During the SEC’s impressive run of seven straight national champions, the one constant was the play of the defensive tackles. The offenses varied from Florida’s two titles with a spread option to Alabama’s three with a power running game that set up an over the top throwing game. But whether it was the Gators, Alabama, LSU or Auburn, the one thing that was the same was the dominance on the interior of the defensive line by the tackles. No league anywhere in the country has produced so many tackles with NFL size and quickness.
Defensive tackle is where you look to Florida’s rise to 11-2 prominence in 2012 and its 4-8 fall from grace in 2013. With Shariff Floyd dominating the interior line in 2012 the Gators gave up only 94.54 yards per game rushing. In 2012 with Dominique Easley dominating play on the interior the first three weeks of the season, the Gators gave up a combined 166 rushing yards to Toledo, which had a 1,000-plus and 800-plus runner last year; Miami, which featured Duke Johnson who is one of the best running backs in the country; and Tennessee, which had one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country and had a 1,000-plus runner in Rajion Neal. When Easley went down after the Tennessee game, the Gators still had no problems stopping Kentucky (48 rushing yards) but it got progressively worse from there. Georgia Southern rushed for 429 yards and didn’t even complete a pass. For the year, the Gators gave up 142 rushing yards a game.
For the Gators to return to prominence on the defensive side of the ball, it will start in the middle where Leon Orr, Darious Cummings, Jonathan Bullard and a bunch of redshirt and true freshmen will have to come up big. Of the veterans, Orr has the size, athletic ability and intelligence to come up big but he’s got to play with more effort and consistency than he has shown in the past. Redshirt freshmen Jay-Nard Bostwich and Caleb Brantley and true freshmen Khairi Clark and Thomas Holley have the size and athleticism to play the interior but they lack experience.
Although a dominator along the lines of Floyd or Easley would be a godsend, it’s not necessary as long as Will Muschamp can mix and match these guys and plug them in at the right time. There might not be one dominator in the group but there is enough collective talent and depth to get the job done. If the Gators can hold opponents to 105 or fewer rushing yards per game, the defense will get the job done.
With the launch of the SEC Network just a little bit more than a week away, the current tab is 85 million subscribers and that’s just for starters. It is the largest launch of a new cable network in history, but wait until the network really catches on and spreads throughout the nation. By most estimates, the SEC Network will be distributing at least $12-15 million per SEC school immediately and something in the neighborhood of $30 million yearly within 4-5 years.
Let’s put the SEC Network in real terms. Here are the current (per USAToday) athletic department revenues for the top 10 public schools (private schools are not required to release their revenues) in the nation plus the rest of the SEC and all Division I schools in Florida:1. Texas, $165,691,486
2. Wisconsin, $149,141,405
3. Alabama, $143,776,550
4. Michigan, $143,514,125
5. Ohio State, $139,639,307
6. Florida, $130,011,244
7. Oklahoma, $123,805,661
8. LSU, $117,457,398
9. Oregon, $115,241,070
10. Tennessee, $111,579,779
13. Auburn, $103,680,609
14. Arkansas, $99,770,480
16. Georgia, $98,120,889
19. Kentucky, $95,720,724
21. Texas A&M, $93,957,380
24. Florida State, $91,382,441
25. South Carolina, $90,484,422
35. Missouri, $76,306,889
36. Ole Miss, $73,390,050
49. Mississippi State, $62,764,025
57. South Florida, $45,066,258
61. Central Florida, $41,222,301
81. Florida International, $28,332,261
101. Florida Atlantic, $24,538, 411
Now, take into account that these figures include the Big Ten and Pac-12 networks distributing money while the SEC Network is still a week away from existence. With that in mind, let’s go conservative and add $20 million to the budgets of each SEC school. The top 10 would look something like this: (1) Texas, (2) Alabama; (3) Florida; (4) Wisconsin; (5) Michigan; (6) Ohio State; (7) LSU; (8) Tennessee; (9) Oklahoma; and (10) Auburn. Other schools would look like this: (11) Arkansas; (12) Georgia; (13) Kentucky; (14) Oregon; (15) Texas A&M; (16) South Carolina; (21) Missouri; (25) Ole Miss; (27) Florida State; (32) Mississippi State.
Give it another three years and add $30 million to those totals for SEC schools. Unless there is a new explosion of revenues in the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC, every school in the SEC will be flush with cash that will flow into facilities, recruiting budgets, benefits for athletes and upgrading every team in every sport.
To put it in layman’s terms: the rich are going to be so much richer and it’s going to show in the products on the field.
ALABAMA: Nick Saban likes the progress being made by the five scholarship quarterbacks. “Really, all the quarterbacks in this camp so far have really done well. I think our offense has done pretty well because of that. We make a lot of explosive plays and we’re doing a good job of getting the ball in the guys that can make those plays’ hands” ... Defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson missed the Wednesday morning practice ... Inside linebacker Trey DePriest, who injured his knee Saturday, was in a crimson (full contact) jersey but was working with the second unit defense.
ARKANSAS: Head coach Bret Bielema, who played 12 true freshmen out of a 23-man recruiting class last season, expects to play at least that many freshmen this year as well. Bielema said, “You guys know I don’t really try to sell anybody one way or another but I definitely think the number will be similar, if not more. I could see that.”
