Arkansas is getting a ton of preseason hype. Which past SEC team do they remind you of?
Billy Gomila: People are comparing them to last year's Ole Miss team because of the whole "returning NFL prospect quarterback/conference title contender" thing. And while I definitely think people are overlooking the black hole that was the Razorback defense last season, as individual teams, the comparison doesn't quite hold up. Ole Miss could at least field one of the league's best defensive lines. Arkansas is replacing two starters there, including the team leaders in sacks and tackles for loss.
Even if Ryan Mallett avoids Jevan Snead's regression, 30 touchdowns and a mere seven picks was only enough to get the Hogs to 8-5. This Arkansas team has to show it can find offensive balance on a consistent basis, and slow down opposing offenses. Something else to remember – last year's plus-15 turnover margin is almost definitely going to regress to the mean. And we all know how important turnovers are in close games.
Brian Harbach: This is a fun question because depending on what you expect Arkansas to do this year, there are so many options for comparison. I expect Arkansas' 2010 season to be very much like Georgia's 2008 season. Not in terms of the UGA preseason ranking that was out of control high that year, but because I think the Razorbacks are a good team that is going to win a lot of games with offense but have one or two blow ups on defense.
Taking a little trip down memory lane, think back to UGA in 2008… Ranked number one in both preseason polls, only to finish with a 10-3 record. It was a good season, but not an amazing one. I expect Arkansas to have a similar record and the losses could mirror UGA in 2010 as well - in the three UGA losses they gave up 135 points (45 pts/game). (RM Note: Not to pile on, but in that ballyhooed season, UGA only played three teams ranked in the season-end Top 25; See sentence above.) Can the Razorback defense hold up when the offense isn't putting up major yards and points? That will be the difference between a truly special year and one that looks like the Dawgs from 2008.
Russ Mitchell: We could go back to LSU's 2006 season, with the big-armed JaMarcus Russell coming off his first year as the #1 signal caller. ‘cept the Tigers had far more talent that year in the trenches and at RB. We could go back to the much overhyped UGA 2008 campaign. ‘cept, again, Matthew Stafford had more talent behind him (in Knowshon Moreno). But you only have to go back one year to answer this question – Ole Miss.
The Rebs ended the 2008 season on a run, with great excitement for 2009. A Top 10 darling pick for many of the pollsters, some even went so far as to pick Mississippi to win it all. Except some of the same sweetheart kisses this summer for Arkansas. But (i) without the benefit of a modern track record of success to deal with the hype, (ii) without a proven tailback to take pressure off an immature QB (until Nutt finally woke to smell the coffee that was Dexter McCluster, at which point it was too late), (iii) inconsistent play from the O-line, and (iv) a D-line that was excellent at pressure but struggled to control the run/clock, Ole Miss limped to finish well below expectations. So, how far to bet the Hogs? It's good to be the belle of the ball, but all of the above hurdles exist for Arkansas – PLUS the Rebs had an exponentially better Secondary last season than the Razorbacks will likely field in 2010 (104th in the nation, dead last in the conference). Arkansas reminds us of Ole Miss, circa 2009.
Barrett Sallee: If you think that the Razorbacks will fall flat on their face in 2010, the natural comparison would be to Ole Miss circa 2009. I don't think that's an appropriate comparison. A) Ole Miss entered 2009 with legitimate SEC West championship hype. No reasonable person is predicting Arkansas to win the SEC West in 2010. B) Ole Miss still won nine games in 2009, which is still a pretty solid number even though they didn't look too pretty in the process.
I think a more appropriate comparison for the 2010 edition of the Razorbacks would be the 2003 Ole Miss Rebels. Both teams have a Heisman-trophy caliber quarterback and a moderate amount of preseason hype, but don't necessarily have the name cachet that the SEC super-powers carry. The 2003 Rebels stayed in the division title hunt mid-way through November, before falling to LSU and finishing the regular season 9-3. I see Arkansas having a very similar season. They will have flashes of brilliance and maybe post an upset or two, but with a defense that gives up more than 400 yards per game, they are going to drop enough games to keep them out of Atlanta.
Which under-the-radar SEC player(s) do you expect to be a household name by November?
Russ: Arkansas had the best Passing Attack in the conference last season (tenth best in the nation), and they're quite likely to exceed that performance this year. Quick – name the Hogs best Wide Receiver? We forgive you for not knowing, but go ahead now and commit this name to memory: Greg Childs. Forget Alabama's Julio "Mr. Consistency" Jones, LSU's Terrance "One Hand Jack" Toliver, or even UGA's A.J. Green (ok, not Green; kid's amazing - going to be the next Jerry Rice on Sundays). Regardless, no one is going to put up the numbers Childs will next year. And it won't just be the numbers; he'll do it with style. The 6'3", 225 junior out of Warren, Arkansas will emerge from beneath the shadows of Ryan Mallet, D.J. Williams and Mike Smith to shine above and beyond the SEC norm. He's physical. He's laser fast. And he had almost 1,000 yards and seven TDs on less than 50 receptions last year. Compare that to Jones' ~600 yards on 43/rec and 4 TDs. Did we mention he was fast? With another year under their collective passing belts, and Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, and the talented freshman Cobi Hamilton drawing attention on the wings, not to mention Williams returning for his senior campaign, Childs is bound to find a LOT of space. Space he doesn't need.
