With 2012 in the books, teams and coaches have already turned their attention to 2013 and building a new team to attack next season. Every team has holes to fill, some more than others.
Here is the SEC East offseason checklist:
- Florida has to continue to ride the wave of the momentum created by their miraculous turnaround in 2012. Yeah, losing to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl was bad, but going from 7-6 to 11-2 is a huge change for Will Muschamp, his staff and his team from his first to second year. Florida must continue to get better, bigger and stronger on both sides of the ball this winter, spring and summer.
- The biggest fix for the Gators is their offense. Developing Jeff Driskel in the offseason is ultimately the key for ‘13, as Driskel arguably regressed throughout this season. Florida must help Driskel, too, by catering the offense to more of an option-based attack for the quarterback, because Driskel’s best asset is his running ability. Brent Pease must coordinate more quarterback running plays while still maintaining the power running game, but his development as a passer is the biggest need for the sputtering offense.
- Florida must replace key juniors Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam and Jordan Reed. Floyd was a force at defensive tackle, and Elam was arguably the best safety in the country. Reed was the only playmaker on offense in the passing game. And all three entered the draft.
- The Bulldogs’ biggest goal in the next few weeks is to forget they were five yards away from a national championship. The Bulldogs would have destroyed Notre Dame, too, but erasing the five-yard debacle is tops on the list for Mark Richt, Aaron Murray and the rest of the team in the short run.
- Georgia’s biggest obstacle this offseason will be finding playmakers on defense to replace the talent exodus. Only three juniors are left in Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Kwame Geathers, but eight seniors played significant minutes, too. The Bulldogs have a cupboard stacked full of four- and five-star talent, but they will have to develop those before the start of ‘13.
- Todd Grantham must figure out his run defense. This year’s squad was big, strong, fast and talented, but they underachieved against the run. The Bulldogs finished 80th in the country. That’s unacceptable, and Grantham has to find ways to control the line of scrimmage. That starts with new defensive line coach Chris Wilson.
- New head coach Mark Stoops has several major personnel needs on both sides of the ball, but his biggest obstacle will be getting his battered club to believe in him as their new coach. Stoops will have to change the way people view Kentucky football, and he’ll have an even tougher time changing the culture in Lexington.
- Kentucky must get Max Smith healthy and up to speed on the new air raid attack. Smith will put up some huge numbers for new offensive coordinator Neal Brown. Kentucky averaged just 17.9 points per game, but I expect those numbers to increase in ‘13. It starts with Smith and how comfortable he is in this new offense.
- Stoops has solid numbers on the defense returning, but the secondary loses three starters in Cartier Rice, Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton. Stoops has a massive job to find key playmakers and maximize their talent on defense, but his main goal will be replacing the veteran-laid secondary.
- Now that Missouri has their feet wet in the SEC, Gary Pinkel has an idea of the type of athlete and depth needed to compete in the league. Pinkel will need to start recruiting major depth on both lines of scrimmage. That has to be tops on his list for national signing day.
- The Tigers have to get the offense figured out. The departure of offensive coordinator David Yost left a hole that new offensive coordinator Josh Henson must fill. Henson will have to get James Franklin back to pre-2012 form when he put up monster numbers in 2011.
- The defense was solid in ‘12 and fared better than most figured, but the key departures of DT Sheldon Richardson, DE Brad Madison, LB Zaviar Gooden, LB Will Ebner and CB Kip Edwards leaves major holes. Developing their replacements this offseason will go a long way for this defense to play like it did in 2012.
- Steve Spurrier has to figure out who the starting quarterback is. Both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson played very well and helped their team win 11 games. And Shaw will miss the spring because of foot surgery. Both Thompson or Shaw can win big games, so could Spurrier go with a quarterback rotation like his old days at Florida?
- The biggest key to the offseason will be keeping Jadeveon Clowney healthy. Full contact drills aren’t necessary for a physical specimen like Clowney, and he has to stay healthy for this team to make a run next season and to be the #1 pick in the draft.
- Their biggest issue on offense in ‘12 was the offensive line. This unit underachieved throughout the season, and their improvement will be key in ‘13 to protecting the quarterback and winning games on the ground with the running attack.
- Much like Mark Stoops at Kentucky, new Vols head coach Butch Jones must get his players to believe in him after getting hammered on the field under Derek Dooley. Dooley had little player respect, and Jones will have to change the players’ way of thinking this winter.
- The Vols’ defense in ‘12 was atrocious. In fact, it was the worst statistical defense in Tennessee history. Jones’ biggest agenda will be figuring out what he has to do to make the Vols’ defense better. That’s A #1 on the list and one of the biggest keys to winning games in the SEC.
- The Vols have to replace the big three of Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson on offense. Jones and his staff will have to decide which direction they need to go on offense – whether it’s more spread-based with Nathan Peterman or pro-style with Justin Worley.
- The Commodores have to continue to build on their first nine-win season since 1915. They finished the season ranked for the first time since 1948. James Franklin continues to build the brand and build a program defying all odds. Their next goal will be to beat one of the major powers.
- Senior RB Zac Stacy and QB Jordan Rodgers are the two biggest holes to fill on offense. Stacy posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and Rodgers really played well towards the latter part of this season. Rising senior QB Austyn Carta-Samuels and RBs Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate may just be the three to do it.
- The defense has raised the bar the last two seasons, and Bob Shoop and his staff have done a fantastic job. But the Dores will have to replace three of four on the defensive line. Johnell Thomas, Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter are all gone, and freshman Caleb Azubike has to lead a new wave of talent for this unit. The key to winning games in the SEC is controlling the line of scrimmage.
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