Story lines from the SEC East
1. Head coaching debuts
James Franklin, a former Maryland offensive coordinator, is the new coach at Vanderbilt. Franklin came in with a reputation as a good recruiter, and he is living up to it. Florida’s Will Muschamp, a former Georgia player and Auburn assistant, is well-known to the league but never has been a head coach.
Muschamp has the delicate task of putting his stamp on a program that was successful but was ready for a change. The spread option is gone, replaced by the pro-style offense led by veteran play-caller Charlie Weis. Gators quarterback John Brantley struggled to replace Tim Tebow last year but should be a better fit in Weis’ system. Star cornerback Janoris Jenkins left the program after another citation for marijuana possession.
3. Mark Richt
Is this a make-or-break year for Georgia coach Mark Richt, and will the team be good enough to save his job? The talent appears to be there for the Bulldogs, judging by their showing in the coaches’ preseason All-SEC list — six on the first team, nine overall. And none of those includes three potential impact newcomers: tailback Isaiah Crowell, nose tackle John Jenkins and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
4. Stephen Garcia
South Carolina has so much other talent: wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, tailback Marcus Lattimore, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. So the conventional wisdom is that if Garcia gets his act together and plays like a veteran, South Carolina should repeat as division champion.
If only two Volunteers made the preseason All-SEC first, second and third teams, what does that say about the talent on hand? Coach Derek Dooley at least is back for another year after Lane Kiffin’s one-year stop through Knoxville and Philip Fulmer’s farewell tour. Quarterback Tyler Bray offers hope.
- By Seth Emerson, McClatchy Newspapers
Story lines from the SEC West
1. View from the top
The conference’s best bets to run its BCS championship streak to six years are in the West. Alabama and LSU, national champions in 2007 and ’09, respectively, are consensus top-10 teams, ready to take another run at the title. The Tide return seven starters on a defense that should rank among the best in the country. LSU, with a good mix of players back on both sides of the ball and one last chance for quarterback Jordan Jefferson, are right there, too.
2. Razorbacks for real?
Which team has the most players on the preseason All-SEC teams? It’s not who you think. Alabama has the most first-teamers, but Arkansas won in total representatives, putting 14 on the three preseason teams. The Razorbacks have seen an upward climb in three years under Bobby Petrino, from five wins in 2008 to eight in 2009 and 10 last year, including a trip to the Sugar Bowl, the school’s first trip to a BCS game. With All-SEC running back Knile Davis, the best receiving corps in the league and a defense that has shown steady improvement the past three years, even without Ryan Mallett, this might be Petrino’s best team.
3. Awkward exchanges
Auburn faces a daunting task trying to rebuild a national championship team that lost 16 starters, including Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton and monster in the middle Nick Fairley, two of the best players to ever put on a Tigers uniform.
4. Taking a leap?
Mississippi State might join its Western Division brethren with a memorable moment. Dan Mullen, in his third year on the job, has the Bulldogs moving in the right direction, going from five wins to nine in 2010 and, probably more important to MSU fans, going 2-0 in the Egg Bowl. Mullen has a veteran quarterback in Chris Relf, plenty of play-makers on offense and an opportunistic defense, so 2011 might be one to remember in Starkville.
5. How will the teams stack up?
Alabama and LSU, as usual, are the favorites to occupy the top two spots in the preseason picks. Does it matter? No. Auburn was picked third last year, behind Alabama and Arkansas. But it won’t stop fans from reveling or wallowing in their team’s placement. This is, after all, the SEC.
- By Andy Bitter, McClatchy Newspapers