The quickest way to turn a program around is great quarterback play. The four teams that missed the postseason from the Southeastern Conference this year could all use stability and improved play at that position. The 10 teams that will appear in bowl games will all use the extra practice time to develop guys for 2014.
Even a team like Auburn who is playing for the national championship can use pre-holiday practices to get some young redshirt guys more repetitions. Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and Kentucky have spent the last few weeks hitting the road hard in recruiting and come Dec. 15 when the dead period commences each staff will spend some time evaluating its current roster in preparation for spring practice. All four teams ranked 11th-14th in total offense and that is the area of primary concern.
We begin with Tennessee who did finish 5-7 and missed a bowl game just barely losing at home to Vanderbilt 14-10. I thought Butch Jones pieced it together this season and his team took on his personality of scrapping for every yard. He needs to decide on the future at quarterback.
The spring battle should be between Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson the two current freshmen. Dobbs started well but once he got into the game plan he looked like he was not ready. Jones wanted to redshirt both guys but injuries forced him to play Dobbs. I think one guy needs to emerge to get the Volunteers back into the bowl picture. They will need to replace some offensive lineman and running backs, but according to most recruiting services the Volunteers are trending up in recruiting.
Stat to improve to compete for division: The Vols led the SEC in turnovers with 24.
Florida’s season was defined by injuries to many key starters. However, there really is no explanation for losing at home to Georgia Southern or getting blown out by Vanderbilt. The Gators had beaten the Commodores 22 years in a row before that defeat. This team could have been in a lower tier bowl, but I don’t think it would have helped toward next year because most of the guys injured could not have practiced.
Will Muschamp’s offense finished 115th in the country and he plans to hire a new coordinator right after the bowl season. Florida has been historically bad on “O” and will push spring practice back a few weeks so that quarterback Jeff Driskel will be healthy enough to participate.
Florida needs to change its philosophy and go to a spread attack to feature his skill set. It can be done in one season, just look at Auburn. But the Gators need playmakers via recruiting. Just like Tennessee, Florida needs a healthy Driskel to run the offense and have command of what’s taking place on the field.
Stat to improve to compete for division: The Gators were 113th in scoring offense at 18.8 points per game and had just 27 touchdowns all season.
Arkansas seems to be set with Brandon Allen at quarterback to run Bret Bielema’s system. He is not the type of guy that can pick you apart if you shut down the running game. He needs better playmakers around him at the receiver position.
The Razorbacks were last in passing offense and their No. 1 receiver Javonte Herndon had 31 receptions and was a senior. They must develop a passing game to compliment the zone-rushing attack with Alex Collins.
Unlike Tennessee and Florida, Arkansas has some work to do on defense as well. The back seven was not very good this season and the Hogs will lose their best two pass-rushers up front. They may have to go the junior-college route to shore up the league’s worst scoring defense in conference games. Against SEC opponents Arkansas gave up nearly 38 points per game. If Trey Flowers decides to come back that could be a huge addition to the 2014 defense.
Stat to improve to make a bowl game in 2014: Arkansas allowed nearly 45 percent on third-down conversions which ranked the Razorbacks 94th in the country. They must get teams off the field on third down.
Kentucky has the toughest road to the postseason, but it has been done before in Lexington.
The Wildcats will continue to make over their roster via recruiting, but it still starts and ends on offense with the quarterback. I think you will see redshirt freshman Reese Phillips battle for the starting job this spring, and unless the light goes on for the other guys, why not the handpicked recruit by Neal Brown.
The Wildcats will get good skilled guys in Lexington, but the quarterback is the key to the Air-Raid attack. Kentucky was 10th in the league in explosive pass plays after Neal Brown’s Texas Tech offense finished second the season before. In Lubbock, Brown’s offense had 189 explosive pass plays in 2012(10 yards or more) in 2013 in Lexington he had 91.
The offensive line struggled a bit this year, but I believe a second year in the system will help, plus a quarterback who can make quicker decisions.
Stat to improve to make a bowl game in 2014: The offensive line was last in the SEC, allowing 37 sacks. In 2012 Brown’s Texas Tech offensive line allowed just 19.