SEC: Tennessee Volunteers

SEC spring practice: Arkansas, Tennessee

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19

Spring practice has begun. Stats & Information looks at the three biggest storylines facing the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Tennessee Volunteers.

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS (7-6, 2-6 SEC last season)
2014 postseason:
Defeated Texas in AdvoCare Texas Bowl
Final AP rank: NR
Returning starters: 9 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist (via Phil Steele)
2015 ESPN FPI rank: 10th
Spring game: April 25

2015 storylines:
•  Arkansas’ dominant running back duo returns
Since coming to Arkansas in 2013, coach Bret Bielema has emphasized a running game like the one he displayed at Wisconsin. Last season, the Razorbacks ranked fourth in the SEC in expected points added in the rushing game.

Arkansas was the only FBS team with two 1,000-yard rushers: Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Both return for 2015, and big things will be expected from a duo that accounted for 81 percent of the Razorbacks’ rushing yards in 2014.

•  Will the Razorbacks’ late-season success carry over to 2015?
Arkansas won three of its last four games in 2014, including back-to-back shutouts of LSU and Mississippi. The Razorbacks became the first unranked team since 1942 with multiple shutouts of AP-ranked opponents in one season. With 15 starters returning on offense and defense combined, the Razorbacks will probably be ranked in The Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll for the first time since 2012.

•  Can the Razorbacks’ defense be as good as it finished last season?
From the start of Week 9 last season, Arkansas’ defense was about as good as it got in the SEC. Florida ranked first in defensive expected points added from Week 9 to the end of the season (contributing 16.8 points per game to the Gators’ scoring margin), but the Razorbacks (16.5 EPA) weren’t far behind. Arkansas’ defense allowed 10.3 points per game in its final six games, more than six points better than any other SEC defense.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (7-6, 3-5 SEC last season)
2014 postseason:
Defeated Iowa in Taxslayer Bowl
Final AP rank: NR
Returning starters: 10 offense, 8 defense, 1 specialist (via Phil Steele)
2015 ESPN FPI rank: 14th
Spring game: April 25

2015 storylines:
•  Will recruiting rankings turn into wins?
Recruiting has blossomed under coach Butch Jones: The Volunteers have signed top-5 recruiting classes each of the last two years. Tennessee welcomes 10 early enrollees this spring, including three defensive linemen each ranked in the top 115 of the ESPN 300. The gem of the class might be junior college transfer running back Alvin Kamar, who scored 18 touchdowns in nine games last year for Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, averaging more than 130 yards a game.

•  Dobbs is the guy
Quarterback Josh Dobbs entered spring practice as the full-time starter for the first time in his three years on Rocky Top. Dobbs led the Volunteers to a 4-1 record as a starter in the final five games last season. Tennessee's offense was 13 points better in games Dobbs started last season.

Dobbs’ 72.9 Total QBR in 2014 ranked seventh out of 14 SEC quarterbacks with at least 250 action plays. If his per-game passing and rushing yards were extrapolated to a 13-game season, he would surpass 2,500 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing, something only Heisman Trophy winners Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel have done in the SEC.

•  Making moves along the lines
Tennessee returns an SEC-high 10 starters on offense, but the Volunteers need to make improvements up front. Tennessee allowed 43 sacks last season, tied for sixth-most in the country and seven more than any other team in the SEC. Tennessee allowed 85 quarterback knockdowns, also the most in the conference. At times last season, the Volunteers started two true freshmen on the offensive line, and freshman could get playing time in 2015. Tennessee signed Drew Richmond, the No. 5 offensive tackle in the ESPN 300 recruiting rankings, but he is not on campus this spring.

On the other side of the ball, Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett combined for 21 sacks last season. They are the fourth set of SEC teammates to each record 10 sacks in one season over the last 25 years. Maggitt will miss spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Stats & Info SEC spring practice series:
Alabama Crimson Tide
Auburn Tigers
Missouri Tigers
Georgia Bulldogs
Florida Gators
South Carolina Gamecocks
Mississippi State Bulldogs

Images: Fans enjoy rare SEC snowstorm

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
Though much of the rest of the country is sick and tired of this snowy and frigid winter, a decent amount of snow is still a rare and often cherished experience in SEC country. So let's take a look at how that conference's fans enjoyed Wednesday's weather.

We'll start in Mississippi, where the average winter snowfall total is about a half-inch.

