2004 College Football Preview
ACCBig 12Big EastBig TenPac-10SECIndependent
KentuckyLouisiana StateOle MissMississippi StateSouth CarolinaTennesseeVanderbilt

Author: Mitch Dobbs,

09/04/04Utah State
09/18/04Western Carolina
10/02/04South Carolina
10/16/04Southern Mississippi
11/06/04Mississippi State
11/13/04@Louisiana State
Quarterback Brodie Croyle (12) of the Alabama Crimson Tide pump-fakes against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Getty Images/Jamie Squire
Head Coach: Mike Shula (4-9)

Last Season's Record: 4-9 (2-6 SEC)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2001 Independence Bowl (14-13 victory over Iowa State)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 11 Ole Miss, ESPN2 ­ 8 PM

Star Power: Brodie Croyle, QB, JR, 6-3, 203; Wesley Britt, LT, SR, 6-6, 309; DeMeco Ryans, LB, JR, 6-2, 235; Charlie Peprah, SS, JR, 5-11, 196.

Notable Additions: Chris Turner, DE, NW Mississippi JC, 6-3, 287; Jeffrey Dukes, SS, NW Mississippi JC, 6-3, 195; Justin Britt, DT, Cullman, 6-4, 270; Simeon Castille, CB, Briarwood Christian, 6-1, 185; Keith Brown, WR, Pensacola, 6-3, 190

Notable Subtractions: Antwan Odom, DE (NFL); Justin Smiley, LG (NFL); Triandos Luke, WR (NFL); Shaud Williams, HB (graduated); Derrick Pope, LB (NFL)

Notable Returnees: Anthony Bryant, DT; Evan Mathis, OL; Tim Castille, HB; Tyrone Prothro, WR; David Cavan, TE; Roman Harper, S; Juwan Garth, LB; Freddie Roach, LB; Jeremy Clark, DT

Offensive Overview: A year ago Alabama¹s offensive coaching staff arrived in Tuscaloosa just weeks before the start of the season, and a new scheme was installed in August. Coupled with both quarterbacks being injured, the result was an inefficient offense, one of the reasons for a poor record (4-9). And this year Alabama goes into the season having lost halfback Shaud Williams (1,367 yards rushing) and the top four wide receivers (133 receptions, 1,843 yards). This year Alabama¹s pro-style offense will rely on a healthy quarterback junior Brodie Croyle being able to utilize a young receiving corps and the Tide getting good production from a handful of halfback candidates. If A.C. Carter, a rare sixth-year senior, can return from injury, that will be a bonus at wide receiver. Ray Hudson is expected to take over at halfback, but Kenneth Darby and last year¹s fullback, Tim Castille, are in the wings. Tackle Wesley Britt, also returning from injury, and guard Evan Mathis are three-year starters and JB Closner returns at center, Danny Martz at guard, and David Cavan at tight end. Kyle Tatum has moved from defensive tackle to right tackle. Offensive line depth is thin and inexperienced. Tyrone Prothro, a true freshman last year, is the only wide receiver with playing time in this offense. While wide receivers are young, there is talent, including among incoming freshmen. Head Coach Mike Shula has predicted 10-13 newcomers will play, and among them will likely be freshmen receivers Keith Brown, D.J. Hall, and Will Oakley.

Defensive Overview: Alabama returns a corps of linebackers among the best in the league to anchor its defense, but an unproven, new-look secondary and a thin line leaves questions for 2004. DeMeco Ryans (SLB) and Juwan Garth (WLB) are listed as starters. Cornelius Wortham, who redshirted to return this year after and elbow injury derailed his senior campaign a year ago, will battle returning starter Freddie Roach for the middle linebacker spot. The line returns starters Jeremy Clark and Anthony Bryant (pending completion of needed academic work) at tackle, and Mark Anderson at end. Todd Bates, who served an NCAA mandated suspension last year, will start at the other end. Anderson is undersized for run-stopping purposes, but is relatively unknown and underrated as a pass-rusher. Bates is on the Hendricks watch list for the nation¹s best defensive end. Dominic Lee (DT) is the only experienced back-up on the line, but transfer Chris Turner should be ready to contribute, as should true freshman Justin Britt (DT). In the secondary, Alabama returns 5-9 Anthony Madison at right corner, and will start Ramzee Robinson at left corner. Tide coaches said Robinson was the best corner on the team in spring, allowing two-year starting corner second-team preseason All-SEC Charlie Peprah to move to safety. Roman Harper started at strong safety last year and has moved over to free safety, a minor adjustment for the junior. Depth in the secondary will be provided by newcomers. NW Mississippi transfer Jeffrey Dukes should be ready to help at safety, and could facilitate a move back to corner by Peprah. True freshmen Travis Robinson, Marcus Carter and Simeon Castille will almost assuredly be used this year.

Special Teams Overview: Alabama¹s placekicking was woeful at times last season, but Brian Bostick is the leader to keep field goal and extra point kicking duties. Competition might come from walk-on C.J. Rhody. Bo Freelend needs to add consistency to a booming leg at punter. He was named third team All-SEC by the league¹s coaches. Alabama must replace four-year long snapper Nick Ridings, and might use true freshman Trent Davidson. Two of the Tide¹s top two return men from 2003 are back (Tyrone Prothro and Brandon Brooks).

The Crimson Tide should have a winning season and go to a bowl this year if... Alabama can avoid the injuries that plagued the squad last year, find an adequate replacement at halfback for Shaud Williams, and Brodie Croyle can optimize production from a young receiving corps.

Author: Clay Henry,

09/04/04New Mexico State
11/06/04@South Carolina
11/20/04@Mississippi State
11/26/04Louisiana State
Quarterback Matt Jones (9) of the Arkansas Razorbacks runs the football during the Independence Bowl game against the Missouri Tigers.
Getty Images/Chris Graythen
Head Coach: Houston Nutt (48-27, 84-49 overall)

Last Season's Record: 9-4 (4-4 in SEC)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2004 Independence Bowl (27-14 victory over Missouri)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 11 Texas (ESPN); Nov. 26 LSU (CBS).

Star Power: QB Matt Jones, 3-year returning starter, 6-6, 237, Sr., Career stats - 3,784 yards passing, 1,913 yards rushing; TB DeCori Birmingham, rushed for 549 yards in 2003 as backup, 5-11, 200, Sr-3L; DT Arrion Dixon, 6-4, 295, Sr-3L, 99 career tackles; Jeb Huckeba, DE, 6-5, 235, Sr.-3L, 154 career tackles.

Notable Additions: Peyton Hillis, TB-FB, Fr., 6-2, 240; Anthony Brown, WR, Jr., 6-6, 201; Weston Dacus, LB, Fr., 6-2, 220; Michael Grant, CB, Fr., 5-11, 185; Rick Culbert, CB, Fr., 6-0, 180; Ernest Mitchell, DT, Fr., 6-2, 290.

Notable Subtractions: 25 seniors finished eligibility (chief losses, entire offensive line, entire secondary), five juniors left early for NFL draft including first round picks Shawn Andrews and Batman Carroll.

