[Editor's Note: I have asked AnythingButGatorade to guest blog at A Sea of Blue for a while. I hope you will all give him a proper welcome and enjoy his commentary.]
Funny, I thought the SEC East looked just like Tim Tebow.
By this point, all of the pre-season fanboy mags are out, be it Athlon, Sporting News, Lindy's, or the sainted screed of Phil Steele. Any chance his name is kind of close to Philistine? I think not. In any event, if you look at how the national and regional pundits have ranked the SEC you'll find Kentucky in its usual spot: dead last or second to dead last.
As Ken pointed out earlier, there are a lot of reasons why no one gives the Cats a chance to climb their way up the ladder and reach for the stars, etc. Kentucky has an exceedingly difficult time beating SEC competition. You know those streaks everyone likes to talk about? The ones that make you want to drive your Rich Brooks edition Ford F-150 into the nearest telephone pole? They're all against teams in our own division: Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina. The Cats have only beaten UGA once in the last fifteen tries. Our record against Vanderbilt since 1990 is only 11-8. And here's where the news gets even worse: everyone is getting better.
Yes, Rich Brooks and I both believe that this year's offensive unit will outperform last year's (how can it not?). We know that the secondary is very good. But let's look at this year's eastern division, briefly, and see how we stack up.
- Florida: Returns with The Anointed One, Tim Tebow, who was statistically and ecclisiastically the best quarterback in the league last year. The #1 scoring offense in the league in 2008 loses Percy Harvin but still has Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Aaron Hernandez and probably Riley Cooper for the most prolific offensive attack since the Wehrmacht took Poland. They gained an AVERAGE of 455 yards/game last year. Jeebus. Defensively, the Gators bring back almost all of their starters from last year's league leading scoring defense. There's a reason everyone thinks they'll take their second consecutive crystal football this year.
- Georgia: Just because they didn't live up to expectations last year doesn't mean they were bad; they still got second in the East. Joe Cox is a fifth year senior, A.J. Green is probably the best wide receiver in the division, and the Bulldog line is always going to make opportunities for the next UGA running back to put up big numbers. Defensively, the Dawgs weren't spectacular last year, ranking 6th in total defense.
- Kentucky: The defense, which got a lot of press early last year, got banged up a bit and sort of underwhelmed as the season dragged on. The secondary will still be very good. The line, specifically at end, on the other hand, scares the pee out of me. Collins Ukwu and Chandler Burden absolutely have to produce or the Cats will have no chance this year. Offensively, the questions are well chronicled: is Hartline going to be better? Can the receivers catch the ball? Was Moncell Allen just born without any cervical vertebra? Good news is that the best offensive line in the SEC is coming back and only lost Garry Williams to graduation.
- South Carolina: The most quizzical team in the division. Is Stephen Garcia a good quarterback? He's elusive, but that Gamecock offensive line was terrible last year. The defense figures to be pretty good this year despite finally graduating Jasper Brinkley and Captain Munnerlyn, but they were middle of the pack in the league last year and do have their holes, as Vanderbilt found out early and often.
- Tennessee: The Vols were a bad team last year. But guess what: they led the league in total defense. Eric Berry is a worthy Heisman candidate, no doubt, and running the ball on this team is always difficult (although the Pac 10 sure has figured it out, haven't they?) Lane Kiffin's been trying to prop up the disaster that is Jonathan Crompton this offseason. We'll see if it works as well as his strategy to recruit a QB for 2010 (read: not well). Also, for the first time in a while, there isn't a star running back lining up in the I for UT this year.
- Vanderbilt: Returns 11 starters on what was a solid defense last year. Bobby Johnson hasn't yet named a starting quarterback, but my money's on Larry Smith, who is more mobile than people think and has a very strong arm. The Commodores' offensive line is what killed them last year, but all five guys are coming back and there has been more muscle and weight added to each player.
Can the Cats honestly expect to beat any of these teams? I don't think so. Compete with just about everyone but Florida, yes, but the Cats do not really have a talent advantage over anyone except maybe Vanderbilt. If you look at the matchups using 2008 statistics for total offense and total defense (which don't really accurately project what will happen in 2009, of course),and the Cats are actually middle of the pack offensively and dead damn last defensively.
No, they don't play games based on numbers, and I'm no slave to statistics. The point is this: Kentucky has a better football team and program than it did five years ago. So does everyone else (except Tennessee). The Cats are getting better talent and better production through each year under Rich Brooks. But there has to be even more improvement if the Cats want to make inroads in the SEC. The 2008 season was an aberration offensively, I hope. The defense, billed in 2008 as the best Kentucky has ever fielded, cannot keep giving up 300 plus yards per game and expect to come out on top. Those problems are not fixed with scheme, they're fixed with talented players. Get those more talented players, and the wins will come, as will the TOTAL SWITCHEROO WITH SPURRIER'S GAMECOCKS IN THE SEC EAST STANDINGS! WOO!! WOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Sorry, blacked out there for a minute. Go Cats.