This could be beautiful. Their returning quarterbacks have a combined 8 career passes, and that guy (Connor Mitch) is apparently in the doghouse. The defense, after rumors of Will Muschamp and Gene Chizik, ended up with some dude named Jon Hoke, last seen as the Chicago Bears’ DB coach. Unexpected departures from the receiving corps leave Pharoh Cooper the sole focal point of the passing game.
On the other hand, Steve Spurrier is still the Ball Coach in Columbia. His presence alone should make Dawg fans (and the rest of the SEC East) nervous enough.
What Happened Last Year?
Still a vexing question. After the unprecedented (and still SEC title-less) run of three straight 11-win seasons, Spurrier’s Cocks fell off the map. The defense, upon losing Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, and more, gave up 10.1 points and 83 yards more per game than the 2013 bunch. The offense lost a major pain-in-the-rear-on-third-and-six-or-less dynamic in Connor Shaw, and the team just looked lost.
As cathartic as their opening loss at the hands of Texas A&M was, we as Georgia fans didn’t know quite how much the Gamecocks’ 38-35 triumph over the Bulldogs was going to hurt. They followed that win with an unconvincing 14-pointer at Vanderbilt, losses to Missouri and Kentucky, more losses to Auburn and Tennessee, an OT win at Florida, and another loss at Clemson.
While this year’s iteration returns a lot more on D, it loses anyone with significant QB experience, bowling ball Mike Davis, and four of last year’s top five receivers. One places them in the middle of the pack because Spurrier is still a damn good coach and…well? I guess we’re calling last year a moderate fluke.
I hope I’m wrong.
Three Key Games
Sept. 19, at Georgia: Unfortunately for me, I don’t see a neutral-site game against UNC in the opener as a loss for the ‘Cocks. Our first chance to really learn if they’re going to bounce back from last year is in Athens. I’m counting no chickens (I swear to God no pun intended) as the Sandlappers have won 4 of 5 against the Dawgs.
Oct. 31, at Texas A&M: Last year, SC fans made asses of themselves by starting fights at A&M’s ‘Midnight Call’. I hope the bad karma continues to carry over, and the Ags establish dominance in this crossdivisional series. Aside from Georgia, games at Mizzou and home against LSU and Vanderbilt give S.C. a chance to still be in the hunt for the East at this point.
Nov. 7, at Tennessee: Carrying over from the week prior, a 1 or even 2 loss S.C. team is still in the hunt against a team I (spoiler!) haven’t previewed yet.
Five Players to Watch
– WR Pharoh Cooper: Cooper is going to do everything for this offense– he was 5/8 with 2 TD as the Wildcat QB last year, ran for 203 yards on 27 carries, and had 1136 yards receiving. #11 is the one guy who’ll make SC worth watching in 2015.
– LB Skai Moore: Somewhat of the defensive equivalent of Cooper. Moore has 7 interceptions in his career from his SPUR spot, and led the team in tackles last year (for whatever that’s worth).
– DL Marquavius Lewis and Dante Sawyer: What do you do when your defense, lacking the NFL’s #1 overall draft pick, struggles the next year? You hit the JUCO ranks. Lewis is 6’3 266, Sawyer is 6’3 280. Not bad size for two guys who are slated to start from day one.
– S Isaiah Johnson: What do you do when your secondary allows 62.1% completions and you can’t blame it all on the D-line? You take a two-year starter from Kansas– yeah, I don’t know if this is desperate yet.
– RB’s David Williams/Brandon Wilds/Shon Carson: Wilds and Carson are seniors, and neither has ever really lived up to their respective hypes. Williams is listed as the starter by Phil Steele, but he only went 45/265/2 last year…South Carolina, in a departure from Spurrier’s Florida Fun ‘n’ Gun, has relied heavily on a featured back during its successful era. Someone needs to emerge.
The words ‘fun’, ‘Kentucky’, and ‘football’ don’t normally belong in the same paragraph, let alone sentence. But I’m here to tell you: they were entertaining and explosive last year. They return enough on offense (and possibly enough competency on defense, outside the loss of Bud Dupree) to compete for a bowl.
