Is the SEC East race over before it starts?

It doesn’t sound like Tony Barnhart gives Georgia much of a chance in the SEC East this season.

SEC East opponents who are expecting—or hoping—for a huge drop off at Florida may be disappointed. Of course Florida will not be as good this season as the past two seasons when the Gators went 26-2. The personnel losses—QB Tim Tebow, CB Joe Haden, DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Brandon Spikes, TE Aaron Hernandez—are just too great. But Florida clearly has its quarterback in John Brantley, who completed 15 of 19 passes for 201 yards in the spring game. The Gators obviously have a lot of guys who can catch the ball like Andre Dubose, a big time recruit who sat out last season after hamstring surgery, Carl Moore and Chris Rainey. They have two options to run the “Tebow package” in Trey Burton and tight end Jordan Reed. Yes, there is a lot of work to do on defense. But when you look at the schedule, Florida will be favored in every game it plays except for an Oct. 2 trip to Alabama and possibly a Nov. 27 trip to Florida State. The rest of the SEC East has even more issues than the Gators. Somebody in that division, like Georgia or South Carolina, is going to have to step up. Florida is coming back to the field this  season, but not that much.

My first thought upon reading that is that it’s absurdly early to be issuing pronouncements like that.  (Actually, my thought before I finished reading that was “FSU favored over Florida?  Really?”.  But I digress.)  Since Barnhart went there, though, I figure I can, too, at least in terms of Georgia’s odds.  I’ll leave it for some enterprising South Carolina blogger to do a similar evaluation of the ‘Cocks.

Barnhart does qualify his prediction by noting that the Gators will to some extent “come back to the field” in 2010.  That’s not exactly a bold statement, given the personnel losses that he notes in part.  Florida won the East by an amazing four games last year and there wasn’t a facet of the game in which the Gators weren’t superior – in some areas, hugely superior – to Georgia.  I don’t anticipate making a similar statement about the two schools’ 2010 seasons, though.

Here’s my way-too-early comparison:

  • Offense. I’ll take everybody’s word (hey, 8000 pundits can’t be wrong, can they?) that John Brantley is the real deal.  What I don’t get, though, is the confidence many, like Barnhart, express about the receiving corps.  Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of talent on paper there.  However, it’s talent that to date has underachieved and been injury-prone.  I don’t see a go-to option in the bunch like Hernandez was last year.  And the running game may be an even bigger question mark.  Chris Low notes that the coaching staff has concerns about the short yardage offense.  No kidding.  What the Gators do have going for them is what I expect will be one of the top three offensive lines in the SEC this season.  The thing is, I expect Georgia’s to be as good.  As for the rest of it, Georgia looks like Florida’s polar opposite:  a big question at quarterback, but few issues at the rest of the skill positions.  Florida has no one as talented as A.J. and isn’t remotely comparable at the tight end spot.  As for the power running game, Georgia boasts the second best set of tailbacks in the SEC.  Early on last season, I bitched about the Dawgs lacking an identity on offense.  This year, I think Bobo knows what he’s about and it’s Florida that’s in search of that.  I’m calling this match up even right now, because I put a large value on quarterback play… but I can see that shifting in Georgia’s direction if the eventual starter proves himself not to be a train wreck.
  • Defense. What was the biggest gap between the two programs last year is the hardest thing to calibrate right now.  Georgia ripped up its defensive staff after years of declining performance on that side of the ball and has installed a new scheme.  Florida has had to replace the bane of Georgia’s existence for so long, Charlie Strong.  Both teams have suffered key losses in personnel, although the Gators took a bigger hit from a numbers standpoint.  I still think Florida emerges as the better on this side of the ball.  For one thing, that secondary is going to be excellent and superior to any other unit that either team will field on the line, with the linebackers or as to Georgia’s defensive backfield.  Also, Georgia has a long way to go to catch up.  Even if you believe, as I do, that the fundamentals will be shored up under Grantham, there are still going to be the inevitable problems in personnel and execution that come in a transition year as the result of such a radical change in scheme.
  • Special teams. This was close last year, even with Jon Fabris.  In 2010, advantage Georgia.
  • Schedule. Florida gets the bye week before the Cocktail Party this year, but other than that it’s hard to see how this year’s slate isn’t far kinder to Georgia than last year’s.  Georgia dodges Alabama and LSU from the West; Florida sees those two in back-to-back games (with ‘Bama being a road game to boot).
  • Intangibles. There’s been more than a little fruit basket turnover with both coaching staffs.  And rumor has it that there may be some health related concerns regarding Florida’s head coach.  How that all shakes out over the course of the season will be interesting to follow, to say the least.  And then there’s the old regression to the mean consideration:  Florida finished the season plus-seven in turnover margin (24th nationally), while Georgia finished minus-sixteen (118th nationally).  How likely is it that we’ll see the same kind of spread between the two in 2010?

