SEC East college football offseason preview
The SEC East is the most unpredictable division in college football. This year, Florida and Georgia are favored to win their divisions, but Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt are all capable of making noise.
The sec football standings is a blog post that gives a detailed overview of the SEC East college football offseason.
Florida scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the 2008 SEC championship game, one on a short Jeff Demps rush and the other on a Tim Tebow to Riley Cooper throw, to secure a 31-20 victory against Nick Saban’s resurgent Alabama and a place in the BCS Championship Game. Urban Meyer’s Gators won their second conference championship in three years, and the 11th in 16 years for a club from the SEC East.
We didn’t understand how much of a “old guard vs. new guard” battle we were seeing at the time. Since then, Florida is 0-4 in conference championship games, with all four defeats coming to Alabama, while the East has only won one title in the last 12 years: Georgia’s rout of Auburn in 2017.
Granted, the SEC divisions’ days may be numbered. With its planned expansion to 16 clubs, the league will have to consider shifting from eight to nine conference games as well as a more pod-based system to ensure that everyone in this growing conference gets to play each other on a semi-regular basis.
If these are the SEC East and West’s last seasons, they’ll live up to, or down to, their respective reputations in some manner. The five lowest-projected teams in the league in February’s SP+ predictions were all from the East, which has lost 11 of the past 12 conference championship games.
The division winner, on the other hand, is unlikely to be outmatched. Florida, the defending champion, may struggle to duplicate last year’s performance, but Georgia, which won in 2017, almost repeated in 2018, and finally seemed to have its new offensive in place late last season, may be up to the task. The East may have one more opportunity to snag a ring or two before going the way of the dodo bird.
Let’s take a look at the East!
Bill Connelly will preview a different division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 every week for ESPN+ during the summer, eventually covering all 130 FBS schools. In one convenient graphic, the previews will contain 2020 breakdowns, 2021 previews, and a short history of each club. The Conference USA East and West, the MAC East and West, the MWC Mountain and West, the Sun Belt West and East, the top and bottom half of the AAC, the seven Independents, the ACC Atlantic and Coastal, the Pac-12 North and South, the top and bottom half of the Big 12, and the Big Ten West and East have all been covered thus far in the series.
Select a team: Vanderbilt | South Carolina | Missouri | Tennessee | Kentucky | Florida | Georgia | Vanderbilt | South Carolina | Missouri | Tennessee | Kentucky | Florida | Georgia
Derek Mason’s Commodores have lost 16 of their past 17 SEC games. Now it’s Clark Lea’s time to discover the top-secret winning recipe.
Projections for 2021
108th projected SP+ rank
The average number of predicted victories is 3.1. (1.0 in the SEC)
ETSU (81%) and UConn (81%) are the most likely winners* (76 percent )
There are no relative toss-ups.
Losses are expected at Colorado State (32%), South Carolina (29%), Stanford (25%), Missouri (20%), Kentucky (19%), Mississippi State (15%), Tennessee (11%), Ole Miss (4%), Georgia (2%), and Florida (2%). (2 percent )
* Likely wins are games in which SP+ predicts a scoring margin of more than seven points, or a victory probability of more than 65 percent. Likely wins are the polar opposite, while relative toss-ups are everything in between.
Vandy fails in the “clear matchups advantages” category after playing their weakest squad since 1990. However, games against ETSU and UConn should keep Lea from going winless in his first season.
In 2020, we learnt a lot about Vanderbilt.
The rock always returns to its original position after rolling downhill. One of my favorite metaphors is that coaching in difficult positions is like moving a huge boulder up the hill. Even if you do everything correctly, a single mistake may be catastrophic. Derek Mason didn’t reach the heights that James Franklin did at Vandy, but he did win 17 games from 2016 to 2018 and finished in the top 40 of the SP+ rankings in 2018. The Commodore offense crumbled after losing quarterback Kyle Shurmur and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, and a shaky defense couldn’t make up the difference. In 2019, they were 3-9, and in 2020, they are 0-9.
