I was asked to take part in a series of Q&A's about the SEC over at The Saturday Edge. I was joined by Lisa Cornwell of So Fried Sports and John Pennington of Mr SEC. Here was the first question that was posed to us:
Question #1: Las Vegas has installed Georgia as the favorite to win the SEC east and LSU as a slight favorite over Alabama to win the SEC west. Name one team from each division that could realisitically surprise the oddsmakers and challenge those teams for the east and west title.
Click on this link to see my answers as well as John and Lisa's but I wanted to delve a little bit deeper into the question for the SEC East. This is an expanded answer to the question from the Q&A for the SEC East but you have to click the link to see what I said about the West (as well as what the others had to say about both).
Is this guy a difference maker for Florida?
The way I see it, Georgia and South Carolina are even with Georgia having a slight edge because of their schedule. I pretty much eliminated South Carolina as an answer to this question because it was too obvious and I wanted to look a bit deeper.
I will go ahead and eliminate Kentucky and Vanderbilt as contenders. I like what Vanderbilt is doing and I think they will have a nice offense but I think they will take a step back on the defensive side of the football (they lost their best four players on defense). Kentucky is in a rut and I don't see it changing this year. If they aren't better than they were last year then Joker has to go.
That leaves us with Florida, Missouri and Tennessee. Tennessee is intriguing because they have offensive talent in Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers, Michael Rivera and Marlin Lane Jr. I think Tennessee will beat some teams they aren't supposed to but I don't think they can do it over the long haul. They still have depth issues and over the long haul injuries will happen and the Vols simply can't afford injuries. The Vols are also switching to the 3-4 defense. I like the hire of Sal Sunseri as their DC but it's a tough transition and it won't yield massive first year success.
Missouri is a team that really intrigues me. I thought they were going to be a darkhorse in the Big 12 race last year but they simply couldn't keep up with the better teams in the Big 12. They ended up going 0-4 against ranked teams and got off to just a 4-5 start. They did rebound and won their last four but the only teams that they really beat of substance last year were Texas and Texas A&M and their stature is highly debatable. This year, QB James Franklin is a year older but he's also coming off of an injury. It doesn't sound like Henry Josey is coming back this year (he was averaging an eye popping 8 yards a carry) so Missouri won't have a stud in the backfield. Kendial Lawrence is a good back-up (566 yds at 4.76 ypc) but he doesn't have the impact of a Josie. Missouri will be deep at receiver and that's where they will find success if their OL holds up against the big, fast linemen of the SEC (Missouri did allow 85 tackles for loss- 93rd in the Nation- last year). Missouri also had a middle of the pack defense in the Big 12 so I'm interested in seeing how that translates in the SEC. In the Big 12, they make their defenses to stop the pass. Can they adjust to stop the run in the SEC? I like Missouri and I think that because of their offense they will definitely win some games this year but I just can't see them overtaking Georgia and South Carolina in the East even if they do beat one of those teams (remember: South Carolina beat Georgia last year but it was Georgia that won the SEC East).
The wildcard is Florida. Why? Because Florida is Florida. Florida will field a good defense this year. The question is if they can take that next step and be great. The biggest change for Florida is Brent Pease taking over as Offensive Coordinator for the much maligned Charlie Weis. Peace is from Boise State and we all know what that offense is capable of when it's clicking on all cylinders. Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are still battling it out for the starting QB job but from everything we've heard and seen, they are in much better hands with Peace than they were with Weis. If there is anybody who can catch Georgia and South Carolina, it's definitely Florida. Yes, Will Muschamp has gotten rid of some of Urban's guys but the vibe out of Florida is much more positive then it was last year and that in itself will help. Florida, like Georgia, will face a tough road test against one of the new members of the SEC early in the season when it plays at Texas A&M on September 8th. After that it's another road test against Tennessee. If Florida can make it out of those games the victor then they will head to the LSU game at 4-0 and with a lot of confidence. Keep an eye on this Florida team, if they can win early and get that Florida swagger back then they have the talent to make a splash and contend with Georgia and South Carolina.
As a reminder, make sure you check out the Q&A that we did with The Saturday Edge and see what we said about the SEC West and also what Lisa Cornwell of So Fried Sports and John Pennington of Mr SEC said about the races in the SEC East and West races.