Do you buy the South Carolina hype?
Billy Gomila: With seventeen starters including a starting quarterback, legit star-in-the-making at receiver and a couple of big-time talents in the defensive backfield, this is definitely Steve Spurrier's most talented Gamecock squad yet. Could it challenge for the SEC East title (or at least finish second)? Absolutely. Will it? I wouldn't bet on it. I've actually always thought South Carolina has the resources to be a top-half SEC program. And I'm certainly a fan of the Old Ball Coach. But after years of watching this program schizophrenically bounce back and forth between upsets and let-downs, I just can't bring myself to pick South Carolina to top the seven win plateau they've been at under Spurrier.
Brian Harbach: I love Steve Spurrier and have for many years, I love his attitude, I love his honesty and I love his competitive nature…he is what every SEC fan should expect from their head coach but even he cannot fix South Carolina and I am not buying the hype. There is one specific reason why I don't think the Gamecocks will compete for a division title this year and it has nothing to do with history, tradition, the Gators or any other stereotype of Carolina football. It is because of the offensive line.
Now I want to define what I consider the hype to be…I don't believe that USC will contend for the East this year but I do believe they will win 8 or 9 games including a bowl. Nine wins is a big deal for South Carolina, I believe it will be the third nine win season in the schools history but an Eastern division title is not in their cards this season. So the hype of an Eastern division title I am not buying, but the hype of a good SEC team I think is definitely warranted.
Barrett Sallee: Yes. I think the Gamecocks have the best shot of anyone in the east to knock off Florida. I don't think they will, but I absolutely think they will finish second in the division and give the Gators a run for their money. Don't be fooled by head coach Steve Spurrier's public criticism of quarterback Stephen Garcia. He is entrenched as the starter, and will put up very good numbers. He was the second-leading passer in the SEC in 2009, and has weapons-galore in 2010. The Gamecocks return two studs -- Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley -- at wide receiver, All-American candidate Weslye Saunders at tight end and have highly-touted freshman running back Marcus Lattimore coming in to tote the rock. On defense, they lose Eric Norwood, but Cliff Matthews is a stud on the defensive line, they have an underrated linebacking corps led by Shaq Wilson and Rodney Paulk, and Stephon Gilmore is extremely reliable in that secondary. I think they'll be in contention with Florida. After all, if it's not South Carolina's year to challenge for the title this year, when will it be???
Is Les Miles on the hot seat?
Brian: The more applicable question is which coach isn't on the hot seat because if you are a Head Coach in the SEC that means you are always on the hot seat. I never understand when SEC fans not wearing Alabama hats tell me that there coach is there as long as he wants to be there (yes I mean you Carolina fans). It just doesn't make sense to put Gene Chizik, Urban Meyer or Steve Spurrier in a spot where they don't fear for their jobs. All of these guys are one 4-8 year away from being fired or in Meyer's case directly on the hot seat.
SEC fans have a very short memory which brings us to Les Miles and to a lesser extent Mark Richt…what have you done for me lately rules this conference and with every SEC coach being paid multi-million dollar contracts it isn't a surprise. Looking at Miles and Richt's resumes at their current schools it seems ridiculous that either of them be put on a hot list. Between them there have a national championship, three SEC titles, five division championships and five BCS bowl games in a combined 14 years in the SEC. Have they made mistakes, yes. Who can forget the 2008 Blackout Funeral in Athens or the clock management disaster for Miles in 2009?
No one can forget them; fans remember them even more especially since those failures happened more recently than Georgia and LSU successes. There are two ways that Miles or Richt leaves their current jobs this year…the first is if their teams fall apart and they do not make a bowl game. I think both will be gone with 5 or fewer wins and like any coach they probably should be. The other reason would be if they left on their own and it is not likely either will do that. So stop talking about the hot seat for these guys like there is more pressure on them this year than any other year in the SEC. Win or go home, win or get fired…such is life in the SEC.
Barrett: Yes, and rightfully so. Since winning the national championship in 2007, LSU is 8-8 in the SEC and none of those wins have come against a team that finished with a winning conference record. The program is very much in decline. Miles ignored the problem this offseason by keeping offensive coordinator Gary Crowton on his staff. If the decline continues, the problem won't be ignored, and Miles and Crowton may both be looking for work. Miles' defenders argue that it sets a terrible precedent to fire a coach with the fourth-highest winning percentage (.785) in school history and the highest in the modern era. There's some validity to that argument. But if LSU finishes 2010 hovering around .500 -- which is very possible considering their out-of-conference schedule -- than the administration will have to go in another direction. With the type of high school talent that the state of Louisiana produces on an annual basis, there's no reason for LSU -- a team that doesn't have another legitimate team in-state to compete against on the recruiting trail -- to be a middle-of-the-pack SEC team.