Notable Returnees: TB De'Arrius Howard, WR Steven Harris, P Jacob Skinner, PK Chris Balseiro, OT Zac Tubbs, C Kyle Roper, LB Clarke Moore, DT Jeremy Harrell, DE Elliott Harris, FS Vickiel Vaughn.

Offensive Overview: Quarterback Matt Jones, perhaps the most exciting player in Arkansas history, leads an offense wiped out by graduation. Jones is the only true starter returning on offense, but there are plenty with solid experience to fill the holes. Tailbacks DeCori Birmingham and De'Arrius Howard are quality SEC backs. Fullback Brandon Kennedy was a part-time starter last year, as was tight end Jared Hicks. Steven Harris, often injured, is a super wideout and is full healthy. Juco transfer Anthony Brown and sophomore Cedric Washington give the Hogs more big-play threats at wideout than they've had since joining the SEC in 1992. The offensive line will be the key. All five starters are new, although Zac Tubbs played well in the bowl game after Shawn Andrews left the team following the regular season. The line will be more athletic than the last few offensive fronts, but will need time to come together. This unit has explosive capability, but may not start strong because of the green nature of the line. However, Matt Jones, poised to become the SEC's top rushing QB of all time, gives plenty of maturity under center.

Defensive Overview: The defensive front is talented, deep and experienced, but the secondary is in a rebuilding mold after graduation and the NFL draft wiped out the entire two deep. Defensive tackle Arrion Dixon and rush end Jeb Huckeba are the best of the linemen, although end Elliott Harris was outstanding in the spring and could be ready to blossom. The linebackers are solid with Clarke Moore and Sam Olajubutu rotating in the middle and Marcus Whitmore and Michael Robinson rotating at the strongside linebacker. However, the secondary is a different story. Safety Vickiel Vaughn and corner Michael Coe are the only scholarship players returning with any experience and that was mostly on special teams or nickel packages. Corners Chris Houston and John Johnson both showed promise in the spring, but must continue to improve to be able to help against SEC competition. There is plenty of help in the first-year class with freshmen Michael Grant, Matterral Richardson, Shedrick Johnson, Dallas Washington, Desmond Williams and De'Nerian Wrighter along with juco transfers Randy Kelly and Darius Vinnett.

Special Teams Overview: The kickers, snappers and holders all return led by punter Jacob Skinner and placement specialists Chris Balseiro and David Carlton. However, the cover teams were wiped out by graduation and the NFL draft. Both gunners must be replaced along with a host of regulars who had played on special teams for three and four years.

The Arkansas Razorbacks will have a winning season if... the young offensive line provides some protection for Matt Jones and the secondary comes together in quick fashion. The Hogs play perhaps their toughest schedule in school history with Texas, Florida, Auburn, Georgia and LSU all high in national rankings.

Author: Mark Murphy,

09/11/04@Mississippi State
09/18/04Louisiana State
09/25/04The Citadel
10/09/04Louisiana Tech
Tailback Carnell Williams (24) of the Auburn Tigers runs with the ball against the USC Trojans.
Getty Images/Stephen Dunn
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville (63-44 career record)

Last Season's Record: (8-5 overall, 5-3 SEC)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2003 Music City Bowl (28-14 victory over Wisconsin)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 18 LSU, Oct. 2 @Tennessee, Nov. 13th Georgia.

Star Power: Carnell 'Cadillac' Williams, TB, 5-11, 212, Sr.; Ronnie Brown, TB, 6-1, 232, Sr.; Danny Lindsey, OG, 6-3, 306, Sr.; Marcus McNeill, OT, 6-9, 340, Jr.; Carlos Rogers, CB, 6-1, 200, Sr.; Junior Rosegreen, SS, 6-0, 196, Sr.; Travis Williams, LB, 6-1, 214, Sr.

Notable Additions: Stanley McClover, DE, 6-2, 260, Soph.; David Irons, CB, 6-1, 183, Jr.; OL Leon Hart, 6-4, 290, Fr.

Notable Subtractions: DT Demarco McNeil, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Dontarrious Thomas, DE Reggie Torbor, DT Spencer Johnson.

Notable Returnees: Jason Campbell, QB, 6-5, 228, Sr.; Bret Eddins, DE, 6-5, 267, Sr.; Tommy Jackson, NG, 6-1, 304, Jr.; Ben Obomanu, WR, 6-1, 193, Jr; Tre Smith, TB, 5-10, 197, Jr; Courtney Taylor, WR, 6-2, 195, Soph.

Offensive Overview: The Tigers return most key players on offense, including All-America candidate Carnell Williams, one of the top running backs in Auburn history. The Cadillac will share time in the backfield with another tailback, Ronnie Brown, a former All-SEC player himself. New offensive coordinator Al Borges is expected to play both of the tailbacks at the same time.

One of Auburn¹s keys to success will be the play of fifth-year senior quarterback Jason Campbell. He is a returning starter who had a good spring under Borges¹ version of the West Coast Offense. He will be protected by a potentially strong offensive line featuring veteran offensive guard Danny Lindsey. Juniors Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick, the projected tackles, are returning starters although Reddick played guard last year. Senior Jeremy Ingle is expected to break into the starting lineup at center and Ben Grubbs, who performed well as a blocking tight end last season, moves inside to guard. Depth on the offensive line should be better. Highly regarded recruit Leon Hart will try to work his way into the playing rotation this fall.

The receiving corps, which did not have a good 2003 season, made strides in spring training. Courtney Taylor was impressive and Devin Aromashodu, Silas Daniels and Ben Obomanu give the Tigers four deep threats. Tight end Cooper Wallace is potentially one of the best in the SEC at his position. Cole Bennett is coming off a solid season as a true freshman tight end.

The offense played well in the spring, holding the upper hand over the defense in most of the scrimmages. New coordinator Borges says he was pleased with the progress, but wants to see improvement prior to opening day.

Defensive Overview: The Tigers ranked fourth nationally in total defense, but will be hard-pressed to match that statistic in 2004. In addition to losing star senior linebackers Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby to the NFL, three of the front four has graduated. That group included multi-year starters Demarco McNeil, Reggie Torbor and Spencer Johnson.

Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik welcomes back a veteran secondary led by preseason All-SEC pick Carlos Rogers, who will be starting for a fourth season. Rogers is a pro prospect who looks ready for his best season. The question at cornerback is who will start at the other spot. David Irons finished spring training number one ahead of Montae Pitts, who ended the season as the starter in Auburn¹s bowl victory over Wisconsin. Irons is a junior and Pitts is a sophomore.

Kevin Hobbs, who started seven games at cornerback last season as a sophomore, has moved to free safety where he is No. 2 behind returning starter Will Herring, who will be a sophomore this fall. Herring and senior strong safety Junior Rosegreen are returning starters. Rosegreen, a second team preseason All-SEC pick, is one of the team¹s most experienced players.

