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SEC Preaseason Preview: Georgia Bulldogs: A second straight SEC title game?

Georgia goes into this season – again-  as SEC East favorites – simply because of the talent that the school is bringing back all over the field, but especially defensively, where some people have said that the Bulldogs could have one of the best Ds in the conference.

Having said that, Mark Richt has had disciplinary problem after disciplinary problem this year, and that might undermine is progress. Nevertheless, see what we think below…

LAST SEASON 

The Georgia Bulldogs may have won the SEC East and gone 10-4 this year, but it’s not exactly blasphemy in the House of Dog to say that they underperformed, is it? After all, of the four ‘quality’ teams that they played last year (Boise State, South Carolina, LSU and Michigan State), they went 0-4.

The Dawgs started the season losing to Boise and USC, and Athens was shaking with annoyance. After all, losing to Spurrier (again) isn’t something that the locals like. “If we lose against Mississippi State, this place will burn”, one a-little-too-theatrical Dawgs fan told this writer. It didn’t happen, and the Bulldogs rode a 10-game winning streak all the way to the SEC Championship Game….where they should been 21 points to the good against LSU in the first quarter if Malcolm Mitchell had held an easy touchdown pass. They also blew a number of chances in their bowl game against Michigan State, where they eventually – and in heartbreaking fashion- lost 33-30 to the Spartans in three overtimes.

NFL-wise, the Dawgs saw Orson Charles, Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn, Justin Anderson, DeAngelo Tyson, Brandon Boykin and Blair Walsh all drafted to the big leagues.

SO…..THE BEST DEFENSIVE UNIT IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL…

Everyone’s drooling over Todd Grantham’s defensive unit this year, and so they should be. This is a team that returns all but Brandon Boykin of last year’s top 12 tacklers.

Giant nose tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers (both over 350lbs) are man mountains in a defensive line that returns seven of eight starters. Abry Jones and Garrison Smith are excellent defensive ends, and at linebacker, they are simply incredible, with Jarvis Jones – who led the SEC in sacks and was a first team All-American, and Alec Ogletree.

BUT AT SECONDARY….

Everyone loves Baccari Rambo, who was a first team All-American, and well as Sanders Commings and Branden Smith at cornerback. Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell has converted to cornerback – and he’s getting rave reviews. 

The biggest problem that Mark Richt is going to have is the BEHAVIOUR of his secondary, with Rambo and Commings both out of at least the first game of the season (as well as linebacker Alec Ogletree, according to reports, as well as linebacker Chase Vasser’s also in Richt’s doghouse, having been arrested for a DUI in Atlanta. He’s going to miss the first two games of the season). Key members of the team could potentially also miss a road sizzler at upset-minded Missouri – for drug violations, and Rambo could potentially miss a quarter of the season, unless Richt believes Rambo’s “It was only hash brownies, sir”, excuse. One senior college football reporter described Richt’s tough drug policy as ‘noble’, but puts the Dawgs at a disadvantage. Recently, Branden Smith avoided suspension for being arrested, although he has denied doing drugs.  Because Richt hasn’t gone public over how much time Rambo is going to miss, we can’t help but think that the head coach might believe Rambo’s excuse. Otherwise, the Dawgs are going to have a big hole to fill in the back.

SPEAKING OF PROBLEMS….

Talented troublemaker and running back Isaiah Crowell was booted out of Athens in the off-season after being arrested on felony gun charges, giving Richt a massive problem: Who’s going to be the running back for the Georgia Bulldogs?

Although there are some who are quite happy with Ken Malcolme, Keith Marshall, and Todd Gurley- the latter two who were big hits on the North Carolina high school scene – we’re slightly worried about the change of pace that’s going to lack now that Crowell’s left.

OFFENSIVE-LINE WISE…

The problem for Georgia is that they won’t be able to get a running game going against defenses if their offensive line unit – which is going to be a work in progress now Cordy Glenn, Justin Anderson, and Ben Jones are playing in the big-time. David Jones will anchor the centre with Chris Brunette as a right guard – both of whom started double-digit games last year – and the rest is somewhat of a mystery. Still, Richt certainly has the talent to make a ‘work in progress’ work just fine.

BUT THE QUARTERBACK’S NOT BAD…

No, no he’s not. In fact, Aaron Murray’s one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, and  the land. He’s got a cannon arm, understands the playbook as well as the defenses, and can put throws on the money. As we mentioned, if his receivers could have caught the ball, maybe Murray would be the proud owner of a SEC ring.

