Vanderbilt Archives

SEC Preseason Preview: Can South Carolina dominate the SEC East?

In Steve Spurrier, South Carolina is coached by one of the greatest coaches the SEC (and College Football), has ever seen. And he’s great with doing something from nothing, because  South Carolina’s not historically Georgia, LSU or Alabama, and yet he can still pick up some immense recruits and sends some great ones to the pros.

This year, South Carolina goes into the season higher thought-of than ever. So can they win the SEC East title, which they missed out on last year?

Last year

Let’s get this straight: If they hadn’t have had such a sucky SEC conference, they would have won the SEC East. They went 4-0 against their division, but because Georgia managed to avoid playing anyone decent in the SEC West – and South Carolina had games at Auburn and Arkansas – Georgia (who they beat in an absolute classic last year) came out with a better SEC record and hence went to the SEC Championship Game.

Starting QB Stephen Garcia was dismissed in October for yet another bout of ‘overdoing it’,  and star running back Marcus Lattimore managed not to badly injure his knee at Mississippi State, and although the Gamecocks defense was still as good and reliable and usual, the offense never really recovered until the final game of the season when they put 34 on a suddenly-stumbling Clemson.

NFL-wise, Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, Alshon Jeffrey, Rokevious Watkins, Antonio Allen, and Travian Robertson were all drafted.

TWO BIG QUESTIONS ON OFFENSE

As far as we’re concerned, Connor Shaw’s going to do just fine this season for the Gamecocks. Although there are worries about Shaw’s back, Spurrier’s said he’s going to be fine for Thursday’s SEC opener at Vanderbilt.

The biggest question on everyone’s lips is about catching – who’s going to replace Alshon Jeffrey (762 yards, 8 TDs) as Shaw’s target man? Will it be Ace Sanders, or  Bruce Ellington or Rory Anderson or Nick Jones who will make the headlines? No-one knows? All we do know is that Jeffrey was a hell of a presence for the Gamecocks last year – something that will be needed.

And the other question – if we’re honest – is about Lattimore and his knee. The injury itself at Mississippi State was one to make any right-minded person feel nauseous, and it ruined his season there and then. Some reporters are confident that Lattimore’s back to the old self that made him a Heisman Trophy candidate, but Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles will also be used to provide bigger support. This could answer a couple of worries.

AND THE DEFENSE?

Actually, the NFL Draft did a pretty good job itself, ridding the Gamecocks of CB Stephon Gilmore and DE Melvin Ingram and LB/SS ‘Spur’ Antonio Allen.

Having said that, there are still imposing figures to destroy offensive lines in giant sophomore DE Jadeveon Clowney (36 tackles, 8 sacks), and DE co-player Devin Taylor (42 tackles, 6 sacks) who are also very quick. This should be fun.

But as we mentioned, the loss of Allen and Gilmore is going to be a major loss for Spurrier’s defensive back unit – and they’ll need CB Akeem Auguste to be healthy and SS DJ Swearinger (USC’s second-highest tackler with 80 tackles, 3 INTs, 1.5 Tackles For Loss) to continue his good form of 2011.

THE 2012 SCHEDULE

August 30 at Vanderbilt

September 8 EAST CAROLINA

September 15 UAB

September 22 MISSOURI

September 29 at Kentucky

October 6 GEORGIA

October 13 at LSU

October 20 at Florida

October 27 TENNESSEE

November 10 ARKANSAS

November 17 WOFFORD

November 24 at Clemson

USC’s first game of the season at Vandy on Thursday isn’t exactly an easy one to start with, and if they get through that game, then we expect them to run the table until they have the ‘triple whammy’ of Georgia and road games at LSU and Florida. Then it’s Tennessee, Arkansas, Wofford and a trip to ancient rivals Clemson.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Spurrier’s lost too much talent not to suffer this year, but the return of Marcus Lattimore, the fact that Connor Shaw’s a better QB than Stephen Garcia and the Clowney/Taylor combo is going to be fantastic on the defensive line is going to make life a little bit easier. Having said that, we think USC will go 10-2 – and miss out once again on a SEC Championship Game spot (despite beating Georgia)

SEC Preseason Preview: Can LSU overcome the loss of Tyrann Mathieu?