There is, of course, one last intangible, 3-17.  I bring it up separately because from where I sit right now I’m seeing the SEC East winner having two conference losses – which means that if it is a Georgia-Florida battle we’re looking at, Jacksonville will be where the winner is decided.  And that means, unfortunately, that there’s a helluva trend that the Red and Black will have to buck this year.  I don’t think Florida’s trip to Atlanta is as much of a slam dunk as Barnhart believes, but no doubt I’m feeling a little Floyd Lloyd Christmas-y right now because of that.

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53 Comments

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53 responses to “Is the SEC East race over before it starts?

  1. Mike

    You forgot to mention the most important thing. The game is played in Jacksonville and that give Florida a HUGE advantage.

    At least according to some, including Mark Richt.

    • Hogbody Spradlin

      IMHO Florida’s ‘HUGE’ advantage has been having twice or three times the population of Georgia since about 1945. It just took the football program until 1990 to take advantage of it.

      I’ll even go a step further. Charley Pell had Florida in shape in the early 80’s, but his Clemsonism caught up with him. Galen Hall kept it going for 3-4 years and got canned only when FSU out-recruited Florida.

      I’m not sure when it was said, but while Bear Bryant was in his peak years at Alabama he said Florida was one team he feared if it ever got its act together.

      Mike, enjoy it but remember the players are always 20 years old but we just keep getting older.

      • 69Dawg

        The fact that FL is so deep in HS football players is a huge factor. The reemergence of FSU, Miami along with USF getting it’s act together could at least slow UF getting the 25 best each year.

      • Mike

        “Mike, enjoy it but remember the players are always 20 years old but we just keep getting older.”

        Yea, no kidding.

    • Idi

      Pffffffffft, the whine of the infants…..thank you Hogbody & 69 for helping to educate the skull full of mush that is ‘mike’.

      Only when the Dawgs regain control of the 5 inches between their ears shall this streak end.

  2. Charles D.

    Lloyd Christmas?

  3. Hogbody Spradlin

    How can FSU be ‘possibly’ favored more than Georgia? I’m comparing Georgia and Florida State here. Looks like Barnhart misfired when he was looking for a nice turn of phrase.

    • Idi

      Check out the E$PN early Top 25….at first blush, there are 20 teams ranked above UGA (#23) who have MORE questions about their net worth, including free shoes U. And about the U, wtf are THEY doing @ #13??????????????????????????

      The nats @ #17????? What D???? Lost the entire backfield? Best (only WR)???????

  4. UFTimmy

    After watching the O&B game, I am very concerned for our secondary, and not concerned for our offense.

    Then again, spring games have a way of telling you absolutely nothing.

  5. FLdawg

    Senator,
    You are the most prolific , blogtastic analyst/communicator out there. Thank you for your relentless search for truth, reason, and the American Way. (which is of course the Bulldawg Way)

    Yes of course all the journalistas at the AJC and most other press and media sites are driven by money, bias, and gigantic egos. They are obviously threatened by the new media.

    This is another example of continuous AJC publicity stunts, another preposterous feeble attempt to draw readers and blog responses.