Murray threw for 3,149 yards and 35 touchdowns last year (and 14 INTs), and he’s going to frighten a lot of players.

Like it or not, the loss of Orson Charles to the NFL is going to be a big loss for the Bulldogs, but helping Murray will be WRs Tavarres King, Marlon Brown, Mitchell and Michael Bennett. As we mentioned earlier, we expect Mitchell to be playing both ways – especially if Richt needs another option through the air.

THE 2012 SCHEDULE

Sept 1 – BUFFALO

Sept 8 – At Missouri

Sept 15 – FLORIDA ATLANTIC

Sept 22 – VANDERBILT

Sept 29 – TENNESSEE

Oct 6 – At South Carolina

Oct 20 – At Kentucky

Oct 27 – FLORIDA (at Jacksonville)

Nov 3 – OLE MISS

Nov 10 – At Auburn

Nov 17 – GEORGIA SOUTHERN

Nov 24 – GEORGIA TECH

THE BOTTOM LINE: Georgia Bulldogs fans will be laughing (again) that they miss out on playing LSU, Alabama and Arkansas this season, while South Carolina gets LSU and Arkansas and Florida gets just LSU. They will also benefit from playing absolutely no-one in the non-conference (please Dawgs fans, don’t tell us that Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern are good teams).

We think that if the Bulldogs can avoid a bullet in a fright-of-your life game at Missouri, then they should be 5-0 before they roll into South Carolina. The Cocktail Party two weeks after (Kentucky in the middle) won’t be a lot easier, meaning that Georgia could easily be 6-2 – or 7-1. We’re predicting the Dawgs go 11-1. But will it be enough to go to the SEC Championship Game for the second straight year?


SEC Prediction: Is Tennessee A Dark Horse for the SEC East this year?

If you haven’t heard, Derek Dooley’s out of his job as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. When? About December, 2012. We jest, but you get the point: Mr Dooley’s under huge pressure to get the 2012 right at Neyland Stadium after two years of debacle, and our thought is this: Shouldn’t we be thinking of the Vols as a dark horse for the division, rather than an also ran?

LAST SEASON

As awful as people who like you to think Tennessee was last year, we’d like to put this out there: The Vols were also hellish unlucky with injuries. They lost their best wide receiver Justin Hunter in their third  game of the season against Florida. Their QB, Tyler Bray, went down with a thumb injury and missed five games, too. And add to that a horrible schedule that included LSU, Alabama and Arkansas out of the West, things were always going to be poor. Having said that, we didn’t think that the Vols would lose 10-7 to Kentucky. Did anyone?

NFL-wise, the Vols had defensive lineman Malick Jackson drafted (although a point has been made that Jackson was a transfer from USC) – the only one in the class. Having said that, RB Tauren Poole is playing for the Carolina Panthers – although it’s a great possibility he’ll get cut despite having a good preseason, or simply end up on the practice squad.

LOVING THE VOLS OFFENSIVE LINE…

The Tennessee Vols should be good for pass protection for Tyler Bray, bearing in mind that they are bringing EVERYONE of the biggies back. According to Phil Steele, that gives them 105 career starts on the line – tied for third in the FBS. That’s pretty impressive. It’s important to note that they didn’t allow a lot of sacks – so expect the number to be even better this year. The biggest thing for the line will be helped the anaemic running game, which we expect to struggle, but more of that later. The name on your mouth should be giant 6 ft 6, 329-pound left tackle Antonio ‘Tiny’ Richardson, who is our tip to go in the first round in the 2014 draft.

…AND THE QB/ WR HOOK-UP ISN’T GOING TO BE BAD EITHER

Tyler Bray was having a pretty good season until not only his best receiver got injured, but he himself hurt as well. Despite all this, Bray threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. He’s a dark horse to be All-SEC this year, particularly if Justin Hunter (314 yards from only 17 receptions last year), Da’Rick Rogers (over 1,000 yards receiving and nine TDs), and TE Mychal Rivera (over 340, 1 TD) can keep hold of the ball. That’s a pretty good line in receivers, and will certainly give their opponents something to think about.