Up front, the Tigers will count on a blend of veterans and newcomers. At one end, senior Bret Eddins is the returning starter backed up by another senior, Doug Langenfeld. On the other side, Stanley ³The Predator² McClover has plenty of potential as a pass rusher. Marquis Daniels, Quinton Groves and juco transfer Lloyd Blevins are expected to add depth.

At noseguard, junior T.J. Jackson has seen significant playing time as a backup the past two years. He will likely share playing time at the position with redshirt freshman Josh Thompson, the team¹s strongest player.

At tackle, Jay Ratliff emerged from spring as the number one player. The senior is making a move inside from end, where he was a backup last season. Wayne Dickens, a junior, is expected to see extensive playing time at tackle. Newcomer Pat Sims could add depth for the Tigers.

Special Teams Overview: Kody Bliss won the punting job as a true freshman last year and is the heavy favorite to handle that duty again this season. John Vaughn, another sophomore, finished spring as the number one field goal kicker, but could be challenged by senior Philip Yost. Yost is scheduled to handle kickoffs. Tre Smith and Carnell Williams handled punts last year. AU may look to newcomers such as Jerald Watson to add speed to the kickoff return game. Pete Compton, a redshirt freshman, will likely be the deep snapper. Sam Rives or Wesley Hill will hold for field goals.

Auburn can take the SEC title if... they have a big year from Campbell at quarterback and the rebuilt defensive front proves that it is ready for top level SEC opposition.

Author: Mark McLeod,

09/04/04Middle Tennessee State
09/11/04Eastern Michigan
10/09/04Louisiana State
10/23/04@Mississippi State
11/13/04South Carolina
11/20/04@Florida State
Quarterback Chris Leak (12) of the Florida Gators looks to pass.
Getty Images/Eliot J. Schechter
Head Coach: Ron Zook (3rd year; 12-4, 16-10 overall)

Last Season's Record: 8-5 (6-2 SEC, Eastern Division Co-Champion, No. 24 AP, No. 25 ESPN/USA Today)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2004 Outback Bowl (37-17 loss to Iowa)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 18 @Tennessee, Oct. 9 LSU, Oct. 30 Georgia,Nov. 20 @Florida State

Star Power: Chris Leak QB 6-0 200 SO; Mike Degory C 6-5 314 rsJR; Ciatrick Fason RB 6-0 212 JR; Andre Caldwell WR 6-1 190 SO; Channing Crowder LB 6-2 241 SO; Marcus Thomas DT 6-3 274 SO.

Notable Additions: Brandon Siler LB 6-2 226 FR; Tony Joiner S 6-0 190 FR; Kyle Jackson S 6-0 199 FR; Drew Miller OL 6-5 307 FR; Markell Thompson TE 6-7 310 JR (transfer SW Mississippi).

Notable Subtractions: Ben Troupe TE; Max Starks OT; Shannon Snell OG; Keiwan Ratliff CB; Guss Scott SS; Daryl Dixon FS.

Notable Returnees: Lance Butler OT 6-7 311 rsJR; DeShawn Wynn RB 5-11 224 rsSO; O.J. Small WR 6-1 232 rsSR; Dallas Baker WR 6-3 194 JR; Joe Cohen DE 6-2 266 SO; Earl Everett LB 6-2 223 SO; Dee Webb CB 5-11 187 SO; Matt Leach P 6-1 197 SR; Eric Wilbur P 6-1 195 SO.

Offensive Overview: Larry Fedora takes over as the Gators full-time offensive coordinator this season. He has been on the Florida offensive staff since 2002, serving first as run game coordinator (2002) and most recently, perimeter passing game coordinator (2003). Thus, Fedora is very familiar with this group and isn’t likely to be given an early season Mulligan by Florida fans. Up front, All-American candidate Mike Degory (6’5 314) leads an offensive line group that should be the deepest since Ron Zook’s arrival. Lance Butler (6’7 311), Randy Hand (6’6 305), Jon Colon (6’7 316), and Tavares Washington (6’3 307) have each started at tackle for the Gators. The guard positions return limited experience with Mo Mitchell (6’7 367), who has seemingly been on campus since the Gators wore Orange jerseys, Steve Rissler (6'3 302), Anthony Guerrero (6’1 334) and Ron Dowdy (6'4 288). Don’t be surprised if true freshman Drew Miller challenges for playing time as well. The Gators lost their best receiver in tight end Ben Troupe, but are very excited to see if junior college transfer Markell Thompson (6’7 310) can continue Florida’s tight end pipeline to the National Football League. Senior OJ Small (6'1 232) will lead a talented, but inexperienced group of wideouts. Everyone is hoping yet again that Dallas Baker can utilize his talents and become a go-to guy. Super sophs Andre Caldwell (6’1 190), Jemalle Cornelius (5’11 177), and Chad Jackson ((6’1 206) also figure to play a key role.

Florida has a talented stable of running backs who will figure heavily in Fedora’s system. Ciatrick Fason (6’0 212, DeShawn Wynn (5’11 224), and Skyler Thornton (5’11 210) combined for 1,203 yards on just 207 carries (5.9) and 23 receptions for 224 yards (9.7) in 2003. All three were just getting their first taste of SEC football and should be even better in ’04. They are expected to prove equally dangerous as receivers. Fason took a pass to the endzone every 3.6 receptions last season.

Freshman Offensive Player of the Year Chris Leak will get the opportunity to pull the trigger for an entire season. Leak completed 190 of his 320 attempts (59.4) for 2,435 yards. He also threw 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Leak should benefit playing behind a physical offensive front with more depth and throwing to a group of talented and speedy group of skills position players.

Defensive Overview: Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong appears to be one year away from claiming a group as good as any other in the Southeastern Conference. Strong and the Gators lack experience and depth in some key areas. He’ll have a couple of games to get his charges aligned before the heat gets turned up for a mid-September battle in Knoxville.

One of the most improved areas is expected to be along the defensive line. Florida actually has a bit of depth to go along with some talent. Sophomore Ray McDonald (6'3 280) earned All-Freshman recognition at defensive tackle. McDonald recorded 54 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, four sacks, and two forced fumbles Fellow soph Marcus Thomas (6'3 274) progressed nicely throughout the ‘03 campaign and earned All-Freshman kudos from the Knoxville News-Sentinel. Thomas finished with 47 tackles, nine against Florida State. Junior Kenny Parker (6'2 306) spent the ‘02 season on the shelf after back surgery, but returned to start six games in ‘03. He and Eric Holcombe (6'2 304) will certainly see plenty of action this season.

