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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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