The biggest question every SEC East head coach is asking this offseason

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The SEC’s offseason and dead period of not hearing a peep out of your favorite team is about to be in full swing for about the next month, and then we will get right into spring football and hearing coaches actually talking.

Related: Every SEC East team’s offseason checklist

Here is one hypothetical question every head coach is asking himself heading into the spring:

“Can we score 28 to 30 points per game?” –Will Muschamp, Florida
Florida doesn’t have to score with Texas A&M, Auburn or Missouri to win nine or 10 football games in 2014; they just have to score 28 to 30 points per game. Thirty may actually seem like a lot for Florida, but it’s not for the rest of the SEC. Thirty per game would have been good for ninth in the SEC last season. Florida doesn’t have to score 38 to 40 per game because Will Muschamp will put together an elite defense. So, Kurt Roper, no pressure, but Florida’s rebound (and Muschamp’s job) is on your shoulders. If the Gators can scratch together 28 points per game (they averaged 26.5 in 2012’s 11-win season and 18.8 in 2013), they’re in for a big, big turnaround.

“Does the hire of Jeremy Pruitt offset the offense lost from Aaron Murray?” –Mark Richt, Georgia
New quarterback Hutson Mason isn’t Aaron Murray, nor did he flash the ability to be Aaron Murray late in 2013 after Murray was injured. But the biggest upgrade Mark Richt could have made to the offense was hiring a competent defensive coordinator, who could hold opponents’ scoring to a minimum and teach the defensive unit fundamentals. Enter Jeremy Pruitt who, like a flash, became UGA’s new defensive coordinator. (I would like to see an SEC Storied on how it happened so fast with no counter offer from FSU.) Now, theoretically, Georgia doesn’t have to score 37 to 40 points per game; they don’t have to score every possession against teams like LSU, because now, there’s a competent coordinator in place who will simplify the game. Mark Richt is thinking ‘35 points per game with my defense holding opponents under 18’, and Georgia could contend for a national championship.

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“How do I get to a bowl game?” – Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Mark Stoops knew agreeing to become Kentucky’s new head coach would take endless work and a brand new football identity and brand. And it’s just tough to accomplish, especially seeing the lack of talent within the program he inherited. So, what does Stoops have to do to scratch and claw his way to six wins? Looking at next year’s schedule, there may be three penciled wins against UT Martin, Ohio, and Louisiana-Monroe, but Stoops will have to find a way to upset Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and one of Tennessee or Louisville. Regardless of getting to a bowl game or not, Stoops is making all the right recruiting moves to build a bowl game winner in a few years, but the reality of just how tough it will be to win set in this year in Lexington. If Stoops and Neal Brown get the offense moving and scoring points, Kentucky could pull a few upsets in 2014. But it’s going to take major improvement…and a whole lot of luck!

“Can we do it again?” – Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Missouri shocked the SEC more than Auburn shocked Alabama. Nobody in his or her conceivable mind thought Mizzou was Atlanta-bound in 2013. Still, several were quick to point out the Tigers’ ‘favorable and lucky’ schedule last season was the main reason. It’s true, college football is all about catching breaks and timing. With his starting quarterback, running back, left tackle, top wide receiver, defensive (book) ends, middle linebacker and 75 percent of the secondary gone, nobody really expects Missouri to win the East again next year…except that locker room and coaching staff. The good news is the bulk of the offensive line returns, along with backup quarterback Maty Mauk, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and two legit running backs in Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy. Dave Steckel has proven he’ll put together a formidable defense, but the secondary is most concerning. Missouri will be one of 2014’s most interesting teams.

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“What do I have to do to win a championship?” – Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Three straight years South Carolina has beaten the SEC East division winner, and they have failed to make it to Atlanta. In 2011 and 2012, Georgia played, and in 2013 Missouri went. So, Steve Spurrier is asking himself what he has to do to win a championship. The answer? Don’t change anything. With a slew of returning starters in 2014, rebuilding the defensive line will be the biggest key to the Gamecocks’ success.

“How can I take this program to the next level?” – Butch Jones, Tennessee
Tennessee is the only team in college football that has to replace every starter on both lines of scrimmage. And in a line of scrimmage league, that could spell trouble. However, in a weird way, Tennessee should improve. Maybe they won’t be as talented along the offensive line, but there were no standouts along the defensive line. It’s time for player personnel development this winter, spring and summer. Jones is doing everything necessary (and then some) in an effort to make Tennessee 2014 into Tennessee of the 1990s. He’s turning over 100 stones to find everything he can to rebuild the brand of a hibernating program. He’s hauling in top recruiting classes; he’s making relationships with players and high school coaches. Much like 2013, a brutal schedule awaits in 2014.