A youth movement will take place at defensive end. The battle begins in August for depth chart position. The thought is that the talented group should perform as well as the group of departed veterans, who underperformed in ‘03. JUCO transfer Jeremy Mincey (6'3 258) is expected to provide a stiff challenge for a starting role. Sophomore Joe Cohen (6'2 266) moves from fullback to end where he earned All-American honors two years ago at Palm Bay High School. The battle also includes MacKenzie Pierre (6'3 258), Steven Harris (6'4 257), Tranell Morant (6'5 256), and Julian Riley (6'3 276), who are all expected to see playing time

The Gators return Freshman Defensive Player of the Year Channing Crowder (6'2 241), fellow award winning sophomore Earl Everett (6'2 223), Todd McCullough (6'5 229), and senior tweener Travis Harris (6'2 251) at linebacker. However, the Gators have to hope for the continued good health of these young men because the depth chart absolute inexperience. If these guys stay healthy, Florida should prosper. Regardless, Orlando Evans signee Brandon Siler (6'2 226) and South Miami’s Javier Estopinian (6'2 242) will see plenty of playing time. Walk-on Richard Brown (6'0 219), who saw action in a couple of games last season, should also work into the rotation.

New Florida secondary Coach Dan Disch comes to Florida with a highly respected resume’. He’ll need it. Disch has to replace the entire lot. Disch’s former pupil at Ed White High School Dee Webb (5'11 187) is expected to be one of the leading contenders for a starting role. Also expected to challenge are Reynaldo Hill (5'11 187), DeShawn Carter (6'0 210), Nick Brooks (6'0 207), and Vernell Brown (5'8 155).

Safety Cory Bailey (5'11 190) returns with the most experience in the Florida secondary. Bailey has seen extensive action the past three years as a reserve and in the nickel packages. Terrance Holmes (5'11 195) moved from wide receiver last season and garnered plenty of attention on the scout teams and into this spring as he unloaded on unsuspecting wideouts. Jarvis Herring (5'11 198) saw limited action last season. True freshman Kyle Jackson (6'0 199), and Tony Joiner (6'0 190) will also have an opportunity to catch the coaches eyes. Disch and the Gators don’t face a proven, experienced passing threat within the conference until October 30th in Jacksonville.

Special Teams Overview: All three of Florida’s kickers return for the 2004 season. Placekicker Matt Leach hit 21 of 27 last season. This spring, Leach worked to improve on his range, as five of his misses were from 45 yards out and beyond. Long snapper Casey Griffith also returns for his third season as the Florida point man.

Head hunter Matt Piotrowicz returns as the Gators kickoff man. He tallied eight tackles in ‘04, and he again returns eager to sprint downfield in hopes of blasting an overzealous return man. Punter Eric Wilbur was named All-Freshman by several publications for his outstanding performance in 2003. Wilbur finished second in the SEC with a 44.8 yard average. He recorded the longest punt in the conference last season when he ripped a 75 yarder early against Tennessee.

Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson, Vernell Brown, Skyler Thornton, and possibly freshman Markus Manson will battle for kick return duties. Of the group, Caldwell is the only one with any real repetitions. The sophomore brought back 22 kicks for an average of 20.6 yards per return. Vernell Brown appears to be the odds on favorite to return punts. Brown returned seven last season averaging 13.6 yards per return.

The schedule is little kinder to the Gators... who drop Miami and Ole Miss, and insert struggling Mississippi State. Playing in Florida’s favor is the fact that five of the first six games are in "The Swamp", provided the Gators re-create the Swamp mystique. Road trips to Knoxville and Tallahassee will be difficult. If Florida can conceal its’ weaknesses and outscore opponents, they should finish 9-2 or 8-3. Zook can benefit Anything less will result in another fall migraine in North Central Florida.

Author: Dean Legge,

09/04/04Georgia Southern
09/11/04@South Carolina
10/02/04Louisiana State
11/27/04Georgia Tech
Quarterback David Greene (14) of the Georgia Bulldogs yells during the Capital One Bowl game against the Purdue Boilermakers on January 1, 2004.
Getty Images/Matt Stroshane
Head Coach: Mark Richt (32-8)

Last Season's Record: 11-3 (6-2 SEC, Eastern Division Co-Champion, No. 7 AP, No. 6 ESPN/USA Today)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2004 Capital One Bowl (34-27 victory over Purdue)

Key matchup(s): Oct. 30, @Florida

Star Power: David Greene, QB, SR, 6-3, 230; David Pollack, DE, SR, 6-3, 276; Thomas Davis, FS, JR, 6-1, 220; Odell Thurman, LB, JR, 6-1, 230; Max Jean-Gilles, OG, JR, 6-4, 340.

Notable Additions: Will Thompson, DE, SR; A.J. Bryant, WR, FR, Peach County, 6-2, 185; Brandon Miller, ATH, FR, 6-4, 225

Notable Subtractions: Bennett, PK (NFL); Ben Watson, TE (NFL)

Notable Returnees: Fred Gibson, WR, SR; Reggie Brown, WR, SR; Kregg Lumpkin, RB, SO; Michael Cooper, RB, SO; Gerald Anderson, N, JR; Kedric Golston, DT, JR

Offensive Overview: With conference and national expectations throw on Georgia this pre-season, the Bulldog’s offensive line will likely determine how far they will go. David Greene, Fred Gibson, Kregg Lumpkin, and the rest of Georgia’s skill players are talented enough to get the Bulldogs in position to win the SEC, or even the national title. However, if the offensive line struggles the way that it did last season, Georgia will be in trouble in big games. Beating LSU, a team that gave Georgia two of its three losses last season, in early October would do wonders for the confidence of the offensive line. In 2003, the offensive line was lost against the Tigers. Head Coach Mark Richt thinks the unit will improve. If they do, and David Greene has time to throw, Georgia will be difficult to beat.

Defensive Overview: The Bulldog defense compares favorably to any other SEC school and to most defenses in the country. They are Georgia’s best asset in 2004. One new twist to the defense is that teams will no longer be able to concentrate on David Pollack’s pass rush alone. The return of defensive end Will Thompson (after sitting 2003 out with a torn ACL) to the starting lineup, as well as the development of Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson in the middle, means that Pollack will be free of excessive double teams. Thompson’s return from injury and Georgia’s impressive linebackers give its defense plenty of skill up front. But if the front four can’t get the job done, Georgia’s linebackers can. Odell Thurman might be the best linebacker in the SEC and Arnold Harrison has come a long way in a short time at the position. Even though the Bulldogs lost starting linebacker Tony Taylor in the spring game, they still have plenty of skill and depth at that position. In the secondary, safety Thomas Davis might be an All-American by the end of the year. If the cornerbacks provide adequate protection it will be a challenge to find a weakness in the defense of coordinator Brian VanGorder.

Special Teams Overview: Georgia’s kicking game rivals its offensive line in terms cause for concern. Andy Bailey and Brandon Coutu, neither of whom has ever kicked in a college football game, will fight for the place kicking job. Punter Gordon Ely-Kelso also needs to improve for Georgia to have a legitimate chance of winning the national title. The potential is there for Georgia’s kicker to play well, but the must perform under pressure.

The Bulldogs will play in the Orange Bowl if... Greene gets time, Pollack makes trouble, and the kicking game is consistent. Georgia has to figure out a way to beat Florida; that is the key to the season.

