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Deke Bellavia

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Deke: A look at the SEC, Part 1: Florida, Auburn and Vandy

Today, the nation's toughest conference began their annual week of media days, where coaches from every SEC school address the media.  Today, I'll take a look at what officials from Florida, Auburn and Vanderbilt had to say.

Florida Gators: This is it for Head Coach Will Muschamp.  After an embarrassing 4-8 season in 2013, Muschamp must show significant improvement or he will be out of a job come November.  After a 3-1 start, the Gators lost their last seven games of the year including a 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern, in which Georgia Southern did not attempt a pass.  Ouch!  

Anyone that has followed the Gators will tell you that Muschamp's defensive units have not been bad in his tenure, but his offense stinks! Florida failed to reach a bowl for the first time since 1990. If they don't want to miss out on the post-season this year, then new OC Kurt Roper will have to turn around an offense that ranked as one of the worst in all of college football last season.

The Gators are going to have several new faces along their O-line, but have good depth at the RB position. RB's Kelvin Taylor, Matt Jones and Mack Brown give Florida talent, speed and options.  Unless Roper can piece together a consistent passing attack, the Florida offense will see defenses stack the line and challenge them to throw the football.

Like I said, defense is an area the the Gators have excelled in under Will Muschamp.  It's hard to believe that a team that had an 4-8 record owned the second best defense in the nation's toughest league a year ago. Perhaps the strength of the UF defense is in their backfield.  CB's Dante Fowler and Vernon Harreaves are two of the best in the nation, and both could be potential top flight Draft picks soon. Seven of their best tacklers are returning, and there are otherwise no glaring weaknesses on this defensive unit.

After the first three games of the season, I can only tell you that four wins are likely for Florida. Week four of the season begins a dangerous stretch with games against Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Missouri, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and FSU.  Other than a gimmie against Eastern Kentucky, I can't guarantee anything.

Is this a Gators program that finished the regular season 11-1 and was a hair away from playing in the national title game? Or is this a Gators team that is a 4-8 club like their record indicated a season ago? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. If things get rocky early on, the chance for a change will be far greater than not.  

Auburn Tigers: Going to the National Championship in your first year as head coach ain't too damn bad! The Tigers completed one of the most impressive one-year turnarounds in the history of sports as they advanced to the BCS Title Game a season ago.  

Head Coach Gus Mulzhan is getting praised all over, and his Tigers are now one of the elite teams in college football. With QB Nick Marshall and WR Sammie Coats, the Tigers could once again find themselves in the SEC Title hunt.

Auburn will be able to once again move the ball, and they excel at getting opponents into track meet-style games.

Ellis Johnson's defense did not have bragging-type numbers a season ago, but the Tigers looked solid in red zone defense, and came up with big defensive plays and turnovers throughout the season.  Auburn should have a more consistent defense in 2014.  

The back half of the schedule is brutal, with games against South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. That makes the task of getting back to Atlanta much tougher this season, especially meeting Georgia and Alabama being on the road.

An early October showdown with the lone team to beat the Tigers in the regular season in 2013 could be huge; that came at the hands of the LSU Tigers.  But this season, that match-up will be in Auburn and not in Baton Rouge.  

Vanderbilt Commodores: How will the Commodores be now that James Franklin is no longer there? Franklin made the Commodores a legit threat in the SEC East, and over the course of the last four seasons, Vanderbilt had one of the best divisional records of any school in the Eastern Division.

Vanderbilt had swagger and they won some big games, but now, new Coach Derrick Mason has the job of maintaing the success that Franklin built in Music City, USA.  The Commodores schedule sets them up to get off to another good start.

In my opinion, five of the first seven games are winnable contests. The first four games of the season are at home, with wins more than likely coming against Temple in the season opener and when Vandy hosts UMass in week three.  

The Commodores home games against Ole Miss in week two and South Carolina in week four are crucial.  If Vanderbilt can spilt those games they will be in good shape to return to a bowl again in 2014.

Vanderbilt seemingly always has a sound defense, but replacing three of the units top four tacklers from a year ago will be a daunting task.  Offensively, they'll have a new QB under center this season, but do return the majority of their O-Line in 2014.  

History tells us that the battles against the Rebels and Gamecocks will be hard fought, and I would not be surprised if Vanderbilt wins both of those games. If Vanderbilt can get by Ole Miss and South Carolina they would be 5-0 before they hit the road to take on Kentucky and Georgia.

I could see the Commodores winning eight games this season.  But with an improved UK team and a much better team in rival Tennessee, not reaching the eight-win total would not be shocking.  With so many key players to replace from last season's 9-4 team, a six-win season is a more realistic goal for Vanderbilt.

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Locations : AlabamaAtlantaEastern KentuckyFloridaGeorgiaKentuckyMissouriMusic CitySouth CarolinaTennessee
People : Dante FowlerDerrick MasonEllis JohnsonGus MulzhanJames FranklinKelvin TaylorKurt RoperMack BrownMatt JonesNick MarshallVernon HarreavesWill Muschamp

07/14/2014 3:50PM
Deke: A look at the SEC, Part 1: Florida, Auburn and Vandy
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07/15/2014 12:05PM
Florida go gators
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