And this being the always-passionate SEC, the snowmen across the South were of course adorned with team colors ... Even Alabama got hit ... And on Rocky Top, some students at Tennessee snuck into Neyland Stadium and had a late-night snowball fight for the second straight year. Luckily, unlike last time, no arrests were made during this one.

What a strange, surreal day in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Bruce Pearl, who took the Vols to unprecedented heights as head coach from 2005-11, returned to Thompson-Boling Arena for the first time since being fired after NCAA sanctions four years ago. He coaches Auburn now, but is still very popular in Tennessee -- remember that petition to re-hire him last year? -- and the local fans greeted him accordingly.

How many times do you see a fired former coach high-fiving students as head coach of a conference rival?

Bruce PearlAP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel/Adam Lau
Bruce PearlAP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel/Adam Lau)

But Pearl wasn't the only coach fired by Tennessee in the house on Saturday. Phillip Fulmer, who won the 1998 college football national championship and coached 16 seasons at UT before being canned in 2008, sat courtside and even donned an orange blazer, which Pearl used to famously wear during games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Fulmer got a standing ovation as well.

As if that weren't enough, current football coach Butch Jones was also in the house, sitting in the student section and hosting recruits on the final weekend before national signing day.

And oh yeah, the basketball game. The Vols won that 71-63. So with two fired coaches and a popular football coach stealing much of the spotlight in Knoxville, it was a pretty big day for current basketball coach Donnie Tyndall as well -- and the student section chanted his name as the final buzzer sounded.

Well, that was certainly an impressive way for Lane Kiffin to re-introduce himself to the Neyland Stadium crowd.

On the first offensive play of the game for Alabama, the former one-and-done Vols coach -- hated throughout the state and making his first trip back to Knoxville since his exit in January 2010 -- drew up a beautiful play that led to an 80-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper, who piled up a remarkable 185 receiving yards in the first quarter.

As the play developed, Kiffin took off and followed Cooper down the sideline for awhile -- followed by the cameras catching a smirk by the Alabama offensive coordinator that was five years in the making. Watch it all here:

In case you hadn't heard, Lane Kiffin is not a very popular man in state of Tennessee.

Even five years later, his one-and-done tenure with the Vols still irks UT fans, who have suffered through a horrific 7-28 SEC stretch since Kiffin's bravado and high hopes left for Los Angeles. And does it help that their hated former coach is now the offensive coordinator at UT's most ancient rival, Alabama? No. No, it doesn't.

So with Kiffin's Crimson Tide coming to Knoxville this weekend in his first appearance back at Neyland Stadium, you knew things were going to get a little zany. And so far, we have not been disappointed.

Let's start with the Tennessee State House race pitting incumbent Gloria Johnson against challenger Eddie Smith. Kiffin is so unpopular in this East Tennessee district that he's being used in a direct mail ad that compares him to Johnson.

Lane Kiffin AdTennessee Federation for Children PAC
Lane Kiffin AdTennessee Federation for Children PAC

Surely you didn't expect Rep. Johnson, a UT grad, to let such treachery go by without a response. So she did what any self-respecting politician in this Vol-crazy area would do -- got a much more popular former Tennessee coach to give her an endorsement. Enter Vols legend Johnny Majors, who finished runner-up for the 1956 Heisman Trophy and was head coach of his alma mater from 1977-92.

Oh, but that's not all. As Kiffin gets set to return to Knoxville, he's also facing an accusation that he skipped town in January 2010 before paying a $14 haircut debt.

That's according to the owner of the Western Plaza Barber Shop, Rusty Manis, who isn't seriously seeking payment from Alabama's offensive coordinator -- but is nevertheless having some fun with it with this week. Check out this dramatized report from the local NBC affiliate.

The Tennessee fans pulled it off. In an organic attempt to "checkerboard" Neyland Stadium to mimic the program's famous end zones, 102,000-plus made it happen for Saturday's game against rival Florida.

The school got behind the fan-led effort on social media, but no color-coordinated shirts were provided on such short notice, so there was some fear it wouldn't quite work.

But it did.

Oh, and let's not forget about rapper Lil Jon, who created quite the buzz in Tennessee this week with his embrace of UT's new "Third Down For What?" song. He had this to say to Vols fans on the Jumbotron right before Saturday's game.

What are Tennessee and Lil Jon up to?

September, 30, 2014
Despite a tough schedule, Tennessee is an improved football team -- and no category exemplifies that more than the Vols' third-down defense. A year after finishing 92nd nationally in that statistic, UT currently sits atop the entire country by allowing teams to convert just 11 of 53 third-down attempts (20.8 percent).

