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SEC Slant:Preview Edition III

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South Carolina
We have all been anticipating it, waiting for it, fretful of the eventual self-appreciative/genuinely annoyed smirk that would soon permanently don the Cock-ed visor shielded face of the Ol’ BC. But the opportunities to boast have been few and far between in Columbia, a town where charm is few and far between (it’s ok, just blame Sherman). 21-16 over three seasons is nothing to ridicule, especially for a tradition-deficient program, but it most certainly is not the OBC we’ve truly come to loathe. That Spurrier would never end the season on a five game losing skid, no way. Entering year four, you almost have to believe this will be a make or break season of sorts, due in part to the fact that Gamecock fans have an erroneous sense of importance among the SEC Elite, and, the talent Spurrier has brought in frankly should be better than Independence Bowls, if any bowl at all. Official playcalling duties have been bestowed to son Steve Jr., just as Vladimir Putin is no longer “President” of Russia (your strings are showing). Injuries and suspensions have plagued the Ball Coach thus far in Columbia, and the conference sure isn’t getting any easier, but this is a pretty good team.

Studs

Offense:
WR-Kenny McKinley–Preseason All-American is out of the Hines Ward mold, but has virtually nothing in common with him off the field.

Defense:
LB’s-Jasper Brinkley, Eric Norwood–Norwood drops back from DE to man the weak side, while Brinkley returns from knee surgery and a trip to the store.
CB-Captain Munnerlyn–not surprisingly, Cpt.’s brother, Chief, is a pot head.

X-factor–QB’s. I’ve always wondered, as a Heisman winning QB and solidified offensive guru, why does Spurrier often employ the dual QB approach? While he enjoyed a string of future NFL-slingers at Florida, he has yet to really find a true, solidified leader to run his offense since arriving in Carolina. This looks to be no different, as preliminary starter Tommy Beecher will compete with the shaky Chris Smelley and the kid who keyed his professor’s car. Don’t be surprised to see all three and even a wide receiver or two alternating series, as it is hard to imagine one of these men will satisfy OBC for an entire quarter.

Shed-jule: Callous. The cruel journey hastily begins Thursday night when they’ll host a not good but not awful NC State team. On the plus side, they get UGA, UT, and Arkansas at home, and road games at Ole Miss, UK and Vandy are winnable, though trips to Florida and up to Clempson are not.

Outlook: “Well, shoot, we’ve got to score the danged football, I know that. And, I think we have some playmakers on the defensive side of the scrimmage capable of gettin’ some dag-gummed stops. We’re going to draw up some plays, plug ‘em in and see if they work. I can’t tell ya if they will or not, we haven’t run ‘em in a game yet, but we hope to advance that ball up the field towards the opponent’s end zone, uh, hopefully more so than they do ours.”
Or something like that.

Tennessee
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Winning the East Division was an impressive feat last season, and would be even more so this time around. We all know Vols fans are itching for another national title, or even but a taste of the BCS, but Randy Sanders has recovered from his sword to the gut and currently makes his home in Lexington. UT has the talent and experience to win the SEC this season, especially if 2-3 losses can get it done like last year. Aptly named offensive coordinator Dave Clawson gets to tinker with an unyielding offensive line and one of the league’s top running backs, which should ease the pressure on new-fangled QB Jonathan Crompton. The defense was awfully pedestrian last season by UT standards, and must improve if they hope to get back to ATL.

Studs

Offense: RB Arian Foster–a mere 684 yards stands between Foster and the school’s all-time rushing record, in case you didn’t know. Pretty amazing considering UT’s lineage of running backs; equally remarkable, naming your child Arian.
OL–last season, this unit allowed a whopping 4 sacks. That’s a difficult stat to wrap your head around, and to do so against future NFL D-Lineman most weeks is incredible. All 5 starters are back…for more classes, and I guess some more football since they’re already there.

Defense:
SS Eric Berry–does ‘berry good’ do anything for ya?

X-factor: Defensive Line. Behind that line, the offense should be able to move the ball, and assuming Crompton manages the game ok, should average around 28-30 points per game. With a stacked secondary, the Vols can wreak havoc on their opponents if they can generate a pass rush and stuff the run, something they really struggled with last year.

Shed-jule: they get a break with the break in UCLA QB Ben Olsen’s foot. Alhtough UT is a much better team than UCLA this year, that is still another XC kickoff to the season where logic has a tendency to go MIA. They’ll likely have revenge on their minds when the Gators come to town Sept. 20, but will certainly have their hands full. Trips to Auburn, Athens and Columbia loom.

Outlook: The Vols look to defend their East Division crown, but must survive the first five games without the services of a Colquit, something that hasn’t been seen since an epic 4-3 victory over Sewanee in 1899. The legacy-legged punter got a little brazen with his alcohol consumption at a Kenny Chesney concert. Ok, I’m not sure where he was nabbed, but I’m sure it was a Kenny Chesney concert. The effectiveness of the front 7, the adherence to the new offense and some more intra-conference brutality will determine their fate.

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Georgia
Fresh off that Hawaiian pig-roast, Jo-ja returns a fleet of stars and a heap of expectations. Mark Richt has been nothing short of brilliant in his time at the helm, but even Sugar Bowls begin to sour when you’re playing for third place. This looks like Richt’s best team yet, slightly edging the 2004 team, but they’ll have to overcome a schedule conjured up from the depths of hell. You can love or hate Richt’s tactics all you want, but the man knows how to push the motivation button and release the crunk.

Studs

Offense:
RB Knowshon Moreno–electrifying presence when he steps onto the field…the field of life.
QB Matthew Stafford–his stats are modest, but we’ve seen what he’s capable of when uncorked. Finally having some experience to throw should open things up a bit.

Defense:
LB Dannelle Ellerby–last year’s leading tackler is an absolute menace and a hell of a listener.
CB Asher Allen–undersized, but smooth and speedy. Yeah, I heard her.

X-Factor: Kicker. Yeah, that’s right, the boot. Look at their schedule: there will be some tight games a 3 point spreads. With Brandon Coutu in the NFL, some new wee wittle lad has to step up and bleed ice. Just a reminder that you’re sometimes only as big/fast/strong as your kicker is accurate.

Shed-jule: much like LSU last year, Georgia might be the best team each week yet could still be looking at 2 or 3 losses. After some early round cupcakes, the margin for error vanishes with trips to Columbia and a random westward expedition to meet up with athletic Arizona State. Bama and Tennessee come to Athens, then it’s on to LSU and Jacksonville for some pissed off Gators, and finally a nice evening at Auburn. I’m not sure the Miami Dolphins would end up 10-2 after that.

Outlook: I think UGA can make it to Baton Rouge undefeated. That would potentially set-up a winner-take-all rematch in the cocktail party where Florida will likely dig up some tabe of last season’s step show. It takes more than great talent and great coaching to win: it also takes luck, kickers, and black jerseys.

Article written by John Dubya

The Twitter: @Johnawilk