What Happened Last Year?
Mark Stoops’ second season saw continued improvement from their year 1 results, as they snapped a 17-game SEC losing streak early against Vanderbilt and followed it up with a shootout win against South Carolina. Matter of fact, they took Florida to triple OT in The Swamp before those two successes, so they just narrowly missed a 6-0 start.
The wheels then came off in a 41-3 loss at LSU, but they held their own in the SEC’s weirdest possible 3:30 CBS kickoff: #1 Mississippi State at Kentucky. The 45-31 loss was more competitive than the final score would indicate. They were then competitive in road losses to Mizzou and Louisville…but not so much against Georgia and Tennessee.
Put it all together, and you have 9 games in which the Wildcats were competitive. They return 7 starters on each side of the ball, including a much-improved QB Patrick Towles.
Three Key Games
First off, their nonconference schedule includes Louisiana-Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, and Charlotte in the 49ers’ first power-5 game. Find three wins between the SEC and Louisville, and the ‘Cats are bowling for the first time since 2010.
Sept. 19, Florida: Fresh off taking the Gators to triple OT last year, Kentucky has the good fortune of drawing the Gators early, before their new offense is battle-tested.
Sept. 26, Missouri: Had this as a key for Mizzou as well, but it should shape up as a shakedown for middle-of-the-pack versus towards-the-bottom in the SEC East. That’s right, if Kentucky holds serve in September, they should be able to comfortably hit the 6-win plateau.
Nov. 28, Louisville: Assuming losses at South Carolina, home against Auburn, and at Mississippi State and Georgia, the two above and Tennessee become their swing games. They played the fighting Petrinos close in Louisville last year, and both the four-game losing streak to their rivals and the dangling carrot of 15 extra bowl practices should serve as proper motivation.
Five Key Players:
Melvin Lewis, DT: He held his starting NT job over the very large and very hyped Matt Elam last year, and responded as a pretty good two-gap stuffer. If he fails, the nose grows from 342 to 365 in this form:
Jon Toth, C: The only Kentucky OL among 4 returning starters on any of Phil Steele’s All-SEC teams, Toth has anchored the line for the entire Stoops era.
Patrick Towles, QB: Already the best offensive back at Kentucky since Andre Woodson, Towles started strong but finished with relatively pedestrian numbers: 14 TD, 9 Int, 57.3% completions. Given the fact that the team had its highest scoring output since 2010 with those numbers, any improvement should prove huge for the Wildcats.
Josh Forrest, MLB: Takes over as the most recognizable defensive player on the team, and they’re going to need his production. He actually led the team (Dupree included) with 7 tackles for loss and 110 total.
Dorian Baker/Garrett Johnson, WR: Slated to take over two of the three starting spots, both put up around 20 catches for 200 yards and a couple TD’s as true freshmen. If one of them can step up opposite leading receiver Ryan Timmons, the O should take the next step.
In case you haven’t noticed, Kentucky’s success in 2015 will be defined strictly by whether they’re playing a 13th game. I think it’s time for them to do just that.
This series focuses on my favorite posts of all time. Lest I be labeled as overly arrogant, please note: 1. This was new DYC Editor-in-Chief Chad Floyd’s idea. 2. These are my “favorite” posts not my “best” posts. I don’t have “best” posts, because that would imply that I had better posts and good posts to begin with. For the rest of the Dude’s Top 10 Countdown, click here.
Georgia’s 2013 overtime victory at Tennessee was the single-most dumbfounding sporting event I’ve ever witnessed. Injury after injury after injury derailed the Bulldogs on an otherwise normal day and all I could do was sit helplessly by and wonder why bad things happen to good football teams.
After the game I ate cold pizza in the press box of Neyland Stadium and wondered what the meaning of life was. After that, I walked by the Volunteer Navy as orange-clad fans celebrated a near victory and blasted “Royals” by Lorde. I boarded a ferry across the Tennessee River to the condo my sister and brother-in-law lived in and drank rum for the first time since college. As I type this (some 21 months later), memories of that night could not be more vivid. That game wrecked me to my core. I tore an emotional ACL that day.
