NCF Nation: SEC Countdown to Kickoff 2013

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 21 days

August, 8, 2013
There's no substitute for talent, experience and depth on the offensive line. Great offensive lines have a way of making ordinary skill players look a lot better than they are.

The jury is still out on what kind of firepower Tennessee will have on offense this season after losing their top four pass-catchers from a year ago and their starting quarterback, but the Vols should be plenty stout up front. That's always a good place to start in this league, which leads us to our latest number as we count down the days to kickoff: 123.
Butch Jones takes over a Tennessee program that has suffered through three straight losing seasons, and while there are glaring question marks at several different positions, the offensive line isn’t one of them. In fact, it’s hard to find a more experienced offensive line anywhere in college football entering the 2013 season. Four full-time starters return up front for the Vols, and all four are likely to play in the NFL. Counting everybody, Tennessee returns 123 career starts on its offensive line. Only Texas returns more. Senior right tackle Ja’Wuan James is the “old man” of the group. He’s started in every game of his college career (37) since his true freshman season in 2010. Senior right guard Zach Fulton is right behind him with 28 starts, while senior center James Stone has 27 starts. Senior Alex Bullard, who started his career at Notre Dame, slides in for Dallas Thomas this season as the starter at left guard. Bullard has 14 career starts. Junior Antonio “Tiny” Richardson is the most talented of the bunch and returns at left tackle after starting in all 12 games last season. Richardson is a future first-rounder and will likely come out after this season. The Vols are still trying to build depth, although junior Marcus Jackson started in five games at left guard in 2011. Third-year sophomore Kyler Kerbyson would probably be the seventh man in the rotation. Tennessee led the SEC with only eight sacks allowed last season, which was 10 fewer than the next closest team. The challenge was becoming more physical in the running game, and the Vols are eager to prove that they can knock people off the ball as well as they can protect the passer. It’s not going to be easy in Jones’ first season. Simply making it to a bowl game would be a coup. If the Vols are going to get there, they’ll do so with their big, talented (and experienced) offensive line clearing the way.

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 22 days

August, 7, 2013
The head coaches come and go in the SEC like the latest reality show on television. One day, they're here. The next day, they're gone.

The exception has been Mark Richt, who's entering his 13th season at Georgia. He's the dean of SEC coaches who's coached in the league at one school, which leads us to today's number as we continue to count down the days to kickoff: 38.
Going back to 2001 when he was hired away from Bobby Bowden's staff at Florida State, Richt has been the face of Georgia football. He’s also been the ultimate survivor in a league that chews up and spits out its head coaches. Anybody got any guesses on how many head coaches have been on the payroll at the other 12 SEC schools (not counting Missouri and Texas A&M) since Richt entered the league in 2001? That figure is an eye-popping 38 head coaches. Seven of the schools have had four different head coaches during Richt’s tenure, and every school’s had at least three head coaches during Richt’s stay except for LSU and South Carolina. Just in the past six seasons, counting the four new head coaches in the league this season, there have been 27 different head coaches at the 12 existing SEC schools. Again, that doesn’t count Missouri and Texas A&M since they just joined the league last year. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Richt despite his rock-solid consistency. He’s won 10 or more games in eight of his 12 seasons and has been to the SEC championship game each of the past two seasons. However, the Dawgs followed up a ho-hum 8-5 season in 2009 with Richt’s only losing season of his tenure in 2010, prompting the loudest outcry yet among some in the Georgia fan base that it might be time for new blood in Athens. But, hey, that's just life in the SEC. Richt’s Bulldogs have gone 7-1 in the league each of the past two seasons and were a tipped pass away against Alabama last season in the SEC championship game from potentially playing for the national title. Georgia hasn’t won an SEC title since 2005. If some new faces can come through on defense, this could be the season that drought ends, and maybe then Richt would get the credit he truly deserves. He's been more than just a consistent winner. He's been a steady hand in guiding that program, and he's always done it with the utmost class.