Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Top surprises in the Eastern Division
By Edward Aschoff
Now that you've seen our SEC West surprises from the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the surprises in the SEC East:
The offense didn't take a step forward: Even though quarterback John Brantley appeared better suited for Charlie Weis' pro-style offense, the Gators didn't look much better after last year's ugly offensive output. Things looked better during the first four weeks, but the more SEC defenses the Gators saw, the worse they got. A complete turnaround wasn't expected, but improvement was and Florida just didn't have it.
Weis leaving for Kansas: Staying with the offensive theme, Florida received quite the surprise when Weis left Florida to take over as Kansas' head coach. People around the program were pretty surprised when they received the news, but it seemed especially odd considering how outspoken he was about staying at Florida for the long haul.
Jarvis Jones: Anyone unfamiliar with Jones' situation would have never guessed that Jones didn't play a down of football last year. After sitting out 2010 because of transfer rules, the USC transfer linebacker was an absolute beast in his first season of SEC football. Jones was named an All-American after leading the SEC in tackles for loss (19.5) and sacks (13.5).
Georgia's resolve: The Bulldogs had recently been marred by seasons of under performing, but after a 0-2 start Georgia pulled off 10 straight wins and made it back to the SEC title game for the first time since 2005. Not a lot of people outside of that locker room thought Georgia would dig itself out of its early hole, but the Bulldogs did and found a way to have a very successful season.
Morgan Newton: Remember when it appeared as though Newton was primed for a solid career after a successful freshman season? It seems so long ago, now, especially after such a poor 2011 season. Newton never looked very sharp all year, and after a late-season ankle injury he lost his starting job to freshman Maxwell Smith. Newton finished the season with 793 passing yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Kentucky beat Tennessee: For all of the Wildcats' offensive struggles, they found a way to finally beat Tennessee after 26 straight years of losing to the Vols. The win not only stopped a lot of suffering for the Wildcats, but it eliminated Tennessee from bowl contention.
Surviving without Marcus Lattimore: The moment the news hit that Lattimore, South Carolina's most consistent offensive weapon, was lost for the season with a knee injury, most felt the Gamecocks' season was doomed. But the Gamecocks stayed on course. South Carolina lost just one game after and finished the regular season with 10 wins for only the second time in school history.
Brandon Wilds: When Lattimore went down against Mississippi State, Wilds was thrust into the starting spot. For someone who started the season as the fifth-string running back and a redshirt candidate, Wilds did a heck of a job. He averaged 82.2 yards in South Carolina's final five games and eclipsed 100 yards three times during that span.
A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt: It's not every day that a team has a standout true freshman at linebacker. Well, Tennessee had two of them. Both were named to the SEC All-Freshman team after combing for 136 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. The season was pretty rough, but these two were major bright spots.
Tennessee's collapse in the finale: All the Vols had to do was beat Kentucky and a season full of injuries and agony would have been saved by a bowl berth. But Tennessee fell flat against a Kentucky team that was eliminated from a bowl berth the week before. Tennessee turned the ball over three times and couldn't muster more than seven points, snapping a 26-year win streak over the Wildcats.
Vandy's attitude: James Franklin promised things would be different and they were for the Commodores. The defense was aggressive, the offense was exciting and the Commodores didn't back down from anyone. There were postgame outbursts from Franklin and teams learned early on that this wasn't the same Nashville pushover.
Zac Stacy/Vandy's defense: Stacy started as a relative unknown, but finished the season third in the SEC in rushing with 1,136 yards and was second with 13 touchdowns. He had five 100-plus-yard games, averaging 162.8 yards in each. As for the defense, it had to replace three starting linebackers, but finished the year sixth in the SEC in total defense.