Tyrann Mathieu really screwed up this time. In fact, he screwed up so much that he’s now in rehab, and he’s off the LSU team. Last year he was suspended for drug use, while in the off-season he entertained everybody by wanting to change his ‘Honey Badger’ nickname for ‘King’. Wow, there’s nothing like a bit of humility, is there? We can only hope that a reformed, drug-free Tyrann Mathieu is back in FBS Football and his bravado is pitch only.

But will Mathieu’s expulsion from the team cost the LSU Tigers a shot at the National Championship?

LAST SEASON

As you all know, LSU was not only shut out of the National Championship by Alabama, but they were embarrassed, too. Their offense was lousy, and their defense wasn’t a lot better in the 21-0 defeat.

It’s funny, because LSU got to the National Championship the right way last year. They played Oregon and West Virginia outside the confines of Death Valley. And won both games. They won the toughest road game of them all in Tuscaloosa 9-6, and made frat boys cry in the process. And they beat Georgia comfortably in the SEC Championship Game. They destroyed teams with an excellent defense, and some even better special teams play. And guess made most of the standout plays?

LSU – loaded with NFL-worthy talent – sent Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers, Rueben Randle, Brandon Taylor and Ron Brooks to the NFL.

SO WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN WITHOUT TYRANN MATHIEU?

As angry Les Miles must be with Tyrann Mathieu, he must be also thanking the Good Lord that Eric Reid – who tied Mathieu for tackles and interceptions has stayed out of trouble. The secondary – with the loss of two of its star players – now returns just one of its starters (Reid), but Tharold Simon, Craig Loston Jr and Dwayne Collins, Dwayne Thomas and Jalen Mills could also be exciting options.

Having said that, defensive co-ordinator supreme John Chavis knows what he’s doing, and the Tigers should be fine – if a little less exciting than last year!

OH, AND LSU STILL HAS THE BEST DEFENSIVE LINE IN THE COUNTRY

Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo (what a great name, by the way) are two of the best defensive ends in the country. Between them, they had 17 sacks last year. And although Brockers is gone, DTs Bennie Logan(57 tackles, 3 sacks) and Antony Johnson will also scare offensive lines across the country.

And that’s going to help the linebacking corps, which lacks experience apart from Kevin Minter, who had 61 tackles last year. Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones are projected to start to0 – this could be pretty exciting.

And did we mention that John Chavis knew what he was doing?

AND THE OFFENSE?

We’ve been quite defense-focused in our LSU preview (mainly because of Mathieu), but the good news for LSU fans is that Les Miles finally has a strong-armed, good quarterback in Zach Mettenberger, who was named starting QB almost immediately to avoid a situation like Florida or Texas. LSU fans had better pray that Mettenberger stays healthy – and out of trouble – because PSU transfer Rob Bolden really wasn’t anything special in State College. But for some consolation, here’s freshman highlight reel, by the way. Things didn’t improve from there.

Mettenberger’s weapons are going to be Odell Beckham, Russell Shepard and TE Chase Clement. There’s not a lot of experience in the team on that line – both Shepard and Beckham only caught 55 passes and 6 TDs last year – but this was mainly due to Les Miles using his powerful offensive line to grind out the yards rather than throw it up in the air (and the fact that with Jarrett Lee / Jordan Jefferson at QB, they were hardly reliable, were they?). And with Mettenberger’s arm, opposition secondaries had better be careful.

Also, Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard all come back into a rushing game that, giving LSU a very legitimate run threat too.

And we think the offense is going to need to be more sparky than they were in 2011, because the defense is definitely a little weaker. Especially in the secondary (if we hadn’t mentioned it before).