What accounts for this vast improvement? An infusion of talent? A scheme change? A new song?

A new song, you ask? Well, yes, the recruiting and marketing machine that is modern-day Tennessee football took Lil Jon's rap song "Turn Down For What?" and turned it into a "Third Down For What" spin-off that blares from the Neyland Stadium speakers this season when an opponent lines up on third down.

The players love it and so does the student section. The new song has been so successful that fans have taken to cranking it up during in-home viewing parties while the Vols are on the road.

Even Lee Greenwood got caught up in the frenzy, wearing a "Third Down For What" shirt during a recent halftime performance of (what else) "God Bless The USA."

So are the Volunteers now going to take this phenomenon to an even greater level? There aren't any clear answers yet, but a Tuesday afternoon tweet from Lil Jon to the official UT football account certainly has plenty of Tennessee fans buzzing.

Is this the funniest start to a copyright conversation ever or could this be the introduction needed to ensure Lil Jon performs "Third Down For What?" live during a game? And could it be as soon as Saturday's showdown with arch-rival Florida?

The Vols -- through a fan-led initiative -- are already pulling out all the stops to try to put a stop to that nine-game losing streak to the Gators. For the first time in the history of 93-year-old Neyland Stadium, UT fans will attempt to mimic the school's distinct orange-and-white checkerboard end zones by "checkerboarding" the entire 102,000-seat cathedral.

That's fine, @Vol_Football. But we'd like you to make something else a reality: Thousands of older-aged SEC fans rising as one on third down and waving their hands up and down as Lil Jon screams out from the sideline and asks them the most important question of all: Third Down For What?

Make it happen, Tennessee.

UPDATE (10/1/14): Then, on Wednesday afternoon, this happened...

We're still not sure quite what it means -- is he actually going to make an appearance at Neyland Saturday? -- but make no mistake, the UT football program is not shying away from the rap star's attention. Today's tweet was RT'd by the official Tennessee football account and by Butch Jones himself. And it had a pair of Vol assistant coaches fired up as well. And don't think Lil Jon isn't having some fun with his newfound popularity among the Vol Nation, retweeting to his one million followers these two messages from UT fans...

Youth a recruiting pitch for Vols, Cats 

September, 25, 2014

Either Tennessee hit a home run with its 2014 recruiting class or the Volunteers are playing with fire. Either way, the Volunteers are taking a big gamble with their freshmen.

Head coach Butch Jones has played 71 percent (22 of 29) of his true freshmen — an incredible stat that some coaches might be scared to advertise for fear that future opponents might try to take advantage of inexperienced players. Jones, however, has taken the opposite approach and is using the fact as a recruiting tool.

The official Tennessee football Twitter account has tweeted out several stats about how many freshmen have played, and behind the scenes, the Volunteers' staff is not shy about telling recruits they are young and need more talented prospects to play early and add depth to an improving roster.

Tennessee assistant athletic director Jason Yellin appeared almost proud to share how many freshmen have played this year.

"We have played the most in the nation, 22,” Yellin said in an email. "For comparison, last year’s high was 18 by UCLA. We have started seven so far and could potentially start two more on Saturday at Georgia."

Plays that changed the game: Sooners-Vols

September, 14, 2014
NORMAN, Okla. -- Another SEC opponent. Another Oklahoma win.

Behind a sharp effort from quarterback Trevor Knight and a swarming defense that forced three turnovers, the Sooners coasted past Tennessee 34-10 to remain undefeated.

Here were the three plays that spearheaded Oklahoma's victory:


After Oklahoma scored a field goal on its opening drive, Tennessee came right back and was stringing together a drive of its own. Tennessee QB Justin Worley connected with Pig Howard for a 19-yard pass that pushed the Vols to the Oklahoma 40-yard line. But on the next play, Sooners defensive coordinator brought Quentin Hayes on a safety blitz. Worley never saw him coming, and Hayes belted into Worley's blindside, knocking the ball loose. After rolling through Worley, Hayes popped up and recovered the fumble, too. The turnover not only thwarted Tennessee's first potential scoring opportunity, it set up a Trevor Knight-to-Keith Ford touchdown pass six plays later to give the Sooners an early 10-0 lead and control of the game.

