Thursday we took a look at three teams in the SEC East that are serious contenders in the division. We broke down what they have coming back and how they stack up against Florida.
As we continue our Know Your Foe series, today we take a look at the other half of the East and three teams, who for lack of a better phrase, are the SEC East cellar dwellers.
These three teams struggled mightily in 2012 and their outlook for 2013 doesn’t look any better.
Kentucky’s offense was down right offensive to watch in 2012. They were last in scoring offense (17.9 ppg.), second to last in total offense (315 ypg.), 11th in rushing offense (138.75 ypg) and 12th in passing offense (176.3 ypg.). Their 214 first downs were worse than any team not named Auburn and their redzone offense was the worst in the SEC, scoring only 70.59% of the time they reached the opponents 20-yard line.
Joker Phillips was fired as head coach – Gator fans thank Kentucky for that one – and Mark Stoops was brought over from Florida State to be the new coach. Stoops, a defensive minded coach, brought Neal Brown with him to Lexington to run the offense.
Brown, who played at Kentucky from 1998-2000, formerly coached the high-powered offense at Texas Tech from 2010-12. His teams averaged 33.1 and 39.1 points per game in his two seasons as offensive coordinator.
Quarterback Maxwell Smith returns for another season but Kentucky needs to find playmakers to surround him with.
As we mentioned before, Stoops is a defensive coach and he will try to mold his team into a physical, tough-minded, defense first football team. The coaching staff put a heavy emphasis on the weight room and conditioning program this spring in hopes of creating a more mentally and physically tough team.
Avery Williamson will be the centerpiece of the defense. Williamson finished with 135 tackles in 2012, second most of any player in the conference. Williamson embodies everything that Stoops wants his defense to be. Along with Alvin Dupree and Miles Simpson, the Wildcats should have a very solid line-backing unit.
Kentucky only returns two players in the secondary who recorded interceptions last year. Both J.D. Harmon and Ashley Lowery will be asked to anchor the Wildcat’s secondary.
You can’t talk about Kentucky’s defense without mentioning big Donte Rumph. At 6’3”, 315-pounds Rumph is a big space eater in the middle and he will be tasked with clogging the middle to help against the run as well as taking on double teams to give Kentucky’s linebackers clear gaps to get after the ball carrier.
Kentucky is in the market for a new place kicker. Senior Craig Mcintosh was the worst kicker in the SEC last season, converting just 8-of-15 field goal attempts on the year.
In line to replace him are two-redshirt freshman Tanner Blain, Max Strong along with senior punter Joe Mansour.
Punting for the Wildcats will be sophomore Landon Foster. Foster finished in the middle of the pack in the SEC with an average of 42.90 yards per punt. Kentucky was middle of the pack as far as kick/punt coverage and one would think that that is an area that will improve with a head coach like Stoops at the helm.
What to watch
The big storyline in Lexington is what will Kentucky look like under Stoops. Kentucky drew more than 50,000 fans for their spring game, so Big Blue Nation is excited about football.
Well, at least until basketball season starts.
When Missouri and Texas A&M entered the SEC, it was Missouri and Gary Pinkel that were projected to assimilate themselves quicker into their new conference.
Boy, were we wrong.
Missouri finished with the 11th ranked total (356.4 ypg.) and scoring offense (25.8 ppg.). The Tigers finished with the 12th ranked rushing offense (138.75 ypg.) and the 9th ranked passing attack (217.9 ypg.) in the SEC.
In the past, Missouri would only go as far as their quarterback James Franklin would take them. After battling injuries and inconsistent play in 2012, Franklin finds himself in a battle for his starting position with sophomore Corbin Berkstresser.
With inconsistent quarterback play, the Tigers will rely on their rushing game in the hopes that running back Henry Josey will be able to return in 2013. Josey suffered a knew injury in 2011 that forced him to miss the entire 2012 season. Josey was one of the best backs in the Big 12 before his injury and his return would give Missouri a more balanced offense.
Football games are won in the trenches and Missouri is rebuilding their front seven. They lost their best defensive player Sheldon Richardson as well as two starting linebackers in Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden.
Replacing Richardson’s production is a tall task but Mizzou has a couple players who can fill in at linebacker with Darvin Ruise, Donovan Bonner and Michael Scherer returning to school.
Missouri’s middle of the pack defense from 2012 might take a step back in 2013 and that could lead to another tough season in the SEC for the Tigers.
Sophomore Andrew Bagget returns as Mizzou’s kicker in 2013. As a freshman, Bagget converted 14-of-20 field goal attempts and 33-of-37 extra point conversions. He’s a reliable option for Missouri.
Redshirt sophomore Christian Brinser takes over punting duties this season. Brisner only has one career punt way back in 2011, but it was a good one (47-yards.)
What to watch
The Tigers struggled all the way to a 5-7 (2-6 SEC) record a year ago. Gary Pinkel is the longest tenured coach in the SEC and while his job may not be in jeopardy just yet, his seat could start to get hot with another disappointing season in the SEC.
There’s no Tyler Bray, Cordarrelle Patterson or Justin Hunter to run the offense through this season. Without that firepower and with new head coach Butch Jones, the Vols will rely on their rushing attack to carry the offense in 2013.
Justin Worley leads to replace Tyler Bray at quarterback with Nathan Peterman behind him. Worley completed 15-of-23 attempts last season with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
The offensive line is back almost in its entirety and they will need to create a strong front to open running lanes for Rajion Neal and Alden Hill. But you can only go so far with a one-dimensional offense and Tennessee looks to be very one-dimensional heading into 2013.
Jones will bring a 4-3 defense back to Tennessee and that involves trying to make your current personnel fit into a new scheme. Florida fans saw how hard it can be to transition to a new system when they went from a spread offense to a pro style offense under Muschamp and that difficult transition is mirrored on defense.
The defense, which was the worst in scoring defense a year ago, looks like they will struggle again in 2013 to keep opposing teams off of the scoreboard.
The kicking game was in flux during the 2012 season. Michael Palardy, the starting punter and kicker, was yanked in favor of Derrick Brodus in a number of situations. On the year, Palardy finished 9-of-12 on field goal attempts and Brodus converted on 6-of-7 attempts.
Palardy said this spring that he feels healthier than he has the past two seasons and I believe that the senior will win the job this fall.
The Vols need to find a replacement for Patterson at kick returner. The early favorite would be Devrin Young, who also serves as the punt returner. Young returned eight kickoffs last season and averaged 17.75 yards per return compared to Patterson’s 27.96 yards per return average.
What to watch
While the Rocky Top faithful thought that the hiring of Lane Kiffin would be the saving grace of their program, it actually was the beginning of a downward spiral that Tennessee is still going through. With the fan base growing restless, will Butch Jones have time to get his players in to run his style of football before he gets run out of town?
Tennessee is going to struggle in 2013 and things will get worse before they get better.