Proving ground: Eastern Division

May, 26, 2011
5/26/11
2:19
PM ET
What players have the most to prove in the SEC this coming season?

With the month of June just around the corner, let’s take a look. We’ll break it up into divisions.

I’ll take the East, and Edward will take the West later today.

Here’s my top five in the East:

[+] EnlargeStephen Garcia
Frankie Creel/US PresswireStephen Garcia has been suspended five times during his career with the Gamecocks.
1. South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia: Steve Spurrier says it seems like Garcia has changed. After five suspensions, you’d certainly hope so. A fifth-year senior who’s never really been much of a leader, Garcia is an easy choice to top this list. He was very good at times last season before slumping at the end. He still has to be officially reinstated, although that seems like a mere formality. And then he has to regain his starting job from Connor Shaw, which won’t be easy.

2. Florida quarterback John Brantley: After a nightmarish debut season as the Gators’ starter, Brantley gets a fresh start with a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new pro-style offense that should fit what he does best. Brantley never looked comfortable a year ago in the spread offense and even looked skittish at times. But what he does best is stand back there and throw the football. He’ll get a chance to show just what kind of passer he is in 2011.

3. Georgia running back Caleb King: It truly is now or never for King, who’s entering his senior season and in real danger of being labeled a bust. He came to Georgia with a ton of hype, but has found as much trouble off the field as he has success on the field. His best season came in 2009 when he rushed for 594 yards. Prized freshman Isaiah Crowell is the one the Georgia fans can’t wait to see tote the football this fall. But if King is made of the right stuff, he’ll step up and have his best season yet. No matter how talented Crowell is, he’s going to need some help.

4. Florida defensive end Ronald Powell: He arrived in Gainesville last year as the No. 1 player in the country, one of those can’t-miss prospects who did manage to miss as a freshman. He’s not the first and won’t be the last. The important thing is that he’s seemed to overcome some of the immaturity issues that plagued him last season and heads into the 2011 season No. 1 on the depth chart at buck end. Powell has the ability to be one of the most feared pass-rushers in this league. We’ll see if he takes a big step in that direction as a sophomore.

5. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray: There’s no doubt that Bray added a spark for the Vols when he took over as the starter in those last five games a year ago. He’s got a big arm and is willing to stand in the pocket until that last second and find open receivers. For all of his success last season, though, he piled up his numbers against bad defenses and still needs to prove that he can beat the teams on Tennessee’s schedule that count. Coach Derek Dooley also wants to see Bray be more of a leader, which will probably come more naturally to him as a sophomore.

Chris Low | email

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