Lea inherits a roster that isn’t completely devoid of talent: receivers Cam Johnson and Amir Abdur-Rahman, as well as nickel Jaylen Mahoney, are all keepers, and the return of a few 2020 opt-outs, such as guard Cole Clemens and havoc-creating linebacker Elijah McAllister, could help tremendously with depth. However, he has a lower starting point than any of his SEC peers.
What we didn’t know in 2020 about Vanderbilt
Will your ingenuity pay off? To his credit, Lea is a creative thinker. He established a General Manager role on his team and hired Barton Simmons, a 247Sports recruiting analyst, to fill it. He recruited offensive coordinator David Raih, a former Arizona Cardinals receivers coach, and defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, who has both hard-college experience (he was Georgia State’s DC from 2013-16) and inventive NFL experience with the Baltimore Ravens.
This summer, Lea spoke to the media about a “10-year plan,” which demonstrates both his ambition and patience. The former will be essential in the long run; the latter will be crucial during what will almost certainly be a difficult 2021 season.
The history of Vanderbilt University in one graph
In 1948, Red Sanders led the Commodores to an 8-2-1 record and a No. 12 ranking in the Associated Press poll. Sanders departed for UCLA, kicking off a downward spiral.
There have been many low periods, but the years 1976-1990 were especially bad: nine seasons with 1-2 victories and just one with more than four.
From 2002 through 2005, Jay Cutler threw for 8,697 yards, 59 touchdowns, 36 interceptions, and 11 victories. That was enough to get him noticed at Vandy and a No. 11 overall selection.
In 2012-13, Franklin led Vandy to an 18-8 record, two ranked finishes (23rd and 24th), and two of the program’s four all-time bowl victories. He departed for Penn State, kicking off a downward spiral.
Mason seemed to be working on something as late as 2018, but the boulder has returned to its original location at the foot of the slope.
Since Steve Spurrier’s heyday, South Carolina has averaged approximately 5.4 wins each year and has lost its past six 2020 games by an average of 25 points. It’s a fantastic moment to make a fresh start.
Projections for 2021
SP+ projected rank: 90th
The average number of predicted victories is 3.7. (1.8 in SEC)
Eastern Illinois (96%) and Vanderbilt (96%) are the most likely winners (72 percent )
At ECU (45 percent), Troy is a relative toss-up (39 percent )
Kentucky (33 percent), Missouri (23 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), Auburn (16 percent), Florida (8 percent), Texas A&M (5 percent), Clemson (4 percent), and Georgia (4 percent) are the likely losers (3 percent )
Shane Beamer’s first Gamecocks team could improve on last year’s two victories by playing six teams ranked below the top 50. However, there won’t be many more.
In 2020, we learnt a lot about South Carolina.
Floors vs. ceilings. Between 2008 and 2018, the Gamecocks bowled ten times, were rated in the SP+ top 30 seven times, and won double-digit games three times under Spurrier and later Will Muschamp. Their ceiling wasn’t nearly as high as Georgia’s, Florida’s, or in-state rival Clemson’s, but it was still very high.
Their ceiling, on the other hand, is much lower. They fell to 84th place, with the lowest winning % in 21 years. They were rated 74th on defense, 80th on special teams, and 89th on offense, according to SP+. On the plus side, there’s a sudden reduction in the amount of stuff you have
Beamer takes over a roster that includes previous first-round picks like quarterback Luke Doty, defensive tackle Zac Pickens, and edge rusher Jordan Burch, as well as some established players like running back Kevin Harris, center Jovaughn Gwyn, and edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare. However, his importation of transfers — nine through the portal (including Georgia State edge rusher Jordan Strachan and Kansas cornerback Karnty Prunty) and three from JUCOs — suggests that he is working on rebuilding his squad.
