SEC Football Rant

Where Fans can sound off on all things SEC Football.
28 Jun

Sleeping Reptiles: Four Gators On the Rise in 2013

In 2012 the Florida Gators football program achieved a level of success even head coach Will Muschamp was not expecting. With an 11-2 record, including the disappointing loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, there was a rejuvenated feeling within the program and among the fan base that the Gators were on their way back to national title contention. Now with much of Urban Meyer`s 2010 recruiting class moving on we can now see the type of recruiting power Muschamp has in SEC country. 2013 will be full of new faces, and revamped offensive and defensive units built to play the New Gator Football. Be prepared for an aggressive defense, ground and pound style offense, and high energy play from the new starters. Among these new starters let`s take a look at four players who will be crucial in the success of the 2013 season:

Matt Jones. RB. Soph. 6`2 226

    Matt Jones was an under the radar talent as a freshman in the backfield that was primarily handled by Mike Gillislee in 2012. Jones brings the Power element to the Gators backfield which will be a key component in the new heavy run offense Will Muschamp brings to the program. As a freshman, Jones ran 52 times for 275 and 3 touch downs. Most of his yardage came late in the year when he emerged as a reliable number two back especially against Florida State where he has 8 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown against one of the best scoring defenses in the nation. Look for the ground and pound game to be led by Jones, and completed with highly touted freshman Kelvin Taylor as a compliment back to give the gators their second consecutive 1,000 yard rusher.

Dante Fowler Jr. Soph. 6`3 280

    The Gators will be a young defensive unit spearheaded by a battle tested secondary, physical line backing core, and a raw but talented defensive line led by Ronald Powell and Dante Fowler Jr. As a freshman in 2012, Fowler played in every game and started once, and was named to the All-SEC freshman team. In 13 games Fowler tallied 30 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, and 8.0 tackles for loss. after coming in as a top recruit he was expected to make an impact early, and ended up showing promise by seasons end. With Powell back in the lineup it should be a breakout year for the sophomore who should see plenty of one on one match ups from the end position. Look for his sack totals to double by mid season if the Gator defense plays to the level of its talent.

Loucheiz Purifoy. Jr. 6`1 189

    The most dynamic player going into the last part of the season not named Matt Elam, was Purifoy. Defensive and special teams X-Factor that helped put the Gator defense back in the elite status of the SEC. While he has yet to record an interception he proved to without a doubt be one of the most physical players in the roster, similar to Matt Elam`s sophomore campaign. Look for Purifoy to slide into one of the starting defensive back spots week 1, and possibly record his first interception as a Gator not too far after. In 2012, Purifoy saw action in all 13 games and finshed fourth on the team in tackles, broke up five passes, and blocked two kicks including the game winning blocked punt against Louisiana-Lafayette. Look for him to step into the role Elam shared his final year and be the signal caller on the back end of a very young, but talented secondary.

Antonio Morrison. Soph. 6`1 229

    The departure of Jon Bostic has left a void at middle linebacker that will see a deep group fighting for the spot. Incoming freshman Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, and Matt Rolin will have thier chance to move into the week one roster. Juniors Michael Taylor, and Neiron Ball will also have in the running for the Mike postion, but based on his play last year Morrison has earned the starting nod. As a freshman in the SEC it can be a daunting challenge to take on seasoned veterans week in week out. His agressive, hard hitting, and athleticism allowed him to adapt quickly in 2012. Coming out of the gate against Texas A&M with six tackles, and proving to be a reliable substitute linebacker for Bostic will give Muschamp confidence in Morrison going into the 2013 season. Finishing on the SEC Coaches All-Freshman team, eighth in team tackles and seeing more game action than any other linebacker on the depth chart makes him the clear favorite to surplant Bostic this season.

I know leaving players like Jeff Driskel, Dominique Easley, Trey Burton, and Andre Debose off this list will cause many people to think I left off the players most likely to contribute, but in this case the four players above will have the biggest improvement from 2012 to 2013. Any one of these four players can just as easily fail, and turn out to be just another one year wonder, but with the new system Will Muschamp has installed I see growth from these particular players unlike the others. While I expect Driskel, Easley, Burton, and even Debose to put up good if not great numbers; I see their ceilings not much higher than they are right now.

In truth the Gators will rely on 25 particular players to have major improvement if they want to repeat or progress from last season. Quarterback play must be solid, a running game has to be consistent, wide receivers have to find a way to EXIST in Gainesville, The offensive line must be reliable, defensive line must create pressure and stop the run, linebackers have to tackle, secondary must cover, and special teams MUST be clutch.