    “…it’s absurdly early to be issuing pronouncements like that.”

    Of course you are correct, sir. Absurd is one word to brand this type of “journalism”.

    2 dates will determine our SEC east crown, Sept 11 and Oct 30. We will win both games – because we must.
    This is the most important year for UGA in a long long tome. No more excuses. Don’t believe the weak girly men who say we can’t.

    Go You Hairy Richt Dawgs!

  6. The AJC, circa early October 2007

    Florida is the BEST TEAM EVER! Ain’t no way ANYONE in the SEC East is catching them, no sir! They’re so awesome and dreamy! Just TRY to come within 20 points of Florida, Georgia!

  7. Macallanlover

    Barnhart is usually pretty balanced on subjects like this so I will re-think my analysis out of respect, but it is unlikely I can do no more than call uf equal to Georgia this year as a contender in the East. I see no way they should be favored when one considers the returning talent, gaps to be filled, and schedule.

    I did think SC was going to be the game to decide the East but you may be right Senator, it might be Jacksonville. I like that better as SC on the road early looks tougher to me than a neutral site game later in the season. Only difference is I feel a 2 loss SEC team would win outright in 2010. Who knows at this point? One thing we can count on is the East is certainly up for grabs this year and I don’t see any team resting their starters.

  8. Lawrence

    I love the blog and I am a proud Florida alumnus. Urban Meyer is 28-2 against the SEC East in his five years at Florida. The road to Atlanta in the SEC East runs through Gainesville. We are getting the benefit of the doubt based on past accomplishment. I agree with this analysis as every contender has major question marks, including Florida, which really means that the fall can not get here sooner.

  9. JaxDawg

    Fair enough. Can’t argue with facts and stats. We all thought the 2008 game would be the best all-time and it turned into a route. We’ll see what happens this year but I’m not comparing these teams b/c I’m usually wrong when I do.

  10. cantonfroggy

    In the near term under Meyer, when UF has had a dominant defense (2008, 2009) they have pretty much had their way with UGA. When UGA’s defense has been pretty good (2005, 2006) the game has been close.

    When UGA’s defense was significantly better than UF’s, UGA won the game.

    The last two years, UF defense has been scary good while UGA’s defense has been scary bad. We will know the status of both team’s defenses by mid-October so I think a more valid prediction can be made.

    Remember how good Tebow looked in the 2007 UF Spring game? Brantley could win the Heisman next year but still lose to UGA if the defense is bad.

    • The key to Georgia winning that game over the last twenty years has been for the Dawgs to score at least 30 points.

      • FLdawg

        Yes sir,
        We keep getting outcoached, period.

        In the 7 CMR losses to the hated gators, our offense avg 12.4 ppg. CMR is the offensive guru.

        Coaches get paid to recruit, develop, and make sideline game decisions and adjustments.

        We just keep getting outcoached, thats all.

        We must believe 2010 is the year for CMR and CMB to reverse this nauseating series back to our favor.

        Beat the Gators Oct 30.

        • Prov

          Did you have a bad experience with a Faulkner novel as a child?

          • Dog in Fla

            Who knows but I’m pretty sure this guy did:

            “The Administration and the Fury…
            If William Faulkner were writing on the Bush White House.”

            By Sam Apple as William Faulkner: February 23, 2005

            Down the hall, under the chandelier, I could see them talking. They were walking toward me and Dick’s face was white, and he stopped and gave a piece of paper to Rummy, and Rummy looked at the piece of paper and shook his head. He gave the paper back to Dick and Dick shook his head. They disappeared and then they were standing right next to me.

            “Georgie’s going to walk down to the Oval Office with me,” Dick said.
            “I just hope you got him all good and ready this time,” Rummy said.
            “Hush now,” Dick said. “This ain’t no laughing matter. He knows a lot more than folks think.” Dick patted me on the back good and hard. “Come on now, Georgie,” Dick said. “Never mind you, Rummy.”