Author: Jared Bonshire,

10/16/04South Carolina
10/30/04@Mississippi State
Quarterback Shane Boyd of Kentucky prepares to hand off the ball.
Getty Images/Brian Bahr
Head Coach: Rich Brooks (4-8)

Last Season's Record: 4-8 (1-7 SEC)

Last Bowl Appearance: 1999 Music City Bowl (20-13 loss to Syracuse)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 5 at Louisville, ESPN 3:30 PM

Star Power: Shane Boyd, QB, SR, 6-2, 228 ; Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns, DE, SR, 6-2, 268; Keenan Burton, WR, SO, 6-2, 195; Durrell White, OLB, SO, 6-3, 258.

Notable Additions: Micah Jones, OL, Mayfield(HS)/Mayfield, KY; Ernie Pelayo, OL, Southwestern College(JC)/Riverside, Ca; Marcus McClinton, FS, Ft. Campbell(HS)/Ft. Campbell, KY; Wesley Woodyard, SS, LaGrange(HS)/LaGrange, GA; Lonnell DeWalt, WR, Warren Central(HS)/Bowling Green, KY.

Notable Subtractions: Derek Abney, WR (NFL); Jeremy Caudill (Graduated); Antonio Hall, (Graduated); Jared Lorenzen, QB (Graduated); Nick Seitze (Graduated).

Notable Returnees: Muhammad Abudallah, FS; Chad Anderson, ILB; Arliss Beach, RB; Earven Flowers, CB; Glenn Holt, WR; Matt Huff, OL; Ellery Moore, DT; Dustin Williams, ILB; Mike Williams, SS; Warren Wilson, CB.

Offensive Overview: For the Wildcats, the stoic novel "The Tale of Two Cities" became the "Tale of Two Offenses." The bipolar nature of year one under Ron Hudson’s control became a frustrating habit for most of the year. In an offense designed to eat clock and field position, it did neither on many occasions, with three and out series becoming common place. The other side of the story however paints the picture of one of the most dangerous offenses in the SEC, leading the league in red-zone efficiency. To put it simply, if you kept Kentucky in-between the 20’s, you won the game.

This contrast in success led to a 4-8 squad that could have been at the very least 6-6, maybe better. Just a few more broken tackles and a few less dropped balls, it could have been a different story, which should be a point of emphasis in year two. With a full season under their belts, the returning players shouldn’t look quite as lost and disoriented as they did last season. This is not truer for any player more than senior Shane Boyd (QB), whose atrocious completion percentage (34.9%) from 2003 needs to improve, drastically. The offensive line that underachieved last year must overachieve with three starters leaving for graduation. This leaves seniors Matt Huff and Jason Rollins to anchor an otherwise inexperienced unit that includes only 9 scholarship players. Newcomer Micah Jones will also be looked at extensively in fall ball to determine if the true frosh is ready for the SEC.

Wide receiver is the most talented position on the team, including returnee’s Glenn Holt (JR) and Keenan Burton (SO) who both could be all-SEC by senior year. Junior college transfer Scott Mitchell has an NFL body and needs to step up his play with senior Tommy Cook out for the year with an ACL injury. The tight ends also receive an upgrade with 4 new players this year, highlighted by Eric Scott, a redshirt freshman that had an impressive spring campaign.

At running back, Arliss Beach (JR) and Draak Davis (JR) need to step up their game to prevent talented true freshman Rafael Little an early entry into the starting lineup. Point of emphasis: breaking more tackles.

It will be a successful year if the offense can simply cut down on the mistakes.

Defensive Overview: Defensive Coordinator Mike Archer has taken hold of the wildcat faithful with the defenses play of 2003, but all that love will be gone if the 3-4 based defense does not continue to develop. Returning 10 of 11 starters from last season, as well as many backups, if the defense does not improve on its running defense and continue its stellar pass defense (top 30 in the nation) there will be questions to answer.

In a defense that thrives on linebacker play, the Wildcats sport a few that may be considered some of the best in the SEC by years end. Durrell White (OLB, SO) has gained 15 lbs over the summer and has kept his quickness. Chad Anderson (ILB, SR), who began to step up as a leader last season for the defense has trimmed down and looks to continue his tackling prominence from last season. The Defensive Line is the second most talented unit on the team, with players like Vincent Burns (DE, SR), Lamar Mills (DT, SO), and Trey Mielsch (DE, JR).

The secondary needs to continue its ability to keep Kentucky away from the "big play." Again, the removal of mental mistakes, and the play of Warren Wilson (CB, JR) and Karl Booker (CB, SO) will be important having lost starter Bo Smith to an off-season injury. Look for the addition of Wesley Woodyard (SS, FR) to compliment starter Muhammad Abudallah (SS, JR) as the defense looks for more turnovers in 2004.

Overall, Kentucky’s defense was improved, but still rated 11th in the SEC in total defense in 2003. More commitment to rush defense and continuing to prevent the big play are needed for success in ’04.

Special Teams Overview: Removing the most prolific kick returner in the history of the SEC in Derek Abney will be tough, but don’t think the coaching staff did not try. Richard "Dicky" Lyons, Jr. (WR, TFR), son of the previous king of special teams Dicky Lyons of Kentucky fame, brings another relentless, fearless kick returner to add to pure athletes such as Keenan Burton. The punting in 2003 was inconsistent at best, and Sevin Sucurovic (P, SR) will be looked to as the main man in ’04. Returning at place kicker will be Taylor Begley (K, JR) who just did not get enough chances last year. Taking care of kickoffs is Clint Ruth (K, SR) who Head Coach Rich Brooks proclaimed as "the best kickoff man in the league" during Media Days.

The Wildcats should have a winning season and go to a bowl this year if... Offensive line produces. If Kentucky can run the ball, and control the clock to reduce the effects of a shortage in scholarships, Kentucky has the talent to compete in every game this season. Even with the offensive woes and inability to stop the run, Kentucky was close in every game until fatigue wore into the defense in the 4th quarter. If the O-line can produce first downs, Coach Brooks can produce wins.

Author: Greg LaRose,

09/04/04Oregon State
09/11/04Arkansas State
09/25/04Mississippi State
10/23/04Troy State
Defensive back Corey Webster (13) of LSU during the Nokia Sugar Bowl National Championship game on January 4, 2004.
Getty Images/Andy Lyons
Head Coach: Nick Saban (39-13)

Last Season's Record: : 13-1 (SEC Champions, No. 2 AP, No. 1 ESPN/USA Today)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2004 Sugar Bowl BCS National Championship game (21-14 victory over Oklahoma)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 18 @Auburn; Oct. 2 @Georgia; Oct. 9 @Florida

Star Power: CB Corey Webster and DE Marcus Spears are pre-season all-SEC picks; OT Andrew Whitworth and C Ben Wilkerson are future NFL players; Skyler Green is among the nation’s best punt returners

Notable Additions: The Tigers signed the top two receiver prospects in the country in Early Doucet and Xavier Carter. DT Marlon Favorite was a Parade All-American, and OL Ryan Miller was on the second team.

Notable Subtractions: WR Michael Clayton entered the NFL a year early as was a first-round draft pick. DE Marquise Hill and QB Matt Mauck also left with a year of eligibility remaining. The outgoing senior class included draft picks WR Devery Henderson, OG Stephen Peterman and DT Chad Lavalais.

