(Philadelphia, Pa) — Here at “Taking It to the House” we are usually almost always about the NFL, but we are excited to announce that there will be a lot more coverage of College Football around here in ’08. We have recruited the guy I believe is the rising star of College Football News and Notes in Kevin Hornung, who is the Lead Scout at Great Blue North Draft Report.
I personally discoverd Kevin a few years ago and he brings a passion for College Football like none other. With all that said, take it away Kevin and we are glad to have you onboard at Taking It to the House. Kevin will start his tour of everything about College Football with a preview of the SEC Conference, which just happens to be the best conference of the Saturday Game.
Editor Lloyd Vance
SEC Conference Preview
Dark Horse: Auburn
Coach on the Hot Seat: Steve Spurrier (South Carolina)- Although it is doubtful he will be fired, Spurrier has not made the Gamecocks a factor in the ultra competitive SEC, which was expected at this point in his tenure. He is the Brian Billick of the college ranks. A coach that comes to a team as an offensive guru, but has his defense carry him along. With 15 starters back it’s time for the other USC to actually develop a quarterback, and take a big step forward.
Best Coach: Les Miles (LSU)- Miles is 34-6 with a BCS Championship in his 3 years at LSU. He showed rare loyalty in off-season as he spurned his alma mater Michigan, to stay with the Tigers. In a conference full of top coaches, Miles has shown, more than any other coach, that he is willing to make the gutsy call, which shows how much confidence he has in his players.
Best Program: LSU- The only program with 2 BCS Championships boasts a 54-10 record since the start of the 2003 season. Whether it’s Nick Saban or Les Miles, LSU recruits with the best in the country, and has shown they can beat anybody in the country. Should be one of the best programs for the next 5 years as well.
Top NFL Prospect: LT Michael Oher (Ole Miss)- This could easily be Tim Tebow but since Oher will definitely be in the ’09 Draft we’ll go with him. Oher flirted with the Draft last year but decided to go back to Oxford for his senior season. He would have been a first round pick last year, now he will be a Top 10 lock. Oher blends size, strength, and speed into the frame of a franchise NFL tackle.
Newcomer: WR Julio Jones (Alabama)- Jones, who comes to Tuscaloosa as the #2 recruit in the country, arrives at the perfect time for Tide. With star receiver D.J. Hall gone, there is an immediate need and opening for him. Jones will start from Day 1 for the Tide and will be the SEC Freshman of the Year.
Breakout: SS Eric Berry (Tennessee)- I know the true sophomore Berry had a very good freshman campaign with 86 tackles and 5 interceptions, but in 2008 Berry will emerge as the best safety in the league, and one the top playmakers as well. A speedy defensive back, who can tackle, Berry plays the run just as well as the pass. NFL teams should be drooling already for this future first rounder.
Five Biggest Games: Florida @ Tennessee (9/20); LSU @ Auburn (9/20); Georgia @ LSU (10/25); Georgia vs. Florida (11/1); Georgia @ Auburn (11/15)
Players To Watch: QB Tim Tebow, WR Percy Harvin, TE Cornelius Ingram, LT Phil Trautwein, DE Jermaine Cunningham, MLB Brandon Spikes, FS Major Wright (Florida); QB Matthew Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno, DT Geno Atkins, DT Jeff Owens, MLB Daniel Ellerbe, CB Asher Allen (Georgia); WR Brandon LaFell, WR Demetrius Byrd, LT Ciron Black, G Herman Johnson, DE Tyson Jackson, DE Kirston Pittman, MLB Derry Beckwith, SS Chad Jones (LSU); QB Kodi Burns, RB Brad Lester, RB Ben Tate, WR Rod Smith, G Taurenne Green, DT Sen’Derrick Marks, DE Antonio Coleman, OLB Tray Blackmon, CB Jerraud Powers (Auburn); QB John Parker Wilson, RB Terry Grant LT Andre Smith, C Antoine Caldwell, ILB Rolando McClain, SS Rashad Johnson (Alabama); RB Arian Foster, WR Lucas Taylor, G Anthony Parker, DT Demonte’ Bolden, OLB Rico McCoy, SS Eric Berry (Tennessee); WR Kenny McKinley, DE Cliff Matthews, OLB Eric Norwood, MLB Jasper Brinkley, CB Captain Munnerlyn, SS Emanuel Cook (South Carolina); RB Anthony Dixon, WR Jamayel Smith, MLB Jamar Chaney, FS Derek Pegues (Mississippi St.); QB Jevan Snead, WR Shay Hodge, LT Michael Oher, DE Greg Hardy, DT Perla Jerry, DB Jamarca Sanford (Ole Miss); QB Casey Dick, RB Michael Smith, C Jonathan Luigs, DT Malcolm Sheppard, DE Antwain Robinson, OLB Freddie Fairchild (Arkansas); RB Tony Dixon, WR Dicky Lyons, Jr., De Jeremy Jarmon, DT Myron Pryor, OLB Braxton Kelley, FS Marcus McClinton (Kentucky); QB Chris Nickson, LT Thomas Welch, CB D.J. Moore, SS Reshard Langford (Vanderbilt)
