SEC EAST
2002 Season Predictions
BACK ON TOP Don't look for Florida to drop too far in the polls without Steve Spurrier at the helm. QB Rex Grossman and WR Taylor Jacobs return next season despite early speculation that they might follow Spurrier to the pros. Ron Zook may focus the majority of his energy on the Gator defense and allow the Fun N Gun to run on auto pilot. If that's the case, the Gators could theoretically be an improved team in 2002.

Newly hired veteran offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher comes from Marshall, where his offense finished third in the nation in passing and total offense in 2001. The Thundering Herd threw for an average of 350.1 yards per game and 40 touchdowns. They also finished third in total offense with an average of 505.1 yards per game and 61 touchdowns.

With games against Miami, LSU, Auburn, and LSU in the Swamp - the Gators are once again the team to beat.

COCKS LOOK TO IMPROVE 9-3 SEASON Without Phil Petty at QB and RB Derek Watson in the backfield, expect the Gamecocks to play a different style of football next season. With Dondrial Pinkins in the QB slot, the Gamecocks should play classic Lou Holtz smash mouth football. He is very mobile and can throw the long ball when he needs to. Andrew Pinnock and Ryan Brewer should share time in the backfield. Pinnock, the bruiser, led the Gamecocks in TDs last season. Brian Scott, the outstanding wideout ended his career in the Outback Bowl and leaves the position open for Matthew Thomas and Chavez Donnings.

The defense will lose an outstanding cornerback in Sheldon Brown. Charlie Strong will have to give playing time to some new comers in his bend but don't break Defensive scheme. Corey Jenkins could see time at Spur.

The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Gamecocks this season, with away games at Florida, LSU, and Clemson. A second place finish in the SEC East should lead to a Sugar Bowl berth.

STRONG SENIOR LEADERSHIP A new contract in the off season secures Phil Fulmer's spot at Tennessee for many years to come. Another championship could have been in the near future for the Volunteers with Casey Clausen, Donte Stallworth, and Kelley Washington returning for their senior seasons. But major losses on the defensive side of the ball will preclude that from happening. Will Overstreet and Albert Haynesworth will be sorely missed and opponents should have a much easier time running the football with those two out of the mix.

I expect home games against Florida and Miami to be difficult ones (and most likely losses) and South Carolina to be a tough road game for the Vols. The Gamecocks have lost two close ones in a row to the Rocky Toppers - I can't see it being three in a row.

TOUGH SCHEDULE The Bulldogs played well in 2001 with losses only to USC, Florida, Auburn and Boston College in their bowl game. They had impressive wins over Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia Tech. The Dawgs open the 2002 campaign with games against Clemson and the Gamecocks and then play Alabama, Tennessee, and Auburn again late in the year. Things don't get any easier for second year coach Mark Richt and company - they may have one of the toughest schedules in the conference, if not the country.

David Greene was impressive in his first season behind center and he will build on his experience last year to keep the offense moving along. The defense has to be improved upon next year or it could be a long season in Athens. A lot of talented sophomores and juniors return on the defensive side of the ball - Jermaine Phillips and Will Witherspoon will be tough to replace.

I see the Dawgs struggling to match last season's 8-3 regular season mark.


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