Notable Returnees: RB Justin Vincent, Sugar Bowl and SEC Championship game MVP, returns after one of the most memorable freshman seasons in college football. Spears and Webster would probably have been drafted had they opted to skip their final year of eligibility. LB Lionel Turner is an unsung element on the LSU defense, and FS LaRon Landry is the next up-and-coming player.

Offensive Overview: The focus is on who will replace Mauck. Senior Marcus Randall has been given the reins and will have to stay ahead of the learning curve for redshirt freshman JaMarcus Russell. Although Clayton and Henderson are gone, there is more big play potential among younger receivers like Amp Hill, Dwayne Bowe and the true freshmen. Look for the Tigers to be effective on the ground with Vincent, which should open things up for the passing game as the QBs develop.

Defensive Overview: The vacancies along the defensive line are most glaring, but the reserves have seen a lot of playing time. The development of new backups in the trenches will be important. The linebacking corps should be solid with Turner leading the way, and the secondary is the unit’s strength.

Special Teams Overview: Skyler Green is a threat to score on punts, and there may be another promising returning among the freshmen. Place-kicking may be a rotating task again between Chris Jackson and Ryan Gaudet, and a new punter will have to replace four-year starter and NFL draft choice Donnie Jones.

The Tigers could have another run at the SEC Title if... they can erase question marks with respect to consistency at quarterback and a young wide receiver corps. Defensively, the Tigers return 7 starters but some talented young players are going to have to show their mettle early for LSU to play well on that side of the ball.

Author: Ben Beachler,

10/02/04Arkansas State
10/09/04@South Carolina
11/20/04@Louisiana State
11/27/04Mississippi State
Mississippi running back Vashon Pearson celebrates after scoring a touchdown.
AP Photo/Rogelio Solis
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (40-22, 5 years)

Last Season's Record: 10-3 (SEC West T-1, AP #13)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2004 Cotton Bowl (31-28 win over Oklahoma State)

Key matchup(s): Tennessee (10/16), @LSU (11/20), Mississippi St.(11/27)

Star Power: QB Michael Spurlock (Jr) 5-11 200; RB Vashon Pearson (Jr) 6-0 205

Notable Additions: RB Lavarus Giles, 6-2 205, Benoit, MS; S Larry Kendrick, 6-0 205, Pearl River CC; LB Gary Pack, 6-1 220, Hattiesburg, MS.

Notable Subtractions: QB Eli Manning; WR Chris Collins; RB Tremaine Turner; DT Jesse Mitchell

Notable Returnees: WR Bill Flowers; RT Tre Stallings; CB Travis Johnson

Offensive Overview: With the loss of their top three offensive producers from last year (Manning, Collins, and Turner) quarterback Michael Spurlock must develop into a big time SEC player. The offensive line is seasoned and will provide Spurlock with time to throw to a group of solid receivers. At the running back position there is a lot of young depth and someone needs to step up and fill the void left by Termaine Turner. The Rebels are a lot better off offensively than people think as Cutliffe has done a wonderful job at developing players over the years.

Defensive Overview: The defense lost seven starters from last season and that will hurt them. They have a lot of speed on defense led by cornerback Travis Johnson and safety Eric Oliver. The upside for the Rebels is that the defense is young and should improve over the season. The defensive line also remains a question as only DT Daniel Booth returns.

Special Teams Overview: The kicking game will be solid once again as kicker Jonathan Nichols returns. Last year Nichols was 25-29 and won the Groza award as the nation's best kicker. Punter Cody Ridgeway averaged 44.2 yards per punt last season.

The Rebels will be ranked in the top 25 at the end of the year if... Spurlock is effectively able to run the offense and the defense is able to mature quickly. In addition the Rebels need to avenge last season's loss to Memphis and stay competitive in the SEC west.

Author: Gene Swindoll,

09/25/04@Louisiana State
Linebacker Marvin Byrdsong (32) of the Mississippi State Bulldogs pulls off his helmet.
Getty Images/Otto Greule Jr.
Head Coach: Sylvester Croom (First year)

Last Season's Record: 2-10 (1-7, 5th in SEC Western Division)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2000 Independence Bowl (43-41 OT Win over Texas A&M)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 4 Tulane (ESPN-2), Oct. 9th UAB, Nov. 27 @Ole Miss.

Star Power: Richard Burch, OT, Jr., 6-5, 305; Jerious Norwood, HB, Jr., 6-0, 200; David Stewart, OT, Sr. 6-6, 310; Marvin Byrdsong, MLB, Jr., 6-2, 240; Ronald Fields, DT, Sr., 6-2, 310; Quinton Culberson, CB, So., 6-0, 210.

Notable Additions: Jonathan Lowe, WR/KR, Central HS (Phenix City, AL), 5-7, 165; Anthony Strauder, DL, Natchez (MS) HS, 6-4, 287; Robert Walker, TE/DE, Southwest (Miss.) Community College, 6-3, 262; Corey Spells, CB, Mays HS (Atlanta, GA), 5-11, 185; Brian Staley, CB, Georgia Military College, 5-9, 185.

Notable Subtractions: Nick Turner, HB, Dismissed from the team, Justin Jenkins, WR, Graduated, Kevin Fant, QB, Graduated, Brent Smith, K, Graduated, T. J. Mawhinney, LB, Graduated, Odell Bradley, CB, Graduated, Jason Clark, LB/DE, Graduated, Tommy Kelly, DT, Graduated.

Notable Returnees: Darnell Jones, FB, Sr., 5-11, 245; Will Rogers, OG, Sr., 6-4, 325; Kevin Dockery, CB, Jr., 5-10, 185; Willie Evans, DE, Jr., 6-2, 255; Jeramie Johnson, SS, So., 6-0, 195; Darren Williams, FS, Jr., 6-2, 205; Jared Cook, P Sr., 5-10, 188.

Offensive Overview: One of the strengths of the team will be a slimmed down offensive line that has all of its starters back except for center Blake Jones. Junior left tackle Richard Burch and senior right tackle David Stewart both have NFL talent. Junior center Chris McNeil is a hard worker who can be very good if he is mentally ready to take on the challenges of being a starter. Senior Will Rogers, the right guard, is a solid player. Junior Johnny Wadley, if he is healthy, is a powerful offensive guard.

The fullback is another position that is a strength. With senior Darnell Jones returning and senior Nick Signaigo and sophomore Bryson Davis behind him, fullback is experienced and has depth.

The weaknesses are depth at almost all of the positions and inexperience at others. The crucial quarterback position has a wide receiver turned quarterback in sophomore Omarr Conner. Conner, who was an outstanding quarterback in high school, will have to learn a new system while playing in games. His backup, junior Kyle York, wasn’t able to go through contact work during the spring due to rehabbing from a shoulder injury. Tight end has some talent but no one has played a complete game. There are no sure threats at wide receiver, although there are a lot of players. And to make matters worse, one of the top returners, Ray Ray Bivines, may miss part or all of the season due to an injury.