A few days later I managed to put my fingers on the keys and brain-fart this article. This article makes the Top 10 not for its content (that game still hurts) or its penmanship, but because it captures the agony of being a fanatic—even after a victory.
That’s all I got/
For the rest of the Dude’s Top 10 Countdown, click here.
If I’m claiming to be a prognosticator (I’m not) then this would have to be considered a risky and potentially Georgia-jinxing pick (it is). But let’s take a deeper look into the numbers.
What Happened Last Year (And For Comparison’s Sake, the Year Before)?
2013: 491 yards per game on offense, with receivers L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham. Henry Josey led the team with over 1100 yards of offense. James Franklin’s injury at Georgia gave way to Maty Mauk, who looked decent with those weapons around him. On D, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy provided the best pass rush in the nation, leading the Tigers to 41 sacks and the 12-2 record that many saw as a fluke. I’m not so sure it was.
2014: Offense dips to 367 a game, with Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt competently leading the receiving corps. Markus Golden and Shane Ray led another ridiculous pass rush to 44 sacks, and the defense actually improved by 70 yards and two points a game. But, given the numbers cited, the offense took a major dip, and their last 5 SEC wins were less and less inspiring. 10-point home wins against Vandy and Kentucky, single-digit wins against Texas A&M and Tennessee, and the painful-to-watch Black Friday 21-14 win over Arkansas.
They got by, but it wasn’t pretty. Gone are all of the players listed above not named Mauk, who languished around the 50% completion mark for the second straight season.
They do return most of their offensive line, as well as a linebacking corps that put up ridiculous numbers behind the stalwart D-line.
But when your most impressive win is a game against Florida where your defense nets a +5 in turnovers and your offense accounts for 119 yards, one doesn’t have to squint too much to see a dropoff.
Three Key Games
Sept. 26, at Kentucky: Their SEC opener is a tricky one, and one that will tell us a LOT about both teams playing. My early inclination is to call this a toss-up at best for the Tigers. Toss-up = key game in my book.
Oct. 17, at Georgia: Well, let’s say this for Mizzou fans/players favorite SEC rivalry: the home team has yet to win a game in this series. Wins in this one and Kentucky (sandwiching home games against South Carolina and Florida) put Mizzou in the driver’s seat for the East, yet again. I think this is more likely the merciful burial of their fluky two-year run atop the division.
Nov. 21, Tennessee: If neither of these teams are eliminated by now, we know Georgia slipped up somewhere and this becomes a de facto SEC East elimination game. Let’s not let it come to that.
Five Players to Watch
Maty Mauk, QB: Quite honestly, this whole low prediction is contingent on Mauk failing, for a second straight year, to improve on his numbers as his supporting cast gets much weaker. If Mauk takes ‘the leap’, my prediction is way off.
Evan Boehm, C: Boehm anchors the senior-heavy O-line with 50 career starts, and its success in creating running lanes for Russell Hansbrough and short passing lanes for their tunnel screen game will largely dictate what this offense can do.
Charles Harris, DE: With two sacks last year, the third-year sophomore is apparently being tabbed as the ‘next in line’ behind Sam/Ealy/Ray/Golden. If he emerges and Mizzou has another 40-sack campaign, I’ll believe it.
Kentrell Brothers, LB: Sure tackling at the LB spot has been the underrated staple of Mizzou’s last two D’s. Brothers accounted for 122 last year.
Michael Scherer, MLB: See above, but give him 114 tackles.
So, yeah. I’m pretty confident in this pick. Outside of the two linebackers, all of the things that need to go right for Mizzou to contend for a third straight SEC East title are very speculative in nature.
That, or I just can’t shake this image and I’m extremely wrong.
And it can’t get here quick enough. Until it gets here, the Dude You Podcast will be here to rescue you from America’s zombie pastime, one podcast at a time.
We take a look at Georgia coming out of Media Days, and get warmed up for the season. We’re damn excited. How excited?
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