Southeastern Conference Preview
2001 record: 10-2 (Beat Maryland in Orange Bowl)
Coach: Ron Zook
Outlook: Things may never be the same in Gainesville now that Steve Spurrier has moved on to the Washington Redskins. But while Zook is not as quotable or as colorful as his predecessor, he is not going to change what the Gators do best, and that's throw the ball. QB Rex Grossman, the nation's most efficient passer last year, won't have the hyper-critical Spurrier looking over his shoulder. But he did lose two of his favorite weapons, Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell, who went to the NFL. Florida has to replace 23 touchdowns and more than 2,300 receiving yards. That means that while Florida still will throw frequently, Zook may try to instill a more run-oriented offense. That could benefit Earnest Graham, an SEC second-team performer that year.
Noteworthy: New offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher is well versed in running high-powered offense and is known for developing quarterbacks. He comes from a Marshall program that averaged 37 points per game and ranked third in the nation in total offense last year. Florida is seeking its 13th straight season with at least nine wins, which would extend its SEC record.
Schedule: In Week 2, the Gators host Miami in the first regular season meeting between the Sunshine State rivals since 1987. Two weeks later, Florida visits Tennessee in its SEC opener. There is also the season finale at Florida State.
2001 record: 8-4 (Lost to Boston College in Music City Bowl)
Coach: Mark Richt
Outlook: The Bulldogs have visions of playing in their first SEC title game. With 15 starters returning and QB David Greene coming off a spectacular freshman season, it is a realistic goal. Greene matured quickly, leading a no-huddle offense that averaged 432.8 yards per game. Georgia also boasts a veteran OL as four seniors will start for the first time since 1983. In addition, the Bulldogs are loaded at wide receiver. Terrence Edwards needs 38 receptions to become the school's all-time leader, while Fred Gibson had five 100-yard games and averaged 23.4 yards per catch as a freshman last season. A major concern, however, is the running game as the Bulldogs have to find someone to replace Verron Hayes, who ran for 823 yards a year ago.
Noteworthy: For the first time in five years, the Bulldogs return their defensive coordinator. Last season, Brian VanGorder became the fourth man is as many years to hold the job. Last year's loss to Boston College ended Georgia's string of four consecutive bowl victories. Greene set a Georgia freshman record by passing for 3,077 yards and was named the SEC Freshman of the Year.
Schedule: Georgia may be in position to win the SEC East if it can beat Tennessee at home on Oct. 12. However, the Bulldogs have only three SEC home games. Their other home contests are against Clemson, Northwestern State, New Mexico State and Georgia Tech.
2001 record: 2-9
Coach: Guy Morriss
Outlook: Lots of offense, no defense. Once again, that's the outlook for the Wildcats, who haven't stopped anyone for the better part of a decade. After modest improvement in 2000, Kentucky surrendered an average of 475 yards per game and slipped to 109th in the nation in total defense. To make matters worse, the Wildcats are beginning a three-year probation for violations committed under the previous regime. But at least the Wildcats have Jared Lorenzen, who is interesting to watch if for no other reason than he might be the biggest quarterback in the country at 275 pounds. Still just a junior, Lorenzen already is Kentucky's No. 2 passer with 5,866 yards. Kentucky again will battle with Vanderbilt to stay out of the SEC East basement.
Noteworthy: The NCAA probation will cost the Wildcats 19 scholarship players over the next three seasons. Glenn Pakulak led the SEC in punting last year, averaging 44.5 yards per kick. Kentucky did show some signs of progress last year. After being outscored in SEC games by 18.5 points in 2000, they improved the mark to 9.9 last season and came within 13 seconds of upsetting LSU.
Schedule: The Wildcats kick off a 12-game slate with a Sunday contest at Louisville on Sept. 1. Kentucky has to play at Florida and Tennessee, but gets South Carolina, Georgia and LSU at home.
2001 record: 9-3 (Beat Ohio State in Outback Bowl)
Coach: Lou Holtz
Outlook: Holtz has turned things around at South Carolina, winning 17 games the last two seasons. But with 13 starters gone, the Gamecocks may be hard-pressed to match last year's win total. Gone are QB Phil Petty and top WR Brian Scott. Holtz has to break in a new signal-caller in Corey Jenkins, who could be more adept at running the option offense than Petty. Holtz has compared Jenkins to former Notre Dame QB Tony Rice. RB Andrew Pinnock rushed for a team-high 625 yards last year and his work load could increase due to the dismissal of Derek Watson. The Gamecocks have defensive concerns. They registered just 15 sacks last year and gave up too many big plays on third down.
Noteworthy: S Rashad Faison, who led the Gamecocks with 99 tackles last season, is the only returning starter in the secondary. Holtz is 17-18 in his three seasons at South Carolina, not bad considering the Gamecocks were 0-11 in his first year in 1999. Entering his 26th year as a college coach, Holtz boasts a career mark of 217-82-7.
Schedule: The Gamecocks get Georgia (Sept. 14) and Tennessee (Nov. 2) at home, where they were 6-1 last season. They face SEC champion LSU (Oct. 19) and Florida (Nov. 16) on the road.