What we didn’t learn in 2020 about South Carolina
Will Doty be able to pull off the role? Doty, a former top-100 prospect from Myrtle Beach, earned first-team reps late in 2020 and established a good rhythm against Georgia in garbage time. With Harris (1,297 running and receiving yards in 2020) and a seasoned offensive line, new offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield, a lengthy former Matt Rhule assistant, should have some success. When the Gamecocks have to pass, though, what happens next is a bit of a mystery.
Doty will have an efficient TE in Nick Muse, as well as Georgia Tech utility guy Ahmarean Brown and veterans Jalen Brooks and OrTre Smith, if he knocks off St. Francis transfer Jason Brown for the starting job. We’ll see whether that’s sufficient.
A timeline of South Carolina’s history in one graph
The Gamecocks had been a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) since 1953… and won their first league championship in 1969… before becoming independent in 1970.
After running for 1,681 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1979, George Rogers surpassed himself in 1980, rushing for 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns, and winning the Heisman Trophy over Herschel Walker and Hugh Green.
The 1984 season was virtually without a doubt the greatest in SC history. Before a stunning defeat to Navy, the ‘Cocks began 9-0 and climbed to No. 2 in the AP poll. They came in 11th place with a 10-2 record.
After entering the SEC in 1992, the Gamecocks struggled, finishing 0-11 in Lou Holtz’s first season. His following two years, however, were marked by 17 victories and two ranking finishes.
Because of what Spurrier produced from 2011-13: three 11-2 seasons and three top-10 finishes, the 1984 season is no longer SC’s greatest.
In 2020, Eliah Drinkwitz finished 5-5 against a tough schedule, and he’s recruiting like crazy. Is he, though, capable of avoiding second-year stagnation?
Projections for 2021
SP+ projected rank: 58th
The average number of predicted victories is 6.4. (3.4 in the SEC)
SE is the most likely winner. 93 percent for Missouri State, 85 percent for North Texas, 81 percent for Vanderbilt, 77 percent for South Carolina, and 93 percent for CMU (71 percent )
Tennessee (53 percent), Boston College (48 percent), Kentucky (44 percent), and Arkansas (43 percent) (35 percent )
Texas A&M (21%) and Florida (21%), both at Georgia, are likely losers (10 percent )
Mizzou’s bowl chances are strong even without significant second-year improvement, with five opponents ranked 82nd or below in SP+.
In 2020, we learnt a lot about Missouri.
Drinkwitz was destined to lead the SEC. At SEC Media Days, he scolds other coaches. He feels at ease in his own flesh. He does, in fact, enlist the help of his buttocks. You wouldn’t know it since Drinkwitz’s only prior SEC experience was as a quality control coach at Auburn. With victories against LSU and Arkansas, among others, he delivered just enough proof of concept in 2020 to give a team that had gone 14-26 in the SEC from 2015 to 2019 a feeling of momentum.
What Missouri didn’t teach us in 2020
Whether he was destined to succeed as an SEC coach. There were several caveats to 2020’s relative success. Mizzou was 3-0 in one-score games, with all five victories coming against teams ranked 45th or below in the SP+ rankings. The Tigers were outscored by a combined 128-50 against three top-10 teams, and they fell by a combined 42 points at Tennessee and Mississippi State. They were closer to 3-7 than 7-3, and their final SP+ rating of No. 68 was the lowest since 2016.
Although a sense of momentum may lead to buy-in and recruitment wins, the Tigers will need to improve significantly in order to finish above.500 in 2021. They don’t have a lot of returning output, but they have a lot of potential in the form of quarterback Connor Bazelak, running back Tyler Badie, rush end Trajan Jeffcoat, safety Martez Manuel, and an experienced offensive line. In addition, Rice linebacker Blaze Alldredge, Tulsa cornerbacks Akayleb Evans and Allie Green IV, and Ohio State receiver (and recent St. Louis blue-chipper) Mookie Cooper were also acquired as transfers by Drinkwitz. He also hired a mostly new defensive coaching staff, headed by defensive coordinator and former NFL head coach Steve Wilks.
