College Football Preview: SEC East

Georgia is No. 1. Georgia will win the BCS Title. Knowshon Moreno is the next Herschel Walker. Mark Richt is God. You know, I’m sorry. I don’t buy it.

I never bought the “BCS is in the bag” nonsense, because you simply cannot look past the Dawgs’ schedule. At South Carolina, at Arizona State, Alabama and Tennessee at home, at LSU the week before the annual Georgia Loses To Florida game, then at Kentucky and at Auburn before finishing with Georgia Tech and the SEC Championship Game. If they pull off a one-loss regular season, I’ll be very impressed. If they make it to the SEC title game in a position to go to the BCS title game and beat LSU, Auburn or Alabama again (or beat them after losing earlier in the year), I just might stop making fun of their coach and his inspirational gimmicks.

But they won’t.

And ignoring the schedule difficulties for a second, I’m still trying to figure out what has everybody so over-the-top excited about the 2008 Bulldogs. Yeah, they should be good. Big deal. Half of the SEC is good.

Everybody’s talking about Moreno’s fantastic freshman season and projecting a monster sophomore campaign leading the Dawgs to glory. Let’s just step back a bit and I’ll tell you a story about a boy named Justin. As a freshman in 2003, Justin Vincent played key roles in LSU’s SEC Championship Game and BCS Championship Game victories (named MVP of both) while rolling up more than 1,000 yards and averaging 6.5 yards per carry. An amazing season, which was followed by 322 yards rushing in 2004, 488 in 2005 and 210 to close out his career in 2006.

Last season, Knowshon rolled up more than 1,300 yards rushing, averaging 5.4 yards per carry (1.1 yards per less than Vincent in his freshman season). And, of course, it only gets better from here, right?

In other words, settle down about Knowshon. He may well be the next Herschel, but there’s a reason people still talk about the “next Herschel” – guys like him don’t come around very often.

Then there’s QB Matthew Stafford, who commanded Georgia’s 83rd-ranked passing offense and finished the season ranked 56th in passing efficiency. Oh, and the Dawgs’ No. 1 receiver last season won’t be back this year. This is exciting … why?

So I guess Knowshon better have a great year … running the ball behind a line that’s now having to replace three of five starters with the injury to Trinton Sturdivant and managed to only finish the season with the 37th-best rushing offense last year.

Georgia brings back 9 of 11 starters on defense, so they’ll lean heavily on those guys – who finished 2007 No. 14 in total defense and No. 18 in scoring defense.

Quick review, then. Georgia finished 2007 No. 74 in total offense, No. 34 in scoring offense, No. 14 in total defense and No. 18 in scoring defense (74/34/14/18 in shorthand). National Champion LSU was 26/11/3/17 (with both scoring offense and defense warped by the two 3OT games). The year before (2006), LSU was 11/9/3/4.

My strange shorthand aside, the gist of the situation is this – Georgia did not play at a national champion level in 2007. This season they will have to perform better than last season against a tougher schedule … while replacing half their starters on offense and with a almost intact but only “really good” defensive unit returning.

I just don’t see it.

Georgia could be in an LSU-like position to be the top-ranked two-loss team this season, but no team can count on the fluke of a finish that elevated LSU in 2007. Just another Sugar Bowl appearance would be a great outcome for Georgia this year. I could see three losses easily, and I think the potential exists for an implosion that leaves the Dawgs at 7-4, though I don’t think that’s likely.

And, though you wouldn’t know it from all the coverage Georgia is getting, there are actually a couple of other talented teams in the SEC East. Remember last year when Georgia should have gone to the BCS title game? One of the reasons they didn’t was they lost to SEC East Champion Tennessee and didn’t even make the SEC title game.

The Vols somehow managed to work their way to a 10-win season and the SEC title game without being very good at all (playing an extra regular-season game helped get to 10 wins). The offense? Poor. The defense? Horrid. A masterfully-paced schedule with a good SEC West draw helped the Vols over-achieve last season, but this year they have to face Florida in Knoxville a week before traveling to Auburn and later have to go back-to-back-to-back-to-back with Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina. I actually like Tennessee’s new QB – Jonathan “Straight Outta” Crompton after watching him in person against LSU two years ago, but repeating as SEC East champs will be little more than a dream for the Vols this season.

In Gainesville, Tim Tebow may have won the Heisman, but the Gators lost three SEC games and found themselves looking up at Georgia and Tennessee in the SEC East standings. That had to be tough for what was easily the most talented team in the division. But the Gators were too young on defense and got in too many Tebow-led shootouts. The defense is still a question mark, with almost the whole D-line to be replaced and nobody special in the secondary, but look for Urban Meyer to be more deliberate on offense to avoid giving his opponents too many chances on offense. Think of the strategy Les Miles employed against Florida rolled out by Meyer because all QBs will look like Tebow against his guys.

South Carolina – I don’t buy ‘em. It’s a lost cause, Mr. Spurrier.

Kentucky – I’m going on the assumption that I can go back to ignoring them.

Vanderbilt – I’m pretty sure I can continue ignoring them.

So, then, what happens?

I like Florida. The Gators have a lot more talent than Tennessee and a better schedule, and they have a lot better schedule than Georgia. Georgia may be more talented than Florida on balance, but I’ll take the power of Tebow minus the defensive question marks plus the easier schedule in this battle.

And, of course, a lot will be riding on the Florida/Georgia game Nov. 1. I picked Georgia to win the game last year (and Tennessee to win the division – really!) because of schedule pacing, and I’ll call it for Florida again this season for the same reason. The four weeks leading up to Jacksonville look like this:

- Florida: at Arkansas / LSU / OPEN DATE / Kentucky
- Georgia: OPEN DATE / Tennessee / Vanderbilt / at LSU

Clear advantage to Florida there. So I like the Gators to take that game and the SEC East, and for the Gators to finish the conference schedule 7-1.

Next time – LSU and the SEC West

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One Response to “College Football Preview: SEC East”

  1. TCL says:

    Excellent as always. Couldn’t agree more.

    Florida also has a better coach than Georgia, although both have highly developed whining skills.

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