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.