Despite a rocky start, Tennessee kept the Sooners from running away with the game in the first half, and trailed only 20-7 at halftime. But the Oklahoma offense, which struggled to end the second quarter, got rolling again in the third. With the Vols focused on Sterling Shepard on the boundary side, Knight flipped his vision the other way and tossed a strike to a wide open Durron Neal running a slant route. Neal slipped through a pair of defenders downfield, then raced to the Tennessee 9 for a 43-yard gain. Two plays later, Knight was in the end zone, giving the Sooners a commanding 27-7 lead.

Tennessee trailed 27-10 early in the fourth quarter, but had one final chance to get back in the game. Facing third-and-2 at the Oklahoma 4-yard line, Worley tried to force a pass to Marquez North at the front of the end zone. But before the pass could get to North, Oklahoma linebacker Jordan Evans tipped the ball in the air over North and into the arms of Sooners cornerback Julian Wilson. With a convoy leading the way, Wilson sprinted 100 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. Officials reviewed the play to make sure Wilson crossed the goal line before he dropped the ball. But replay confirmed he was in the end zone first.
LSU coach Les Miles doesn't have a problem playing eight SEC opponents every season.

Miles also realizes the Tigers could play nine SEC games in the very near future.

Miles just doesn't think it's fair that LSU has to play Florida every season, while other teams in the SEC West don't.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireUnder the current SEC scheduling format, Les Miles and LSU play Florida every season.
As SEC presidents, athletics directors and coaches convene this week for the league's annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla., long-term scheduling has become the hot-button issue.

The league is expected to vote whether to change its current 6-1-1 format, in which teams play each opponent from their respective division, along with one rotating foe and one permanent opponent from the opposite division. SEC officials could vote this week to add a ninth conference game or at least eliminate permanent crossover opponents.

The SEC adopted its current scheduling format to ensure that longstanding rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee and Georgia-Auburn would survive expansion.

By drawing the Gators as a permanent crossover opponent, Miles believes the Tigers drew the short end of the stick.

Miles won't complain about the scheduling format publicly, but he knows LSU is at a disadvantage.

And Miles is probably right.

"When they give us our schedule, I'm looking forward to having a great competition," Miles said.

Since 2000, LSU has played Florida and Georgia -- two of the SEC East's best programs -- a total of 17 times. Auburn is the only SEC West team which has faced those teams more often, playing them 19 times. Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss have faced them a total of 10 times each, while Alabama has played them only eight times.

While it's not fair that LSU has faced the Bulldogs and Gators nearly twice as often as Alabama has played them since 2000, Miles' argument might fall on deaf ears. Auburn and Georgia aren't going to surrender the longtime series -- the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has been played 116 times since 1892. Likewise, Alabama and Tennessee have played 95 times since 1901, a game so revered it's named for its traditional place on the calendar, the Third Saturday in October.

And Ole Miss would probably rather play Vanderbilt every season instead of Florida, Georgia or South Carolina, and Mississippi State isn't going pass up a chance to play Kentucky every year.

"There's never going to be a fair way," said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, whose Aggies drew Missouri as a permanent crossover opponent. "If you look back seven or eight years ago, you would have said the SEC East was the strongest division. You can't say what's fair, because things change in this league. You can't look at tradition. Ten years ago, you might have wanted to play South Carolina. Now you don't want anything to do with them. You don't know what Tennessee is going to do with a new coach. I know Butch Jones is going to do a great job."

Florida-LSU has become one of the league's most anticipated games every season. They've been two of the league's most dominant teams over the past decade. They've combined to appear in seven SEC championship games since 2003, and they've combined to play in nine BCS bowl games, including five BCS national championship games. In their past 10 meetings, LSU and Florida were both ranked in the top 25 of the coaches' poll nine times. Conversely, Alabama and Tennessee were both ranked only once in their past 10 meetings.

The loser of the Florida-LSU regular-season game has paid dearly over the past 10 seasons. LSU's 23-10 loss at Florida in 2006 knocked the Tigers out of the SEC championship game (the Gators defeated Arkansas 38-28 and then blasted Ohio State 41-14 to win the BCS title). Last year, LSU's 14-6 loss at Florida probably cost it a spot in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, if not another trip to a BCS bowl game.

Florida's losses to LSU in 2002, '05 and '07 kept them out of the SEC championship game and potentially BCS bowl games.

Mizzou, South Carolina, victorious

November, 10, 2012
Missouri 51, Tennessee 48 (4 OT): Redshirt freshman kicker Andrew Baggett connected on a 35-yard field goal, lifting the Tigers to a thrilling four-overtime road victory at Neyland Stadium.

