The Bulldogs have really benefitted from this whole power shift thing in the SEC. With Florida on a steady decline since the departure of Urban Meyer, South Carolina’s recent struggles, and Vanderbilt’s return to the cellar, Georgia has separated itself from the pack. Yes, they haven’t played in the SEC Championship game in three years, and those meddling Gators and Gamecocks beat them last year, but Georgia is still the cream of the crop in the East. With only one more season to get through before the start of the Jacob Eason era, Georgia will use the same formula it did last year: a power running game and a stout defense featuring one of the nation’s best linebacker corps. Aside from their three losses, the Bulldogs dominated opponents with only one game—Tennessee in which Justin Worley played the game of his life—within a touchdown. Clemson, Missouri, Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Louisville were the five ranked teams that UGA played last year. Excluding the loss to Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs defeated the other four teams by a combined score of 150-42. With such a high ceiling, the inconsistency was astonishing.
I would hate to be in Knoxville if the Vols have a disappointing 2015 season. Even though their best years should be in 2016 and 2017 (and beyond), the hype is no joke. After freshmen ran everywhere just a season ago, this team will only be better in the coming years. This year, there still figures to be an abundance of youth, but most of the starters will be sophomores and juniors—you can compete with sophomores and juniors. So the hype is certainly real, but games must be played and nothing is given in the SEC. Last year, the Vols offense and defense each improved by about 5 points per game. If they can do the same thing this year, they’d be averaging 33.9 points per game on offense and 19.2 points per game on defense, which would rank 32nd and 9th, respectively. For comparison, Florida State ranked 35th and 50th in offense and defense last year. So yes, the potential is there, and that type of growth isn’t unrealistic.
Well finally, the most dysfunctional offense in football has ceased to exist. I personally enjoyed watching it because TBS’ re-runs of Seinfeld weren’t meeting my comedy needs anymore. But for Florida fans, it was not funny. And it’s always good to see your AD identify the guy he wants and go get him. I know Jim McElwain coached Colorado State well, but I’m not going to pretend that I know he will make a great head coach. I’m not privy to personal information. I haven’t interviewed his former players. But I do know Foley is a well-respected AD, and for him to take secret trips out to Colorado just to secure his number one choice was enough for me, especially since my initial thought was that McElwain would be a nice haul. Typically, first-year head coaches struggle. Then, if they are any good, take a step forward in year two, and continue their upward trajectory in years three and four. Sometimes, you get a dysfunctional coach who attracted talent, and his successor is a good on-field coach who is able to utilize that talent, but can’t sustain the success because he can’t recruit his own guys, a la Larry Coker in Miami. And then sometimes you get the perfect storm where there is talent on the roster, and you get a great-in-every-way coach. Then you don’t even need to deal with the rebuilding process. Gator fans are hoping for the latter, but might get the Coker. Either way, this team has talent.
Missouri is coming off back-to-back SEC East championships—an accomplishment very few saw coming given that the Tigers have only been in the league for three years. However, with traditional powers Florida and Tennessee down for a few years, the door was left open for a new champion and Missouri stepped right in. Mizzou’s 2014 campaign was filled with close games—a one-point win against South Carolina, and seven-point victories against Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Arkansas. This year, I would not be surprised if the Tigers, yet again, get themselves into a bunch of close games, but I expect them to drop a few more especially with the resurgence of Tennessee and Florida. In addition, Missouri will be without their two elite pass rushers in defensive end Shane Ray and defensive tackle Markus Golden who were both huge difference makers and both largely responsible for their 10-win season. Missouri will not be completely outmatched by any team in the East, but with a tougher schedule and some key losses, I expect them to finish in the middle of the pack in 2015.
Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, Victor Hampton, Wayne Ellington, and Connor Shaw. Those were all some big names to replace last year, but given Steve Spurrier’s track record, everyone just assumed it would be fine. In one of the most hyped games of the season—it’s funny thinking about how much attention some of these preseason games get when you look back in hindsight—the Gamecocks were exposed in week one against Texas A&M. Kenny “Trill” Hill was proclaimed as the next great quarterback in college football, but really South Carolina’s defense should have been questioned for allowing Kenny Hill to throw for over 500 yards. The Gamecocks defense has been the team’s identity over the past few years, but dropped off in 2013, and hit rock bottom last year.
Mark Stoops is making progress. Slowly, but surely, he is making progress. His recruiting has been an improvement, especially last year’s freshman class in which he signed ten 4 star recruits according to Rivals. That class is now sophomores, so you can expect the on-field success to continue to improve as this class grows up.
Like I said about North Carolina’s defense and Wake Forest’s offense, things can only go up. Keep in mind that last year Derek Mason’s name was akin to Will Muschamp, Gene Chizik, and Bud Foster. He was truly one of the hottest assistants around. James Franklin could not have left at a more opportune time (for his own interests) because Vanderbilt was losing a lot heading in to 2014, and while he built something pretty impressive, it was not yet built to reload. For as bad as things were last year, I’d probably have the Commodores ahead of Kentucky if it wasn’t for the difference at quarterback. Just like Larry Coker cannot truly be credited with his first championship in Miami, Mason cannot truly be credited with his first disaster season in Nashville.