AUBURN: Joshua Holsey’s recovery from a torn ACL suffered last October is being called miraculous. Holsey was back to full health by the spring game and is now the starting boundary corner ... The Tigers scrimmaged for the first time Wednesday ... Starting O-lineman Chad Slade and senior corner Trovon Reed were held out of practice.
GEORGIA: It’s only four practices into the fall camp but defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is concerned about his secondary where youth and inexperience are compounded by a lack of depth. Said Pruitt, “They’re just not complete football players yet, but they’re young, they’re babies. And that goes back to realistic expectations. I’m not disappointed in any of them, but we’re talking about guys playing winning football ... Right now we’ve got one guy that can play winning football.”
KENTUCKY: Asked if he saw anything he liked after Wednesday morning’s practice, head coach Mark Stoops said, “No I didn’t. Hopefully when I turn on the film there will be some things” ... Dropped passes, a problem last year, continue to plague Kentucky’s wide receivers. Stoops said. “Those guys need to step up and make the big catches and we need to function as a unit much better. I was a little disappointed we dropped the ball a little bit today and put the ball on the ground when we had an opportunity to make some plays” ... Freshman safety Darius West is out for the year with a broken leg.
LSU: With four starters returning on an offensive line expected to be one of the best in the country, the only unsettled position is right guard where Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington are battling for the starting job. Fanaika is 6-6, 348 pounds while Washington is a mere 6-6, 334 ... One day after being reinstated to the football team after a felony charge was reduced to misdemeanor simple battery, safety Jalen Mills was practicing with the starters.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Quarterback Dak Prescott finished the 2013 season so strong that he started drawing comparisons with Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, a pair of spread option quarterbacks that Dan Mullen coached at Florida. Mullen thinks Prescott can turn the MSU offense into a sports car. Mullen said “How fast he can drive it is going to depend on his decision making. Is he going to let it go? Or is he still a little conservative back there?” Currently, Mullen says Prescott is running the offense like “a pickup truck.”
MISSOURI: Freshmen Tavon Ross and Water Brady are still waiting on academic clearance to begin practicing ... Gary Pinkel addressed the situation with wide receiver Levi Copelin, suspended the entire season by the NCAA for testing positive for a banned substance that can be bought in any health food store: “It was just going into a supplement store at the mall. We have rules that you have to check and run it through computers. He made an assumption and he thought he saw some of his teammates use it. Anyone can go buy it. There’s nothing illegal about it, except to play college football.”
OLE MISS: Bo Wallace is entrenched as the starter at quarterback, but head coach Hugh Freeze is not at all happy with his two backups. Following Tuesday’s practice, Freeze said he was “disappointed, to be candid” about the play of his two redshirt freshmen. Freeze said, “Not taking care of the ball well enough and our timing is off and just seemed a little bit confused. I told Dan (offensive coordinator Werner) we got to clear up mentally with them and get them playing faster.”
SOUTH CAROLINA: Steve Spurrier is happy with the attitude and the team chemistry that he’s seeing with the Gamecocks. Spurrier said, “They’ve got good team chemistry but all that just means they all get along with each other. We’ll find out if they all play well” ... South Carolina expects to play a 3-4 defense at least 50% of the time in the fall ... Freshman corners Al Harris Jr., Chris Lammons and Wesley Green are playing so well that there is speculation that at least one of them will start the season opener against Texas A&M.
TENNESSEE: A day after the Vols drew harsh criticism for their effort in practice, head coach Butch Jones saw a sharper and more focused team on Wednesday ... Quarterback Justin Worley took the first team reps in 7-on-7 but was anything but sharp ... Wide receiver Cody Blanc is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles.
TEXAS A&M: Kenny Hill continues to make plays quarterbacking the first team offense ... Malcome Kennedy, Ed Pope, Ricky Seals-Jones and Josh Reynolds are running first team at wide receiver. Kennedy (60 catches, 658 yards, 7 touchdowns) is the only one of the four with any real experience.
Vanderbilt: Running back Jerron Seymour continues to be held out of practice for precautionary reasons ... Although there are five quarterbacks in the running for the starting job, the competition seems mainly focused around sophomore Patton Robinette, who got some starts at the end of last season, and LSU transfer Stephen Rivers.
LSU coach Les Miles on watching stud freshman running back Leonard Fournette run around in shorts: “It’s kind of like having Tiger Woods on a golf course with a putter. You just want to see him tee off, don’t you? Well, we have to put pads on before we can see him tee off.”
Will one of the veteran defensive tackles step up and become the man in the middle for the Gators or will one of the redshirt or true freshmen step in and get the job done?
The only rock and roll band ever to appear on The Lawrence Welk Show was the Chantays, a Southern California surf rock band that produced four albums but is remembered for only one song, “Pipeline,” an instrumental released in December of 1962 that climbed all the way to the #4 spot on the Billboard charts. The song was about the Banzai Pipeline, which is pretty much the mother church for the religion of surfing. No Surfboards and Fast Cars Week is complete without Bob Spickard’s lead guitar on “Pipeline.”