Dye-Gest: Glad It's Football Time in the SEC

Coach Pat Dye writes about the upcoming SEC football season in his Dye-Gest column.

I have read and listened to a lot of college football experts, or at least those who claim to be experts, tell us what is going to happen with the SEC football race this season. Some of them probably don’t have a clue what is going to happen and even the ones who do can be surprised. You don’t have to look any farther back in history for the perfect example of that than the 2013 season.

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Last year there sure weren’t many people predicting the Auburn Tigers would win the conference championship and play FSU in the national title game. This season a lot more folks are on the Auburn bandwagon, and that makes sense considering the number of key players who are returning for Coach Gus Malzahn’s team.

However, the most popular pick to win the SEC title seems to be Alabama. That is probably based on past performances with people assuming the Tide will be able to put things together and make a run despite having to replace a lot of good players.

One thing that might prevent Alabama from being a championship caliber team is the uncertainty with the quarterback situation because Nick Saban’s successful teams in Tuscaloosa have featured solid quarterback play. None of them have been great, but they were all very good at managing a game.

Alabama is not alone in having to replace a starting quarterback. That is the case with many teams around the league, including the Georgia Bulldogs, who are one of the favorites to win the SEC East. You look at Georgia on paper and the Bulldogs should be strong on offense if their new quarterback is capable.

South Carolina is a team that should be more predictable than Georgia. The Gamecocks have a lot of people coming back and a quarterback who has some quality game experience even though last year’s main man at the position, Connor Shaw, is gone.

Florida, which will try to bounce back from a down season, returns quarterback Jeff Driskell, something that will give the Gators a chance to be a factor in the SEC East race. Driskell has talent and experience, and with a new offensive system more suited to his skills he could lead the Gators to a much better season. If they can get their problems worked out in Gainesville this could be a team to watch because you know Florida has a lot of good football players.

Recently, the Gators have looked like they didn’t have a good plan offensively, bouncing around from one thing to another. It looked to me when they got in trouble they wanted to run the football. They would just load up with the biggest people they could find, going to an unbalanced line and wing sets. That is fine if you can throw the football, but if you can’t people are going to stop your running game.

Talent-wise it looks like Georgia, South Carolina and Florida are the top teams in the SEC East while last year’s division champion, Missouri, is a question to me because that team not only lost its quarterback, it must replace many of its best players on both sides of the ball. I have a lot of respect for the job Gary Pinkel does out there at Missouri. He will likely find a way to field a good team, but probably not as good as last year’s group.

In the SEC West it looks like LSU and Texas A&M are going to have major challenges replacing their quarterbacks. I am not sure how good the Aggies can be this year, but you know for sure that Coach Les Miles always has talent to work with at LSU. The question in Baton Rouge is how will things fall into place with a team going into the season with an unsettled situation at quarterback plus a lot of key players missing from last year’s squad.

Also in the SEC West the two teams over in Mississippi may be flying a bit under the radar, but both return proven quarterbacks and most of their starters. If the stars line up right and those teams have the right intangibles, they could be a big factor in determining who wins the division.

I like Auburn’s team, but it has got to prove it has the same kind of stuff character-wise that last year’s team showed on the way to becoming a champion. Toughness and the ability to perform in close games are essential considering the demanding schedule the Tigers will play.

I don’t call myself an expert on predicting what is going to happen in the SEC because I know what can happen to change a team’s dynamics during the course of a season. I do know that it is exciting that SEC football is almost here. I can’t wait for Auburn to line up against Arkansas and see if these Tigers are going to be ready to take the Razorbacks’ best shot. You know it is coming and it is going to be right in the mouth. We will see if the Tigers are tough enough to stop the Razorbacks’ running attack and force them to throw the football. If that happens it is a good sign that Auburn’s defense is making progress.

We may be able to get a good read on Auburn’s offense in game one, although there is a question about that because it is still to be determined how good Arkansas is going to be on defense after struggling to stop folks last year.

Thankfully, we haven’t got long to wait for the football season to get started. I am just as anxious as everybody else is to get it started and see what happens.

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