Mississippi State will run a version of the West Coast offense, similar to what the Green Bay Packers run.

Defensive Overview: While young, the defensive line may be the most talented and deepest positions on the football team. With starters Ronald Fields, a senior defensive tackle, and Willie Evans, a junior defensive end, the Bulldogs have a couple of veterans who can lead the youngsters. Sophomore defensive end Deljuan Robinson is a star in the making. Backup defensive end Michael Heard, a sophomore, has a lot of talent and could prove to be a pass-rush star. Corey Clark, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, can be a great one if he continues to develop and works hard on his conditioning.

The three starting linebackers - Marvin Byrdsong, Clarence McDougal and Brad Horton - are a solid group, with Byrdsong a possible All-SEC candidate.

With the addition of two-time junior college All-American cornerback Brian Staley and newcomers Mario Bobo and Corey Spells, the cornerback positions went from being a little above average to very solid.

Depth at linebacker and at the safeties positions are real concerns. Several youngsters - Gabe O'Neal, Anthony Littlejohn and Titus Brown - may have to factor in if veteran Chris Swain can't handle his new linebacker position. MSU, coming out of spring practice, had three athletes who were ready to play safety in a game, Darren Williams, Jeramie Johnson and Slovakia Griffith. Griffith missed part of the spring due to an injury. MSU will have to count on a youngster or two to provide depth.

The Bulldogs defense will be a standard 4-3.

Special Teams Overview: The good news is there is plenty of experience coming back with starting punter Jared Cook, starting holder Joe Judge and starting deep snapper Russell Cook all returning. The bad news is that All-SEC kicker Brent Smith is gone. Replacing him is unproven sophomore Keith Andrews, a very talented kicker who kicked off in several games last season.

Kick and punt returner Fred Reid has experience, but MSU will miss Nick Turner who was dismissed from the team last winter. True freshman Jonathan Lowe, who is electrifying in the open field, could also figure in at these two positions.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs will win 6 games and go to a bowl game if... they can stay healthy and sophomore quarterback Omarr Conner plays like he did in high school.

Author: Russ Perry,

09/18/04South Florida
09/25/04Troy State
South Carolina's Moe Thompson (91) gets his hand on the ball.
AP Photo/Lou Krasky
Head Coach: Lou Holtz (243-127-7 overall)

Last Season's Record: 5-7 (4th place in SEC Eastern Division)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2002 Outback Bowl (31-28 victory over Ohio State)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 4 @Vanderbilt (Jefferson-Pilot TV), Sept. 11 Georgia (ESPN), Oct. 2 @Alabama, Oct. 30 Tennessee, Nov. 13 @Florida, Nov. 20 @Clemson.

Star Power: Moe Thompson DE 6-3 280 Junior, George Gause DE 6-5 275 Senior, Jermaine Harris SS 6-4 210 Senior, Ricardo Hurley LB 6-3 235 Junior, Marcus Lawrence LB 6-3 240 Senior, Darrell Shropshire NT 6-3 300 Senior, Demetrius Summers TB 6-1 210 Sophomore, Noah Whiteside WR 6-0 180 Sophomore, Troy Williamson WR 6-2 205 Junior.

Notable Additions: Jonathan Joseph CB 6-0 180 Tr-Junior, Marque Hall DT 6-5 305 Freshman, Kevin Mainord DE 6-5 270 Freshman, James Thompson OL 6-4 310 Freshman.

Notable Subtractions: Dunta Robinson (NFL 1st Round Cornerback Houston Texans), Travelle Wharton (NFL 3rd Round Offensive Lineman Carolina Panthers), De'Andre Eiland (NFL 6th Round Cornerback Minnesota Vikings).

Notable Returnees: Charles Silas DE 6-6 290 Tr-Junior, Freddy Saint-Preux DT 6-5 296 Tr-Junior, Jabari Levey OT 6-7 330 Junior, Dondrial Pinkins QB 6-2 245 Senior, Syvelle Newton Ath 6-2 200 Sophomore.

Offensive Overview: The fortunes of the Carolina offense this season will begin and end at quarterback. If Dondrial Pinkins stumbles early then Syvelle Newton or Blake Mitchell will be waiting in the wings. South Carolina's offensive line is their strength - the starting five are very talented - and BIG. There will be question marks where depth is concerned until the second unit gains valuable game experience early in the season, and South Carolina will need at least two or three of the newcomers to contribute. The Gamecocks are loaded at tailback with Demetrius Summers, Cory Boyd and Daccus Turman - one of the stronger backfields in the SEC this season. Expect the offense to be multifaceted if their passing game gets on track early in the 2004 campaign. Lou and Skip Holtz intend to pound the ball up the middle and off-tackle but they know it will take a reasonably successful passing game to loosen up defenses this season. Wide receivers Noah Whiteside, Matthew Thomas and Troy Williamson will need to increase their overall production and output for the passing game to get on track - the number one priority for new Wide Receivers' Coach Rick Stockstill is to ensure that his corp group of wide outs learn to catch the ball in key situations. Do not be surprised to see the Gamecocks take advantage of a trio of talented tight ends in Brian Brownlee, Andy Boyd and David Laggis. This is the sleeper group of tight ends in the SEC.

Defensive Overview: Expect big things from the Gamecock Defensive Unit in 2004. They are loaded, especially on the line - talented and deep. With Moe Thompson and George Gause returning at defensive end, and Darrell Shropshire returning at nose tackle, they have laid a solid foundation for success. Jason Capers and Charles Silas are rare two way players capable of playing both tackle and end. Freddy Saint-Preux and Chris Tucker will rotate at the other defensive tackle position aside Shropshire as the Gamecocks move back into a 4-3 set for 2004. Newcomers Kevin Mainord and Marque Hall will contribute almost immediately to what is already a very deep squad. DT Stanley Doughty and DE Eric Stroman will get their licks in as well. What used to be a Spurbacker is now the Apache Back and Rodriguez Wilson and Jamacia Jackson are prepared to man that rover-type position when called upon to do so - and they'll do it in style ... both can play as linebackers or strong safeties. Ricardo Hurley, Marcus Lawrence and Lance Laury give the Gamecocks plenty of pop and experience at linebacker. Senior Jermaine Harris (nephew of Franco Harris) returns as one of the bigger and better free safeties in the league. Newcomer Jonathan Joseph has the skills and physical tools to make an immediate impact at cornerback along with second year, and very athletic, Fred Bennett. This Carolina defense is going to be one to watch. They are big, deep and fast. The most important addition during the off-season may well prove to be new Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter.

Special Teams Overview: Coach Paul Lounseberry has his hands full with special teams this season. While he seems prepared enough in terms of punting and kickoffs - his number one priority has to be finding a field goal kicker during summer practices. South Carolina lost three games in 2003 to Top 25 teams by a combined total of 8 points.