2001 record: 11-2 (Beat Michigan in Citrus Bowl)
Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Outlook: The Volunteers lost two of their top offensive weapons in RB Travis Stephens (1,502 yards) and WR Dante' Stallworth (49 receptions for 940 yards), who gave up his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. But the cupboard is not exactly bare. QB Casey Clausen, in his third year as a starter, continues to blossom and his favorite target will be Kelley Washington, a former minor league play baseball player who caught 64 passes as a freshman last year. Jabari Davis and Cedric Houston will help fill the void left by the departure of Stephens. The Volunteers also were hit hard on the DL, losing T John Henderson and E Will Overstreet, but Fulmer always seems to get the most out of his team. Expect the Vols to once again be in the hunt for the SEC title.
Noteworthy: The Volunteers have played in three of the last five SEC title games. Their 52-11 record is the SEC's best duing that span. Fulmer has the second-best winning percentage (.826) among active coaches and boasts a 33-15 mark against ranked teams. The Volunteers have gone to a school-record 13 straight bowl games.
Schedule: Tennessee welcomes defending national champion Miami to Neyland Stadium on Nov. 9. A few weeks earlier, the Volunteers have a tough test at Georgia.
2001 record: 2-9
Coach: Bobby Johnson
Outlook: Johnson, formerly the coach at Division I-AA Furman, takes over for Woody Widenhofer, who posted a five-year record of 15-40 at Vanderbilt. Johnson has vowed to spruce up an offense that ranked 95th in the country last season (20.5 ppg). With QB Greg Zolman having graduated, junior Benji Walker, who completed only two passes last year, and redshirt freshman Jay Cutler are battling for the starting job. WR Dan Stricker, who had 65 receptions last season, is a threat, but things are pretty bleak after that. The Commodores have virtually no experience in the backfield, losing their top two rushers. With a defense that ranked last in the SEC a year ago, Vanderbilt may be hard-pressed to win a conference game this season.
Noteworthy: Johnson posted a 60-36 record in nine years at Furman, leading the Paladins to the Division I-AA playoffs the last three years. He faces his former team on Sept. 7 in the home opener. The Commodores gave up 537 yards last year to Duke, which has the longest current losing streak in Division I-A. They also allowed South Carolina to gain a school-record 637 yards in 46-14 loss.
Schedule: Due to a soft non-conference slate, Vanderbilt may be able to surpass last season's win total. In addition to Furman, the Commodores face Middle Tennessee and Connecticut at home.
2001 record: 7-5 (Beat Iowa State in Independence Bowl)
Coach: Dennis Franchione
Outlook: Although Alabama is beginning a two-year bowl ban, things are improving in Tuscaloosa. Franchione's first season, while not great by Alabama's standards, was a marked improvement from a 3-8 finish the year before. Alabama is deep in the backfield and likely will rely heavily on its running game. The Tide returns four of its top five running backs, led by Ahmad Galloway (971 yards) and Santonio Beard (678 yards). Franchione probably won't ask senior QB Tyler Watts (just 1,325 yards passing and 10 TDs last year) to do too much. DT Jarrett Johnson appears to be Alabama's most productive lineman and should be at full strength after missing most of spring practice with a knee injury.
Noteworthy: Alabama needs to become more opportunistic on defense. It had just six interceptions
last year and its 19 total turnovers ranked 10th in the SEC. With 17 starters back, the Crimson Tide have the SEC's most experienced team. Redshirt freshman QBs Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington spent a lot of time working on the passing game in the spring and could push Watts for playing time this fall.
Schedule: While Alabama's September slate includes home games against Middle Tennessee State, North Texas and Southern Mississippi, its first two road contests are against Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Crimson Tide close the season at Hawaii on Thanksgiving weekend.
2001 record: 7-5 (Lost to Oklahoma in Cotton Bowl)
Coach: Houston Nutt
OUTLOOK: With Zak Clark having transferred to Central Arkansas, Matt Jones is in as the Razorbacks' starting QB. Nutt is hoping that Jones can improve on offense that ranked 97th nationally and last in the SEC last season. Arkansas, which averaged just 328.6 yards per game last year, returns its top two running backs and receivers, but the strength of the team could be in the secondary. S Ken Hamlin is a fierce hitter who had a combined 10 interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries last season. Lawrence Richardson and Ahman Carroll also are physical corners. Arkansas has more experienced at linebacker, even though MLB Shane Collins will miss the entire season due to knee surgery.
Noteworthy: The Razorbacks are seeking a fifth straight bowl appearance under Nutt, who has a four-year record of 30-18 at Arkansas. They have not won a league championship since capturing the Southwest Conference title in 1989. The Razorbacks have won their last 11 games at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium, but they are just 2-12 in their last 14 SEC road games.
Schedule: Arkansas faces Boise State and South Florida before beginning conference play against Alabama on Sept. 28, the finale of a season-opening three-game homestand.