Missouri needed a near-miracle just to get the game to overtime, trailing 28-21 in the final minute of regulation. The Tigers converted two fourth downs, including a 25-yard touchdown pass from James Franklin to Dorial Green-Beckham on 4th-and-12 to tie the game at 28-28 with 47 seconds left.

Boos rained down from the fans at Neyland when the Volunteers decided to run out the clock and go to overtime.

The teams exchanged touchdowns in the first two overtimes, and Missouri receiver Marcus Lucas made another impressive catch, an 18-yard reception reminiscent of Green-Beckham's regulation haul, to send it to a third overtime tied at 42.

The teams exchanged touchdowns and failed two-point conversion attempts in the third overtime, then Tennessee coach Derek Dooley made an interesting decision in the fourth overtime, electing to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the Missouri 18. Quarterback Tyler Bray's pass to Zach Rogers fell incomplete and the Vols paid for it when the Tigers capitalized with Baggett's game-winning kick.

The loss keeps Tennessee (4-6, 0-6 SEC) winless in conference play while the Tigers (5-5, 2-5) picked up their second SEC win.

Franklin's day was a good one, as he went 19-of-32 for 226 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. He also picked up 43 yards on the ground, and senior running back Kendial Lawrence rolled to a 153-yard, two-touchdown day on 21 carries, which included a 77-yard third-quarter touchdown run.

Tennessee was awful in the penalty department, committing 11 for 80 yards.

South Carolina 38, Arkansas 20: Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks receivers found plenty of room downfield en route to the resounding victory against the Razorbacks at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Shaw, the Gamecocks' junior quarterback, was 14-of-22 passing for 272 yards and two touchdowns. He was able to hit on big plays down the field early and often -- the first coming on a 29-yard pass to a wide-open freshman tight end Jerell Adams.

The Razorbacks moved the ball well themselves in the first half, getting inside the Gamecocks' 10 on three straight drives, but only yielded 10 points from those three trips. The first ended in a lost fumble by Dennis Johnson, the second resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Wilson to Keon Hatcher, and the third stalled before becoming a short Zach Hocker field goal.

Shaw continued his downfield assault before the half, hitting a wide open Bruce Ellington for a 42-yard touchdown at the 1:30 mark, giving South Carolina a 21-10 lead going into halftime.

The defense got in on the act in the third quarter when D.J. Swearinger stepped in front of a Wilson pass and returned it 69 yards for a score and a 31-10 lead.

The Gamecocks put ample pressure on Wilson, sacking him four times and picking up four hurries as well. Wilson was productive when he did have time (26-of-41, 277 yards) but threw two interceptions with his two touchdowns.

South Carolina was able to keep the chains moving fairly well, converting 7-of-13 attempts on third down. That's an area where Arkansas struggled mightily (3-of-17). The turnover battle went in the Gamecocks' favor also, 3-1, with the only South Carolina turnover coming with Shaw taking a shot in the end zone holding a 38-13 lead in the fourth.

Bray shines in Tennessee romp

September, 8, 2012
Tennessee 51, Georgia State 13: It looked like Tennessee might be primed for a letdown after about a quarter and a half of football.

A 30-yard field goal from Georgia State kicker Christian Benvenuto with about six minutes to play in the second quarter Saturday afternoon cut the Volunteers' lead to a paltry 14-6. After last weekend's offensive explosion against NC State, it seemed destined to be an ugly, bumbling win for Derek Dooley's squad.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray changed all that when he took charge of the Volunteers' next possession, however. Bray led the Vols on scoring drives of 73 and 79 yards in the last five minutes of the first half. Those two drives just took four plays and three plays, respectively. Bray capped off both drives with touchdown passes to wide receiver Justin Hunter, pushing Tennessee's advantage to an insurmountable 28-6 at half.

Bray left the game early with an impressive stat line: 18 of 20 for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those went to Hunter, who reminded Vols fans why he went into the season as the No. 1 target with eight receptions for 146 yards. Mychal Rivera grabbed the fourth touchdown and finished with 71 yards on three receptions.

Not surprisingly, the Volunteers had their way in all aspects of offense. The ground game cranked out 186 yards on the Panthers, led by Rajion Neal's 65 yards and two touchdowns.

Combined with last week's win against the Wolfpack, Tennessee is now averaging 541 yards per game. It will be fun to see how well that holds up next weekend, when No. 24 Florida comes to Knoxville, Tenn., for a battle of early undefeated teams.