            We walked down steps to the office. There were paintings of old people on the walls and the room was round like a circle and Condi was sitting on my desk. Her legs were crossed.

            “Did you get him ready for the press conference?” Dick said.

            “Dont you worry about him. He’ll be ready,” Condi said. Condi stood up from the desk. Her legs were long and she smelled like the Xeroxed copies of the information packets they give me each day.

            “Hello Georgie,” Condi said. “Did you come to see Condi?” Condi rubbed my hair and it tickled.

            “Dont go messing up his hair,” Dick said. “He’s got a press conference in a few minutes.”

            Condi wiped some spit on her hand and patted down my hair. Her hand was soft and she smelled like Xerox copies coming right out of the machine. “He looks just fine,” Condi said.

            “Fine day, isn’t it, Georgie,” Daddy said. Daddy was pitching horseshoes. Horseshoes flew through the air and it was hot. Jeb looked at me. Stand back or one of his horseshoes is going to hit you and knock you down real good, Jeb said.

            Jeb threw the horseshoe and it went right over the stick and Daddy clapped. Run and get me that horseshoe, Georgie, Daddy said. I ran and picked up the horseshoe. The metal was hot in my hands, and I held it for a little bit and then I dropped it. I picked it up. It was hot in my hands and I started running away from Daddy and Jeb.

            Come back with that horseshoe, Daddy said. I was running as fast as I could. “Jeb run after him and get me my horseshoe before he throws another one in the river,” Daddy hollered.

            Jeb was chasing after me fast. Come back with that horseshoe, Georgie, Jeb hollered. But I was fast and I kept running until I got to the river.

            “Don’t you dare throw that horseshoe in the river,” Jeb said.

            I threw the horseshoe in the river.

            Jeb fell on the ground. Jeb kicked and cried and then I cried.

            “He needs his makeup,” Dick said.
            “I’ll do it,” Condi said. She put a little brush on my check and it tickled and I laughed.

            Rummy walked into the room. “Jesus, what’s he laughing about,” Rummy said.
            “Dont you pay attention to him, Georgie,” Dick said. “They’re going to be asking you all about Social Security. You just remember what we talked about.”

            “He can’t remember anything,” Rummy said.

            I started to holler. Dick’s face was red and he looked at Rummy. “I told you to hush up already,” Dick said. “Now look what you’ve gone and done.”

            “Go and get him Saddam’s gun,” Condi said. “You know how he likes to hold it.”

            Dick went to my desk drawer and took out Saddam’s gun. He gave it to me, and it was hot in my hands. Rummy pulled the gun away.

            “Do you want him carrying a gun into the press conference?” Rummy said. “Can’t you think any better than he can?” I was hollering and Dick was turning red and then white and then blue just like the Star Spangled Banner and the room was tilted.

            “You give him that gun back, right this minute,” Condi said. Rummy gave me Saddam’s gun back and I held it my hands. It was hot like a horseshoe.

            “You got the gun, now you stop that hollering,” Rummy said.

            Condi patted me on the back. “It sure is hot in here,” she said. She fanned herself and took off her jacket. She smelled like perfume.

      • Aligator

        that ain’t happening this year …

  11. LawDawg

    You forgot the fact that UF has a better head coach then UGA. Meyer doesn’t wait a couple of years to fix a problem with his staff and when Meyer’s staff leaves they get hired as Head Coaches at Louisville and MSU, when Richt’s staff leaves they get Head Coaching jobs at UAB, if they get hired as a head coach at all.

    • AthensHomerDawg

      I dont think those HC jobs are at the top of the heap. Meyer is not correcting coaching spots as much as coaches are just plain leaving! But give him his do ….. he has won and often. Lets see how much of a genius head coach he is without Sir Tim before we crown him Super HC!

    • Rum-Dawg Millionaire

      You know it was a talking point for several years how Charlie Strong couldn’t find a head coaching job, right? He just held out longer than did Brian VanGorder, who I will argue has a better job than Charlie Strong does right now.