As a redshirt freshman, Bazelak established himself as a reliable passer and sound decision-maker, but he could need more assistance from his receiving corps. Keke Chism and Tauskie Dove, veterans, had their moments, but kids like Cooper, Dominic Lovett, and Jay Maclin may have to provide the spark.
Missouri’s whole history is shown in a single graph.
Missouri was ranked No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time in 1960, but Kansas defeated the Tigers 24-7 by employing an ineligible player. Despite the fact that the defeat was reversed, Mizzou finished fifth.
From 1972 through 1978, the Tigers defeated 11 top-10 opponents while losing 18 times to unranked opponents, never ending better than 8-4.
Mizzou broke apart almost suddenly after winning five bowl games in six years. From 1984 through 1996, the Tigers had 13 consecutive losing seasons.
Mizzou was 22-6 in 2007-08 under Gary Pinkel and Heisman candidate Chase Daniel, spending a week atop the BCS rankings and earning two Big 12 North championships.
Pinkel’s Tigers joined the SEC in 2012, and in 2013-14, they won back-to-back SEC East championships. Since then, though, success has been a bit more sporadic.
To put it another way, I wouldn’t have realized the math wasn’t correct if Tennessee hadn’t scored at the bottom of my 2021 stability rankings.
Projections for 2021
SP+ projected rank: 49th
The average number of predicted victories is 6.7. (3.4 in the SEC)
Tennessee Tech (98 percent), BGSU (96 percent), South Alabama (91 percent), Vanderbilt (89 percent), and South Carolina are the most likely winners (79 percent )
Pitt (51 percent), Missouri (48 percent), Kentucky (47 percent), and Ole Miss (47 percent) are relative toss-ups (36 percent )
Georgia (19%), Florida (16%), and Alabama (16%) are the most likely to lose (6 percent )
Being indecisive isn’t the same as being terrible, and the Vols can make Josh Heupel’s first season a success by performing well as a favorite and winning a few of tossup games.
In 2020, we learnt a lot about Tennessee.
Drama lurks around every corner. It seems like a lifetime ago, but Jeremy Pruitt seemed to be making progress at UT as recently as early October 2020. When his Vols went to Georgia, they were 2-0 and on an eight-game winning run, and they led the Dawgs at halftime.
Everything came crashing down in a moment. Georgia outscored them 27-0 in the second half, and they have lost their past six games by an average of 34-14, excepting a victory against woeful Vandy. Following allegations of egregious recruiting breaches, UT dismissed Pruitt and hired a pair from UCF: athletic director Danny White and then Heupel.
Nearly 40 Vols have joined the transfer portal in the past year, and Heupel has also brought in a number of moves. Change is all around us.
What Tennessee didn’t teach us in 2020
Is Heupel equipped to lead his offense? Heupel is one of the few surviving coaches who can take advantage of continuous pace, and he has four contenders to lead his offense: transfers Joe Milton III (Michigan) and Hendon Hooker (Virginia Tech), as well as sophomores Harrison Bailey and Brian Maurer. Hooker is a dangerous dual threat, and Milton has a big arm, but the QB of choice will have to cope with a lot of change in the skill corps, as well as just two of the top six linemen from last year.
Will transfers be able to maintain strong defensive standards? Pruitt’s last two teams were 19th and 34th in defensive SP+, respectively, but the top four linebackers, as well as end Darel Middleton and corner Bryce Thompson, are all gone, and six transfers, including Auburn end Big Kat Bryant and Texas linebacker Juwan Mitchell, are in. The majority of the secondary returns from last year, but UT was rated 125th in passing success rate allowed, so we’ll see whether that’s a good thing. Tim Banks, the defensive coordinator who was brought in from Penn State, has his job cut out for him.
A timeline of Tennessee’s history in one graph
General Bob Neyland returned from WWII to lead the Vols to four more top-10 performances and a national championship in 1951 before retiring in 1952.
The post-Neyland era had its ups and downs, but the hiring of Johnny Majors in 1977 resulted in a five-year run of three top-eight results.
