Last year Georgia was ranked at the top of every preseason poll but a myriad of injuries led to them dropping their three most important games of the year to Alabama, Florida, and Georgia Tech. The SEC East looks very similar this year but there is a new face as the favorite. On paper, the Florida Gators have already won the SEC and will be competing for another National Championship but as we saw last year, there’s a reason they play the games.
THE FAVORITE: FLORIDA
This year the Gators have just about everything turned in their favor. Last year they were a top ten defense in points allowed, total yardage, and interceptions. They held nine of their opponents to 14 or fewer points and gave up more than 21 points only once in their only loss to Mississippi.
We all know about Tim Tebow and the leader that he is on and off the field. He returns for his senior year to lead one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. One major blow for the Gators is the loss of wide receiver and rushing sensation Percy Harvin. While Florida has talent to replace Harvin, there is potential for setback on the offense early in the year as they develop their rhythm and chemistry.
The major difference between the Gators this year and the Bulldogs of 2008 is the difficulty of the schedule. Florida plays a very weak out of conference schedule opening the season hosting Charleston Southern and Troy, and then closing the year with two more home games against Florida International and FSU. With the exception of the neutral site game against Georgia, Florida only plays four road games.
One game to look forward to is on Oct. 10 when the Gators travel to Death Valley to play the Tigers in a night game. Regardless of the LSU talent level, playing them on the road in primetime is one of the toughest venues in college football.
The Georgia Bulldogs have a rough schedule in 2009 and coupled with the loss of their two biggest play makers on offense, it should be an automatic rebuilding year. Beneath the surface, the Bulldogs are still strong on both sides of the ball. They had 18 season-ending injuries last year and return many of those players who were supposed to be a part of their National Title bid a year ago.
On offense, Joe Cox comes in as a senior who has a very high talent level but has seen limited playing time behind Matthew Stafford. He will be playing behind an experienced offensive line and Georgia also features a pair of young but talented backs in Caleb King and Richard Samuel.
The defense for the Bulldogs will have to step up in 2009 as they face several potent offensive attacks. This will be the biggest test for them as three of their most important games are all away from home against Oklahoma State, Florida, and Georgia Tech.
DARK HORSE: TENNESSEE
Under first year head coach Lane Kiffin, the Vols have a chance to make a run in the SEC East. Realistically, Tennessee does not have the experience to compete in the conference but the talent level in Knoxville is growing. Kiffin has assembled one of the best recruiting classes in recent Vol history and their defense is coming off a top five national ranking in yards allowed per game.
The schedule for Tennessee is manageable but they must perform well early and on the road. Their biggest game of the year will be a Sept. 19 matchup against Florida in The Swamp. The other two majorly important games for the Vols are both on the road at Alabama and Mississippi.
REMAINDER OF DIVISION
South Carolina has always been a difficult win for most teams and while they have added talent they are too young to compete on the offensive side of the ball. Vanderbilt surprised the nation when they started the year 5—0 but then dropped the next four on route to a 6—6 record. Their road schedule will be challenging as they play LSU in primetime, South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee. The Wildcats also will struggle as their talent level is not up to par with the rest of the SEC East.
Will Florida stumble in SEC play or can they make it back to the National Title Game? Will Georgia or Tennessee surprise the nation and knock off the defending champion?
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