Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SEC [Print without images]

Friday, August 21, 2009
Five things to watch in the SEC East

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The drama in the SEC's Eastern Division this season will revolve around whether anybody can catch Florida.

The Gators are a huge favorite on paper, but the games aren't played on paper.

Here are five things to watch in the East:

1. Quarterback smorgasbord at Florida: OK, we all know that Tim Tebow is back for his sixth season. Or is it his seventh? Whichever it is, he's been the ultimate winner for the Gators and is zeroed in on collecting a third BCS national championship ring. One of the changes with Tebow is that the Gators have talked about using him more under center and not exclusively out of the shotgun. Another change is that Tebow might not be on the field all the time when the Gators have the ball. Seriously. Florida coach Urban Meyer says backup John Brantley has earned the right to play and will see action in the first half of some games. Brantley is a polished passer who would be starting for most SEC teams.

2. Dominant defense: The defenses in the East were pretty good last season. Actually, they were very good with a couple bordering on being great. All six teams finished in the top 40 nationally in total defense. Tennessee was tied for third, Florida ninth, South Carolina 13th, Georgia 22nd, Vanderbilt 30th and Kentucky 40th. There doesn't appear to be a lot of drop-off this season, and moving the ball against the defenses in the East will be no picnic. Just in this division alone, there are 10 defensive players that have a chance to be drafted in the first or second round next year. That's some serious talent.

3. Georgia's September of reckoning: All of those people bashing the SEC for its nonconference scheduling need to leave the Bulldogs out of that discussion. Before September is up, they will have opened the season at No. 11 Oklahoma State, faced South Carolina at home, Arkansas on the road and then Arizona State back at home to close what will undoubtedly be a very telling month one way or the other. So in other words, easing into the schedule won't be an option, and the Bulldogs had better be sharp from the outset unless they want to go into October with two losses. They had better be pretty good late, too, considering they close the season on the road at No. 15 Georgia Tech.

4. Eric Berry for Heisman: He's Tennessee's best defensive back since Deon Grant and enters this season as the best defensive back in the country (sorry Taylor Mays fans). The Vols are going all-out in promoting Berry for the Heisman Trophy, and he's certainly deserving. He's put up big numbers, made spectacular plays and is a classy representative of the university. But to be a serious player in the Heisman Trophy race, he's going to need some help, as in Tennessee winning at least nine games and the coaches allowing him to branch out and play a little offense and return a few kicks. You know, sort of like that guy at Michigan 12 years ago.

5. Vanderbilt's staying power: The Commodores are coming off their first winning season in 26 years and their first bowl victory in 53 years. The only teams that had more SEC wins a year ago were Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss. Bobby Johnson has upgraded this program in every way. Now comes his greatest challenge, keeping the Commodores among those teams in the league that regularly go to the postseason. The best thing Vanderbilt has going for it is that the players believe they underachieved last season. They're hungry for more. To get more, they're going to need their no-huddle offense to come to life this season and not lean so much on their defense.