10. South Carolina Gamecocks
Be Excited About … a defense that has the talent and experience to be among the SEC’s best. The line and secondary are as strong as any in the conference, and the linebacking corps isn’t bad. There should be a huge jump up in overall production.
Be Concerned About … a passing game that sputtered and couldn’t push the ball down the field. The receivers are just okay around Shi Smith, and there’s a whole lot of work to do after finishing last in the SEC completing fewer than ten yards per pass.
The Season Will Be Successful If … the Gamecocks go bowling. No one’s asking for an SEC championship or even a division title. Just don’t win just four games again and reverse the downward spiral. This team is good enough to pull off another Georgia-like win of last year.
9. Tennessee Volunteers
Be Excited About … the lines are good enough to win with. Jeremy Pruitt has had a few years to build things up, and most importantly, he’s got the guys in the trenches to at least hang with most SEC teams. The defense should be his best yet.
Be Concerned About … the offense has to find more pop. Yeah, the D should be good, but the Vols won’t make a whole lot of noise if they average just 366 yards and 24 points per game again. Again, start with the good line and hope everything fills in from there.
The Season Will Be Successful If … there’s a win over someone important on the way to a bowl game. There has to be some step forward to make the base think an East title is coming in the near-future. Tennessee has lost three in a row to both Florida and Georgia, and 13 straight to Alabama. Beating one of those three would be a big deal.
8. Kentucky Wildcats
Be Excited About … the defense is going to be terrific, especially in the secondary. There might not be a whole slew of brand name stars, but the offensive line is terrific, and as we’ve seen over the last few years, the coaching staff will figure it out on the fly.
Be Concerned About … the passing game that has to get up and rolling again. The Wildcats did what they had to do to get by last season with Lynn Bowden filling in at quarterback – leading to the nation’s fourth-best running game – but the air attack was the fourth-worst in college football. A healthy Terry Wilson has to make UK more efficient.
The Season Will Be Successful If … 1) UK goes to another good bowl, 2) it beats Florida for the second time in three years – stop the new streak now – and/or 3) beats Georgia for the first time since 2009.
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Be Excited About … Mike Leach, the passing game, and all that comes with both of them. If Stanford transfer KJ Costello can get up to speed instantly, the offense will be in place to light up anyone in the SEC. The defensive front seven won’t be bad, either.
Be Concerned About … getting that offense going. It will work – eventually. Joe Moorhead is a brilliant offensive mind – he’s the new OC at Oregon – and his attack only averaged 28 points per game last year. Without a normal offseason, doing what Leach wants to do could take a little bit.
The Season Will Be Successful If … the passing game starts to look the part. It might not be the Leach O right away, but in this weirdest of all years, if Miss State starts to look the part of that team you don’t want to face.
6. Texas A&M Aggies
Be Excited About … being one of the few teams in the SEC West with a returning starting quarterback. Kellen Mond is one of the nation’s most experienced passers, and in this season, time logged in will matter. The defensive back seven is as good as it has been in the Jimbo Fisher era.
Be Concerned About … the offensive line that couldn’t keep Mond from getting popped. The O line was good in keeping defenses out of the backfield – in general – but it was dead last in the SEC in sacks allowed. Be concerned about that, and turnover margin – A&M was last in the SEC in that, too.
The Season Will Be Successful If … it makes a push to win the West. It’s time to finally make a move under Fisher and start to look like the superpower it should be. There isn’t anything keeping A&M as a program from getting to the Alabama and LSU level – it’s bound by nothing.