From 1995 through 1997, Majors’ successor Phil Fulmer acquired QB Peyton Manning, who led the Vols to a 32-5 record (0-3 against Florida, 32-2 vs everyone else).
UT’s contemporary breakthrough came after Manning had gone. On their route to the 1998 national championship, the Vols finally defeated Florida and then everyone else.
Fulmer’s Vols finished sixth in the AP top-10 for the sixth time in seven years in 2001. They haven’t finished so high since, despite twenty years and five coaching changes.
Kentucky has progressed under Mark Stoops to the point that last year’s loss was notable. It won’t become a trend if the team is beefy, muscular, and experienced.
Projections for 2021
SP+ projected rank: 57th
6.9 victories are expected on average (3.6 in the SEC)
NMSU has a 99 percent chance of winning, Chattanooga has a 96 percent chance of winning, ULM has a 95 percent chance of winning, Vanderbilt has an 81 percent chance of winning, and South Carolina has an 81 percent chance of winning (67 percent )
Missouri (56 percent), Tennessee (53 percent), at Louisville (38 percent), and at Mississippi State are all relative toss-ups (37 percent )
LSU (34%) and Florida (21%), both at Georgia, are likely losers (10 percent )
The Wildcats face five opponents ranked 90th or below, three of which are from a very weak non-conference schedule, which could help them climb back to.500.
In 2020, we learnt a lot about Kentucky.
Stoops is still searching for the proper offensive identity. The greatest Kentucky teams usually appear to have the largest offensive line and a big, furious, and successful running back (junior Chris Rodriguez Jr. is 5’11, 224 pounds). This is unmistakably part of what Stoops is hoping to bring to the table.
However, passing has always been a problem. It was understandable when injuries forced wideout Lynn Bowden Jr. to become the full-time Wildcat quarterback in 2019, but UK has only generated a passer rating of 130 or a Total QBR of 60 once in Stoops’ eight seasons.
Stoops replaced veteran offensive coordinator Eddie Gran with Liam Coen, a former Maine offensive coordinator who spent the past three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, after the team slipped to 80th in offensive SP+. The goal is clear: maintain physicality (particularly given Rodriguez’s erratic behavior) while progressing toward pass competence.
Joey Gatewood and Penn State transfer Will Levis, both quarterbacks, are excellent runners, but neither is a proven thrower. They may have good efficiency alternatives in slot guys Wan’Dale Robinson (Nebraska transfer) and Josh Ali, as well as tight end Keaton Upshaw, but Coen may take some time to get going.
What Kentucky didn’t teach us in 2020
Will Josh Allen’s spirit return? After Allen’s 21.5 TFL outburst in 2018, UK followed suit and jumped to 15th in defensive SP+. It was almost difficult to replace Allen, but the Wildcats had a major disruption problem last season. They were rated 110th in sack rate and 116th in havoc rate (combined TFLs, passes defensed, and forced fumbles per play), and opponents were able to move freely despite excellent big-play defense.
Seven of the 16 players with 200+ snaps have left the program, including the top two pass rushers and cornerbacks. Yusuf Corker and Tyrell Ajian are outstanding safeties, while nose guards Marquan McCall (6’3, 379) and Justin Rogers (6’3, 336) are colossal. However, the United Kingdom really needs some playmakers in the middle, and it’s unclear if they have any.
A timeline of Kentucky’s history in one graph
Bear Bryant was stolen from Maryland in 1946, and UK quickly enjoyed the benefits: they went 11-1 in 1950, won the Sugar Bowl, and ended ranked five years in a row.
Since Bryant’s departure, the Cats have only been in the top ten once, in 1977, when Fran Curci’s team went 10-1 and placed sixth… despite the fact that they were prohibited from bowling.
In 1997, when the program was at its lowest ebb, UK hired Valdosta State coach and Air Raid creator Hal Mumme. He oversaw two winning seasons before resigning due to an NCAA investigation.
Their only two weeks in the top 10 since 1977 occurred in 2007, when they began 6-1 and ended 2-4 after beating top-10 Louisville and LSU teams.