Billy: I've said it in a number of venues, and I still believe it – any coach in this conference is one or two years away from the "hot seat" – and that is undoubtedly true of Miles. The question is, is he the coach who won 33 games, two division titles, a conference and national championship his first three years, or the coach who's struggled to a .500 record in league play the last two. 2010 will tell that tale. I do expect new offensive assistants Billy Gonzales and Frank Wilson to bring some new ideas to the attack (which, frankly, can't get worse), but the schedule will be unforgiving. And how LSU comes by its record this season will likely be almost as important as what that record is.
What is your view on SEC expansion?
Billy: Conference expansion seems inevitable, and however it shakes out, I hope that the SEC holds to a mindset of quality over quantity. Merely expanding to 12 or 14 teams won't be enough to make the Big 10 the nation's best conference. Especially if that number includes teams like Missouri, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse or even Nebraska. Media markets are nice, but not if you flood them with sub-standard football. Most importantly, the league needs to keep its network partners involved. Even the CBS and ESPN mega-deals are finite. Adding more hands to the pot does nobody any good if the pot itself doesn't expand. The main domino in this whole setup is, of course, Texas. They're the one school that can make the Big 10 elite, and they would skyrocket the SEC beyond the stratosphere. Other schools that make sense from a "fit" standpoint include Clemson, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma, if only because they would surely try to stay as joined at the hip with Texas as possible. However it shakes out, I just hope that Mike Slive and the conference presidents remember that as important as it is to be proactive in these situations, sometimes letting the other guy make the first mistake can be equally as valuable.
Brian: I am not going to beat around the bush on this one, I hate the talk of expansion, I hate the idea of expansion and I want the SEC to avoid expansion at all costs. The first question I ask myself is if the SEC adds another two or four teams who benefits? The new teams benefit while the current teams get hurt. Rivalries between the East and West become even more infrequent and the disparity between divisions could become a problem if teams avoid playing the best from the other side of the league.
I know most of college football is about money, I am not going to try and pretend it isn't and that is why the Big Ten needs to expand. The Big Ten has a network that not enough major markets have an interest in and by adding schools like Missouri they can add at large St. Louis TV market. The SEC Network, also known as ESPN, does not need any additional markets because everyone has it. So why would the SEC add schools that are not going to add any additional benefit to the league financially.
The SEC does not need to try and keep up with other leagues, they need to try and keep up with the SEC which is why this crazy expansion talk is such a big deal. It is an attempt to curb some of the national enthusiasm towards the SEC and allow the other conferences to get some of the national attention. As always the SEC is the leader in innovation in college athletics, expansion is nothing new…we started it nearly twenty years ago because it made sense to do so. It doesn't make sense now and until the SEC needs to expand in order not to fall behind I have no problem with it, but now it is just silly to discuss. Sorry Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami and Texas…we don't want you and we really don't need you.
Barrett: I think the SEC is doing the right thing by being reactive instead of proactive. Once the first domino falls, the rest of them are going to fall pretty quickly. Mike Slive knows this, and the SEC certainly has a plan (or plans) drawn up to react to any possible expansion scenario. If the Big Ten or Pac-10 only expand to 14 teams, I think the SEC will stay put. If one of them jumps up to 16 and creates the first "super-conference," I expect the SEC to follow suit. The biggest fish in the pond is obviously Texas, so depending on how it shakes out elsewhere, they'd be the No. 1 option. Assuming Texas is in the mix, a new SEC that includes Texas and Texas A&M in the west and Clemson and Florida State in the east would make for some interesting football. If the Texas schools say no, I say expand south and lure Miami and South Florida. Those are two fairly big markets and the current crop of SEC coaches wouldn't mind visiting those talent-rich recruiting areas on an annual basis.
We hope you enjoyed our inaugural SEC Roundtable Discussion of the summer. Please email any of us or all of us with your comments. Also, if there are any questions you want us to answer go ahead and send them our way.