Lots of comings and goings to talk about, so let's get everybody caught up to date on the SEC East.
Florida - The big whoosh you heard earlier this month was the collective gasp of Gator fans all across the nation. The playing field has been leveled folks. With Spurrier's unexpected resignation and the hiring of former Spurrier demotee Ron Zook as head coach, the Gator nation is not so proud anymore. Folks, it may be a while before the Gators play in the Orange Bowl again. I know they are still Florida and it may take a year or two for things to even out, but believe me the SEC is now more competitive than ever. Spurrier leaving is a move that hurt the future of the program, but several players are following their coach's lead to the NFL. All everything WR tandem Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell have both declared for the NFL draft as has multi talented CB Lito Sheppard. The Gators were facing some heavy losses on defense already, now they have as many if not more holes than anyone else in the conference. The silver lining is that Rex Grossman has agreed to return for at least one more season. I guess he thinks he got ripped off in the Heisman balloting too!
Kentucky - Things are just plain bad in Lexington. National signing day will be more like a funeral than a celebration. On the eve of NCAA sanctions, the 'Cats can't afford to lose any players. Sad news for the Cats, the kids are jumping ship like supporters of Congressman Gary Conduit. DE Dennis Johnson and TE Derek Smith have both declared for the NFL draft and both were the best players for the Wildcats on their respective sides of the ball. Smith made many All Star teams. Johnson was slowed by injuries, but he has the size and speed to make it at the next level. Freshmen Brett Hamblen and DE Ben Scott have both quit the team for unspecified reasons. OL Josh Jaggers has transferred to Eastern Kentucky. The biggest potential loss is former All-SEC freshman RB Chad Scott. Scott has been granted his release to pursue a transfer. With UK looking for more of a balanced attack, Scott will be missed. That's six roster spots open for a team that was out-gunned all year. I guess when it rains it pours!
Georgia - Coach Mark Richt's team showed shades of brilliance last year and showed some immaturity at times too. Richt has been unable to avoid attrition on his roster as well. Rising star free safety Terreal Bierria has opted for the NFL as has DE Charles Grand and NFL prototype TE Randy McMichael. McMichael has the size and hands to make an impact at the next level if he can improve his run blocking a bit. CB Dantra Clements has transferred to Valdosta State. This loss is even bigger with the loss of Bierria. Due to an incident which involves both campus and city police, junior DB Brandon Williams has been suspended pending the outcome of the police investigation. Williams was involved in the same incident that led to the suspension of two UGA basketball players. Details of the incident are sketchy at best, but the outlook is not good according to most sources.
Vanderbilt - There hasn't been much to cheer about at Vandy in ooooh the last 20 years, but new head coach Bobby Johnson was just named Div 1-AA coach of the year. Johnson led his Furman squad to the national championship game last season and came up on the short end of a 13-6 contest with Montana. Johnson has twice been named coach of the year in region II and has had success in his tenure at Furman. Let's be honest, how many of you actually knew Furman had a football team? Coach Johnson welcome to the SEC! If you can get Vandy to the national championship game you'd be the greatest coach since creation.
South Carolina - From the "Who didn't see that coming?" department: This just in, Derek Watson has been involved in yet another off the field incident that involves the police! This is the 4th incident that has been reported which means there are probable a dozen or so more that either weren't reported or didn't involve the police. Watson wasn't much more than a decoy most of the season to Gamecock opponents and wasn't much more than a distraction to the Gamecock players and coaches. Watson has now been dismissed from the football team at South Carolina. He has talent so I am sure he will show up on somebody's NFL roster for short time. His talent has carried him this far and has allowed him to get away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist in the past. Here's hoping the NFL has learned something from the Lawrence Phillips's and Cecil Collins' of the world. Somebody please stand up for what is right and make character stand for something. Let Derek Watson be accountable like the rest of us. Just because he wears a number shouldn't allow him anymore chances than he has already squandered!
Tennessee - Do you think the folks on rocky top have stopped grinning yet? I can assure you the folks in Volunteer land see a chance for some payback on Florida. The news was so earth shattering that WRs Dontae Stallworth and Kelley Washington have both recanted their declarations for the NFL draft. Big Phil Fulmer just signed a big fat contract extension taking him to 2008 as head of the Orange nation. The lone defection to the NFL was T Albert Haynesworth. And with big Munoz coming back next year off pre-season surgery Haynesworth is not that big a loss. UT has their offense pretty much set with Clausen and his top two WRs back. The SEC's leading rusher, Travis Stephens, has exhausted his eligibility and his number and position in the backfield will be taken by a player that Mississippi State recruited heavily, Jabari Davis. The Vols are loaded for bear and will garner lots of attention heading into the season. They visit the Dawg Pound in StarkVegas this year. Get your tickets early; that one should be a dandy to watch!
Final Notes - As we head toward national signing day, the 2nd season is in full swing. Spring football will be here before you know it and then we begin the long hot, dry spell in College football that most folks call Summer. The whole landscape of the SEC has changed with the departure of Steve Spurrier and some of his prized talent. Recruiting should be a fun time for most, but in the SEC East you'd have to say that UT, UGA and USC should have their cups running over. All three programs look to take a giant leap forward with Florida jumping back towards the pack. I wish Coach Spurrier nothing but the best and I just hope he isn't too hard on our man Fred Smoot for all the trash he talked after we trounced the Gators in 2000!
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is email@example.com.