What's coming up: Part 1

September, 8, 2012
Mississippi State-Auburn and Florida-Texas A&M take center stage in the conference this afternoon, but three other SEC squads are also playing day games.

Here's what's coming:

East Carolina at No. 9 South Carolina (12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network): Connor Shaw's status looks to be up in the air right up until kickoff in Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks' signal caller bruised his shoulder in last week's ugly win against Vanderbilt, and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said this week he could be a game-time decision. That means the Gamecocks will likely lean on running back Marcus Lattimore after his 110-yard, two touchdown performance last week. East Carolina is 1-0 after easily dispatching FCS foe Appalachian State to open the season. The Pirates held a 10-point halftime lead in last year's meeting with South Carolina before eventually falling 56-37.

Western Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network): It's probably not smart to doubt Alabama coach Nick Saban, with his two national titles in the last three seasons and three national titles overall. But Saban's assertion that it's "unfair" to write off Western Kentucky ahead of today's matchup is, frankly, laughable. Even if the Tide suffer a letdown after last weekend's statement win against Michigan, they'll roll through this game with ease. Saban seems concerned about his team getting complacent, but he shouldn't worry. Once his backups finish off the Hilltoppers, it will be time to get ready for a trip to No. 8 Arkansas.

Georgia State at Tennessee (4 p.m. ET, ESPN 3): If the Volunteers take care of business in their home opener against FCS squad Georgia State, it will be just their third 2-0 start in the last eight seasons. Tennessee will undoubtedly hope for more of the same fireworks between quarterback Tyler Bray and new wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who totaled 165 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns last week against N.C. State. If they can maintain the momentum, the Vols should have no trouble with the Panthers before hosting Florida next weekend.

Video: SEC vs. ACC blogger debate

August, 30, 2012

SEC blogger Chris Low and ACC blogger Heather Dinich debate the big games this week between the two conferences.

Gators offense just offensive post-Tebow

August, 16, 2012
It's only Year 2 of the Will Muschamp era at Florida, but Gator fans have to be feeling uneasy about its stagnant offense while winning just five regular-season games against FBS opponents in 2011.

Even more troubling, none of the five wins came against teams that finished the year with a winning record (1-11 FAU, 3-9 UAB, 5-7 Tennessee, 5-7 Kentucky and 6-7 Vanderbilt).

Expanding the scope and looking at the Gators against all automatic qualifiers, you can see just how much they scuffled in 2011.

Florida ranked 65th of 67 AQ schools in both third-down percentage (29.0) and total yards per game (284.0). Its offense also finished 64th in red zone touchdown percentage (41.7).

Florida’s struggles really started with the departures of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin to the NFL.

Led by Tebow and Harvin in 2007 and 2008, the Florida offense completed 38 touchdown passes and threw eight interceptions in SEC contests.

With Tebow alone in 2009, the Gators managed only nine touchdown passes and five picks in SEC play, illustrating Harvin's importance to the team.

The last two years have been even worse for Florida -- a combined 12 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions against conference opponents.

Quarterback John Brantley never looked comfortable, while Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel went through predictable freshman growing pains. Not surprisingly, the Gators went 7-9 in the SEC over the past two seasons.

Both Brissett and Driskel struggled in particular when attempting to stretch the field in 2011.

Together, the pair combined to complete only 31 percent of their pass attempts of 10-plus yards downfield with one touchdown and five interceptions. On throws 20-plus yards, that percentage dropped to 6.7 percent (1-15) with a touchdown and four picks.

Along with their struggles through the air, the running game also let the Gators down in 2011.

Florida ranked 73rd in the FBS in rush yards per game (143.0) and scored an SEC-low nine rushing touchdowns. Of those nine touchdowns, seven came in two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

The one bright spot for Florida was wide receiver Andre Debose. He reeled in a team-high four catches on pass attempts of 20-plus yards downfield and all four went for touchdowns.

More impressively, the four touchdown catches all gained at least 60 yards, giving Debose the most 60-plus touchdown receptions in the SEC (second in FBS).

Hired away from Boise State, new offensive coordinator Brent Pease has been asked to revive Florida’s sputtering offense.

Last season Boise State finished fifth in points (44.2) and T-ninth in yards per game (481.3) albeit against non-SEC competition.

Even still, if Florida puts up anywhere near those numbers in 2012, the Gators and their fans will be more than happy to "give Pease a chance."