      Meyer hasn’t had to fix any problems yet. Note that Steve Addazio is still the offensive coordinator post-Mullen, and many UF fans will tell you that that is a problem. Florida lost their new DC before he’d even been on the job for a month. We have no idea if the guy who will hold that job this year will be any good or not. Let’s wait to see how Meyer deals with his staff losses before we draw the conclusion that he “fixes” his staff faster than Richt.

  12. ConnGator

    I say it now: Florida will have better special-teams stats than Georgia in 2010. Other than that, pretty good analysis.

    I will say that your comments about the Georgia QB improvements also apply to Florida receiver and running back improvements. I do think Gillislee will be a beast.

    • CG, I’m curious where your confidence in the special teams stats comes from. Georgia’s punter won the Ray Guy Award last season and Walsh was a finalist for the Groza Award. Boykin, the kickoff returner, tied an SEC record with three returns for touchdowns.

      The area that truly sucked for Georgia in 2009 was coverage and I think that’s a classic addition by subtraction area with the canning of the special teams coach who was responsible.

      I’m not saying that Florida won’t be very good. I just think Georgia will be better.

      • AthensHomerDawg

        If the Dawgs don’t excel in special teams in 2010 we will all be surprized and disappointed.

      • ConnGator

        I admit I have not studied Georgia’s specials teams extensively. My confidence in Florida’s (slight) superiority in this area rests on two factors: Florida has better athletes (and puts them on special teams), and Meyer’s history with special teams. Yes, he is not directly in charge any more but I doubt he will let that area of the game slide.

        My take is sort of the mirror image of yours: Georgia will be good, but Florida will be better.

      • Aligator

        uh how many blocked kicks and returns for points did UGA have? it is not like our kickers sucked either, they were up there with the best of them.

        • I thought you followed the program a little bit, Al. You don’t remember AJ’s heroics in the Arizona State game, or the two blocks in the first half of the bowl game?

          My point isn’t to denigrate Florida’s special teams. But Georgia led the country in net punting, and by a wide margin over the second ranked team – Florida. Blair Walsh connected on better than 90% of his field goals; Sturgis was under 75% on his FG attempts. Walsh also led the conference in touchbacks. Sturgis… didn’t. James and Boykin were virtually even on return yards, but Boykin returned three for TDs and James only one – and, oh yeah, Boykin is back this year and James isn’t.

          Your point about Florida deploying better athletes is well taken. But that was a coaching decision on Georgia’s part and the man responsible has been sacked.

          Florida will no doubt be very good on special teams this season. I just think there are valid statistical grounds to suggest that Georgia will be better.

  13. Dog in Fla

    “There is, of course, one last intangible, 3-17.”

    The tangible results of Georgia v. Florida over the past two decades is that our coaches run like the guy in a coat and tie and Terrance Cody and the Florida coaches sprint like Tim Tebow and Jacoby Ford

    http://pourmecoffee.posterous.com/how-fast-are-pro-athletes-really-hilariously

    • Aligator

      uh don’t we have to go back to the 40’s before uga has an overall winning record in this game?

  14. JC in Powder Springs

    I couldn’t care less what Barnhart says. While I don’t like the 3-17 record over the past 20 cocktail parties, we shouldn’t forget Dooley went 15-5 in the previous 20. Every year is brand new. I think the Dawgs return a good nucleus of players. Florida lost some top players and DC. Both teams have question marks. I think only 3 teams have a realistic shot at the SEC east title, and the Dawgs are certainly on that list.

    CMR has won a lot of games and you can bet he’ll be back at the SEC championship soon. After going 9-4 in ’06, CMR came back and finished #2 in the nation in ’07. After going 8-4 in ’01, he came back and went 13-1 in ’02.

  15. Mike

    Dooley’s was indeed 15-5 against Florida for a twenty year period.

    And the twenty year period before that? Florida was 12-7-1 against UGA

    • Macallanlover

      Which all goes to show, 1) people who extract specific periods of time to make their point about this series miss the bigger fact that overall this is an excellent CFB rivalry and, 2) those who blame geography for the ups and downs of their team’s fortunes risk causing us to lose one of the very special traditions in CFB for absolutley NO logical reason at all. Look at the series in total, or talk about last year, or talk about next year, that is all that is relevant.

