SEC bowl season reveals more questions than answers so far

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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.

Photo Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

COMMENTS

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  • Maybe I’m missing something here…but I have yet to see how Jeff Driskel can be a QB at this level. The OL and receiver threat excuses only go so far. He may very well have the ability to throw a forward pass but has no concept of when, how and who to. In my opinion Florida has to go a different route at QB.

  • I have to admit -as a State fan, that I’m extremely disappointed in my team’s performance. I’ve wondered the same about whether or not Mullen has reached his ceiling at MSU, but I’m not sure. To me, he needs to surround himself with better coaching. For instance, OC Les Koenning, has turned us into nothing more than a slow-developing, pro-style Offense, out of the shotgun. He doesn’t take advantage of the play makers that are on the field, or that should be on the field more, such as TE Malcolm Johnson and speedster Jameon Lewis. Our offensive coaches, including Mullen, have failed to truly get the most out of our offense, with the change to a passing QB in Tyler Russell.

    On Defense, DC Chris Wilson’s style is simply not working. It’s either overly aggressive and costs us, or it’s too passive and cushioned, and allows too much yardage. I thought Geoff Collins did a great job vs NW, but our Offense gave their Offense 4 extra possessions and good field position.

    I’d cut Wilson and Koenning, keep Collins as DC, and promote WRs coach Tim Brewster as our new OC. I’m convinced that Brewster would have won at any other school besides Minnesota. The guy is a great recruiter, coach, and gets the most out of his players- see Chad Bumphis.

    As for one of the other topics that John brought up, I have to say that Vandy is here to stay, as long as Franklin is there! That guy is unbelievable. No one in the country has done more with less. He’s building interest in the program, has a top 15 recruiting class coming in, and knows how to motivate talent. I’d personally take him over any coach in America, outside of Meyer and Saban.

    • I couldnt have said it any better. Does Mullen have the balls to do it? I dont think so….. I see 2013 as a year we get our asses handed to us. I predict a 5-7 or 4-8 record if we keep this same old crap going. Don’t be a pansy Mullen…

      • Oklahoma State L
        Alcorn State W
        Auburn * L
        Troy W
        LSU * L
        Bowling Green W
        Kentucky * W
        South Carolina * L
        Texas A&M * L
        Alabama * L
        Arkansas * W
        Ole Miss * L

        • Gonna be a tough schedule that’s fore sure. Hopefully a good showing in that 1st game in Houston will give us some momentum for the rest of the year. I’d put down Ark, Aub, and an early mid-season date with LSU down as ?s. Aub and Ark will be trying to figure themselves out, while LSU will be reloading with a lot of new faces. Plus, their QB situation is unsettled.

        • That schedule looks nearly like Georgia’s. I wished Georgia would aleast put one team on their schedule like Notre Dame, USC or Ohio St

      • Collins just got promoted! New DC, Wilson will be DL coach

  • The fact that Studrawa wasn’t fired the day after the Clemson game is deeply concerning to me. If a performance as bad as that one, combined with several other examples of offense costing us games, isn’t enough to get him fired, then I don’t know what is.

  • Spurrier has used the 2-QB system before. Shaw and Thompson are both extremely capable and can rely on each other, which is something that most starter and backup QBs can’t say.

    As for Vandy, I think they’re gonna make a name for themselves in the SEC East.