Bowden’s 2019 season was really one-of-a-kind. Midway through the season, he switched to quarterback and ended as UK’s top passer, rusher, and receiver, guiding them to an 8-5 record.
Florida has finished higher than 14th in the AP poll three times in a row under Dan Mullen, after only doing so once in the previous eight years. Is he capable of raising the bar even higher?
Projections for 2021
SP+ projected ranking: 12th
The average number of predicted victories is 5.5. (5.7 in the SEC)
Samford (99%), Vanderbilt (98%), Florida Atlantic (97%), at USF (95%), at South Carolina (92%), Florida State (87%), Tennessee (85%), at Missouri (79%), at Kentucky (79 percent )
At LSU (59 percent), against. Georgia, it’s a toss-up (43 percent )
Alabama is a team that is likely to lose (34 percent )
Florida is a few steps behind Georgia but yards ahead of the rest of the East field, according to SP+. Another run at double digit victories should be assured with an easy nonconference schedule.
What we discovered about Florida in the year 2020
It’s a sight to see when the Mullen offense is completely realized. Mullen is one of the most successful offensive coaches in college football, but his 2020 Gators offense was the greatest of his head coaching tenure.
The Gators didn’t have a strong run game, and quarterback Kyle Trask didn’t help much with his legs, but they had persistent mismatch advantages in the throwing game. Despite the fact that none of the three players played in all 12 games, Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, and Trevon Grimes combined for 2,343 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns. Because of their firepower, the Gators were the only team that could remain within 14 points of Alabama.
Trask and the pass-catching trio are gone; there are some fun players in their place — junior Jacob Copeland, sophomore slots Xzavier Henderson and Ja’Quaviars, TE Kemore Gamble, and so on — and the ground game will likely improve, thanks to experience at the RB and OL, as well as the fact that new starting QB Emory Jones is a great runner. To win the SEC East, the offense will almost certainly regress, and the defense will have to take up the slack.
Florida in 2020: What We Didn’t Know
Todd Grantham, do you have the answers? The experienced defensive coordinator has a straightforward approach: get you behind schedule, then demolish your quarterback. His habits are known, but that doesn’t matter when he has the right pieces in place: UF was 17th in defensive SP+ in 2018 and sixth in 2019.
The Gators finished 33rd in 2020. They gave up a respectable 21 points per game to teams ranked 50th or below in SP+ and 41 points to those rated above. They still did a decent job rushing the quarterback (22nd in sack rate), but good opponents were seldom caught off guard.
Mullen tried to solve run problems by bringing in hefty tackle transfers DaQuirk Newkirk (Auburn) and Antonio Shelton (Penn State); a linebacking corps headed by Brent Cox Jr. and Ventrell Miller may be terrific with assistance up front, but the secondary loses four of the top six from last season. Kaiir Elam and Jaydon Hill are solid cornerbacks, but the safeties are as inexperienced as the tackles.
A timeline of Florida’s history in one graph
In 1965-66, Steve Spurrier threw for 3,905 yards, 30 touchdowns, two consecutive seasons in the AP top 10, and one Heisman Trophy.
In 1983-85, Florida won 27 games and earned its first three AP top-6 finishes under Charley Pell and Galen Hall… but was penalized by the NCAA for 59 significant violations.
Who was it that got the Gators out of their sanctions funk? Spurrier. From 1990 through 2001, UF won six SEC championships, one national championship, and ten top-10 finishes.
After Spurrier departed for the NFL, Florida struggled until Urban Meyer was hired. From 2006 through 2009, the Gators had 48 victories, two national championships, a third top-three finish, and one Tim Tebow.
Meyer became burnt out and left for a short time, causing another decline. However, with Mullen in charge, Meyer’s former offensive coordinator, the Gators seem to be on the mend.
Last season, I selected Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs as the most intriguing club before the season, and its starting quarterback as the most significant player in college football.