A machine will never work unless all the parts are working in unison

. Football is a game of consistencies. Lack of consistency loses` games, makes fans angry, and gets coaches fire. Having consistency means winning ball games, making fans happy, and giving coaches nice long contract extensions. For Will Muschamp it`s crucial for his players to develop, and if these four players progress they way I expected It can lead to a long coaching career in Gainesville for Muschamp.    

   


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28 Jun

USC Is Still Quarterback U??? How Two Former SEC Quarterbacks Can Settle This Arguement!

     Anyone who watches ESPN knows there is an ongoing argument on how good certain SEC quarterbacks really are. Last April ESPN Analyst Brock Huard wrote an article that dubbed USC "Quarterback U". While at the time I am sure he was riding the Matt Barkley for the Heisman train, it still raised attention to the ongoing debate on if there even is a Quarterback U, and if USC deserved it at all. Debates come and go from sporting news, articles, radio shows, and hundreds of blogs lobbying for one or two schools in particular. Even the so called "experts" can't help but raise the question throughout the fall. Not even bringing up the Stephen A. Smith vs. Skip Bayless tirades about SEC vs. The World, it is clear to see there is constant debate over which conference produces the most successful quarterbacks in the NFL.

Since USC has been the popular candidate in recent years we can use their quarterbacks to compare with the rest of the pool of colleges and conferences. For the sake of argument let`s compare USC, and the SEC.

    

Every year when the Heisman trophy is presented to the top player in college football we expect to see a signal caller in the final three. With the SEC being as dominate as it has been the last two decades you would expect at least one quarterback to be in contention by December. Johnny Manziel won in 2012, Cam Newton in 2010, and Tim Tebow in 2007(in 2008 he received the most first place votes and still lost). What do these three quarterbacks have in common? All are from the SEC. Even winning the most prestigious individual award in college football doesn't seem to quell the argument about the true value of SEC signal callers. TV, Radio, Writers, and bloggers all have their own opinion, but it seems to be that the lack of SEC star quarterbacks translating to the NFL, and dominating as they did in college creates a void in the sports world about how the talent level is overrated, or in some cases(Tim Tebow) not even there. So let`s explore the issue on what it seems to give the impression quarterbacks from USC are leaps and bounds better than those in the SEC.

  

     Take the argument over how USC has been QB U over the past decade because of how many drafts have had a USC quarterback taken in the early rounds. Are we really going to say Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, and Carson Palmer are elite level quarterbacks like the apparently were in college? The answer is no. Palmer may have the best argument to say he has had the most success, since he won the Heisman and was drafted by the Bengals his career has been up and down in the regular and post season. Mark Sanchez, and Matt Leinart are perfect examples of hype, over hope. Both were Prima Donnas from day one at USC, and took the same attitude to the NFL. You could even say they considered themselves entitled because of their college background. In the end, Sanchez rode a talented team that overachieved, and Leinart proved to be a head case with a weak arm. Andrew Luck is a blessing to those who say the PAC 10 is still a dominate quarterback conference, but time will tell if he can truly pull ahead of the rest.

    

     So now that we have an idea as to what others consider an elite quarterback from a conference that produces them year in and year out. Let's take a look at the SEC crop:

The obvious starting point is Peyton Manning. Granted he never beat Florida in all four years, but still drafted number one overall, Heisman Candidate, and is in contention to breaking all the records Brett Favre set just a few years ago. Just ask the NFL players who just recently put him number two on their Top 100 list of 2013(a year after his supposedly career ending neck injury). Oh yea, and let's not forget he has won a Super Bowl. Something no USC quarterback has done....ever.

Next we can look to Peyton`s brother Eli. At Ole Miss he never got the same hype as Peyton because of the lack of talent around him, but still managed to be drafted number one overall. The fact that shocks people the most is his two Super Bowl titles compared to his more revered sibling's one. While Eli`s talent level is not as dominate as Peyton, his game managing skills and playoff performance has clearly put him in the elite status. Just between the two Manning`s they have won more playoff games (Peyton=9, Eli=8) than all other USC quarterbacks (USC QB`s=9) combined. If stats are what define a career I think its pretty clear where domination comes from. 

     The bottom line is Elite Level quarterbacks come from programs that grow, develop, enhance, and showcase their talents. USC has produced Elite NFL prospects, but for people to dub them as Quarterback U when they have yet to produce a winner is just absurd.

One day the next great quarterback might be from USC, and break every record in the book, but until they can produce someone that can lead them to the promise land for the first time; Let`s let the facts speak for themselves.


 

    

 


24 Jun

Adding To The Arsenal: Four New Coaches Are Adding To SEC Coaching Firepower

     There will be some fresh faces, and new attitudes on display at this years SEC media days in Hoover, AL. While many might see this as a year of rebuilding for Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Auburn, it might just signal a power shift in the SEC.

    Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema arrives as the most established big conference winner. Kentucky follows Joker Phillips with former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops (early reports have already shown him to be making a mark on the recruiting trail). Butch Jones takes the reigns at Tennessee where he hopes to continue his past success(Cincinnati 2010-2012, and Central Michigan 2007-2009). Former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan  has returned to lead the Tigers back to championship status as a head coach.

    While Stoops may have yet to prove his ability as a head coach, it is pretty clear from his background he knows what it takes to be apart of a winning program. While at Miami he coached defensive backs from 2001-2003(apart of the 2001 undefeated national championship team). In 2004, Stoops took over as the defensive coordinator at Arizona under his brother Mike Stoops. Jimbo Fisher then brought Stoops to Florida State in 2010 where he led one of the most dominating, and energetic defense`s in the nation. Kentucky fans hope Stoops can bring that same energy and talent to Lexington in hopes of making Wildcat football relevant in the SEC.

   Butch Jones has had no issue being a winner in his past two head coaching stints. Jones had a combined 50-27 win-loss record at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Creative offensive play calling can work in the SEC, from Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, and Bobby Petrino there is plenty of evidence that support a coach with Jones` offensive mindset. The talent level will be much more challenging than the Big East, and MAC, but winning coaches have a certain stigma to produce at any level, and having the recruiting and energetic fan base at Rocky Top there's no reason why we cant see the Volunteers make a  return to the elite status of the SEC ranks.

   Auburn has had one of the worst turnarounds in college football history. Only three years after a national championship and undefeated season, the Tigers have slumped to the cellar of the SEC. Many say Cam Newton was the only reason for Auburn`s success in 2010, but Malzhan was another big reason for the national title run. Utilizing the best offensive weapon in creative ways paved the way for the Tigers success, and eventually landed Malzhan a head coaching job at Arkansas State in 2012. After Gene Chizik`s departure the ideal choice was to bring back Malzhan to recapture the magic of their national championship season. Much like Butch Jones, Malzhan has the potential to make waves at Auburn by boosting the quarterback play like the dual threat Newton achieved. This should be a bounce back year for the Tigers, and if the foundation is established by the end up the 2013 season, it should be an Iron Bowl worth watching from start to finish.

   At last we turn to Fayetteville, where the excitement couldn't be any higher. Since the firing of Bobby Petrino The "Hog Callers" have been looking for a reason to holler. Bret Bielema gives them exactly what they want. A proven winner at the Big Ten level at Wisconsin, Bielema fits the part of hardworking, punch to the mouth, grind it out, in your face head coach best suited for the SEC. Bielema is a believer in playing BIG football both on offense and defense (see J.J. Watt, and his offensive lineman that seem to have a knack for NFL draft ability). Leaving Wisconsin, Bielema realized where the premiere competition of college football both in talent and coaching is. You rarely see a coach with a winning program leave for an equal program unless he has something to prove. In 2013 it will be exciting to see how a Big Ten coach can assimilate his coaching style into the SEC.

    With four new coaches there will not be any shortage of story lines to watch in 2013. Some coaches we know what to expect; others will have the opportunity to put the rest of the conference on notice. The beauty of SEC football is how much talent truly is to go around. As we have seen with James Franklin, Kevin Sumlin, and Hugh Freeze it doesn't take long to make a statement even as a first-year head coach. The 2013 season will undoubtedly be one of the more interesting to follow from start to finish, and these four SEC rookies will see what it means "to live every day as SEC football season".


14 Jun

Mississippi State must hit the ground running, or face a repeat of 2012

      In 2013, Mississippi State will have another chance to start the season with a favorable schedule. From their opener against Oklahoma State in Houston to their October 5th match up where they play an unproven but battled tested LSU team in Starkville, the chances are higher for a 5-0 start than most expect. The team did lose CB Jonathan Banks, CB Darius Slay, DE Cam Lawrence, DT Josh Boyd, and SEC conference touchdown leader WR Chad Bumphis to the NFL. However, they still have a core group of players highlighted by QB Tyler Russell, who with the help of four starting offensive lineman from last season can really turn some heads in 2013.

    In 2012, Mississippi State faced a similar situation which ended up starting off hot, and cooling off to lose five out of their last six games.In the SEC it is critical to get hot, and stay hot week in and week out. That might seem impossible with Johnny Manziel`s Texas A&M, Nick Saban`s back to back champion Crimson Tide, fresh coaching changes at Auburn and Arkansas, and the revamped Ole Miss squad with exciting freshman coming in all in the same divison. This will definitely be a year where Mississippi State is thought to be on the outside looking in starting week one.  