BUT THERE’S A PROBLEM WITH THE RUNNING GAME

Tennessee has a problem with the running game. Poole has graduated, leaving inexperienced Marlin Lane, Rajion Neal and Devrin Young to pick up the pieces. Sure, Neal’s got speed, but will he be able to last against nasty SEC defenses such as Florida and Alabama? They are going to need to put some yards together, otherwise UT’s offense becomes one-shaped – and that’s going to hurt them.

AND DEFENSIVELY….

Sal Sunseri’s taken over as the new defensive co-ordinator on The Hill, and there are worries how his defense will be able to adjust from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, although with four of their top 6 starters back – as well as junior college player (and awesomely named) Darrington Sentimore – Steele says: “UT has their most experienced D-Line in years”, predicting that they will be fantastic against the rush. We’ll have to see.

Linebackers-wise, there is going to be every more strength with virtually everybody – including A.J. Johnson (80 tackles) coming back – and pay attention to cornerback Prentiss Waggner, who’s going to lead what is again a pretty experienced Vols secondary.

AND THE SCHEDULE?

August 31 NC STATE (ATLANTA, GA)

September 8 GEORGIA STATE

September 15 FLORIDA

September 22 AKRON

September 29 at Georgia

October 13 at Mississippi State

October 20 ALABAMA

October 27 at South Carolina

November 3 TROY

November 17 at Vanderbilt

November 24 KENTUCKY

Although the first four games – including the home showdown with Florida – are very winnable indeed, Tennessee’s schedule’s a horror show in the middle, with trips to Georgia and Mississippi State followed by Alabama at home and a trip to South Carolina. The Vols will be lucky to get one win out of five of those games, although they could well go 0-5 in that stretch. That means that the games against Troy, Vanderbilt (on the road) and Kentucky could be ultra-important for Vols fans – and the job of one Derek Dooley.

BOTTOM LINE: Tennessee finishes the season 7-5, the school’s best season since 2007, when it finished 10-4. The biggest win of the season comes against the hated Gators, and suddenly everyone’s a bit happier. Heck, it’s a heck of a lot happier than it’s been for a few years.

 

SEC Schedule: Top 10 In-Conference Games You MUST watch this season

Every year the SEC dominates other schools in bowl games (unless you’re Michigan State, but less said about that the better) quite simply because they have the most difficult conference. EVERY game is a bowl game,  a potential National Championship Game, or a big-time match-up. If you don’t believe us, ask CBS why – every year without fail – they always screen Florida vs Tennessee, even though both sides weren’t going to compete last year, and could possibly be put down as ‘afterthoughts’ for the last couple, at least.

Anyway, here’s our Top 10 games (IN-CONFERENCE) on the SEC schedule. And there should be no surprises who’s going to be No.1….

1) Alabama vs LSU (Nov 3)

Night game. LSU vs Alabama. Saban’s back in town. The LSU fans have been waiting for revenge since January for this one, and this game could well not only decide the SEC West, it could well decide who goes to the National Championship Game from the SEC. Why not both teams? Because Southern California and Oregon could well have something to say about that…

2) Georgia vs South Carolina (Oct 6)

If Alabama – LSU might be a SEC West decider, then this might be a decided for the SEC East – if both sides can get past Florida and an exception defense that’s being built in Gainseville. Can Georgia’s suddenly-vaunted ‘D’ stop Marcus Lattimore? Can Jadeveon Clowney muscle Aaron Murray out of the game? Will Georgia’s wide receivers learn to catch a pass? This is going to be a cracker of a showdown.

3) a) Florida at Texas A&M (Sept 8)

b) Georgia at Missouri (Sept 8)

These games probably wouldn’t make the list any time else, but since it’s Mizzou and A&M’s first games in the SEC, these are calendar highlights. An insider at Georgia already told the SEC Football Blog that they were “worried” about going to Farot Field – and as they should be. Will the Bulldogs have their defense after their off-season troubles. Who’s going to be running back? And for Florida, it’s guaranteed that Kyle Field’s going to be noisy and pretty unforgiving – even if they don’t have male cheerleaders (something’s that has GOT to be changed now that the Aggies are in the SEC). These two games are going to be fun.

4) LSU at Arkansas (Nov 24)

Not an easy Thanksgiving trip for the Tigers – especially as the Razorbacks will be in the mood after losing so badly in Death Valley in 2011 after starting so well. We look forward to seeing how the Mathieu-less defense deals with the one of the best QBs in college football in Tyler Wilson, as well as the ground threat of Knile Davis.