“How can we create a seamless transition and maintain success?” – Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Derek Mason isn’t James Franklin, but Franklin proved you can win at Vanderbilt, thus helping lead Mason to take the job. So, what should Mason keep from the Franklin era? It has to start with the chip on the shoulder that Franklin always had, and the “Anchor Down” slogan and “VU” symbol has to stay prominent, because after all, it’s all about branding. And Franklin was a master at branding. It starts with defense, and Mason is a defensive mind. Franklin and Bob Shoop won with defense, and Mason will, too. Just enough offense, and a hell of a lot of defense. That’s what’s on Mason’s mind, and getting his players to play with a blue collar and a chip on their shoulders will help make his players believe in him immediately. Thus, it will help create a seamless transition.

Photo Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

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COMMENTS

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  • UGA and USC look like the early favorites in the East this year

  • I think the Gamecocks can win it if they don’t have any mental lapses! Every year we have a lapse. This year it was UT. Last year it was Florida. The year before it was Auburn. If we can quit reading headlines about how good we are, and play angry (I took that from Greg Marshall) we can win it!

  • Jon, great way to frame the story, Thanks!

    I think Spurrier believes he is already doing a lot with the talent he gets and I think most years he believes he did more than could have been expected. At the same time if you looks at the recruiting service ratings, he does get a lot of highly rated players. He might have some thoughts in common with Muschamp about offense.

    What is the Missouri media perception problem though? Is it jealousy, or good old boys network? What? Winning a division championship every year is hard for any SEC member. There is ZERO validity to the idea that Missouri beat Georgia or Florida (or anyone else) because of injuries. You can want it to be true, You can say it’s true every day. You can ignore the fact that Missouri won without their best QB or best defender. Every time you say it you can forget that these games were not decided by one score. It’s still just getting a Tiger by the tail. 2012 SEC expansion, was a win-win deal (to the 14th power). The SEC wouldn’t be developing new attacking schemes, had aTm and Missouri not come over. Both Missouri and aTm needed to learn to some new tricks as well. Read the excellent college football story about what conference did the best with re-alignment, who wrote that? grin.

    • “There is ZERO validity to the idea that Missouri beat Georgia… because of injuries.”

      Wrong. Todd Gurley.

      • Stephen, Gurley being hurt is particularly pointless because Josey was hurt too. If you are saying that Missouri was deeper at running back than Georgia in 2013 then Missouri wasn’t ‘lucky’ to win anyway. The whole scheme of pounding a running back makes injury to that player a matter of when, not bad luck. I’m looking forward to having all the great Georgia players, coaches, and fans back in Columbia, Missouri this fall. Hope you can make it too.

    • Wolfman,
      I agree with you that the injuries were NOT the reason Mizzou beat UGA, and the stats prove it… UGA out rushed and out passed Mizzou in-fact UGA out gained Mizzou completely the TURN-OVERS is what lost that game and 2 picks from our Great Dawg Aaron Murray…. Mizzou played better FUNDAMENTALLY and thats what won the game for Mizzou. Go Dawgs and Good Luck next Year Mizzou!!

  • Wolfman…..it is asinine to say there is ZERO validity to UGA’s injuries causing their loss to Mizzou. UGA lost their top 2 RB’s and top 3 WR For A big part of the season. Not sure how many of the 5 were out against Mizzou. Regardless. …you sound unintelligent to say it had ZERO impact.

    • You are absolutely correct! I don’t want to take anything away from Missouri, but to say the injuries had no bearing on the outcome is MORONIC! It’s like saying any old player will do and they are all the same. Well…..they’re not! By the way, Gurley, Marshall, Mitchell, Scott-Wesley & Bennett were all out for that game….

      • I like all those players as much as you do. It’s a thrill to watch them play. But some teams rely on star players vs. some teams are balanced. If a team relies on star player and they stay healthy it’s not a team flaw, if they get hurt it’s a team flaw. Moronic would be if I didn’t consider all these factors. Sincere thanks for bringing up those names, will you consider another one, Aaron Murray, one of the best player in the SEC got to finish that game. James Franklin another leading quarterback in the SEC did not (watch the film of how that happened). Missouri had to rely on depth at quarterback to keep the win. See what I’m saying here? Hope to see you in Columbia next year, go Dawgs every other Sat..

