense is going to be there. They have to many playmakers and too good of an offensive line to not. The defense will determine how far they go.
8-5 is not acceptable for the Georgia Bulldogs.
It is so not acceptable that Mark Richt is now thought to be in the hot seat. But they return a lot on offense and most of the defense is experienced. They also have one of the best kickers and punters in the country along with two great return men in Branden Smith and Brandon Boykin.
Redshirt Freshman Aaron Murray has taken over the reins from Joe Cox and a lot is expected of him. He has looked very solid from spring all the way through now. He has two very solid backs in Washaun Ealey and Caleb King.
The dogs have one of the best playmakers in the country in A.J. Green and two very good tight ends. But, the most important factor of how good I think this Georgia offense can be is there offensive line. They are returning all five starters and have a back up that, if he can stay healthy, has the talent to be an All-American in Trinton Sturdivant.
The defense was shaky at best last year, but I think they will be much improved. The secondary looks very solid, as does the linebacking core. Led by Brandon Boykin and Justin Houston respectively. The spot with the biggest holes to fill will be the defensive line. But, they have a lot of talent with some decent experience. The defense also will have to adapt to a new scheme as they switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4. According to new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, they will be much more aggressive. That should help this defense come along.
I really feel like the second best team, and I know I’m going to catch grief from this, is the Georgia Bulldogs. When you look at what they have on both sides I feel like they are the second best team heading into the season. I know they have question marks, but they every team does. But, it really doesn’t matter because you know what…they play it on the field.
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