We are only two months away from college football. This has been a difficult offseason for the Gator Nation as they wait anxiously to get the disgusting taste of the 2013 season out of their mouths. Much has already been said about how difficult the Florida schedule is this year and some Gator fans have started preparing themselves for disappointment. I have heard an awful lot of talk about a 7-5 season. Maybe it’s just me but I tend to expect a little more than that of the Gators. The minimum goal for ANY season should be winning the SEC East and going to Atlanta. So let’s look at the East.
The Georgia Bulldogs seem to be the sexy pick to win the East this season. Georgia must replace star quarterback Aaron Murray. It will be senior Hutson Mason calling the signals for the Bulldogs this year. Mason may not have a lot of game experience but he has been in the same offense with the same coordinator his entire time at UGA. He should be quite comfortable with the playbook. The good news for Mason is that he will not be asked to carry the offense. Georgia has an excellent group of running backs to take the pressure off of the quarterback. Todd Gurley might be the best back in all of college football and Keith Marshall would start for most teams. They added blue chip recruit Sony Michel in February but the one to watch out for may well be incoming freshman Nick Chubb. Chubb is an all-around athlete competing in track and field as well. With an experienced and deep offensive line, UGA should be able run the ball extremely well.
Defensively, Georgia finally got tired of sending a list of defensive talent to the NFL every year despite giving up thirty points a game so they sent underachieving Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham packing and brought in Jeremy Pruitt from FSU. Pruitt has been a part of three national championships with FSU and Alabama. The Georgia faithful are confident that they have finally added the one missing piece to their national championship puzzle. There is reason to be optimistic in Athens.
Look for South Carolina to give Georgia a good run for their money. Head Coach Steve Spurrier has quietly (as quietly as Spurrier is capable) turned the Gamecocks into a solid contender every year. Like UGA, South Carolina loses a long time starter at quarterback. Conner Shaw is gone but senior Dylan Thompson has plenty of game experience. Thompson has looked good but somewhat inconsistent so far. The Gamecocks have their own star running back in former Gator commit Mike Davis. The bottom line is that as long as Spurrier is on the sideline they will be able to play offense.
The defense took a hit in the draft as well when DE Jadaveon Clowney left early to be the top pick. However, the Gamecock defense has been good to great every year since Spurrier arrived. I guess the Ole Ball Coach learned when he hired Bob Stoops and immediately won a national championship at Florida that defense is at least as important as offense. The bottom line is that South Carolina has won eleven games for three straight seasons. It would be foolish to think that Spurrier will not have his team ready to compete for the East.
Missouri won the East last year after looking overwhelmed their first season in the SEC. Of course, their first year in the conference was marred by an incredible amount of injuries. Healthy in 2013, Missouri looked like perhaps they actually do belong with the big boys. The Tigers have some holes to fill though. They lost some big time defensive talent to the NFL including much publicized Michael Sam. And, star receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was booted from the team for behavioral problems. Missouri is expected to take a slight step backward this season.
Vanderbilt had been displaying a slow steady climb toward respectability. Head Coach James Franklin fielded a solid, well-coached fundamentally sound football team consecutive seasons and Commodore fans start to fantasize about such lofty goals as relevance. But alas, Franklin has taken his football and left for Penn State. Conventional wisdom is that Vandy will slide back into obscurity. I tend to agree.
And then there is Tennessee. The Vols were once considered a football powerhouse. Then they fired Head Coach Phil Fulmer because they were unhappy with being a powerhouse. They have paraded several coaches through since with the results being pretty much the same with each, one rung below mediocrity. Enter Butch Jones. Vols fans are sure he is the answer. They are certain that Jones will turn the program around immediately. He might indeed reverse their fortunes, but I am not buying the immediately part. Tennessee has a lot of recruiting to do before they will be back in the mix. It won’t be in 2014.
What can you say about Kentucky? It’s Kentucky. There is some optimism based on the hiring of one of the Stoops brothers as head coach. The problem is that even Emeril Lagasse can only make oat meal out of oat meal. Face it folks, football at Kentucky is just a distraction until basketball season. I will take them seriously when they show signs of life and not before.
Well there you have it. The honest truth is that Florida has to improve vastly to be considered on par with Georgia and South Carolina. In fact, the Gators have some work to do to catch Missouri. I would tell the Gator Nation that if beleaguered coach Will Muschamp has the Gators contending for the East in November they should all get behind the man. That would be quite an accomplishment.