    • Joel, thanks for your idea, but both Missouri and Georgia had injuries in 2013 and in 2012, Both years some played hurt, some left during the game, and some never got on the field at all. You can’t assign a value to how many players were missing or had their performance compromised. You can’t add up the resulting equation and the result would have been different. If you go down this road you also have to discount depth as a valid reason for victory. You also have to discount utility of the remaining players as a valid reason for victory. I’ll give you the same thing I gave Missouri in 2012. If both rosters had been 100% healthy it would have been a different game and nobody knows if the score would have been identical or not. That’s it. That’s why i believe there is zero validity for thinking the outcome was changed. So it’s not asinine or unintelligent, it just that we can know what would change.

    • LMAO What should MIZZOU have done? Not play the game? Not play as hard? Or even better yet lose because some UGA’s players are hurt?
      Every team has hurt players MIZZOU had a few that day. LMAO unintelligent? really?

    • All that matters is the won-loss column. Whining about injuries ( especially in the so-called “deep” SEC) sounds like sour grapes.

      • Fuzz thanks for the back-up here. It’s my firm use of the word zero here that sparks the debate. So to put the shoe on the other foot. If we had said Georgia caught a break because of when they met Missouri last year and they said our offensive line being out had zero validity to them winning the East last year it would be the same thing. So I accept their argument but stand on the fact that we just can’t know the results of fictional games and fictional rosters, zero validitiy.

      • and Tiger, It is a little too hard for Jon, Herme, and Joel to accept GA. not getting back to the SEC championship and Missouri getting there? We should call all the fans and media for wanting to revisit this Florida and Georgia injury thing over and over. This is where a gentleman says, hey Missouri won whole roster to whole roster. So, yeah, in that since I object to the ‘whining’ as you frame it. I also confess to calling attention to Missouri injuries a lot last year too, but it was not to say we should have stopped someone else or won the division, it was just to try and get the media to back off their, punching bag mentality. After all Missouri beat Arizona State outside the conference as well as beating two SEC programs, close game with Florida. All said, I really like the SEC East, Georgia being one of the reasons. I think Richt does a good job. They play interesting football. Their fans were great fun to have at Farout Field in 12′.

  • I am so tired of the Georgia fans. Georgia was one of the teams I used to like. all of the SEC fans and I’ve said this a hundred times this year told us that it was a next man up League. what we suffered so many injuries last year they just scoffed. I laugh when tough fans, tough men become whimpering babies when you slap them down. Alabama when players get injured plugs in new players and doesn’t miss a beat so does Auburn and South Carolina and LSU and this year so did Missouri. Georgia wasn’t ready.

  • Georgia you got your asses whooped! whooped good! and then you cried. and you’re still crying. and I’m sure you’re going to be crying next year.

    • Sounds like Mizzou fans are upset because they won a game that was only won because of luck. Yes luck….you played a Ga team that had already played 3 top 10 teams in their first 4 games and only lost 1 by 3 points. During those games GA lost numerous big time players…not good players that can be replaced but great ones that impact the game. You got the win, congratulations but don’t act like you played Ga at full strength. Congratulations Tigers…just be ready cuz this is the SEC and we remember lol

    • Well, if you want to look at an example, look at the Georgia Auburn game. Georgia had Gurley back and most of their key players except for Marshall and Justin Scott Wesley. Final score 43-38. Healthy Missouri vs Auburn 59-42. Unhealthy Georgia vs Missouri 41-26. We heard it all 2012 about how if yall were healthy it would of been different, then in 2013 its all different “injuries didn’t of changed the game”. I guess if Beckham (Justin Scott Wesley), Josey (Gurley), Franklin (Marshall) and Michael Sam (Michael Bennett) were all hurt, Missouri still would of won. I’m just making comparisons with key players, so don’t comment telling me Franklin is not a running back. One good season and yall think that yall are the best, consistency is what yall need to achieve first. Yall won, be happy, but don’t say injuries didn’t play a part. If it didn’t, how come every website, newspaper, and headline read “Missouri beats injury laden Georgia” after the game.

      • ugadawg85, your comment is exactly why Missouri fans are irritated. We don’t think we are the ‘Best’. We lost to Auburn and South Carolina. But Missouri had a better over-all season than GA in 2013, That’s all. Just so you hear it from somebody I was pulling for GA against Auburn. Missouri’s best pass defender, in a vulnerable pass defense, didn’t play a down against Georgia, Best senior receiver was playing with an injury so painful he couldn’t wear a shoe except during the game. Senior Quarterback had to leave the game and hand the reigns to a freshman who had never played a game. Best running back was also nursing an injury. Where were the headlines about that? I like GA and GA fans, but you are being disrespectful about this game and so was the media.

