Sure everyone and his brother is picking Georgia to win the Eastern Division, but that same group of people is ignoring Florida's relatively easy path to Atlanta. The Gators' schedule couldn't be set up any better. Toughest and only real road game? At Tennessee. Then they get LSU and South Carolina in Gainesville, plus Georgia in Jacksonville. Compare that to Georgia and Tennessee's schedule and it's much easier by far. One game they should probably be concerned with is the road trip to Arkansas the week before they play LSU. It's early enough in the season that Casey Dick might still be a little frisky before he throws something like 15 interceptions in about 10 quarters, which will certainly crush his spirit.
As I see it, Florida has two fairly large issues facing it this season (other than if it's possible to hit double digits in team ACL tears). One, they have to, and I mean have to, find a running back. This isn't 1940 and the day of the Wing T. Tim Tebow can't survive another season running as much as he did last year. If they can find another source of rushing yards, the offense goes from good to really good. And issue number two, the defense. Lest you forget, this is the defense that was lit up like a pinball machine by Seth Adams. Yes, the Seth Adams. They did lose two of their best defensive linemen, but their corner backs are back and should be a little wiser to the moves of the likes of Burnell Wallace. If this defense can get itself into the middle of the pack in the SEC and offensive improvement in the ground game takes place, I think this is one of the teams that will be in Atlanta.
At South Carolina. At LSU. At Auburn. And Florida in Jacksonville. Guh. The good news? Nine starters are back on a defense that ranked 3rd in the SEC last year. That defense should be able to keep Georgia in every game it plays even if the offense isn't playing well, which it very well could at times. Everyone is talking about Knowshon Moreno, but there are questions on the offensive line (injuries and young guys playing) and the Georgia passing game wasn't anything spectacular last year. Stafford ranked 56th in the country in passing efficiency and the passing offense ranked 84th in the country.
Stafford has to live up to the insane amount of man-love hype he's getting (and I don't think he deserves) for Georgia to have a shot at Atlanta. He makes or breaks their season. Now, let it be known I'm not saying Georgia isn't good. In fact, if you switched Georgia's schedule with Florida's, I'd "invest" a significant amount of money on Georgia being in Atlanta. But, Georgia must play its schedule and I'm just not seeing how they'll come away with anything under two loses.
3. South Carolina
17 starters back (10 on defense). LSU, Tennessee, and Georgia in Columbia. This could be one of the sneaky teams in the SEC. My only concerns are this was one of the worst defensive teams in the SEC last year and their quarterback situation might turn into the Jesse Palmer/Doug Johnson Rotation 2.0, which can work if your quarterbacks' psyches aren't as fragile as that of an eighth grade girl. Speaking of eighth grade girls, how many do you think Stephen Garcia knows?
I think if this team figures out its deal at quarterback and can get Mike Davis to have a solid year at running back, this could be a pretty good offense. The defense should be better with Jasper Brinkley coming back and Captain Munnerlyn (inexplicably one of the better corner backs on NCAA Football 2007, as he was the anchor to mine and Miles' defense for one season). And anytime Spurrier is being kind of quiet about his team, it makes me think he knows something we don't. Of course, he could still be downing some humble pie after last season's complete collapse and is unable to speak.
No, that's not a typo. I couldn't decide who would end up third so I went with the easy way out and declared a tie. The Vols have a rougher schedule (at Auburn, at South Carolina, and at Georgia) than South Carolina, but have what I think is a little more talent on offense. Four starters are back on the offensive line, top two rushers return, and the top three wide receivers are back. The big question is Jonathan Crompton. If he plays well, this offense could be a pretty good one. My thinking is he can't be that far behind Eric Ainge, and everyone else around him should be better, so there could be some improvement here.
As for the defense, well, they stink. Or at least stunk last year. One would think the 11th ranked defense in the SEC would improve, but who knows. They got away with being terrible last year and won ten games. If this team flipped schedules with South Carolina, they would be a lock for third.
At Florida. At Tennessee. At Alabama. 5th place. Kentucky pretty much lost all their offense when Andre Woodson moved on to the League. The only other player worth noting is Dicky Lyons, Jr. He's a decent wide receiver but his name is really fun to say. Especially when you yell it.
The good news? Rich Brooks believes his defense will be better than last year. Eight starters are back on a defense that was 10th in the SEC last year, so I would assume they'll be better. I'm sure when the audio people in Commonwealth Stadium crank out "Back in Black" for the 80th time in a half, the defense will rise to the occasion.
It doesn't really matter. Three starters are back on what was a terrible offense last year (11th). Defense will be mediocre and play hard, but if you stink, you stink.