5) Florida at Tennessee (Sep 15)

Not an easy September schedule for Florida, who has back-t0-back SEC road games. The trip to Knoxville isn’t a guaranteed win in 2012, particularly as Tennessee brings back so much talent – especially WR Justin Hunter off the physio’s table, Tyler Bray’s arm and a vaunted, experienced offensive line. Personally, we can’t get enough of ‘Tiny’ Richardson, Tennessee’s 6 ft 6, 329 lb left tackle. But for the Gators, it’s all going to be about whether Will Muschamp’s worked out who he wants to be his QB (Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel) and whether the offense has ‘it’ this season – something we’ll see before this game. Expect fireworks in Neyland.

6) South Carolina at Vanderbilt (Aug 30)

Vanderbilt might be good this year? Everyone loving the Commodores and James Franklin, especially when he’s talking about recruiting? Well, ‘Jay Fray’, as we’ve now nicknamed him, is going to get the surprise of his life when South Carolina roll into town, with Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore running things offensively and  Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney preparing to do damage on the other side of the ball. Jordan Rodgers, watch out. This could be fireworks – especially if Carolina aren’t clicking properly (as they have a habit of not doing on Game 1 of the season).

7) Alabama at Arkansas (Sept 15)

We’ll make this bold-ish prediction: Both Alabama and Arkansas will be 2-0 before both sides meet in Fayetteville. Arkansas fans will be screaming blood after losing so badly at the Crimson Tide last year, and Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis will be ready to test an Alabama defense looking to prove that it’s going to win back-to-back championships and against a coach who’s one of the best in the game. This game’s going to be a war, people.

8) Ge0rgia vs Florida (Jacksonville) (Oct 27)

You know the drill. Show up four days before the game, drink as much as you possibly can, fight with an opposing fan, tease an opposing fan for being a redneck (Georgia) or for wearing jorts (Florida), laugh about both sides’ mascots and both join in in saying unkind things about Steve Spurrier. Then, steel yourself for a monster SEC East game, which is played in the worst possible spirit. Isn’t college ball fun?

9) Arkansas at Auburn (Oct 6)

Remember this: Auburn will upset one of LSU, Arkansas or Georgia this season. That’s because Gene Chizik’s too good of a coach to make this happen. And Jordan-Hare at night is too great of a place NOT to score a big-time win. We think it could well happen against the Razorbacks. Then again, we haven’t seen much of either team, have we?

10) Auburn vs Alabama (Nov 24)

Because it’s the biggest game on the schedule for both teams, and if there’s a National Championship to worry about from Saban’s standpoint, this one’s even bigger. We’ve got a (State of) Alabama-sized heartbeat just thinking about it…

 

 

SEC Preseason Preview: Can Missouri Roar In The East?

Here’s a quick tip for you: Missouri will scare the heck out of the SEC East – especially when they play teams at night in Farot Field. Remember: This is a team that’s beaten No.1s in the past on home turf (Ohio State and Oklahoma in a monster night games in front of a rabid, unforgiving crowd) and really, really wants the chance to do more damage in the future. I spoke to a buddy at Georgia about his team’s chances and he said: “We’re scared. Missouri aren’t going to take any prisoners and our guys certainly picked a time to get thrown off the team and eat hash brownies”. I think we could echo that.

But anyway, this is Missouri’s preseason preview. And if you don’t like it, you’re welcome to call me stupid….or words that effect.

What happened last season?

The Tigers lost one of the best games early on in the season when they lost at Arizona State on a stunning Friday night in front of a raucous crowd, adding more fuel to the fire that if you wanted a great game of college football, you HAD to make sure that Joe Tessitore was commentating. That game apart, the biggest thing that Tigers really did was to gain headlines for their coach, Gary Pinkel, who was arrested for drunk driving in a stupid move towards the end of the season. Really, though, the 8-5 Tigers won the easy games on their schedule and lost the hard ones (although they ensured they would be a part of the RGIII story by losing 42-39 at Baylor).

And in the draft, tight end Michael Egnew was the only player from Missouri selected. He was chosen by the Miami Dolphins, where apparently he’s struggling at fall camp.

Is James Franklin OK?