The Carolina Gamecocks will win eight games and go to a nice bowl this season if... they can establish a respectable passing game, which means they have to find a confident quarterback that can covert through the air when the situation arises ... and if their defense is as good as they appear to be. New Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter will be asked to control opposing offenses this season by limiting long third down conversions - something the Gamecocks have failed to do for the past two seasons. If the Carolina Defense is up to the task, the offense will gain momentum and confidence and the Gamecocks could easily be the surprise team in the SEC Eastern Division in 2004. Lou Holtz lives for seasons like this - the seasons where no one is expecting anything from his Gamecocks.

Author: Camille Keck,

09/25/04Louisiana Tech
10/30/04@South Carolina
11/06/04Notre Dame
Linebacker Kevin Burnett (2) of Tennessee tackles Domanick Davis (31) of LSU.
Getty Images/Jamie Squire
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer (113-28)

Last Season's Record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC, Eastern Division Co-Champion, No. 15 AP, No. 16 ESPN/USA Today)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2003 Peach Bowl (27-14 loss to Clemson)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 18 Florida, Oct. 9 @Georgia.

Star Power: P Dustin Colquitt, LB Kevin Burnett, LB Kevin Simon, DE Parys Haralson, DB Jason Allen, OT Michael Munoz, G Cody Douglas, RB Cedric Houston, WR James Banks.

Notable Additions: OT Albert Toeaina (juco transfer), DT Jesse Mahelona (juco transfer) DE Antonio Reynolds (prep school), CB Jonathan Hefney (prep school), QB Brent Schaeffer (incoming frosh) and QB Erik Ainge (incoming frosh).

Notable Subtractions: QB Casey Clausen, C Scott Wells, WR Mark Jones, FB Troy Fleming, S Gibril Wilson, S Rashad Baker (out of eligibility), CB Antwan Stewart (torn ACL)

Notable Returnees: C Jason Respert, WR Tony Brown, WR Chris Hannon, RB Jabari Davis, TE Victor McClure, DE Karlton Neal, LB Jason Mitchell, PK James Wilhoit.

Offensive Overview: The loss of four-year starting QB Casey Clausen leaves a huge void. Sixth-year senior C.J. Leak gets first shot at the opening but will be pressed by LSU transfer Rick Clausen (Casey's brother) and incoming freshmen Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge. If a quarterback can be found, the offense should be good because of proven players at all of the other positions.

Defensive Overview: All-star linebackers Kevin Burnett and Kevin Simon spearhead a unit that could be excellent. Juco transfer Jesse Mahelona will start immediately at tackle and prep school grad Antonio Reynolds adds speed off the edge as a rush end. Replacing departed safeties Gibril Wilson and Rashad Baker is a concern.

Special Teams Overview: Few teams can match Tennessee's tandem of All-America punter Dustin Colquitt and Freshman All-American kicker James Wilhoit. Mark Jones' skills as a return man will be missed but James Banks (who is suspended for the first three games) could solve that problem. Another option is incoming prep school grad Jonathan Hefney.

If the QB play is good enough to beat visiting Florida in Game 2... the Vols likely will be favored in every outing the rest of the year except Game 5 at Georgia. The defense and kicking game should be sound, so the season probably hinges on the development of a capable quarterback.

Author: Don Yates,

09/04/04South Carolina
10/02/04Mississippi State
10/23/04Eastern Kentucky
10/30/04@Louisiana State
Quarterback Jay Cutler (6) hurdles over a fallen teammate as he runs for 22 yards for a third quarter first down.
AP Photo/Rogelio Solis
Head Coach: Bobby Johnson (62-56 overall)

Last Season's Record: 2-10 (1-7 SEC)

Last Bowl Appearance: 1982 Hall of Fame Classic (28-36 loss to Air Force)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 4, South Carolina

Star Power: QB Jay Cutler, DE Jovan Haye, LT Justin Geisinger, LB Moses Osemwegie, WR Erik Davis

Notable Additions: LB Curtis Gatewood, LB Jonathan Goff, OT Hamilton Holliday, RB Cassen Jackson-Garrison, TE Brad Allen, K Daniel Lee

Notable Subtractions: TE Nick Getter (graduation), P Abtin Iranmanesh (graduated), OL Tom Sorenson (church mission), OL Steven Brent (ineligible)

Notable Returnees: DT Robert Dinwiddie, CB Bill Alford, OL Kenan Arkan, DE Chris Booker, DT Aaron Carter, FB Matthew Tant, DB Kelechi Ohanaja, DB Andrew Pace, WR Brandon Smith, WR Chris Young, OL Brian Stamper, RB Norval McKenzie

Offensive Overview: Expect the Commodores to do more of the same in 2004; a no-nonsense passing and running scheme with a taste of the option. Jay Cutler gives The Commodores a seasoned, capable leader at quarterback. Running back should be in good hands with Norval McKenzie and Kwane Doster sharing the load. Brandon Smith and Erik Davis are outstanding wide receivers that should flourish in 2004. The offensive line is anchored by 330-pound senior Justin Geisinger, probably the strongest player ever to wear the black and gold. Brian Stamper, Mac Pyle, and Kenan Arkan are also steady, reliable performers on the line, but depth there is a key concern.

The center position is the big worry for Bobby Johnson. First, sophomore Tom Sorenson delayed his sophomore season to participate on a Mormon mission for two years. Backup Adam Dossett tore his ACL in spring practice. Chris Williams, a redshirt freshman who was expected to compete with Steven Brent for the starting spot, was declared ineligible. The unthinkable happened in July when Steven Brent was also declared ineligible. True freshman Hamilton Holliday, who has never played center, may be forced into action.

Defensive Overview: Vanderbilt's defense continued to improve in 2003, but the defense must improve even more in order for the team to excel. All 11 starters return. DE Jovan Haye led the SEC in sacks in 2003, and Aaron Carter should start at the other end. Senior Robert Dinwiddie should finally be able to go full speed and should hold down one tackle position. Moses Osemwegie, the team's best playmaker, led the SEC in total tackles (126) in 2003. Junior DB Dominique Morris led the team with three interceptions last season.

Building depth in the defensive line is a priority for the staff.

Special Teams Overview: The Commodores must find a punter and a placekicker in fall camp. Field goal kicking was the team's most glaring weakness in 2003. Sophomore Patrick Johnson, 1-of-2 last year in field goal attempts, will battle true freshman Daniel Lee for the placekicking job. Punt returner Ronald Hatcher has graduated and is expected to be replaced by Erik Davis. Kwane Doster returned 26 kickoffs for a 21.8 yard average last season.

The team's goal, simply put, is... to break the school's 21-year bowl-less streak. The Commodores have steadily improved over the past two seasons, though it hasn't shown up in the record. The players have benefited from continuity in the coaching staff and system. A manageable schedule this season should definitely allow the Commodores to improve on the 2-10 records of the last two years. Non-conference Games against Eastern Kentucky, Rutgers and Navy look winnable; and the team should not be overmatched in conference games vs. Mississippi State, Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina.

Look for the Commodores to improve that win/loss record by winning 3-6 games in 2004 with a non-cellar SEC East finish.