Conference Overview: For the second consecutive season, and third in 5 years, the BCS champion came out of the SEC. For the second time it was the LSU Tigers, this time beating up on the once again overmatched Ohio St. Buckeyes. With questions at quarterback and in the secondary, LSU is not a lock to repeat as either SEC, or national champions. This leaves the conference fairly wide open. Florida is returning 16 starters including Heisman winner Tim Tebow. WR Percy Harvin headlines a very deep and talented core at the skill positions for the Gators. The conference schedule is a little less daunting for Florida than in years past, and this will be one of the main reasons that the Gators will win the SEC. Their only difficult true road game this season is at Tennessee in the third week. They face Georgia, but in Jacksonville, which is essentially a Gator home game. This game may decide who plays for the national championship. Florida does face both Miami and Florida St. out of conference, but both of these once powerful programs have fallen on hard times. They face Hawaii but that’s one year too late. The defense was up and down last season and crashed in the Capital One Bowl, giving up 41 points to Michigan in a loss. This unit ultimately will decide if Florida repeats another Capital One Bowl appearance, or another championship game appearance, like they did in 2006. With Urban Meyer, the latter seems more likely.
Georgia, on paper, may have the most talent in the country. Mark Richt has recruited so well over the years that the Bulldogs have a ton of talent and experience returning, for what could be a championship run. Georgia has 17 starters back for a team that went 11-2 last season, whipping Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl 41-10. QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno lead the offense, with Moreno a legit Heisman candidate. Rushing for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns, Moreno had one the best freshman campaigns since fellow Bulldog Hershel Walker. Since he will be a redshirt sophomore this year he could enter the 2009 NFL Draft, and be would one of the top running backs available. The defense was 18th in the nation in scoring defense and 16th against the run. They are only going to get better as the year goes on, as they did a year ago. The biggest problem facing Georgia is the schedule which is one of the toughest in the country. Since the game with Florida, in Jacksonville, counts as a home game, they really play only 3 conference home games. Two of those home games will match them up with Tennessee and Alabama. They have to travel to South Carolina, LSU, and Auburn in conference, and go to Tempe to face a good Arizona St. team on September 20th. All in all, it still comes down to the game against Florida. They could lose just this one game and miss out on the SEC title. If they can’t win their conference, they can’t play for a national championship right? I would love to see how the BCS would handle the situation where the Gators and Bulldogs both had one loss at the end of the regular season.
When we last saw LSU, the Tigers were hoisting the BCS crystal ball above their heads for the second time in 5 seasons. Going into this season the main factor that is holding them back from a possible second consecutive title is the quarterback. With Ryan Perrilloux getting kicked off the team, there is no quarterback on the roster that has any starting experience whatsoever. Junior Andrew Hatch and freshman Jarrett Lee will battle for the starting job going into the fall. With a load of talent everywhere else on the roster, and a ridiculously weak out of conference schedule, LSU still can’t be counted out of the SEC equation. You would just think that after a national championship LSU can do better than App. St., Troy, North Texas, and Tulane in non-SEC match-ups. They do have to travel to Auburn, Florida, and South Carolina, but get Georgia and Alabama in Baton Rouge. If the quarterback comes along nicely over the first three games, and the Tigers beat Auburn on September 20th, they could represent the West again in the SEC Championship game.