The big question on ALL Mizzou fans’ lips is: Will dual threat quarterback James Franklin be OK to start the season? The Tigers had better hope so. Last season Franklin was sensational, passing for over 2,800 yards and rushing for another 980, and he was responsible for 36 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he injured his throwing shoulder and despite Pinkel’s- and his own – insistence that he’ll be ready for the home opener against Southeastern Louisiana, a lot of people are worried.

Otherwise, if you didn’t know the name Corbin Berkstresser, you should start looking up his YouTube highlights….just in case.

Bring me your receivers….

T.J. Moe brought the house down at the recent SEC Media Days with his non-stop patter of one-liners, which immediately put him in the reporters’ good books (the words “refreshing” and “fantastic” were two quotes that came to mind from the writers who were tired of goddawful boring press conferences), and he can catch a ball too (649 yards and 4 TDs last season). He’ll team up with the No.1 recruit in the country Dorial Green-Beckham (who apparently Pinkel is already seeing improvement in), who’s 6 ft 6 and is going to scare the beejesus out of any safety or cornerback – if he makes the plays properly. Although some people believe that DJB isn’t going to be the B.I.G. this year, yours truly will be LMFAO if that’s the case. Truly, we think he’s something special. And there’s also receiver L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas to give Franklin options, too – which he’ll need against SEC defenses.

And running the ball?

With a knee injury to Henry Josey, who ran for 1,168 and 9 TDs last season putting the star running back out for the year, a lot of pressure is going to be Kendiall Lawrence (566 yards, 5 TDs) and Marcus Murphy to produce. Pinkel’s going to worry – as well he should – about giving more of the running game to Franklin – especially with Franklin’s shoulder which will be tested against Georgia (less so about SE Louisiana, we believe). In other words, Josey’s injury is going to really, really hurt an offense that ranked ninth in the nation in rushing last year.

On the other side of the ball…

Defensively, Missouri did what almost all Big XII teams did last season…..not play very well. The Tigers ranked 44th overall for points against, giving up 23.5 pts per game. There are going to be a lot of eyes on Sheldon Richardson and Shane Ray – the latter whom Phil Steele has called a “great speed rusher” in his 2012 preview. The Tigers have got an experienced linebacking corps in Andrew Wilson, Zavier Gooden and Wil Ebner, which they hope will be able to stop the likes of Eddie Lacy and other speedy SEC running backs.

And cornerbacks-wise, we’re always in the mood for a good-news story from the secondary (after having so many bad news ones with Tyrann Mathieu), so E.J. Gaines might be it. He’s one of the country’s best at breaking up passes (he had 16 last year).

The 2012 schedule

September 1 SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA

September 8 GEORGIA

September 15 ARIZONA STATE

September 22 at South Carolina

September 29 at UCF

October 6 VANDERBILT

October 13 ALABAMA

October 27 KENTUCKY

November 3 at Florida

November 10 at Tennessee

November 17 SYRACUSE

November 24 at Texas A&M

Run-down: Missouri jumps into the SEC in the second game of the season with Georgia, who many believe will reach their second straight National Championship Game. Farot Field at night is somewhere frightening to play – hence why the Tigers have got a 47-14 record there over the last 10 years. This is the game where we’ll see how good Missouri is – especially against a Georgia team which could still be finding their feet post-Crowell and suspensions to some of their best defensive players. However, Missouri’s not a great traveller, and we can see the Tigers losing at South Carolina before finding their feet against UCF and Vanderbilt. The games against Alabama, but the home game against Kentucky and trips to new SEC East rivals Florida and Tennessee could decide whether Missouri will go to a bowl game this year – because we see them beating Syracuse on their last home date of the season. Oh, and mark Nov 24 at Kyle Field against Texas A&M in your diary – particularly if both teams have got to fight it out for bowl eligibility.

PREDICTION: Despite the up-and-comingness of UCF, we expect Missouri to go 3-0 in its non-conference games this year. We also expect the Tigers to beat Kentucky and Vanderbilt, who they have at home. But can they beat Georgia? Or Alabama? Or turn around last season’s dreadful away record (they went 1-4) and win one out of Florida, Tennessee or South Carolina? We think the Tigers are going to end up 5-7, with a ‘shot in the dark’  loss at Texas A&M (that’s because we predicted they would lose in A&M’s preview). This won’t be bad news for Pinkel in his first season in the SEC, but Tigers boosters will definitely try to make sure this won’t become a theme.

 

 

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