Most pundits currently have us and the Georgia Bulldogs as the most likely candidates to catch up with the Florida Gators in the SEC East this season. Most of those pundits also, though, think the Gators are most likely to make the trip to Atlanta again this season. Senator Blutarsky took a look at the extent to which he thinks those claims are valid in relation to UGA's chances, and since he expressed his desire to see a Carolina blogger do the same for ours, here are some very, very tentative thoughts on how well we measure up to the Saurians when it comes to winning the East. (As with last year, expect me to do a more in-depth post on this--as well as our chances against other teams on our schedule--over the summer.)
Offense. Believe it or not, I actually think we might be stronger than the Gators in two areas: WR and RB. The Gators have a lot of talent at these positions, but it's mostly either paper talent that has yet to achieve or one-dimensional talent that reveals certain things that are lacking from the Gators' offense.
As far as WR goes, I really don't hesitate to say we have the better group. We're big, talented, deep, and experienced at both WR and TE, whereas the Gators have many question marks. Will Andre Debose recover fully from his injury? Will Deonte Thompson ever become the WR he was supposed to be? (Especially with his "real QB"--snicker.) Can the Gators find someone to replace Aaron Hernandez as the go-to guy?
I also like our RBs against the Gators'. This will surely surprise any Gators fans reading this. However, Gators fans have to be worried about their short yardage game now that Tim Tebow is gone. Tebow was, of course, an almost sure thing in short yardage situations. Chris Rainey, Jeffrey Demps, and Emanuel Moody, on the other hand, are all good backs, but none is as reliable in short yardage as Brian Maddox. Throw the rest of our guys in the mix--along with Marcus Lattimore--and I think we hold a small advantage here, even if we lack the distance threat Florida possesses.
The problem for us in this comparison comes at the other two positions, which I just happen to think are the most important: OL and QB. I'm not even going to begin talking about the line contrast. Gators win hands down there until we prove we can field a competent group. QB is a little murkier. Stephen Garcia had a decent year last year and is now a veteran, while John Brantley is the new guy on the block. I'm going to guess, though, that Brantley ends up being at least a marginally better QB, if not early on in the year, then at least by the time we play the Saurians. I could be wrong about Garcia, but he didn't show me anything during Spring to make me believe that he's on his way to be an All-SEC selection. Brantley, I think, will be this year's version of Greg McElroy, only much more talented. A guy who replaces a longtime starter on a talented team that finds his groove early. He'll have a tough game here and there, but he'll be fine.
Overall, I have to give the Gators a slight advantage here.
Continue reading after the jump.
Defense. This is a tough one to call. On the one hand, I believe we will field one of our strongest defenses this season, and you have to expect that the Gators will drop off at least a little bit, what with losing Charlie Strong and all NFL-caliber personnel.
The secondaries, I would say, are a wash; both should be quite good. Florida's did get roughed up a bit by Brantley in their Spring Game, but I don't put too much stock in that.
The interior is where the question marks come in for the Gamecocks, particularly when it comes to depth. Carolina often fields a strong run defense early in the season, but it tends to fade down the stretch when our lack of depth is exposed by injury. We should be deeper this year than in some past years, but this will always remain an issue for us in comparison to the very best team. That's usually not a problem for the Gators, certainly, and it won't be this year, either. Florida may lose some big time talent from their interior, but anyone who has paid attention to the way they recruit LBs and DLs knows it won't take long for a new group to assert itself. For that reason, I give the Gators the advantage here. It's a slight advantage, and it might take half the season for it to become apparent, but I think it will, eventually.
I would, overall, call this a wash or a slight advantage for UF.
Special Teams. I give Florida another slight advantage here, if only because we still haven't found a PK who can kick it into the endzone.
Schedule. Both teams play pretty brutal schedules, with both facing Alabama, the Gators facing LSU, and the Gamecocks facing Auburn and Arkansas. Florida does get the Tide in Tuscaloosa while we get them in Columbia, meaning we may have a slightly better chance of coming up with a home-field fueled upset against the defending champs. We also get UGA in Columbia, although Florida always gets home field against them, so that one's probably a wash. Last but not least, though, we play the Gators in the Swamp, where we've only rarely come even remotely close to making a game of it. For that reason, I give the Gators the advantage here.
So there you have it. I see little reason to believe that we're going to be anything more than marginally worse than Florida, and if the division comes down to the head-to-head matchup, which it likely will if we manage to beat UGA and not screw up the rest of our schedule, then you have to go with the home team, especially considering our record in The Swamp. I do agree with Blutarsky that the winner of the division will likely lose at least two games, so don't expect Florida to run away with it again. But don't expect us to have any advantages on them, either.