Tommy Tuberville enters his 10th season at Auburn with an experienced team, and a defense that makes his Tigers a dark horse to win the SEC crown. New coordinator Tony Franklin was hired to implement his spread offense, and may be the key to Auburn making a legitimate run. With 7 starters back on a defense that was 6th nationally in scoring, passing, and total defense, the offense must start to pull their weight more, after finishing 97th in total offense. Sophomore QB Kodi Burns looks to be the early leader at the position. He has the entire offensive line back, and RBs Ben Tate and Brad Lester combined for 1,433 yards last year. With experience and depth back at wide receiver, this unit has all the makings of being very good. Burns, or junior Chris Todd, must be that missing link that helps the offense take the next step. Auburn may have the easiest road schedule in the conference, with trips to Mississippi St., Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Alabama on the docket. They get LSU, Tennessee, and Georgia all in Jordan-Hare in ’08. Auburn does get kudos for putting a trip to Morgantown on the schedule, as they travel to West Virginia on October 23rd. If the Tigers can win there and take the SEC title, they will be a lock to play for the national championship.
Nick Saban had a tough year in his first season in Tuscaloosa, compiling a 7-6 record. Alabama lost their final 4 regular season games, including a home shocker to Louisiana-Monroe. However when you consider the Tide lost those six games by a combined 36 points, there is a chance for 10 wins this season. Alabama returns 15 starters, including 9 on an offense that will be the key to their season. LT Andre Smith is back for his junior season and will protect QB John Parker Wilson’s blind side once again. Wilson will have one huge upgrade at receiver with the arrival of highly touted WR Julio Jones. At 6’4″ and with excellent speed, Jones is a walking mismatch. With Auburn the only difficult conference home game, the road schedule which brings the Tide to Georgia, Tennessee, and LSU will determine their chances. If they can win their opener against a very good Clemson team in Atlanta, Alabama may build some momentum for the rest of the season. Realistically it looks like their time to really challenge for the conference will come in 2009.
Tennessee is another team that is entering the season with questions at quarterback. Jonathan Crompton will take over for Erik Ainge, but will have a slew of weapons to work with. RB Arian Foster is back after rushing for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has a chance of breaking Travis Henry’s career rushing record for the Vols. WRs Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers, and Josh Briscoe are all back after combining for 185 catches in ’07. If Tennessee has a chance to get back to the SEC title game, the defense must improve after giving up 27 points and 400 total yards a game. In 3 regular season losses they gave up a total of 145 points. That will not get it done in this conference. With trips to Auburn, Georgia, and South Carolina, and home dates against Florida and Alabama, the schedule is filled with tough tests. The Volunteers open this season with another cross country trip, this time against UCLA. They must get off to a better start then they did last year, when they lost at California 45-31. Although there is some talent on the roster, and they may be a ranked team, I still don’t see them finishing any better than third in the SEC East.
After South Carolina started 2007 with a 6-1 record, the Gamecocks and their fans had visions of an SEC title in their future. However, the bottom fell out, and they even missed a bowl, losing their last 5 games. Now they enter 2008 with questions on offense, and with the hope that their talented defense can carry them to a bowl game. With 9 starters back, the defense must improve against the run to become one of the top defense in the country. Even though they were 110th in the country in run defense, they still only gave up 23.5 points per game. One automatic improvement is the return of MLB Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley missed most of the season, but is a huge linebacker (6’2″ 275) that has incredible upside. South Carolina must get off to a good start to guarantee themselves a bowl berth, with a brutal second half of the schedule looming. The last 5 games have them matching up against LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, and Clemson. Even if the Gamecocks win 2 of those last 5, they could have 8 wins and be back in a bowl. It’s time that the offensive genius, coach Steve Spurrier, starts to turn around what has been a very mediocre offense over his first 3 years.