      Florida was better last year. Should be a good game next year, I like our chances.

    • Aligator

      exactly!

  16. Rum-Dawg Millionaire

    Is it a good sign that all of the sudden we have these miserable lizard-creatures infesting our fine dawg blawgs these days? Perhaps some degree of concern has found itself creeping into the minds of the saurian degenerates, and has prompted them to troll more than they had in the past? Could it be?

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Correct. The lizards are joining us on this blog out of fear. Specifically, they sense their own weakness in the upcoming season so they go to the blogs of their superiors and put on a brave face hoping that they can BS their way through it all. If they had any self-respect they would be on their own blogs. What kind of pervert gets kicks out of going to another team’s blog and spouting self-serving nonsense? Real sickos with deep-seeded psychological problems.

  17. Pingback: Way Too Early Thoughts on the Gamecocks SEC East Chances « MrSEC.com

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      The most cogent thing said by Mr. SEC in this post is that, while Carolina gets Georgia in Columbia this year, Florida “always gets Georgia at home.” Out of the mouth of an idiot……

  18. OaktownGator

    Regarding why Gator fans come on this site, for me and I think many other Gators, it is because Barnhardt is one of the few credible journalists left in an era where most do nothing but stir the pot to get blog hits. I also think he knows his football, loves it and has great connections into the sport for those reasons, along with his journalistic ability and integrity.

    On topic, Meyer prides himself on special teams, and we have a ton of athletes to put to the task, along with a great punter. But perhaps UGA is one of the few teams that could outdo us there, with a better kicker and a comparable punter (while yours has a better average, I think that is primarily because he gets many more full field kicks, where he’s not trying to pin it inside the 20).

    On defense, we are going to be better than most people expect. Even though we lost some very good players, we have a lot of talented experience coming back, and a lot of 4* and 5* young guys fighting to get their chance. If we get one DE and one CB to step up, from among those 4 and 5 star guys, I predict we’ll have the strongest defense in the SEC this season. With a reasonably strong offense, that will be what gets us another SEC East title, and shot at the SEC title.

    While I am pretty confident, I will say that UGA is on the very short list of teams that could beat us, from our regular season schedule. This is still a rivalry and the Dawgs have a load of talent, too. But you all need your defense to take a big step forward, or its not gonna happen.

    Finally, we’ll all know a lot more when we get a month into the season. When we do a prediction thread then, I think they work better if you compare matchups – Gator offense vs Dawg defense, and vice versa. It doesn’t really matter if one offense is “better” than another – just whether it matches up well against the other team’s defense, and can exploit it.

    Peace.

  19. OaktownGator

    Let me add wrt my comments on Barnhardt, that I got linked in to this blog, directly in reference to the OPs discussion of Barnhardt.

    Carry on.

  20. BigUglyGreenReptile

    Richt to me is a enigma. His teams can look like world beaters one week and like slow painful death a week later. Consistency is one hallmark of great coaching and Mark Richt has yet to achieve that.

    Meyer on the other hand has shown consistency. Back to back 13-1 seasons. Finding ways to win. Shining on the big stage(2NCs). It is what separates him from Richt and many others. He is a consistently great recruiter too. And other things – like matching his schemes to the players skills – something he is consistently good at that gets less notice.

    You look at the Gators skill positions and you may see unproven talent in some cases but you also see that which cannot be coached – Great Speed and Athleticism. When you line up speed guys like Demps(10.11), Rainey, Thompson and DeBose it is almost unfair to opposing D Coordinators. Speed kills. Speed like that dominates. And causes your opponents to make coaching changes.

  21. Corch Meyers

    A link to this blog has been posted on a couple of UF forums. I think thats why youre seeing Gator fans here. Regardless, its healthy hate and a rivalry I throughly enjoy!