SEC East Preview

FLORIDA, GEORGIA...LOOKING TO BOUNCE BACK FROM DISAPPOINTMENTS

It got really ugly in the SEC East last year. Perennial national championship candidate Florida started out the post-Tim Tebow era by kicking the ball around like high school kids. Head Coach Urban Meyer left because he could tell his legacy was about to get kicked around as well. Georgia's demise put head coach Mark Richt on the chopping block. Unheralded South Carolina ended up winning the East, only to get obliterated by Auburn in the conference championship game.

We continue our college football conference previews this weekend with the Southeastern Conference. We'll talk about the East today. Tomorrow we'll run through the powerful West (home of Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and suddenly important Mississippi State). The past two weekends featured the Big 10 and the Pac 12. If you missed out on those reports, please check the archives and print out the information. We strongly encourage you to do that for our entire summer series so you'll have notes handy once the regular season begins in September.

Next weekend we'll look at the ACC, where Florida State is suddenly getting a lot of national attention. After that, the 10-team Big 12 and the Big East will finish off the month and the major conferences. Mid-major previews will run on weekends in August…with NFL Division previews popping up on weekdays keyed to prominent NFL exhibition action.

It may still be blistering hot outside…but the smell of football is in the air!

Let's get busy…

SEC EAST

GEORGIA
Athlon Ranking: 14th
2010 Total Offense: 56th
2010 Total Defense: 23rd
Strength: Pass Defense (17th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (73rd)
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Notebook: We're surprised that Georgia is being ranked so highly by so many preseason pundits. Sure, they're capable of rising up to this level. Make them earn it first! We're talking about a team that lost to Colorado last year during the regular season, then lost a half-hearted (if that) bowl game to Central Florida 10-6. You can't beat Central Florida…you only return four offensive starters…but you're now one of the 15 best teams in the country. The media is so used to giving this division respect, that they just can't stomach the reality of where everyone stands right now. Georgia had the stats of about the 40th best team last year…and couldn't win the weaker half of its conference. We understand there's new talent to be excited about. We understand that quarterback Aaron Murray is likely to get even better given his youth (just a sophomore this year). And, we know that Vegas bettors pounded Georgia on the opening line of the Boise State game that went up on the board this summer (the season opener on September 3rd but bettable now in Las Vegas). We'll be watching that game closely. We'll adjust our own in-house Power Ratings based on what we see.

FLORIDA
Athlon Ranking: 18th
2010 Total Offense: 82nd
2010 Total Defense: 9th
Strength: Pass Defense (12th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (88th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Will Muschamp (new)
Notebook: Will Muschamp takes over for Meyer, off a disappointing year in Texas where many locals started to question his hype and recruiting abilities. Even though the Texas defense ended the year with good stats, they were pushed around way too often in big gamers. Is Muschamp really ready for the big time? Should a team that graded out about 45th in the country based on stat averages be considered top 20 when then return so few starters? Again, the media just can't handle putting Florida and Georgia where their production says they should be. The Gators were BLOWN OUT last year by Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida State. The quarterback was awful. Should they start the following year this high? The good news for Gators fans is that September's schedule is soft. October is going to be a bear though with Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Georgia. Things could blow up in either direction this year. We'll put the full resources of NETWORK in play to make sure we're ahead of the curve (as we were with this team last year!).

SOUTH CAROLINA
Athlon Ranking: 21st
2010 Total Offense: 47th
2010 Total Defense: 46th
Strength: Rush Defense (12th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (97th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier
Notebook: Quarterback Stephen Garcia was suspended indefinitely back in April, but was allowed to participate in voluntary summer workouts...suggesting that South Carolina is going to find a way to keep him in the lineup no matter how often he misbehaves. We'll assume he's going to play, and that South Carolina is going to be very similar to last year's team in terms of overall ability and production. Just be aware that we're talking about a team that ranked in the mid 40's on both sides of the ball rather than a conference power. Their postseason consisted of a 56-17 loss to Auburn in the SEC championship game, and a 26-17 loss to Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. This is definitely a team you can pick your spots with for big efforts. They did have some very good games last season. We are likely to be on the Gamecocks for big action at least once or twice this year, then against them for big action in obvious fatigue spots on the schedule. Dodging both Alabama and LSU on the schedule may help in their attempts to repeat if Georgia and Florida continue to disappoint.

TENNESSEE
Athlon Ranking: 37th
2010 Total Offense: 76th
2010 Total Defense: 69th
Strength: Pass Offense (30th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (105th)
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Derek Dooley
Notebook: The Vols closed the season well, even if it did come against the weakest portion of their schedule. And, the heartbreaking bowl loss to North Carolina (30-27 in overtime) is probably a good indicator for what to expect this year. Quarterback Tyler Bray earned his stripes during that strong finish. The team sure looked like they found themselves under this coach at that time. Now, we're talking about Derek Dooley…so the ceiling may be “pretty good” rather than “perennial contender.” We are optimistic about improvement this season now that so many distractions are out of the way. The September 17th trip to Florida is going to tell us a lot about both of those teams.

KENTUCKY
Athlon Ranking: 60th
2010 Total Offense: 27th
2010 Total Defense: 45th
Strength: Pass Defense (14th)
Weakness: Rush Defense (85th)
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Joker Phillips
Notebook: The Wildcats weren't quite as good as those stat rankings would suggest. They really ran up the score (and stats) on opponents like Western Kentucky, Akron, and Charleston Southern. There were only 2-6 in the SEC despite playing in the weaker half of the conference. Now, they have some rebuilding to do with quarterback Mike Hartline and receiver Randall Cobb gone. We are fans of Joker Phillips. We'll look for live dog spots later in the season in league play once new quarterback Morgan Newton (some experience) has a chance to get in synch. Run defense will be a point of emphasis for our handicappers. If we don't see improvement there, we won't be investing much in his team.

VANDERBILT
Athlon Ranking: 79th
2010 Total Offense: 110th
2010 Total Defense: 93rd
Strength: Pass Defense (75th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (105th)
Returning Starters: 10 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: James Franklin
Notebook: Things got very ugly for Vandy last year. The offense never figured out what to do. The defense could give you some hardfought quarters every so often, but didn't have the depth or physicality to keep it going game after game. Once the defense ran out of gas, it was blowout city. Having so many returning starters is usually good news. When the team was THIS bad in 2010 though, it's far from a sure sign that experience is going to mean all that much. September home games with Connecticut and Ole Miss will set the tone. If those games are ugly, it's going to be a long season. If Vandy can build some early confidence, they may be in some live dog spots we can take advantage of later in the season.

Starting off, there's not a lot to be excited about here. But, you'd have to think that SOMEBODY is going to catch lightning in a bottle and return to national prominence. Maybe South Carolina improves on last year's run because Garcia realizes this is his final chance to grow up. Maybe Muschamp is an elite coach who will get Florida back into the national championship mix. Maybe Richt is ready to fulfill the destiny that so many had projected for him when he first took over at Georgia.

For now, we're anticipating more disappointment than electricity for this group…but we'll be looking for those shock waves.

Before you head out to the grill, the movie theatre (we know, somebody in your family is BEGGING to see the Harry Potter movie this weekend), or the beach…why not take care of business for the coming football season? We have very low early bird rates for football. You can sign up for the Touchdown Club online. Call 1-800-323-4453 to ask about our other football services or regular season baseball. The earlier you sign up, the more you save!

Back tomorrow to talk about defending National Champion Auburn, potential 2011 National Champion Alabama, darhkorse title contender LSU, and surging Mississippi State. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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