There is plenty of concern about the 2011 Kentucky football season at this po..."/>
There is plenty of concern about the 2011 Kentucky football season at this po..."/>

Kentucky Wildcats Football: Why the Cats could win the SEC East in 2011


There is plenty of concern about the 2011 Kentucky football season at this point and rightfully so. The Cats will be replacing their starting quarterback, running back, and their top two receivers from the 2010 season, and that’s not even considering how much more than a wide receiver Randall Cobb was to the Wildcats. Then you’ve got the coaching changes that were made this offseason, and while few would argue that both weren’t for the better, sometimes changes in the staff take time to really affect the on-field product. Then there are the key players that will be coming off of injury this fall to complicate matters. The most recent issue the team is dealing with is the announcement that two guys that were expected to be top reserves on the already thin defensive line have both left the team, Brice Laughlin for academics and Nermin Delic for injury/personal reasons and neither will be available for the 2011 campaign. All of this might make some fans think that the Cats are in for a long year, but sometimes we need to look at the broader picture. That’s what I’m here to discuss today.

The SEC eastern division is as wide open as it’s ever been. Let’s take a brief look at each team.

Vandy will be replacing their head coach…again. This time the Commodores brought in James Franklin from Maryland and he’s hit the ground running. Vanderbilt has reeled in blue-chip recruit after blue-chip recruit and is well on their way to a top ten class nationally, but unfortunately for the Commodores, these recruits will not be on campus in 2011. The Commodores will be forced to rely on their nineteen returning starters that lead the team to a 2-10 record last year. They may be more experienced and playing for an inspired coach, but Vanderbilt is seriously lacking in the talent department. I don’t see them as a factor in the east in 2011.

The Volunteers will be under the direction of Derek Dooley for the second season. While they will return Tyler Bray at quarterback, he will be a true sophomore. Despite Bray being a talented young player, sophomores will still be prone to mistakes and he will be playing with a really inexperienced offense around him. The receiving corps lost Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore, and Luke Stocker to graduation. The three of them accounted for 1,994 of Tennessee’s receiving yards in 2010, and 15 total touchdowns. The offensive line is big, but only returns two full-time starters from last year.
The defensive line will likely feature three new starters, and the projected starting four feature only one player over 270 pounds. The 2011 Volunteers are going to be talented but young and unproven. The post-spring depth chart lists 25 total players on the offensive and defensive two-deep that are freshmen or sophomores. I don’t think that the 2011 team will be a BAD one, but I don’t see Tennessee winning the SEC East or even being in the discussion with the current roster. But hey, at least they have Janzen Jackson back again.

South Carolina
If there’s one team that is a consistent head-scratcher in the SEC East, it’s got to be the Gamecocks. While they’re always talented, there always seems to be a game or two that South Carolina drops that they shouldn’t, and it’s usually a key game. In 2010, Spurrier’s team shocked most and ended up winning the SEC East behind an offensive attack that featured one of the country’s best receivers in Alshon Jeffery and one of the country’s best running backs in freshman Marcus Lattimore. It will be tough for anyone to stop these two guys offensively, but they’re not the problem. Stephen Garcia returns as the projected starting quarterback for South Carolina and he’s been one of the most inconsistent signal-callers I can remember watching. He has the talent to beat anyone, but he makes enough bone-headed plays to lose any given game. Then there’s the defensive front seven, where the Gamecocks lost a ton of production. Devin Taylor is back at one defensive end, but every other position in the front seven is up for grabs and the units will be green and unproven by the time it’s settled. Despite Jadeveon Clowney’s known talents, he will still be a freshman and is likely to be a liability. The Gamecocks will win their share of games, but a lot of them may end up being shoot-outs.

If there’s been a safe bet to win the SEC East over the past decade, it has always been the Gators. Not so much this year though. After a rough (by their standards) season in 2010, Florida lost their head coach when Urban Meyer decided to hang it up again, and actually did it this time. Will Muschamp is a highly regarded guy, but it is going to take some time for him to settle in. Charlie Weiss is an outstanding offensive coordinator, but I’m curious how well the Gators will adapt to his notoriously complicated playbook. Let’s be honest here, Florida and Notre Dame do not have the same type of player and I can see the Gators struggling to transition from a spread offense to a pro-style attack. Brantley has time to turn things around, but I think even Florida fans would say he’s been underwhelming thus far in his career. Take all of that and add losing 17+ players to graduation or the NFL and some offseason attrition and the Gators will struggle more than a lot of people think.

As Kentucky will find out this year, changing schemes is tough and Georgia will be in their second year of transition to the 3-4 defense. The staff has been recruiting players that fit the new scheme but for the next year or two will be playing with guys that were originally projected for the 4-3 defense. Talent alone may float the defense again this year, but things are not going to be easy for the unit. The Bulldogs’ offense is looking to be in trouble this year. Aaron Murray looks like he’s going to be a fantastic quarterback and Orson Charles is one of the best tight ends in the country, but the rest of the offense is surrounded by question marks. The offensive line is young and unproven. Georgia lost both of their top receivers from last season including one of the most talented receivers to ever play in the SEC in A.J. Green. Then this offseason, Washaun Ealey elected to leave the program shortly before Caleb King was found to be academically ineligible. Georgia better hope that Crowell is as good as advertised, because he’ll probably be starting in the SEC as a true freshman. Add to all of that, the fact that Mark Richt might be sitting on the hottest seat in the country and its tough to tell what the Bulldogs are capable of this season.

Oh, now you don’t think I’m crazy anymore do you? Like I said in this week’s podcast, the SEC East is in dismay and ANYONE could take the conference this year. All that being said, Kentucky’s window to move up in the SEC is only going to be open for a short time. Tennessee is going to improve, Florida will shake things out, Georgia will be back to form, and look out for Vanderbilt. If the Cats want to take a couple steps up the ladder, it has to start this year. If the chips fall the right way for the Cats, this could be the year we all look back at and say “It all started there.” While I’ll admit that the odds are still going to be very long for Kentucky to take the crown in the East, this is the best chance the Cats will have had in the past 10+ years. I’ll do a more in depth preview of each
team on UK’s schedule later this summer, but this is something for you to chew on right now.

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