In the SEC West, where field position in all-important, One of Les Miles’ biggest weapons is going to be a rather good-looking Australian kid called Brad Wing, who’s an absolute freak at doing that.

THE SCHEDULE

September 1 NORTH TEXAS

September 8 WASHINGTON

September 15 IDAHO

September 22 at Auburn

September 29 TOWSON

October 6 at Florida

October 13 SOUTH CAROLINA

October 20 at Texas A&M

November 3 ALABAMA

November 10 MISSISSIPPI STATE

November 17 OLE MISS

November 23 at Arkansas

LSU’s schedule isn’t an easy one…particularly on the road. Going to Florida, Arkansas and Auburn will be tough, and the atmosphere at Kyle Field (Texas A&M) is one of the most deafening in the country. Home-wise, Alabama and South Carolina at home are the key games.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Regardless of how magical John Chavis is or how good LSU’s defense is, the logic is this: LSU is a worse team without Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu is a threat on defense AND special teams – something that LSU will struggle with without their Heisman Candidate in the team. But we still think LSU is good enough to run the table – squeezing past Alabama to maintain a 12-0 record and a SEC Championship Game spot. It won’t be easy, though.

Rogered: Tennessee WR Da’Rick Rogers suspended indefinitely

Huge news in Tennessee: Standout wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers has been suspended indefinitely by coach Derek Dooley for an unspecified violation of team rules, according to ESPN.

It is not known what he did to gain such a suspension, although Bruce Feldman, college football reporter at CBS was told that it was a string of troubling incidents that prompted the staff to make the move.

In one tweet he said: “After what I’d been told by sources inside Vols program last yr, was surprised Dooley allowed Da’Rick Rogers to stay w team.” He added: “In 2011 Da’Rick Rogers had a series of incidents, incldg a complete meltdown at UK gm that sources say COMPLETELY crossed line w UT staff.” And in a final note he said: “Da’Rick Rogers incidents in past yr were so troubling to staffers they felt Dooley was risking tm dynamic by allowing him to remain w UT.”

Last year Rogers was exceptional for the 5-7 Volunteers, grabbing 1,040 yards receiving and 9 TDs for an offense that really didn’t do that much otherwise.

UT linebacker Herman Lathers told Tennessee 24-7 blogger Wes Rusker: “No one is bigger than our team. We’ll be fine. This doesn’t bother us at all.

Rucker also reported that Dooley told reporters that he doesn’t expect Rogers back this year.Our expectation is he’s not (going to play this season), he told reporters. “Certainly there’s a process that we always respect, but our expectation is he’s not.He also seemed to indicate that it was unlikely that Rogers would be able to get back on the team.I think that the assumption is he’s not with us, and it’s very unlikely he will be.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a huge, huge miss for UT, who’s going to lose one of the SEC – and maybe the country’s – premier receivers. This puts HUGE pressure on not only newly-back-from-injury Justin Hunter but also the team’s running game – as well as QB Tyler Bray. But you’ve got to applaud Coach Dooley for standing by his guns – even though it may even cost him his job.

 

SEC Preseason Preview: Can Auburn roar in the SEC West?

There is no school out there that could have had a more horrible off-season than the Auburn Tigers. And only one incident capped it: Two former Auburn Tigers – Ladarious Phillips and Ed Christian – and sophomore offensive linesman Eric Mack were shot at a pool party in mid-June. Phillips and Christian lost their lives.

The news rocked the University to the core – and it’ll be interesting to see what effect – if any – it has on the Tigers are the start of the year.

In less important news, brilliant running back Michael Dyer was dismissed from the team and is now playing FCS football, and Auburn can still roll the Toomer’s Oaks for the 2012 season (although Harvey Updyke still isn’t in jail – despite admitting his guilt to a student newspaper).

LAST SEASON

Last season there weren’t a lot of nice things to say about Auburn’s offense, expect that we loved the on-side kick against Utah State that rescued the 2010-1 National Champion’s blushes. Here it is!

