Since two SEC East teams open their seasons on Thursday night, we'll look at Florida's five opponents in that division first and then hit the West.
GEORGIA - The Bulldogs suffered the single costliest injury of anyone in preseason workouts with the loss of left tackle Trinton Sturdivant. The sophomore was Georgia's top offensive lineman, and they've shuffled their line to make up for his loss by moving right tackle Kiante Tripp over to the left side. Starting fullback Brannan Southerland is still recovering from a broken left foot, with the most optimistic scenario having him back by the fourth game of the season. Safety Quintin Banks is out for the Bulldogs' first two games but might make it back for their SEC opener against South Carolina. Depth at linebacker could be an issue should more injuries occur. Georgia's down to just seven scholarship players at the position after backup Charles White ruptured an Achilles tendon. Most of the defensive ends have been banged up during camp but they're not expected to miss games.
Eight arrests this year meant off-field issues were a big topic for Georgia entering camp, but things have calmed down since then. While there are suspensions that resulted from those incidents, most don't carry over into SEC play. The news hasn't been all bad for the Bulldogs. Freshman wide receiver A.J. Green may be able to back up all the hype that accompanied his arrival in Athens, as he's wowed people in practice. Mark Richt is apparently considering letting star tailback Knowshown Moreno return punts, which seems like an unnecessary risk to take given his value to the Buldogs offense. If Moreno doesn't do it, third string quarterback Logan Gray would likely get the call.
KENTUCKY - The big storyline going into camp was supposed to be the battle to replace Andre' Woodson as starting quarterback, but Curtis Pulley was booted due to off field issues and has since transferred to Florida A&M. Mike Hartline will take over under center and likely will be used conservatively as the Wildcats try to maximize production from their stable of running backs. Kentucky's coaches have acknowledged their defense has vastly outperformed the offense this August, but how much of that is due to progress on that side of the ball as opposed to the Wildcat attack regressing due to the loss of almost all of its meaningful contributors in the passing game is hard to know for sure.
Nagging injuries have been a factor in Kentucky's camp, but they have largely avoided any major losses due to health concerns. Backup center Jake Lanefski has a broken hand which forced him to move to guard, and several other offensive linemen have also missed some practice time. Academic factors have taken a toll, as starting cornerback Paul Warford is ineligible for the season and starting right guard Christian Johnson may be as well.
SOUTH CAROLINA - Steve Spurrier has remained rock solid in his public support of fourth year junior Tommy Beecher as his starting quarterback. Spurrier insists Beecher, who has thrown just 25 passes in college to date, will be given the chance to make mistakes without being immediately pulled from the game. While plenty of attention has been focused on redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia due to his off field issues, the former Elite 11 quarterback has been a non-factor in the Gamecocks quarterback situation and is described as no better than a third teamer by Spurrier. No one has emerged yet as a number two wide receiver behind All-SEC performer Kenny McKinley.
After a number of devastating personnel losses during last season, the Gamecocks have so far largely avoided the injuries which have hit some schools hard. Starting tailback Mike Davis has been hampered with a shoulder issue but likely will be able to play in their opener. The South Carolina starting offensive line is an experiment for the first two weeks while Jamon Meredith sits out an NCAA mandated two games for having played briefly in his freshman year before redshirting. Meredith will return as a starter at either left tackle or guard for the Georgia game depending on how the line does in his absence. South Carolina's announced starting defensive lineup for their opener with NC State is a 4-2-5, which the Gamecocks will play a lot this season to combat the spread offense and get their best talent on the field.
TENNESSEE - With the Volunteers breaking in a new offense and starting quarterback, reviews for Jonathan Crompton have been fairly positive thus far. Tennessee has experimented with other players taking snaps, including wide receiver Gerald Jones and star defensive back Eric Berry, but it's not clear how large a portion of the Vol attack gimmick packages like that may be. FSU transfer tight end Brandon Warren was declared eligible by the NCAA, adding a quality athlete to Tennessee's arsenal. That may help make up for the loss of Jeff Cottam, a potential starter at the position, for the first half of the season due to back surgery.
Academic issues have affected a pair of Tennessee's anticipated starters on defense. Junior college transfer Gerald Williams has not been cleared by the NCAA and has been sitting out practices the past week. He could line up at either middle linebacker or defensive end once he gets word he passed a summer school class, but there's not a timetable for when that might happen. Cornerback Brent Vinson's status for playing in UT's opener is also unclear, which in part has led to him being dropped down to the dime package. It's not known when Vinson's academic situation will be resolved, although he has been practicing with the team. Punter Britton Colquitt is out for the first five games with a suspension, but his substitute Chad Cunningham has been drawing praise for his work in practice.
VANDERBILT - The Commodores are still undecided on their starting quarterback for their opener, a road game against Miami of Ohio. Senior Chris Nickson and junior Mackenzi Adams split duties last season, and neither has done enough to make himself the man yet this fall. Whoever is throwing the ball will be looking to get it to John Cole, a speedy freshman receiver who's made a big impression in drills and may help pick up some of the slack left by the departure of Earl Bennett to the NFL. D.J. Moore, the Commodores star cornerback, is also seeing more time on offense. Moore's a possible gamebreaking playmaker, and will be returning punts as well.
Vanderbilt has been able to stay healthier than some teams thus far. One key injury was to senior wideout George Smith, a starter who could miss Vandy's first two games as he recovers from a stress fracture in his foot. Some questions for Vanderbilt, like the performance level of an offensive line with five new starters, can't be answered until they actually play a game. On defense the secondary should be solid, but the front seven will have to show they can generate pressure with only two returning starters.
What We've Learned - SEC East
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