Archive for the ‘Previews’ Category

2009 SEC Preview: Auburn

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

QUICK NOTE: Before I begin with the last of the SEC previews, one thing I want to point out. If you hadn’t noticed, lawvol has added an extra bullet (“2009 SEC Football Previews”) to the widget just to the right counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the beginning of the football season. If you click on it, the widget flips over and gives you links to each of these previews that have run here at the Gate over the last week. So it’s a quick link if you need to refer back to a specific preview, in case you need to check something or come back and call me a fool as South Carolina and Arkansas prepare to play for the SEC title. Anyways, now on to the final preview…

Prior to the 2004 season, Tommy Tuberville hired Al Borges to run his offense at Auburn. It’s not that Auburn’s offense was necessarily broken, but Borges – with the obvious help of having Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell, Courtney Taylor and others – was essential in Auburn’s 13-0 season 2004.

Auburn was 33-5 with Borges running the offense, but things went downhill after Auburn lost those three NFL first-rounders – Auburn’s scoring average went from 32 ppg in 2004 and 2005 to 25 in 2006 and 24 in 2007. In addition, Brandon Cox was outstanding his first year as a starter in 2005, but by the time he graduated after 2007, there were probably a fair share of Auburn fans glad to see him depart.

Then Tuberville decided to hire Troy’s offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. It worked out in his first go-round, a 23-20 overtime win over Clemson in the 2007 Chick-fil-a Bowl.

But that was as good as it got. Franklin’s offense never caught on, rumors abounded of him clashing with players and fellow coaches at practice, and Tuberville canned him mid-season, after Auburn lost to Vanderbilt.

That loss in Nashville – where Auburn led 13-0 at halftime – and the offensive coaching issues sent the Tigers into a tailspin: their only win the remainder of the year was over Tennessee-Martin. The offense was the obvious culprit, as Auburn averaged only 17 points a game last year, scoring more than 22 points three times (UL Monroe, Southern Miss and UTM).

Rumors swirled about Tuberville’s job, and he eventually resigned after ten years on the Plains. Auburn then hired Gene Chizik, much to the anger of their own fanbase and the comedic relief of everybody else. But Chizik’s quietly gone about hiring a solid staff and trying to raise Auburn’s recruiting profile to compete with Nick Saban and Alabama. So things are a little brighter than they were a few months ago – how will that translate on the field for the Tigers this fall?

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2009 SEC Preview: Ole Miss

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

I must admit, I was a little perplexed when Ole Miss hired Houston Nutt from Arkansas as their head coach after the 2007 season. While Nutt was an upgrade as a head coach from Ed Orgeron, Nutt didn’t exactly have incredible success while in Fayetteville. Sure, Nutt was a good coach, but how much success could he really have in Oxford?

Well, Nutt certainly made my thinking look foolish last year when Ole Miss burst onto the college football season after beating Florida in Gainesville. You almost forget it, but Ole Miss lost the game before – at home to Vanderbilt – the win in Gainesville and lost the two games after that – at home to South Carolina and at Alabama.

But the Rebels won the final six games of year in impressive fashion, including routs of LSU and Mississippi State and an upset win over “mighty” Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl (glad to see the Red Raiders won’t be terribly overrated again this year). Thus, you have the reason for the momentum and hype surrounding Ole Miss coming into this year.

While I still have my questions about Nutt’s recruiting ability (and his ability to do math when it comes to counting signees), he’s got a pretty stout team this year, he’s going to try to lead Ole Miss to its first-ever appearance in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game in December.

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2009 SEC Preview: Florida

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

Off their second national championship in three years, Florida is clearly at the top of the college football world. And it doesn’t appear that’s going to change, at least for this season. The Gators return pretty much everyone from last year’s title team and are the main SEC favorites and one of the national favorites.

The Gators were in the same spot last year. After waltzing through a win over Miami and making quick work of Tennessee, Florida had unranked Ole Miss visit Gainesville. Ho-hum, UF led 17-7 at the half. Then Ole Miss scored 21 straight to take the lead going into the fourth. After Tim Tebow tied it, Shay Hodge got loose on a busted coverage in the Florida secondary for an 86-yard touchdown with 5 minutes left. Uh-oh.

But Tebow led Florida back down and Percy Harvin scored on an option run with three and a half minutes to, and you know the rest. Ole Miss blocked the extra point and did the unthinkable – stuffed Tebow on a fourth and short. After the game, this happened – you’ve seen it a hundred times already:

YouTube Preview Image

And the Florida football machine has been rolling people since. The only real question is this: will Florida require a similar wake-up call this year? Or will the Gators continue to run through everybody on their schedule?

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2009 SEC Preview: LSU

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

We all remember how bad Tennessee’s 2008 season was, right? Well, think about this for a moment: the Vols had the same SEC record as LSU.