Otherwise, the Tigers were inconsistent last season, beating the likes of South Carolina, Florida (the latter in one of the ugliest games the SEC saw last year) and the two Mississippis while losing convincingly to Alabama, Arkansas and LSU as well as ancient rival Georgia. They finished the season an untidy 7-5, and proceeded to then trounce Virginia in a 43-24 victory in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

SO WHO’S GOING TO BE THE QUARTERBACK?

Gene Chizik’s an excellent card player, and he’s holding them to his chest as we all try and work out who he’s going to pick: Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley (or even freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace) as the starting quarterback in the Chick-Fil-A Kick-Off Game in Atlanta against the mighty Clemson Tigers (who, by the way, are having problems of their own with Sammy Watkins). Nobody knows, and everyone’s getting a little impatient.

Last year Moseley threw for 800 yards and 5 TDs (and 3 INTs) behind the now-departed Barrett Trotter, while Frazier threw for 34 yards, and 2 INTs. In other words, none of those two exactly fill us with confidence going into 2012 – and Moseley’s shoulder isn’t great – when the Tigers have to face SEC ballhawks at Georgia, LSU and Alabama, so could Wallace actually get the job? It’s all quite exciting!

BUT AT RUNNING BACK…

The Tigers are absolutely loaded – even without Michael Dyer. Onterio McCalebb, Corey Grant, Tre Mason and Illinois transfer Jay Prosch are going to take turns battering defensive lines- although put your money on McCalebb to do most of the work. He ran for 640 yards last year and he’s got an excellent change of speed. Frazier can also give Chizik an option if the Tigers go Wildcat – something that he seems to enjoy doing!

HOW GOOD ARE THE RECEIVERS?

Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn’s giant tight end, put together an excellent 2011 (especially where he consistently dug the Tigers out of trouble), and don’t be surprised if he ends up continuing to be Auburn’s go-to-guy this year (he had 7 TDs). Emory Blake’s also going to cause defenses problems – and McCalebb will also provide some receptions too (he had 344 receiving yards last year on top of his running numbers!). Auburn fans – if they find a quarterback capable of hitting the receivers properly (a problem in 2011) – could find they have a dangerous offensive punch.

AND IN THE DEFENSIVE LINE…

This year the Tigers bring back nine returning starters to the defense, including 3 of the top 5 tacklers – led by linebacker Daren Bates, who had 104 tackles. Watch out for redshirt freshman Kris Frost, who’s had some standout practices and everyone’s hoping will become The Future in Brian VanGorder’s defense.

Corey Lemonier will lead the defensive line, who are all coming back this year.

WHILE THE SECONDARY…

Defensive MVP for last season Jermaine Whitehead, as well as Chris Davis, T’Sharvan Bell and Demetruce McNeal are back for an Auburn secondary that’s looking a little more seasoned this year.

THE 2012 SEASON (thanks, Yahoo)

September 1 CLEMSON (In Atlanta)

September 8 at Mississippi State

September 15 LOUISIANA-MONROE

September 22 LSU

October 6 ARKANSAS

October 13 at Ole Miss, TBA

October 20 at Vanderbilt, TBA

October 27 TEXAS A&M

November 3 NEW MEXICO STATE

November 10 GEORGIA

November 17 ALABAMA A&M

November 24 at Alabama

BOTTOM LINE: There seems to be no question that the Auburn will go to a bowl game this year – but will it be with a 7-5 record or a 6-6 record? That’s all because of their difficult two games at the start of the year against Clemson and on the road to Mississippi State – both banana skins if ever we’ve seen them. Anyway, we think the Tigers split the series, beat ULM, lose back-to-back games against LSU and Arkansas and win for in a row at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, and at home against Texas A&M and the might New Mexico State. They then go 1-2 in the Georgia, Alabama A&M and Alabama series. Guess who they beat…. That gives them a 7-5 record and probably another Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

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 Preseason Preview: Will Vanderbilt continue moving on up?

