August 14, 2005
SECond to one...
In continuing our look at the conferences, the SEC quickly follows behind the Big Ten in the second spot. There is no doubt the conference is deep this year and depending upon results, could unseat the northern conference if some teams up there don't pan out. The conference is usually the tops in the nation in revenue and attendance, but just falls short of the title this year.
When I think of the SEC's top five, I arrive at this list:
You know you have a deep conference when the fifth place team is only the defending national co-champion in 2004. (I have a view about national champions. Its a later write-up.)
The SEC is noted for having players at the positions and come draft day for the NFL. On pure talent alone, I would rank the SEC #1. What gives the pre-season title to the Big Ten is the lack of depth in the conference. Throw Alabama in at #6 and Arkansas at #7 and the SEC is the best in the nation. However, after that, the dropoff resembles a cliff.
Quarterbacks in the SEC are plentiful in the SEC, but the quality remains to be seen. Florida returns Chris Leak, so they have no transition other than getting down the Urban Meyer playbook. Leak threw for 29 touchdowns and 3,197 yards passing for the Gators with the Zooker. With Leak returning three wide receivers combining for nearly 1,750 yards receiving, Leak might hit 40 touchdowns.
Erik Ainge is supposedly in a position battle at Tennessee with Rick Clausen. Clausen can hang his hat on the Cotton Bowl performance after Ainge and the departed Brent Schaeffer were injured, forcing Clausen into duty during the Notre Dame loss. To me, this "battle" is nothing more than a chance to keep UT in the running for the third Clausen in the family line. Jimmy Clausen is set to be a highly rated prep star, following his brothers perhaps to Big Orange Country. Ainge returns from a 17 touchdown, 1,452 yard performance in only eight games. Ainge makes the Vols special, Rose Bowl possible special. Clausen is a good distributor of the ball, but I can imagine fierce pass rushes in two early games in Baton Rouge and Gainesville giving him problems.
The remaining top five have talented players but mixed results (or in the case of Brandon Cox at Auburn, no results) from 2004. JaMarcus Russell was rotated with Marcus Randall last year to an annoying level. Looking back the Tigers might have been better served to roll the dice will Randall and use Russell as a change of pace. Russell delivered with 9 touchdowns and 1,053 yards passing in sporadic fashion. What Tiger fans remember is the Capital One Bowl, minus the last play. Russell came in for Randall and led the Tigers to two late fourth-quarter scores to put Iowa in the position of needing a miracle. Russell will be pushed this year by super frosh Ryan Perillioux, who de-commited from Texas to come to Baton Rouge. Matt Flynn is almost an afterthought at the #3.
D.J Shockley will finally get his chance "Between the Hedges". The senior only had to wait for Athens legend, David Greene to graduate after 50+ starts to arrive at the opportunity. Shockley only has 967 yards passing for his career on 133 attempts (67 completions) with 10 touchdowns. Much will be expected as Georgia has very young depth at the position.
Brandon Cox only has to replace a man who was dubbed being a part of the best backfield on the plains in 50 years. Cox played in mop-up duty, completing 64 percent of his passes for 357 yards and 4 touchdowns, but now the natural wonder about him stepping to the forefront will determine the Tigers fate. Good for Auburn is their schedule, with the first five coming in Jordan-Hare. Good for Cox is the returning of a deep receiving corps.
Georgia returns a stable with Thomas Brown (875 yards, 8 touchdowns), Danny Ware (692; 4) being joined by Kregg Lumpkin (523 yards; 6 touchdowns in '03) after a knee injury wiped out his 2004. Not to be forgotten is Michael Cooper who topped Lumpkin in '03 only to be passed on the depth chart by Brown and Ware in '04.
Until yesterday, LSU had just as deep as a returning stable, but Alley Broussard was lost for the season. Don't cry for the Tigers however as they return Joseph Addai (680 yards, 3 touchdowns) and 2004 Sugar Bowl MVP, Justin Vincent (322 yards and 2 touchdowns).
Tennessee returns a 1000-yard back in Gerald Riggs, Jr. Riggs will carry the load for the year in Knoxville and could easily top 1,600 yards, seeing as though he and Cedric Houston combined for over 2,000 yards in 2004.