2001 record: 7-5 (Lost to North Carolina in Peach Bowl)
Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Outlook: Auburn seemed to be in command of the SEC West race last year, but collapsed down the stretch, losing three of its last four regular season games. The Tigers expect to contend again this year and they are pinning those hopes on a healthy Carnell Williams, who could be one of the SEC's top running backs. Williams averaged 5.1 yards on 120 carries as a freshman last year before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone against Alabama. The Tigers were 0-3 without Williams. The Tigers are inexperienced at QB, but hope to improve last year's output of 21.2 points per game. They also have eight starters back on defense and another valuable weapon is kicker David Duval, who had game-winning field goals against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida.
Noteworthy: QB Daniel Cobb, who has battled numerous injuries throughout his career at Auburn, was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He is battling with Jason Campbell, who had eight starts as a freshman last year, for the No. 1 spot. Williams had a school-record 41 carries in Auburn's 24-17 victory over Georgia.
Schedule: The Tigers play their first four games in a 17-day span. They open on Labor Day at Southern California and conclude the busy stretch with a Thursday night contest at Mississippi State on Sept. 19. Auburn closes its five-game September slate with a home contest against Syracuse.
2001 record: 10-3 (Beat Illinois in Sugar Bowl)
Coach: Nick Saban
Outlook: LSU came out of nowhere to win the SEC title last season, but with the explosive duo of QB Rohan Davey and WR Josh Reed now in the NFL, the Tigers probably will be more of a run-oriented team this year. LSU returns four starters from the offensive line and its top three rushers, including LaBrandon Toefield, who ran for 992 yards and 18 TDs. QB Matt Mauck, Davey's replacement, was named the MVP of the SEC title game after taking over for an injured Davey. While Reed (1,979 yards) was a huge loss, the Tigers do have WRs Michael Clayton (55 receptions for 874 yards) and Jerel Myers (43 receptions for 512 yards) back. Still, LSU returns just five starters back on offense. They also need to improve a defense that suprisingly allowed 407 yards last year, the third-highest total in the SEC.
Noteworthy: The 22-year-old Mauck originally signed with Michigan State when Saban coached the Spartans, but he opted to play baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization before enrolling at LSU. Last year, Saban led LSU to its first SEC championship since 1986 and its first New Year's Day win wince 1968. The Tigers have not played in consecutive New Year's Day bowl games since 1964 and 1965, when it beat Syracuse in the Sugar Bowl and Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
Schedule: After a difficult opener at Virginia Tech, the Tigers enjoy a four-game homestand against The Citadel, Miami of Ohio, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Lafayette. However, Saban has Oct. 12 circled on his calender. That's when the Tigers visit Florida, which humbled LSU, 44-15, last season in Baton Rouge.
2001 record: 7-4
Coach: David Cutliffe
Outlook: QB Eli Manning bulked up in the offseason, adding 20 pounds to his 195-pound frame. He had a spectacular sophomore season, setting 13 school records, and with a full year under his belt, may be ready to open up the offense even more this year. He passed for 2,958 yards and 31 TDS last season -- just three less than Florida's Rex Grossman. The Rebels return four of their top five receivers and should not lack for firepower. However, they are inexperienced in the backfield and Cutliffe will have to find someone to replace Joe Gunn, who ran for 870 yards a year ago. LB Eddie Strong is the leader of the defense, but the Rebels are small on the defensive line. T Jessie Mitchell may be Ole Miss' best interior lineman but at 6-3 and 271 pounds, he's considered small by SEC standards.
Noteworthy: Archie Manning asked Mississippi not to undertake a promotional campaign for his son, Eli, who some see as a Heisman Trophy candidate. The elder Manning did not like the way Peyton Manning was hyped for the Heisman while at Tennessee. Ole Miss is the only SEC West team not to win a share of the division title since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 1990.
Schedule: After avoiding Florida and Tennessee for four years, the Rebels finally have to play the Gators this season, although they do get them at home. However, they have road contests at Alabama, Georgia and LSU.
2001 record: 3-8
Coach: Jackie Sherrill
Outlook: With an SEC-high 55 letterman returning, the Bulldogs hope to avoid a second straight losing season. They also hope to get a few breaks as four of last year's eight losses were by three points or less. Mississippi State allowed 397.9 yards per game last year, but should be better this year with seven starters back on defense, although the Bulldogs have to replace LB Pig Prather, an SEC first-team performer and finalist for the Thorpe award. As usual, Mississippi State will be big up front as its five projected starters on the offensive line weigh an average of 306 pounds. Kevin Fant takes over for Wayne Madkin at QB and may give the Bulldogs a stronger passing attack. Sherrill also is hoping that RB Dontae Walker is ready for a breakthrough season after running for 548 yards last year.
Noteworthy: With Steve Spurrier having moved on to the NFL, Sherrill is now the dean of all SEC coaches. He is entering his 12th season at Mississippi State. In 23 previous seasons as a coach, he has had back-to-back losing campaigns only once. They came in 1995 (3-8) and 1996 (5-6). The Bulldogs averaged just 17.8 points per game last year after averaging 32.5 in 2000.
Schedule: The Bulldogs hope to gain early momentum but it will be difficult. Among Mississippi State's first five games are road assignments at Oregon (Aug. 31), LSU (Sept. 28) and South Carolina (Oct. 5).