This week, I’ll break down each team in the SEC. Today, it’s the Gamecocks, the Gators, and Wildcats.
South Carolina – Is Carolina going back to the ATL for a second straight season? The Gamecocks are solid at quarterback with Stephen Garcia, salty at running back with Sophomore Marcus Lattimore, and has arguably the best wide receiver in the nation in Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery led the SEC with 88 grabs in 2010, hauling in 1,517 yards in the process. Running back Lattimore is said to be about 15 pounds heavier this season, so the strong young back could run over even more would-be defenders in 2011.
The Gamecocks defense has seven starters back this year, along with perhaps the most anticipated arrival of a recruit in programs’ history this fall as well. Melvin Ingram and Devin Taylor were two of the top four sack artist in the SEC last season.
And everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who follows the SEC is waiting to see what incoming freshman Jadeveon Clowney does in college. Clowney was the nations’ #1 recruit a year ago and he has some very high expectations placed upon him as a freshman.
The Gamecocks’ schedule is tough. I think Carolina is going to have a very tough time getting back to the SEC title game this season. Carolina should be the favorite in the SEC East this season because of their depth and the experience they have coming back at key positions.
Can quarterback Garcia stay out of trouble? I’ll say this -- if Garcia can finally put it all together, the Gamecocks could be back in Atlanta this season and have a great shot to win the title game in the Georgia Dome. Lattimore is arguably the best running back in the SEC, and wide receiver Jeffery is (to me) the best returning wide receiver in the nation.
But in the end, I think that Carolina does not get back to Atlanta.
Florida – 8-5 in Florida just won’t cut it! Another Coach from the “Nick Saban Tree” is now overseeing things in Gainesville. Coach Will Muschamp is the Gators’ head coach, and he is back at the helm of an SEC team after stints with LSU and Auburn as a defensive coordinator.
Muschamp takes over a Gators team that returns ten starters from a year ago. If Florida is going to be relevant in the SEC this season, their offense has to be much better. Florida had the 10th-best passing attack out of 12 SEC teams a season ago. In fact, the Gators were ranked 82nd out of 120 Division I-A teams in total offense in 2010 also.
Now, insert new Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weiss. Quarterback John Brantly has a big-time arm, and if Florida is going to get better, Brantly must up his game. One key to the progression of the Gators quarterback will be the production by another quarterback, Trey Burton.
Burton spent time at quarterback last year for Florida and will now be in the Gators Backfield. Burton is a versatile as any player in the conference, and he should fit in Coach Weiss’s scheme nicely this season. Also, running back Chris Rainey is back and should be counted on more in 2011.
One thing that was as good as any last season was the Gators defense. The Gators had the 2nd best defense in the SEC last year, which also ranked them 9th in total defense in the country. Florida relied on huge scoring plays by their defense in 2010 as they got into the end zone nine times.
Linebacker Jeani Jenkins is going to be a great one, leading leads a Gators defense that has nine underclassmen on it. Jenkins had 76 tackles. Cornerback Jeremy Brown is back in the Gators secondary. Four of the Gators first seven games are in the Swamp.
Florida has road trips to Kentucky and LSU, but the other games at home include Florida Atlantic, UAB, Tennessee and Alabama. Florida has to knock off some big boys if they are going to be a factor in the SEC. The toughest stretch of the season comes in early October when the Gators face Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia and then travel to South Carolina in early November.
Don’t count out the Gators, as they have plenty of talent and can compete…but, I think it’s going to take another year or so to get back to the top of the SEC East. With that said, if the winner of the SEC East has four losses this season, it would not surprise me at all if Florida goes to Atlanta!
Kentucky – Coach Joker Phillips and his Wildcats kept the team’s winning ways going last season, as UK once again advanced to a bowl game. But with that said, 2011 will be much more challenging for the Wildcats offense without their best three play-makers from a season ago.
Phillips will have to try and replace the bulk of his offensive production that came from key standouts last season: Running back Derrick Locke, quarterback Mike Hartline and “Mr. Everything” Randall Cobb. UK averaged 31.2 points per game last year, but matching that number this season will depend on Phillips and his ability to find some replacements.
Tailback Raymond Sanders will be called on to help carry the load early on for the Wildcats’ offense until the other skilled players come around. The good news is that four of the five interior offensive linemen do return to the Kentucky offense.
Also, look for wide receiver Brian Adams to have a better season. Adams causes match-up problems with his 6’ 04” size, and he has shown that he can make plays in the passing game for UK.
The Wildcats defense can’t be any worse than they were a year ago. UK’s defense gave up an average of 28.5 points per game. With seven starters back and a new defensive scheme, Kentucky should be better this season. Defensive back Winston Guy returns after having three interceptions a year ago, one of the country’s best linebackers is back for Kentucky as well. Linebacker Danny Trevathan recorded ten or more tackles in nine consecutive games last season.
Kentucky needs to get off to a fast start this season. The Wildcats open the season against Western Kentucky in Nashville before returning home to Lexington to face Central Michigan, Louisville and Florida. A possible 3-0 start would bode well for UK and give them a lot to be excited about with Florida coming to town. If Kentucky does get off to a 3-0 start I think they will get back to another bowl this season.