Countdown to Football

45 Days

SEC media days starts today!

It’s all downhill from here.

Next week, radio hosts will analyze the interviews until they’re blue in the face.

The following week, practice starts.  Articles begin churning out.  It suddenly hits less than 30 days until kickoff.  Depth charts are settled.  Predictions get rolling.  Hype begins.  The fireworks are ready to go.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s preview each team’s most needed player in order to have a great season.

SEC EAST

Florida – QB John Brantley.  In 2008 and 2010, Florida finished in the top three in recruiting rankings.  While 2009 was rated #11, they still hauled in 3 five stars and 9 four stars.  Needless to say, Florida’s full of experienced talent especially on the defensive side of the ball.  But the offense remains a question mark.  If Brantley can manage the pro-style offense effectively, this team will make serious noise this season.

Georgia – RB Isaiah Crowell.  A true freshman?  Yes.  A true freshman at running back is crucial to Georgia’s success this year.  Aaron Murray may be considered by some to be the best quarterback in the SEC, but he’s lost a lot of talent around him.  The two experienced running backs from last season are gone.  If Crowell doesn’t get the line of scrimmage moving, Murray won’t have much time to avoid the blitzes every team will throw at him.

Kentucky – QB Morgan Newton.  Kentucky loses Randall Cobb, and they have to find a new identity.  Newton now has experience, and Joker Phillips’s program should be running smoothly.  If Newton doesn’t come through, this Kentucky team could be looking at missing a bowl game.

South Carolina – LB Shaq Wilson.  Last year, South Carolina had one of the most productive offenses in the country.  They should be just as dangerous this year with Lattimore, Garcia, and Jeffrey returning.  However, despite their offensive production, they still lost five games.  Defense was their weak point.  They get Wilson (2009 leading tackler) back after an injury last year, and he has to return to form.  If not, this team will not be much different than last year’s.

Tennessee – QB Tyler Bray.  Question marks plague the Tennessee program.  From NCAA investigations to a depleted depth chart to an inexperienced head coach to a young, shaky quarterback.  The Vols need consistency.  Bray has the most potential talent of anyone in the country, but he lacked leadership last year.  He has to grow up quickly.  If he does, Tennessee may have a puncher’s chance to make noise.

Vanderbilt – QB Larry Smith.  Vanderbilt returns all 11 starters from last season’s offense.  While they were horrible last season, returning starters equals experience, and experience equals a better chance at proper execution.  Vandy doesn’t have much of a chance to get to a bowl game, but if Larry Smith can come around as an experienced QB, they may squeeze out 6 wins.

SEC WEST

Alabama – QB AJ McCarron (or Phillip Sims).  Donta Hightower almost got this spot because the defense is predicted to be the best defense of the last ten years.  As the leader, Hightower has to come through.  But what if the defense is put into a position to lose?  That’s the worst mistake a quarterback can make.  To give the other team easy field position is like cracking your defense in the knee with a hammer.  Trent Richardson will do his part.  The offensive line will do theirs.  The defense will be stacked.  But with a lack of talent at the receiver position and an inexperienced quarterback, it’s crucial that the starting quarterback does not make stupid mistakes leading to points for the other side.

Auburn – MLB Not Available.  Auburn is inexperienced all over the field.  The offense is going to take a step backwards after losing Cam Newton and four offensive linemen.  But the defense should continue to grow as they are three years into Ted Roof’s system.  Josh Bynes was the leader of the defense last year.  Whoever fills his spot is the most important player on the team.  He’ll have to be a leader.  A warrior.  And one who stuffs the middle as most of Auburn’s opponents feature bruising, heavyweight running backs.

Arkansas – MLB Jerry Franklin.  Tyler Wilson will do just fine.  Knile Davis will continue to dominate the running game.  But the defense has to make the next jump.  Jerry Franklin is the leader of an improving defense that has to be better at stopping the run.  Franklin’s play this year will determine if Arkansas has another good season or if Arkansas makes a trip to Atlanta in December.

LSU – RB Michael Ford.  Everyone knows the plight of the LSU quarterback, but Ford is the key component of this offense.  If he (or any other running back on the team) cannot be a consistent productive back that moves the line of scrimmage, Jordan Jefferson will be forced to make quick decisions – something that’s proved fatal to LSU the past few years.

Miss State – QB Chris Relf.  Miss State is shooting for its first 10 win season since 1999.  Relf is the leader of Mullen’s vaunting offense, and in order to beat the top teams of the West, he will have to be their Tim Tebow.

Ole Miss – RB Brandon Bolden.  Bolden has been Ole Miss’s feature back for a few years now, and if Ole Miss wants to get back to winning 9 games, he has to break out.  Ole Miss had a terrible season last year, and this year doesn’t look promising.  If Bolden can control the line of scrimmage, eat clock, give the quarterback time to throw, and help the defense with field position, Ole Miss stands a chance to upset some unsuspecting teams.

45 Days.

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