With summer upon us and fall moving quickly — too quickly — toward us, we’re starting to get plenty of “fall preview” questions when we appear on radio talkshows across the Southeast. Having answered the question, “What intrigues you about School X” umpteen times already, we thought it might be a good time to put all of the topics that most interest us together in one or two posts.
Below you’ll find our look at the SEC East and the seven questions — one per team — that we look forward to having answered in the fall…
Can offensive coordinator Brent Pease and head coach Will Muschamp put enough skill position talent around quarterback Jeff Driskel to make him successful? Driskel showed flashes of dual-threat abilities last season, but the Gator offense continued to slump, just as has since Tim Tebow departed Gainesville. It’s time some of those hotly-recruited tailbacks and receivers on the Gator roster stepped up and gave the Gator QB some help. Driskel needs some help from someone.
Can defensive coordinator Todd Grantham get enough out of a rebuilt defense for UGA to capture another East Division crown? With so many parts returning on offense, it’s expected the Bulldogs will be able to put up points a’plenty. But can they stop the league’s other teams from putting up points on them? UGA ranked 4th in the SEC in scoring defense (against conference foes) last season. To reach Atlanta again, Grantham and crew will probably need to have similar success… and his crew will feature a lot of new faces.
How will offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s “Air Raid” offense mesh with head coach Mark Stoops’ defensive background? Stoops has talked about creating a Florida State-type strong defense in Lexington. Brown’s throw-it-all-over system — a throwback to his days at UK under Hal Mumme — actually has Wildcat fans excited for football season. Now, we don’t expect everything to come together in Year One, obviously, but will they start to come together at all? Check the stats and you’ll find that pass-happy, up-tempo offenses are rarely paired with tough-as-nails defenses. Maybe it’s because those defenses don’t get enough rest between series or perhaps it’s because there’s no smashmouth offense to go against in practice, but it’s rare to see a pass-first team sport a brickwall defense. (Example: Bobby Petrino’s teams at Arkansas.)
Can quarterback James Franklin help save Gary Pinkel’s job? Pinkel’s seat — judging by fan/booster chatter — is getting pretty warm. Possibly warmer than any other seat in the SEC. We think that’s a bit rash considering how much success he’s brought to Mizzou football, but “next level” talk is simply a fact of life for every coach. In this case, Pinkel will be best served if his dual-threat QB Franklin can return to 2011 form and that includes staying healthy. The irony is that Pinkel — whether he’ll admit it or not — actually tossed Franklin under the bus last year for not taking a pain-killer shot before the Tigers’ game at Arizona State. Now Pinkel needs his veteran quarterback to have his back. Coaches on hot seats don’t like turning things over to unproven signal-callers.
Can the Gamecocks replace Marcus Lattimore? Steve Spurrier will go down as one of the legends of the SEC because of his ability to reinvent himself in Columbia. Gone are the days of his Fun n’ Gun offense from Florida. Now, the Ol’ Ball Coach wins with defense and a running game. But the biggest part of that run game the last two years has been Lattimore. Without him, younger backs will need to step up and carry the load and Spurrier’s quarterbacks will need to further develop as passers.
Will the Volunteers who’ve so bought into Butch Jones’ system still be showing fight come November? The new Tennessee coach has won over fans and past lettermen since arriving from Cincinnati last December. More importantly, all accounts suggest his players are buying into his system. But between September 14th and October 26th the Vols will play five squads that won 11 or more games last season (Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama). For a thin team without a proven quarterback, that looks pretty darned bad on paper. If it’s bad in reality, how long will UT’s players fight the good fight for Jones during his first season?
Can James Franklin keep on keepin’ on? That might be the simplest, most obvious question of the bunch. He’s recruited well. He’s taken Vandy to back-to-back bowls. He’s even brought the Commodores their first nine-win season since the Earth cooled. But this year’s schedule will be a bit tougher as Vandy draws Texas AM as its West Division foe (along with permanent rival Ole Miss). Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are all on the schedule. Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee will all be hoping for improvement. If Franklin takes VU to another bowl game this year, the verdict will be in — he’ll have truly turned Vanderbilt into something it hasn’t been in a century. A football school.
You can find our breakdown of the seven SEC West questions we want answered by clicking right here.