We are one day away from the first SEC game of the college football season. And when the games begin, we finally start to get some of our questions answered. Here are five position groups I’m really wondering about as Thursday night’s game between South Carolina and Texas A&M approaches:
1. The Georgia secondary: Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia’s new defensive coordinator, didn’t make a secret of the fact that he was not particularly enamored of the secondary he inherited. He made it clear in my meeting with him that some very young, but talented players, would have to grow up in a hurry. Cornerback Damian Swann and senior safety Corey Moore are the veterans. Devin Bowman has one career start. The rest of the guys are probably first-year starters. Don’t be surprised if Georgia starts a first-year freshman at nickel (Dominick Sanders) and a redshirt freshman at the other safety (Aaron Davis). Georgia’s front seven on defense are really good but Chad Morris (Clemson offensive coordinator) and Steve Spurrier (South Carolina) are good at finding weaknesses and exploiting them.
2. Florida wide receivers: Everybody wanted to put last season’s offensive debacle at the feet of the injured quarterback (Jeff Driskel) and uninspired play calling. I think the problem is that Florida hasn’t had a wide receiver drafted since Riley Cooper (159th) in 2010. There simply wasn’t anybody who could catch the ball and make a play. In my last meeting with Driskel, he said that was about to change because the new offense of Kurt Roper gets guys open in space. Andre Debose is a sixth-year player. The whole world wanted sophomore Demarcus Robinson. Quinton Dunbar is a redshirt senior who has caught a pass in 28 consecutive games. “This is by far the most athletic we’ve been at wide receiver,” coach Will Muschamp told me.
3. Texas A&M defensive line: The Aggies are worried about their offense after Johnny Manziel. They had better worry about a defense that was the worst in the SEC and gave up a staggering 475.8 yards per game (109th in NCAA) last season. But here’s reason to hope: Kevin Sumlin’s staff has signed three strong recruiting classes and in those groups there were 17 defensive linemen. The most recent class includes Myles Garrett, rated by some services as the best lineman in the country. The Aggies allowed 5.4 yards per rush last season. If that doesn’t improve, South Carolina will run them out of the ballpark Thursday night.
4. Ole Miss offensive line: The Ole Miss fans are excited and believe this could be the year the Rebels make some real noise in the SEC West. Alabama comes to Oxford on Oct. 4. But in my last three conversations with coach Hugh Freeze he brought up the same topic: Ole Miss is dangerously thin on the offensive line. And it didn’t help that after spring practice sophomore Austin Golson transferred to Auburn. Ole Miss has one of the best left tackles in the country in sophomore Laremy Tunsil. Guard Aaron Morris is coming off an ACL injury that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season. Let see what happens against Boise State on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.
5. Tennessee offensive line: Tennessee used its most recent recruiting class to upgrade its skill positions and that level of talent will be apparent when the Vols open at home against Utah State on Sunday night. But there is no getting around this stat: 92 percent of the snaps on the offensive line from the 2013 season are gone. What it means is that Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, Mike Bajakian, is going to have to be very creative giving quarterback Justin Worley quick throws and using formations to give his young offensive line a fighting chance. You’ll also see more Wildcat formations because of the offensive line. “There are things we can do, but ultimately you have to block people to execute your offense,” he told me.