A lot of people are very excited about the Vanderbilt Commodores this year. After all, they’ve been making a lot of noise on the recruiting front lately, and James Franklin put together a team that doesn’t just give up – hence why they lost four desperately close games (one in overtime), and this could be a season when Vandy puts together a winning regular season record for the first time in a decade. People are saying that they could upset South Carolina on the first game of the season…

Anyway…

LAST YEAR

Vanderbilt fans may have celebrated going bowling, but really, it could have been so much more than that if they hadn’t broken their fans’ hearts over and over again. Georgia was given the scare of its life at Vanderbilt Stadium, they led Arkansas 28-20 and were on the Razorbacks’ one before their offense’s fumble went back nearly 100 yards for a Hogs score and a huge heartbreak, and a fierce rally at Florida came just five points short. Oh, and they lost to the hated Tennessee – a team itself in the doldrums – in overtime.

On the brighter side of life, Vanderbilt made its bowl game by hammering Wake Forest 41-7 on the road, and had SEC victories over Ole Miss and Kentucky – its best conference record since 2009 (although that’s not saying much!).

Tim Fugger and Casey Hayward were both drafted into the NFL in April.

JORDAN RODGERS….THE NEXT AARON RODGERS?

Just because Jordan Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers’ brother, we’ll go as far as saying that we don’t think he’ll be the next Aaron – or the next Jay Cutler, for that matter (Cutler was a stud at Vandy, for those of you who don’t remember). Rodgers took over the team from Larry Smith and played well enough against Georgia to take the starting job. He finished the half-season he started with 1,500 yards and 9 TDs – although he also had 10 INTs. Rodgers will face competition with new transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, but this could be a year where we throws for at least 2,500 yards – although this will be a lot less if he can’t keep the interception number down.

His wide receiving options – Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd – had great 2011s and will both be troubling opposition secondaries this year.

DEEPER AT RUNNING BACK?

It’s hard not to like Zac Stacy, who broke Vandy’s single season rushing record with 1,193 yards (and 14 TDs). Check out the highlight of him carrying Kentucky defenders on his back en route to the end-zone! And with Warren Norman, Jerron Seymour, and Wesley Tate now in the backfield, Vanderbilt’s going to have options in the backfield – which can only be good for Franklin and his coaching staff.

WHAT COULD HURT VANDY OFFENSIVELY… 

Is a shallow offensive line, with worries about the team’s depth despite four starters coming back (although one –  Ryan Seymour – has been injured for a while).

WHILE AT DEFENSE…

Let’s be honest, the graduation of the SEC’s top tackler for the last four years – to law school – Chris Marve (LB), is going to be massive. As coaches have found out through the decades, replacing a top defender is a tough, tough business. Marve will be one of those difficult to be replaced. And they also look safety Sean Richardson and cornerback Casey Hayward, who were the team’s second and third best tacklers last year.

However, there is good news. A ‘starting duo’ returns in the secondary in the form of Trey Wilson (CB) and Javon Marshall (SS) in the secondary, and there is a defensive line with quite a few starts under its belt, other than Fugger.

THE 2012 SCHEDULE

August 30 SOUTH CAROLINA

September 8 at Northwestern

September 15 PRESBYTERIAN

September 22 at Georgia

October 6 at Missouri

October 13 FLORIDA

October 20 AUBURN

October 27 UMASS

November 3 at Kentucky

November 10 at Ole Miss

November 17 TENNESSEE

November 24 at Wake Forest

BOTTOM LINE: Vanderbilt hasn’t got the easiest of schedules. While we expect them to beat Presbyterian, UMass and win road games at Kentucky and Ole Miss, the rest of the season is simply up-in-the air. They’ve got to hope that South Carolina starts slowly on the first game of the season, and we worry that their four game stretch against Georgia, Florida, Auburn and Missouri (not in that order) may not yield a victory. The games at home to Tennessee and at Wake Forest will prove pivotal to Vandy’s chances of a bowl game…. and we think that they’ve make it, with a 6-6 record.


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…

 

 

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