This year, it seemed like every spring piece I wrote ended with “and that makes Georgia the most intriguing team coming into the season,” and — spoiler alert — quarterback JT Daniels will be among the most significant players this season. Once you’ve fooled me…
Projections for 2021
Sixth place in the SP+ rankings is expected.
The average number of predicted victories is 9.8. (6.6 in the SEC)
At Vanderbilt (98 percent), South Carolina (97 percent), UAB (94 percent), Missouri (90 percent), Kentucky (90 percent), Arkansas (85 percent), at Tennessee (82 percent), at Georgia Tech (81 percent), and at Auburn are the most likely to win (67 percent )
Toss-ups: against. Florida (57 percent), vs. Clemson (57 percent) (40 percent )
Losses are unlikely to occur.
Only one of the six projected top-50 teams on the Dawgs’ schedule visits Athens. That is a problem, but they will very certainly be favored in every non-Clemson matchup.
In 2020, we learnt a lot about Georgia.
You’ll only go you so far if you rely on defense. A single Nick Saban statement characterized the 2020 season: “It used to be that if you played excellent defense, no one would score. You were always going to be a part of the action. That’s what I’m saying. That’s no longer the case.”
He used the Dawgs as an example. They were first in defensive SP+, and they won eight of their nine games by an average of 34-14. However, in their two defeats, they surrendered 891 passing yards and 85 points to top Alabama and Florida teams. In response, they were only able to score 52 points. You must have a large amount of raw attacking firepower.
Daniels, a blue-chip USC transfer who had been struggling with a long knee recovery, was finally ready for the lineup in late November, and Smart was rewarded. Georgia improved from 29 to 38 points per game, and Daniels’ Total QBR of 89.1 would have placed fourth for the season.
On the one hand, Daniels scorched three shaky defenses while also making errors against an elite Cincinnati unit; he also lost go-to receiver George Pickens to a spring knee injury, and it’s unclear when or if the junior will play this season.
On the other hand, (A) Daniels’ excellent Total QBR was opponent-adjusted, and (B) he’ll still have Kearis Jackson, Jermaine Burton, and Dominick Blaylock (injured in 2020) at his disposal, as well as two sophomore tight ends with otherworldly potential (Darnell Washington and LSU transfer Arik Gilbert). You have a tremendously high ceiling when you combine one of the finest RB rooms in the nation (headed by Zamir White). They just have to prove it for more than four games now.
What Georgia didn’t teach us in 2020
Will the secondary need more time to gel? Georgia will have to lose three outstanding linebackers, but with seniors Adam Anderson and Channing Tindall (and perhaps kids like Xavian Sorey Jr. and Smael Mondon Jr.), the front seven is almost certain to remain excellent. The secondary, on the other hand, may have a little more to prove. Six of the eight players with 100 or more snaps in 2020 have already left, so Smart may have to depend heavily on transfers like West Virginia’s Tykee Smith and Clemson’s Derion Kendrick.
Given that Smith and Kendrick are both very talented, this may not be a problem. With Clemson on the horizon in Week 1, any mistakes in the backfield may be punished quickly.
A timeline of Georgia’s history on one graph
In 1946, the headlines were dominated by Army and Notre Dame, but Wallace Butts’ Georgia Dawgs went 11-0, won the Sugar Bowl, and placed third in the AP poll.
When Auburn assistant Vince Dooley was appointed as head coach in 1964, UGA had only won 16 games in four years. By 1966, he had the Dawgs in the top five.
Dooley’s career had a lot of ups and downs until he signed Herschel Walker. Walker ran for 5,259 yards from 1980 to 1982, helping UGA win 33 games and the national championship in 1980.
When Mark Richt was hired in 2001, UGA hadn’t won an SEC championship since Walker. During his 15-year career, he won two races (in 2002 and 2005) and had seven top-10 finishes.
After five seasons, Richt has a record of 52-13 with four top-10 finishes. After five rounds, you’re 52-14 with four top-10 finishes. (For what it’s worth, Richt went 9-4 in year six and ended 23rd.)
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