Florida and Auburn have questions at running back. DeShawn Wynn and the word bust are starting to be paired by the Gainesville faithful. Wynn gained only 217 yards with a 3.7 yard per carry mark. Skyler Thornton led the Gators with only 230 yards. Auburn lost the best tandem in college football for 2004 and perhaps 20 years in losing Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams to the NFL. The pair combined for 2,078 yards and 20 touchdowns. Tre Smith, Carl Stewart and South Carolina transfer, Kenny Irons will try to imitate the duo, but will never hope to replace that special output.
What Auburn and Florida lack at the running back spot, they have in abundance at wide receiver. Auburn returns five receivers who gained over 300 yards, led by Courtney Taylor with 737 and 6 touchdowns. Florida returns a strong trio in Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson, and Dallas Baker (98 receptions, 1,748 yards receiving, 14 TD's combined).
Tennessee has even more embarassment of riches with five receivers returning. The quintet combined for 114 receptions, 1,732 yards, and 18 touchdowns. Robert Meachem will look to stretch the field whereas Jayson Swain, C.J. Fayton, Chris Hannon, and Bret Smith are chain movers.
LSU's flashiest guys, Skyler Green and Early Doucet, were not the leaders. Craig Davis (43-659-1) and Dwayne Bowe (39-597-5) return the numbers. Doucet and Green could provide the sizzle, leading LSU to Pasadena. Green is more of a return specialist.
Georgia has questions. It's tough to replace Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson and their 97 receptions, 1,571 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Leonard Pope (25-482-6) is the leading returner and a fave target for Shockley.
LSU and Georgia return intact lines from 2004. Tennessee, Florida, and Auburn return three a piece. Max Jean-Gilles for Georgia is the best lineman of the bunch with Florida's Mike Degory returning as the best center in the conference.
Dynamic players David Pollack and Marcus Spears are gone, but the top five return promising talent. Jesse Mahelona thrived at Tennessee coming from junior college. Brandon Siler is a rock for Florida at LB. The SEC usually produces talent, and names to know by the end of the season. Practicing with the talented, returning O-lines will provide the names.
LaRon Landry at LSU and Greg Blue at Georgia are the names of the units, while questions abound all over the conference.
Alabama could join the top five and replace an Auburn or Georgia with a healthy Brodie Croyle for the entire season. The Tide defense will be 1992-caliber, but like Penn State, the offense is the liability, mainly due to missing Croyle than ineptitude. Big things could happen. Houston Nutt at Arkansas didn't like the taste of sitting at home last year. The Matt Jones era is over, but that could actually lower Nutt's blood pressure. As many plays as Jones would make, he would cause problems forcing his will sometimes. Mississippi State got their players believing with a win over Florida last year and Sly Croom is building a base, but its years from seeing the fruits of his labor. Mississippi signed Ed Oregeron from USC, and he is cleaning house. Kentucky and Vanderbilt are well, the usual. Everyone will take their revenge on Steve Spurrier at South Carolina while he inherits a mess, but the kicking won't last long.
- Tuscaloosa, AL will be the place to be on Saturday, October 22nd. Tennessee and NCAA snitch or heroic informant Phil Fulmer brings his Vols to town. The reception will not be pretty and might include a subpeona.
- Spurrier will beat somebody. Probably a home game. Alabama and Florida are warned.
- LSU fans might not see Tiger Stadium after dark against any of the heavyweights (Tennessee, Florida, Auburn) coming to town. The Tigers are human during the day, always have been.
- Urban Meyer will finally know pressure and coaching mixed together after his Bowling Green and Utah experiences pale in comparison to the opening kickoff at the Swamp against UT.
- Boise State will make Dawg fans sweat, including my wife, but the Georgia size will save the day. Shockley will need to hit the ground running.
- Erik Ainge better start for UT. Fulmer better get his head out of his arse with this "competition" nonsense.
- Alabama will beat Florida to get Tide fans dreaming of 1992. All the hate in the world will carry Bama over Tennessee. (LSU on the road, Auburn at home in back-to-back weeks ends the pursuit of Atlanta, however.)
LSU - BCS (possible Rose)
Tennessee - Capital One (possible BCS wildcard)
Florida - Outback
Georgia - Peach
Auburn - Cotton
Alabama - Houston
Arkansas - Music City
The SEC will not fill the Independence Bowl, again.
Chris Leak - NationalChamps.net
Gerald Riggs, Jr. - Rogelio Solis/AP
Brodie Croyle - Kyle Carter/AP
Steve Spurrier - Katie Kirkland/The Gamecock
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