Barrett: Georgia linebacker Justin Houston is going to be a stud in new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense. It's very difficulty to find the personnel to make the 3-4 work at the college level, but Houston definitely fits the bill at outside linebacker. The 6'3", 259-pound junior is making the switch to outside linebacker from defensive end, where he tallied 7.5 sacks last season in former defensive coordinator Willie Martinez's 4-3 scheme. Houston has already built a pretty good reputation for himself in the SEC, but the switch to linebacker will send his stock soaring this fall. Is it going to be enough to turn that Bulldog D around immediately? Probably not. But he will put up video game numbers in 2010.
Billy: Georgia linebacker Justin Houston. He was suspended for the first couple of games last season and still finished with 7.5 sacks (third in the league and first among returning defenders) plus another 7.5 tackles-for-loss as a defensive end. At 6-3 and 259 pounds he's the classic example of the athletic edge pass-rusher who will excel as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Expect Houston to be one of the league's most disruptive front-seven players and lead the league in sacks.
Brian: It is never smart to rely on true freshmen to contribute much of anything until they get into the August practices but if there is one that will make an instant impact it will be South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore. Similar to the NFL, the easiest position to play and impact a team immediately is at running back and the Gamecocks have had a need at running back since…well, it has been a while. The offensive line has a lot to say about the stats Lattimore will put up but he will get enough carries and enough scores to have everyone in the league know him this year and worry about him in the future.
Will the Florida offense be more or less successful this year minus Tim Tebow?
Billy: If you're a pure X-&-O's nut, this will be one of the season's more interesting subplots. For the last four seasons, the Gators' rushing attack was almost completely centered on Tim Tebow. If he wasn't carrying the ball, he was supposed to make defenders thing that he was. The read, veer and option plays are all dependent on defenders honoring the quarterback as a ball carrier. Given that John Brantley's skill set is more of the classic drop-back passer, this almost certainly has to change. Does that mean no more option? Of course not. But I do expect less of it. As I said in last week's roundtable, Florida would be in dire straits if Brantley were to get hurt.
What I expect to see is an offense that looks much more like the conventional spread, with some under-center and possibly pistol formations also worked in. It's not like the Gators are without talented running backs. Jeff Demps is the conference's fastest player, and at 200 pounds it's not like he's that small.
Now, will this be more or less successful? I think that depends on just how much of a change Urban Meyer is prepared to make. If he's willing to commit to a style that fits Brantley's strengths, it could be very affective. Again, it's not like his team is lacking in playmakers. But there's also been a lot of talk of returning to the run-pass two-QB style Florida employed when Tebow was a freshman. People are quick to point out that the Gators won a national title that season, but they should remember that was largely due to a dominant defense. The offense was herky-jerky and extremely inconsistent – which can happen when you try to blend two styles of play.
Brian: With all the talk about John Brantley being a better quarterback than Tim Tebow it brings up this very question. If Brantley is a better passer, will the offense be better? I don't think it will, actually I expect the Florida offense to struggle to continue drives all season long. Tebow was exactly what the Gators needed on third and short, a battering ram that could get that one or two yards to convert the first down. Without a player with that mindset the Gators will lose an important dimension to their offense. The offense will still be very dangerous because of their speed at the skill positions and they will be able to score from any spot on the field but the offensive numbers will be more average than in past seasons. I expect a lower third down conversion, fewer yards per game, less points per game and more turnovers. Having said that, they are still the overwhelming favorites to win the East and offense will not be the reason they don't make it to Atlanta.
Barrett: I don't want to dodge the question, but the offense is going to be a different kind of successful. John Brantley can't do the things that Tim Tebow did, and Tim Tebow didn't do the things that John Brantley will be able to do. Will the Gators get the same kind of pure production out of the quarterback position that they enjoyed when Superman was taking snaps? Of course not. But the offense will be just as successful as it was with Tebow thanks to the presence of two studs at the "Percy Position." Chris Rainey and Andre Debose are both likely to take snaps at the WR/RB spot that former Gator Percy Harvin made famous in Gainesville. It's the one spot on the field that makes that offense click, and with two capable players able to step in, that offense will be as successful as it has been in the past – it just might look a little different.
Russ: Who's picking these questions? The Gators had the #1 offense in the SEC last year – twelfth best in the nation. You think they're going to surpass that with a rookie QB, a rebuilt line, and a head coach just one latte away from a holiday? No, there's no GOTCHA in that; it's a rhetorical question. Forget different or revamped – to be more successful, Florida has to basically rank in the top ten nationally in total offense (unless we're going all Bill Clinton on the word "successful"). Given the headwind above, and without their offensive shepherd of the past three (maybe four) seasons, that's unlikely.
We hope you enjoyed Part Two of our 2010 SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, 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.