Coach Sylvester Croom and his Mississippi St. Bulldogs had one of the more surprising seasons of 2007. After getting walloped by LSU 45-0 in their opener, they rebounded nicely winning 8 games, including a Liberty Bowl win versus Central Florida. Now expectations are higher in Starkville as Croom, who is the first black coach in SEC history, enters his 5th season. The offense must improve and match the defenses’ output for Mississippi St. to reach a second straight bowl. Sophomore QB Wesley Carroll will lead what was one of the worst offenses in college football a year ago. With an offensive line that must be rebuilt, it appears as if he will have his work cut out for him. With a fairly soft schedule the Bulldogs can feasibly win 8 games again, but taking the next step will have to wait another year.
Houston Nutt arrives in Oxford with a more talented roster than he would have had at Arkansas. After former coach Ed Orgeron recruited very well for Ole Miss, Nutt walks into a situation where he could look very good, in what was foreseen as a breakthrough year for Orgeron. Texas transfer QB Jevan Snead is another highly touted player who will open the season #1 on the depth chart. He will have his left side protected by All-American LT Michael Oher, who spurned the NFL to come back for his senior season. He will be one of the top overall prospects in next year’s draft. If the Rebels can knock off such teams as Memphis, Samford, Vanderbilt, and Louisiana-Monroe, they may have outside chance for their first bowl since 2003. However to do that, they will need to come up with an upset or two from conference play. Something they have not been able to do over the last couple of seasons.
Arkansas road the best running back duo in the country for the last 2 seasons to 18 wins over that span. Now Darren McFadden and Felix Jones are both in the NFL, after both being first round picks. Add to that, the loss of FB Peyton Hillis means the Razorbacks must replace 3,339 yards rushing. That will not be easy to do. With a very inexperienced group of skill players on offense, and a rebuilt secondary, it looks as if new coach Bobby Petrino will have work cut out for him just to make it back to a bowl. Petrino, who made headlines after leaving the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons after 13 games, is hoping the NCAA will allow Michigan transfer QB Ryan Mallett to play this upcoming season. Mallett is trying to get the NCAA to bypass the year he would have to sit out after transferring, citing the coaching change at Michigan. Either way the offense will have to be completely revamped after relying on the run so much the last few years. A brutal schedule will not help matters. Not only does Arkansas welcome Alabama, Florida, and LSU this year, they also have to travel to Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi St. Add to that a road date at Texas, and another tough out of conference match-up versus an underrated Tulsa team, it appears Arkansas fans will not be chanting Woo Pig Suey much this year.
Kentucky got off to a surprising 5-0 start in 2007, with an explosive offense led by QB Andre’ Woodson. After shocking much of the college football world with an epic 3 overtime win at LSU, the Wildcats faded down the stretch losing 4 out of their last 5 regular season games. Now they will have to reload at much of the offensive skill positions, and will need their defense to keep them in games. Even with a soft early schedule, Kentucky may open 4-0 and still not make a bowl. Because Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee all appear better going into ’08, they may need to sweep their other 3 SEC tilts versus Arkansas, Mississippi St., and Vanderbilt to play a 13th game. The Wildcats are not devoid of talent, they just have too many holes to compete in a very competitive conference.
In every conference there seems to be a team that just shouldn’t belong there. The Big 12 has Baylor, the ACC has Duke, the Big 10 has Northwestern, and the Big East has Syracuse. Vanderbilt is that team for the SEC. Although they have been more competitive over the last few years, they are still stuck in a 25 year bowl drought. The Commodores wasted a very good opportunity to break that streak in ’07, when they had 5 wins, and lost late season home games to Kentucky and Wake Forest. With only 9 starters back, including 3 on offense, it looks as if coach Bobby Johnson’s shot at getting Vandy back to a bowl will not happen in 2008. With out of conference match-ups with Miami (OH), Rice, and Duke, they should consider another 5 win season success. Nevertheless, Vanderbilt’s tenure as the SEC whipping boy will continue for at least another season.
4. South Carolina
4. Mississippi St.
5. Ole Miss