   In the SEC, teams rarely get a chance to breathe week to week. While Mississippi State does start off with a favorable first half of their schedule, the heavy hitters are lurking right around the corner in November. On a five week stretch they face:

  • Nov. 2 – at South Carolina
  • Nov. 9 – at Texas A&M
  • Nov. 16 – Alabama
  • Nov. 23 – at Arkansas
  • Nov. 28 – Ole Miss

Three out of five opponents are favored to finish at the top of their divisions.

  This is just an example of how grueling the SEC can be on a weekly basis. The importance of starting out with momentum can not be stressed highly enough, especially to avoid a repeat of the 2012 breakdown. If the Bulldogs roll into South Carolina with more than one loss on their record it could be a free fall out of bowl contention. Head Coach Dan Mullen needs to establish early and often the imperative of getting that early season momentum, and keep the foot on the gas through their November stretch.

  The coaching prowess and ability of Dan Mullen will be put to the test this season, and while the sexier opponents may have more hype going into the season, there are never any guarantees when it comes to SEC football. The honeymoon phase is over for Mullen, and now its time to see how the Bulldogs can respond to many saying its going to be a down year in Starkville. Coach Mullen can use the mantra of "No one believes in us" to induce an attitude of proving the critics wrong. It may very well be a daunting task that coach Mullen can not overcome, but in the SEC, one is never short on suprises.

 

 


13 Jun

How Will Muschamp Is Changing Gator Football For The Better

    Florida Gator football has always had the moniker of an offensive powerhouse. With unique formations, deep throws, trick plays, and an overall sense of running up the score by never letting the foot off the gas. Steve Spurrier was known to have the blood lust to put a 50-point beat down against rivals Tennessee, and Georgia. Urban Meyer wanted to use as many offensive weapons from anywhere on the field to score throughout the game. Even Ron Zook, who loved his defense, wanted to feature his Quarterbacks(see Rex Grossman and Chris Leak) as the catalyst for his teams success. Fans were always looking forward to see what offensive clinic coaches would put on the field year after year. Some were good, some bad, but for the most part the general idea and style of play was the same. Highlighting a potent offense and outscoring opponents was the surefire way to win games and keep the fans happy. The Fun N Gun, and Spread Option(with Tebow Power) were annointed as the bread and butter of Florida football.

Then came the turning point.

   Suddenly, SEC teams started to model themselves around the same philosophies the Gators had been implementing for decades. Anything from hiring coaches (Mullen, Spurrier) or utilizing athletes with unique skill sets were now prevalent all throughout the conference.  In essence the game started to evolve, and where the Gators had led the charge for so long now faced their own tactics, plays, and even game management on a week to week basis. It seemed as though speed, and athleticism was no longer the Gators to exploit alone.

   Enter Will Muschamp, a product of one of the best football coaches to ever step onto a field, and with the intensity and integrity to rebuild the image that was once the premiere SEC football program. Whereas his predecessors were focused on keeping the offense at a high level in order to win, Muschamp recognized that; a great defense can shut down a great offense. Now to be fair, the Gators had great defenses in the past and some went on to be productive, even legendary(Jack Youngblood`s broken leg in the super bowl) in the NFL, but they were never the true identity of the program. Muschamp learned from Nick Saban that even with a mediocre offense that doesn't turn the ball over, a great defense can put you in control of a game both in scoring, and momentum. After severe animosity toward a mediocre season in 2011, Muschamp had set the foundation for a team to rebound by playing fast and aggressive on the defensive side of the ball, and to compliment that with a pass/run balanced and time eating offense.

   The jump from 2011 to 2012 was clearly seen on both sides of the ball, but where the offense struggled with production at times the defense consistently set the tone, and controlled the game. In 2012, against Texas A&M the Gators found it hard to gain a rhythm on offense until the second half, but before the game could slip away the defense led by Shariff Floyd, Matt Elam, and Jon Bostic(all drafted in 2013) shut down Johnny Manziel, and allowed the offense make enough plays to come out with the victory. In another game the same year against Georgia, the offense was so stagnant it was at times unbearable to watch. Georgia had great field position throughout the game due to turn overs, or lack of ball movement via run or pass. However Aaron Murray was still picked off 5 times, and could only muster 17 points. It was not until the final drive where fatigue and frustration set in did the Bulldogs pull away. Just look at the game Jarvis Jones ended up having and eventually sealed the game when he stripped the ball from Jordan Reed in the red zone. With their only regular season loss it became clear that while a defense cant win on their own, it can surely keep the game close enough to make something happen.

  While it maybe still to early to tell if Muschamp is leading the program down the right track, it is clear to see where he wants to set the tone in every game. The high profile Florida Gator offense of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer are gone, and maybe for the best. Looking at what Nick Saban can do with a team is inspiring for Gator fans, because the blue print Will Muschamp has set forth is almost a clone of what has made Alabama the powerhouse it is today.

And that can be a scary thought someday soon for the rest of the SEC.


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