(This is the third in a four-part series on what some SEC coaches had to say about other SEC programs. We have already written about Tennessee, Florida and Georgia. Here are the other SEC East teams)
By Jimmy Hyams
Georgia and Florida are clearly the class of the SEC East, if you believe voters.
Both are ranked in the top 10 in the coaches and AP polls.
The next likely challenger: Missouri.
Why: Quarterback transfer Kelly Bryant and the schedule.
Don’t be shocked if Missouri begins the season 8-0 before facing Georgia in November. In addition to non-conference games against Wyoming and West Virginia, the Tigers will likely be favored over SEC foes South Carolina, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
“Kelly Bryant is a good football player,’’ one SEC coach said. “He’s a winning SEC quarterback.’’
Said another coach: “We thought he was average at Clemson but had great players around him. Playing in the SEC will be a lot different than in the ACC. Defensively, the SEC is a lot better.’’
One SEC coach complimented the Tigers’ head coach: “Barry Odom has done a good job. He had the best quarterback in the league last year (Drew Lock) and at critical times and in the bowl game and against South Carolina, when the game was on the line, Lock didn’t play that well. They had some bizarre play calling and lack of situational awareness.’’
Odom’s success has come mostly without high profile players.
“Missouri has been doing it with guys not well known in recruiting,’’ one coach said. “They develop them. They’ve won the East twice, good for them. Gary Pinkel did a great job. But that’s an indictment on other teams in the East because they (Tigers) were destroyed in the SEC championship game by Alabama and Auburn. Missouri should be happy at 6-6 or 8-4 and take their SEC check.’’
Missouri is appealing an NCAA ban on playing in a bowl. Until the appeal is settled, Missouri remains eligible for a bowl. If not, the challenge could be greater to field an eight-win team.
“I have a lot of respect for their head coach,’’ one SEC coach said. “He just has the ability to keep them fighting and getting the most out of what he has – like Gary Pinkel did.’’
Kentucky had its first 10-win season since 1977. The Wildcats beat Florida for the first time since the 1980s.
It was a break-though season for Kentucky and coach Mark Stoops.
“The guy that does the best job coaching job in the East is Mark Stoops,’’ one SEC coach said. “He lost a load of talent so he’s doing to have his work cut out for him. They could be a non bowl team after winning 10 games, because they don’t have a dynamic running back coming back, don’t have a dynamic quarterback coming back, don’t have a great a receiver.
“Eddie Gran (offensive coordinator) does a good job with what he has. They did a good job managing games and winning games last year. (Running back) Benny Snell was a difference in going 5-7 and 10-2, He’s a special guy.’’
Snell isn’t the only key player Kentucky must replace.
“They ain’t replacing those three defensive guys (Josh Allen, Mike Edwards, Jordan Jones),’’ one coach said. “They were difference makers. They’re going to go back to being Kentucky. But Mark did a helluva job.
“If they win 10 every four years that’s a damn good job. You just don’t want to go back to 4-8. If you go 6-6 and get a bowl game and win that, that’s still good football for Kentucky and I think Kentucky people understand that.
“In this league, it’s hard to sustain 10 wins, even for the top six teams in the league. I think they’ll be .500 this year. They lost too many key players. And let’s face it, his name is not Calipari, he’s not finding five-stars to replace those guys.’’
Coach Will Muschamp says this is his best team at South Carolina. Perhaps, but it’s unlikely the Gamecocks will match the nine wins from 2017. They might be hard pressed to make a bowl, given a schedule that features Alabama, Georgia and Clemson.
“South Carolina has some talent but is not very disciplined,’’ one SEC coach said. “A lot of people got hurt last year and that brought into question their strength and conditioning program. They wilted in the fourth quarter in their first SEC game against Georgia. Clemson is their biggest game and they’ve given up 56, 34 and 56 points in three years, so how to you fix that?’’
Muschamp is entering his fourth season. He’s 22-17 with records of 6-7, 9-4, 7-6.
“It’s put up or shutup time,’’ one SEC coach said of Muschamp. “I think there are some issues internally. But they’ve got a chance to be better than they were last year.
“I think Jake Bentley is a good player, tremendous person. But some think he’s the second-best quarterback on the team behind the freshman (Ryan) Hilinski.’’
Vanderbilt has been to a bowl game two of the last three years – a stat Tennessee can’t claim.
That certainly helps build equity for coach Derek Mason, who has won three in a row against the Vols.
“As long as Derek Mason is the head coach, they’re always going to play with effort and focus,’’ said one SEC coach. “But at the end of the day, the SEC is as close to the NFL as it gets in talent, and that catches up with you.’’
One SEC coach thinks Mason talks too much.
“Mason does a good job but he needs to hire a guy to tell him what to say and when to say it,’’ the SEC coach said. “He has a knack for saying things to motivate other teams. I think he does a helluva job coaching, especially on defense.’’
Vandy will be hard pressed to replace quarterback Kyle Shurmur.
“Their quarterback (Shurmur) was one of the top three in the league last year and I don’t think they can replace him,’’ one SEC coach said. “Kalija Lipscomb is a great receiver but they need a quarterback to get him the ball. And Ke’Shawn Vaughn is a great running back. I’m not sure about (transfer QB) Riley Neal. He went to Ball State for a reason.’’
One coach had this assessment: “If you go 6-6 at Vanderbilt, you’re doing a helluva job, with those academics. But they’re in the SEC and they’re in Nashville. Those are two big positives in recruiting. They’ve beat Tennessee three in a row and five out of seven. I never thought I’d see that. Tennessee can thank Derek Dooley and Butch Jones for that. I can assure you, that ain’t something Jeremy Pruitt wants on his resume – to be compared to Dooley or Pruitt.’’