SEC bowl season is usually the time where we can dog other conferences and let them know the chasm between them and the SEC, and while that still may be true, the SEC hasn’t exactly brought the wood in the first six games. The Big East, ACC and Big Ten all beat Florida, LSU and Mississippi State. That isn’t exactly a strong showing, but how much do bowls matter anyway?
Of the six teams that have already played, major questions loom in the short run and on into next season that must be answered:
Florida: Offensive woes
The biggest question mark heading into Florida’s third season under Will Muschamp won’t be the player personnel loss on defense to the NFL; it solely revolves around the troubled offense. Florida had all kinds of problems protecting the quarterback in the passing game. The offensive line was banged up for some of the year, and this unit had to shuffle around players who played out of position. Teams blitzed Florida, and Jeff Driskel would panic, usually either taking a sack, holding the ball way too long or scrambling out of the pocket without keeping his eyes down the field. The Gators are absent playmakers at wide receiver who can create any type of separation from defensive backs. All three combine to make a very below-average passing game. While the Gators did have an All-SEC back in Mike Gillislee and a formidable power running game, championship teams can’t win with a running game and defense solely, and championships are what Florida is measured by. Quarterbacks have to be able to make easy throws for first downs, and besides screen passes, Florida struggled to complete any easy throws. Driskel must settle down and have better pocket presence, and the Gators must identify playmakers at receiver.
Georgia: Will he stay or will he go?
UGA knows there’s going to be a mass exodus to the NFL on defense, but ironically the Bulldogs can help cushion the loss on defense if Aaron Murray returns for his senior season. Virtually everyone on Georgia’s offense returns, and Murray would have another explosive season and make a run at an SEC Championship. But will he make a jump to the NFL? Murray’s the only SEC quarterback to ever throw for three 3,000-yard seasons, something Manning(s), Couch, Stafford or Wuerffel never accomplished. Georgia certainly has questions on defense, but the biggest question involves Murray’s return.
LSU: Passing game and development
Les Miles has decisions and some moves to make to LSU’s offense. Will Miles retain offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa? LSU’s offense under Studrawa the last couple years has been drab and boring. And boring hasn’t exactly been winning games, either. It failed to show up in New Orleans last year against Bama, and he failed to make the right calls and get crucial first downs against Clemson last week. The running game is a staple, and all five backs return next season. A good portion of the offensive line returns, too, and mostly all questions hover around Zach Mettenberger. He wasn’t exactly the passer we all thought he would be, and he must continue to develop over the offseason. LSU’s passing game was barely better in ’12 than it was with Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson in ’11.
Miss State: Has Dan Mullen maxed out at MSU? Can Miss State become anything more than mediocre in the SEC?
Mississippi State winning eight games should be acceptable and considered overachieving, but starting out 7-0 and finishing 8-5 is underachieving. If Dan Mullen wants to win big, he may have to take another job. Surprisingly, Mullen’s name wasn’t even considered among all the vacant jobs around college football during this coaching carousel. The Bulldogs had a veteran offense and defense this season, and it begs the question whether MSU can even become anything more than mediocre in the SEC. MSU will always have a tough time beating LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M, and the emerging Ole Miss is doing Mullen and MSU no favors. State must get tougher in the trenches, and Mullen must make some changes to his coaching staff.
South Carolina: Quarterback controversy?
As the old saying goes ‘if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one’. But in this case, the combination of the two quarterbacks won the Gamecocks 11 games. It was announced that starter Connor Shaw will have surgery on his injured foot and will miss spring practice, but backup Dylan Thompson had ice water in his veins this season. He threw USC’s game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds left on the clock in the Outback Bowl. Shaw threw for 1,956 yards and 17 touchdowns appearing in 11 of the 13 games, while Thompson threw for 1,027 yards and 10 touchdowns, playing only meaningful minutes in four games. How will Steve Spurrier handle the quarterbacks next year? Shaw is diverse in the running game, and that could give him a slight upper hand over Thompson. Earlier in the season, Spurrier calmed everyone about a possible quarterback controversy, but now that he, along with every other USC fan, knows Thompson is for real, there’s a very valid discussion to be held.
Vanderbilt: Short-lived success or settling in for the long haul?
The Commodores won nine games for the first time since 1915, and James Franklin doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere. The Dores lose Zac Stacy, Jordan Rodgers and three of four defensive linemen. Star receiver Jordan Matthews could head to the NFL, too, and we will wonder after two overachieving seasons – compared to history – will Vandy return in 2013 and win nine more games? Are they two-hit wonders, or are they here to stay? Franklin insists the Commodores ‘aren’t going anywhere and to get used to it’, but everyone will remain skeptical until they beat an SEC power or a ranked team in the SEC. Vanderbilt will set out in ’13 with more to prove and a bigger chip on their shoulder.
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