This is the fifth of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
Everyone is undefeated early in the season, and everyone has expectations for how their teams are going to do. Some of those expectations will end up having been unrealistic. Some of them might end up being not as big a dream as fans could dream; the real world might be even better. But those expectations are a key part of being a fan. Here are a few of ours.
Year2: Seeing as how we haven't gotten to Florida's preview week, I'm not going to unload everything I've got into this one. I've got a couple things to say for right now though.
I think if you gave a lot of Gator fans truth serum, they'd tell you they're really looking forward to the offense that John Brantley will be running. Of course everyone will always love Tim Tebow and he'll be in the pantheon of Gator greats forever. If you look at history though, passing is in Florida's DNA. From Steve Spurrier winning the Heisman in the '60s, to the Florida Flop allowing John Reaves to set the NCAA passing mark in the '70s, to Kerwin Bell's heroics in the '80s, to the Fun n' Gun in the '90s, passing-oriented offense is what Florida has generally done.
That's not to say that Tebow wasn't a good passer (he was), or that Brantley won't do some option plays this fall (he will). It's not about the players themselves, but about the style of offense. Going back to a scheme where the read option is not the bread and butter play will be well received in Gainesville (as long as it's not replaced with the Zook/Zaunbrecher bubble screen).
I also think that the success of the team hinges more than anything else on the progress of the wide receivers. Urban Meyer is a true believer in the general theory behind any spread offense, which is that having credible targets stretching the field from side to side will open up lanes for everyone. It's no surprise that with only two primary targets last year, the offense suffered for it. I think there's enough talent there to be fine between Deonte Thompson, Carl Moore, Chris Rainey, and Andre Debose, but we'll have to see.
I'm not overly concerned about the defense. Only one defensive end spot, one linebacker spot, and one cornerback spot will be staffed by someone who hasn't started a few games before. Not really knowing a thing about Teryl Austin is a bit disconcerting, but he says he's not going to differ too much from Charlie Strong's schemes and co-coordinator Chuck Heater has been on Meyer's staff from the beginning. It won't be as good as the defense from the past two years, but it's not going back to 2007 or anything.
I think this sets up like Florida's 2000 season ended up: the team being an SEC title contender but not a national title contender. It gets two tough games from the SEC West in LSU and Alabama, it's not quite as far above the rest of the East anymore, and the game against the probably rejuvenated FSU team is on the road. A 9-3 or 10-2 regular season is probably about where they'll end up.
I'll add this: There is a side of me that wants to say that this could be a big year for the Gamecocks. I'm not one of those who believes that the window for the non-Florida teams in the East is open for just one year; there are no guarantees that Florida will win nine or ten games this year (though, as you can probably guess from how far we've gotten in our preview series, that's around where we think they will be) or that 9 or 10 wins + 1 year = undefeated national championship year. After all, 13-win national championship year with almost everyone returning + 1 year didn't equal an undefeated national championship year.
But this year is undeniably the best chance for the Gamecocks. They don't lose a ton of talent next year, but enough to raise questions about whether they could do it in 2011 if they don't in 2010. And I think they could do it in 2010 -- but that's the Gamecock in me talking. The analyst says eight or nine wins is probably the logical landing place, at least for now.
As for the SEC ... I expect a more exciting season this year. Alabama and Florida have to be the favorites, but I don't think they're the huge favorites they were in 2009. Alabama's defense will not be as good this year as it was last year, at least not to begin the season; that could cause problems. Florida's new offense might be exciting for fans, but it also will almost certainly have some growing pains. That could cost them a game or two somewhere, and if Georgia or South Carolina has a breakthrough year, a game or two could be all it takes.
Last year was an inevitable march toward a coronation of one of two would-be kings; this year, it looks like the season might just be a contest again.