        • Wolfman, I am not going to get into the injuries debate… that has been debated plenty above. The ongoing issue Mizzou will have earning national respect consistently is the lackluster schedule Pinkel likes to play on the front-end of the season. Not 1 or 2 per season, but several. If I were Pinkel, I’d swap out a cupcake or two for better out of conference opponents. It’s one thing to have a couple a year to work out the kinks or catch a breather, but too many and people start poo-pooing your schedule. Some Mizzou fans seem to have a chip on their shoulder about the lack of “respect” they get. That will come, but Mizzou will have to first prove to the naysayers that they can have more than one good season here and there. They might well be consistently good in the SEC, but that remains to be seen.

          Between Franklin and Mauk, Mauk is the better QB. Franklin’s injury in the 4th Q of the UGA game was a nice break for Mauk. He’s going to be a great QB for the Tigers.

          Good luck in 2014.

        • 4Dawgs, popular idea but is it accurate?. Missouri’s Coach Pinkel leads the way on this saying “We know we have to earn respect”, Missouri fans however want just a little credit for beating Nebraska and Kansas State and winning the Big 12 North (the rest of the SEC didn’t go 100% against the Big 12 or Nebraska in 2013 bowls?, plus Missouri had a #1 national ranking twice going into the final game of the year. Popular feelings don’t always have a solid foundation. Specifically about the pre-season schedule, I respect your idea but ask you to consider this side: If the SEC legitimately has so many top 25 ranked teams (not to mention top 30 or 35) then why does anybody in the league need to play another top 25 team to prove themselves. Compare any of these SEC schedules to Notre Dame, Oregon, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida State, USCal., and a computer will always tell you the SEC already has a tougher schedule. So I know your idea is popular because fans don’t want to pay to go see cupcake games BUT in my opinion it is appropriate for Missouri to 1. beat highly ranked and conference champ and bowl winner UCF in 2012, 2. Beat middle of the Big10 conference Indiana 2013, 3. Face a Doak Walker finalist in Toledo. 4. Beat Bowl winner Arizona St. in 2012, 5. Be leading Bowl winner Conference Champ and highly ranked Syracuse in 2012 till the last play of the game. So you see, Missouri earned the respect of the SEC press by having the computer #1 toughest schedule in 2012. And they played a better conf. schedule than most of the rest of the SEC in 2013. In 2014 They play UCF again and they play a Big 10 team again in pre-conf.. Maybe SEC fans are need to define the word cupcake into Alabama schedule vs. LSU schedule vs. Auburn Schedule vs Missouri Schedule

      • Why are UGA fans always so bitter and butthurt? They are the worst at admitting they lost, dealing with it and moving on. All of these excuses…Worst in the SEC

        • How are GA fans the ones that keep bringing up the injuries when I’m pretty sure the guy thatstarted this whole convo is a Missouri fan that said there’s zero validity to the argument that the injuries played a role in the loss to Missouri? I’m not saying they would definitely win with all the players they were missing but I bet it’s a lot tougher for Missouri to win that game with everybody playing for GA. I would put more of the blame on our terrible defensive coordinator and his lack of ability to coach players.

    • Zoucat…. Maybe you should look at the stats of that game…. there was no “whooping”

      You guys won and I cant say that I wasnt pulling for ya the rest of the way but lets not be an arrogant ass…
      I will admit that some UGA fans as is the case with all teams fans at some point have a hard time swallowing defeat and can be stupid but your comment puts you at that level…. just fyi….

      • This is just a reaction from Zoucat who has a lot of good posts here at SDS.. And if all my posts are read here I’m also not saying one negative thing about anyone on Georgia’s roster, or coaches. Furthermore, your idea about the stat sheet is a VERY important one to consider in any game. Smart football fans want GEORGIA AND MISSOURI to get as much credit as they deserve. Even 2013 Tennessee, and Vanderbilt are programs that can beat top teams from other conferences, why be unfair to anybody in the SEC East. Getting a national top ranking depends on playing in a great league or division. Even WITH injuries, most any SEC program is an opponent that should help propel the East and West Division champions into the new play-off. The best possible thing that could happen in 2014 is for the SEC, including GA, to be ranked 1-14 in the AP all season, and gentlemen those programs are closer now than any conference has EVER been. Celebrate that SEC brothers, every single Saturday.

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