It was a pretty rough year for LSU, coming off the 2007 national championship. The Tigers lost a number of players from that team, the blow the Tigers felt the most was clearly at the quarterback spot. Ryan Perrilloux, a slightly smaller version of JaMarcus Russell, earned MVP honors in the 2007 SEC title game, and was finally slated to take over as the guy for the Tigers.

Then he got suspended and kicked off the team. LSU was left with Andrew Hatch, a transfer from Harvard and Jarrett Lee. Hatch started the first three games before leaving against Auburn with a concussion. Lee came in and led LSU to a win in that game, and things seemed well.

Lee struggled mightily, throwing 16 passes to other the team. Adding insult to injury, the other team obliged seven of those gifts and turned them into touchdowns. In addition to those issues, the LSU pass defense was the worst in the SEC in conference games. So LSU suffered some rather bad losses: by 30 points at Florida, home games to Georgia (52-38), Alabama in overtime and Ole Miss (31-13), and a blown 16-point halftime lead against Arkansas.

But as an underdog to Georgia Tech, true freshman QB Jordan Jefferson led the Tigers to a 38-3 rout, creating some confidence and momentum heading into this season, where the Tigers are poised to prove last year was simply a fluke.

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2009 SEC Preview: South Carolina

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

Steve Spurrier is set to being his fifth fall as South Carolina’s football coach. In his previous four years in Columbia, he has a record of 28-22. He’s just 15-17 in the SEC during that time. Many expected when the OBC (or Ol’ Ball Coach, as he’s called) was hired he was going to turn Carolina into a winner.

The Gamecocks have gone 6-6 and 7-6 the past two seasons. But I must admit I forgot that they actually got off to solid starts both seasons, only to collapse at the end. In 2007, Carolina was #6 in the country at 6-1, then lost at home to Vanderbilt and lost out, missing out on a bowl game. Last year, Carolina was 5-2 following road wins at Ole Miss and Kentucky.

Carolina led LSU 17-10 at half, before the Tigers rallied to a 24-17 win. They bounced back, beat Tennessee and Arkansas to get to 7-3. Good season, right? Well, Carolina lost their last three games to Florida, Clemson and Iowa in the Outback Bowl by a combined 118-30.

A solid, respectable season, turned disappointing.

Going back to the bigger picture with Spurrier and South Carolina, much of the reason for the Gamecocks’ struggles have centered around the offense. More often during his tenure at SC, Spurrier’s teams have relied on the defense to help them win games.

Now Carolina faces sort of a crossroads. While Tennessee’s hired a new coach and Vandy and Kentucky return good bits of bowl teams – and still well behind Georgia and Florida in the SEC East pecking order – the Gamecocks return just 11 starters and lose some important players. What will Spurrier be able to do with this team?

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2009 SEC Preview: Alabama

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

Whereas previously previewed Georgia fell short of preseason expectations last year, Alabama certainly did just the opposite. The Tide spanked Clemson in the season opener in Atlanta in front of the entire nation, embarrassed Georgia with the “blackout” and College GameDay visiting Athens. In fact the Tide rolled (I know, I know…) all the way to #1 in the country in early November.

After emphatically breaking Auburn’s six-game Iron Bowl win streak (36-nothing in Tuscaloosa), Alabama found themselves leading Florida 20-17 entering the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game.

The final five quarters went so unlike the first 12 games for Alabama. Florida controlled the fourth quarter and scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives en route to a 31-20 win; then heavy underdog Utah came out on fire, stunning the Tide to the tune of a 21-0 lead after a quarter and a 31-17 Sugar Bowl win.

Despite a disappointing ending, Alabama was clearly a year ahead of what everybody expected of them. This year Alabama is one of the favorites to win the SEC West and one of the main contenders to the mighty Gators. Can Alabama keep the momentum going?

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2009 SEC Preview: Georgia

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

This time last year everybody was pimping Georgia as the preseason SEC and national champion. They had Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno on offense, but had a summer of off-the-field problems and some preseason injuries to key players.

A year later, things are obviously different in Athens. Stafford’s in Detroit, Moreno’s in Denver and preseason expectations are much, much lower. In fact, some of the most recent buzz surrounding the Bulldog football program has been on the recruiting trail, where Georgia’s received commitments from four of Rivals’ top 50 prospects.

While Stafford and Moreno didn’t disappoint last year, it was the defense that was Georgia’s biggest flaw last year. UGA gave up 24 points per game last year, and five teams (Alabama, Florida, LSU, Kentucky and Georgia Tech) scored 38 points or more on Georgia. That’s almost hard to believe.

Now Georgia may have to rely on that defense, as fifth-year senior Joe Cox (or possibly a younger quarterback) steps in to take the reins of the offense and a stable of young backs step in for the dazzling Moreno. One thing that isn’t different from last year? Georgia’s playing another tough schedule.

Many think they take a step back this year. But Mark Richt’s won 10 games every year except for 2001 (his first year) and 2006. Will this year break that trend?

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