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    • "Inside the SEC" with Tony Barnhart

      For the fourth consecutive year, the No. 1 team in the nation will play in the SEC championship game. And if LSU beats No. 14 Georgia, for the sixth consecutive year the SEC will have a team in the BCS championship game. And there could be more than one SEC team in the BCS championship game.
    • "Inside the SEC" with Tony Barnhart

      What kind of odds could you have gotten this summer that at Thanksgiving the top three teams in the BCS Standings would be: 1) LSU, 2) Alabama, and 3) Arkansas? Here we are at the final Saturday of November and all three are capable of winning the SEC championship and all three could win the national championship. Wow!
    • "Inside the SEC" with Tony Barnhart

      The Game of the Century is behind us but there is much, much more left to this season. Just to prove that point, here are our Five Burning Questions about SEC football for Saturday, Nov. 12.
    • "Inside the SEC" with Tony Barnhart

      Yes, we have finally arrived at The Game of the Century between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama. But that’s not the only compelling story line in the SEC as play begins in November.
    • "Inside the SEC" with Tony Barnhart

      Tony Barnhart examines our five burning questions about SEC football as we finish up the month of October and set the table for next week’s Game of the Century.

    Barnhart's SEC East Preview


    What we know: John Brantley has a new lease on life. Brantley, a classic drop-back quarterback, was woefully miscast in Urban Meyer’s spread offense last season. Well, Meyer is gone and in comes Will Muschamp with Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator. Brantley now has a new-found confidence. He didn’t light it up in the spring game (4-for-14) and he may be pushed by true freshman Jeff Driskell, one of the nation’s top recruits (who enrolled in January), but I doubt it. Gator fans are hoping that Weis can work this magic on Brantley and find some receivers to give Florida a legitimate downfield passing game.

    What we don’t know: Who is going to run the football? Muschamp made it clear when I met with him that he wants to run the football. So the search begins for a featured tailback, something the Gators have not had in a while. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are proven players. It didn’t help when redshirt freshman Mack Brown broke his leg on March 29. Demps, the team’s fastest player, missed the spring while running track and Weis is intrigued about finding different ways to get him the ball in open space. Sophomore defensive end/OLB Ronald Powell came to Florida with a lot of hype and will be given a chance to shine in a new hybrid position in Muschamp’s offense. Is some of the players on defense live up to their reputations, the that side of the ball could be pretty good.

    X-factor: Muschamp made it clear that he is going to quickly put his own stamp on the program he inherited from Urban Meyer. Some players will like it. Some won’t. “Change is inevitable. Growth his optional,” he said. “Those who do not adapt will not be here.”

    What we know:
    The intensity level is way up in Athens. Georgia Coach Mark Richt told me this spring that he made a mistake during the first half of the 2010 season. In an attempt to keep guys healthy and get them to Saturday, Richt said Georgia didn’t do enough hitting during the week. That won’t happen in 2011. Every drill in spring ball has had a winner and a loser. The strength and conditioning program has gone old school. Richt has let it be known that the talented incoming freshmen class will get every opportunity to take some jobs this summer. “Oh, it’s a lot different around here,” said quarterback Aaron Murray. “We are getting after it.” After two straight disappointing seasons there is a sense of urgency in Athens.

    What we don’t know: Who will replace A.J. Green? Green was simply the best receiver that Georgia has ever had and somebody is going to have to step up to replace both he and Kris Durham at the starting wide receiver slots. Tavarres King (47 career catches) made it clear to Murray and Georgia OC Mike Bobo that he wants the job and will get the chance. Marlon Brown was a highly-recruited player who has yet to fulfill his potential. Georgia has a bunch of okay receivers but nothing special. We also don’t know how Georgia will adjust to the loss of OT Trinton Sturdivant, who injured an ACL for the third time as a Bulldog. There will be a lot of reshuffling on the offensive line.

    X-factor: JUCO transfer John Jenkins arrives his summer to play the all-important nose tackle position in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense. If Jenkins has a big impact, then Georgia could be better than a lot of people think on that side of the ball. Georgia must also replace three of four linebackers. Georgia opens the season with Boise State in Atlanta and plays South Carolina at home the following Saturday. The Bulldogs cannot start 0-2 in those games. “We can’t ease into this season,” said Drew Butler, the All-America punter.

    What we know:
    Rick Minter is going to make a difference in the Kentucky defense. The Wildcats were fifth in the SEC in scoring offense (31.2 ppg) last season but were 10th in scoring defense (28.4 ppg). The Wildcats were also 10th in the league in quarterback sacks with only 21 in 13 games. Enter Minter, a veteran defensive coordinator, who will bring an element of toughness to the Wildcats. Kentucky is still young on defense but has a veteran secondary and one of the best linebackers in the league in Danny Trevathan (144 tackles).

    What we don’t know: Is Morgan Newton ready to be the starting quarterback? Newton, a junior, was pressed into service as a true freshman in 2009 due to an injury to starter Mike Hartline. I thought the former Indiana high school player of the year would take the job from Hartline in 2010 but he did not. Now Newton is a junior and will have to hold off a challenge from true freshman Maxwell Smith, who enrolled in January and has looked good in spring practice. Newton has tremendous talent and reminds some of former Kentucky great Andre Woodson. Newton has a lot of talent but must prove that he can be a starting quarterback in the SEC on a weekly basis. If he does, Kentucky will be competitive in 2011.

    X-factor: Where are the big plays going to come from? Randall Cobb (84 catches, 424 yards rushing) was one of the best all-purpose players in college football for two seasons. He decided to leave school early and enter the NFL Draft, leaving the Wildcats with a big void to fill.  Kentucky also lost a very good receiver in Chris Matthews (925 yards). The role of play maker could fall to Newton, La’Rod King or Raymond Sanders.

    What we know:
    The Gamecocks still have the most “difference makers” in the division. RB Marcus Lattimore was third in the SEC in rushing (1,197 yards), WR Alshon Jeffery led the conference in catches (88) and yards (1,517). Stephon Gilmore is one of the best cover corners in all of football. To that mix add freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson calls “the most physically gifted player I have ever recruited.” South Carolina has kept the best players in state for the past four recruiting classes. “We don’t have as many of those great players as some schools but now we have our fair share,” said coach Steve Spurrier.

    What we don’t know: Will Stephen Garcia return? If he doesn’t, can Connor Shaw get the job done? Garcia was suspended just three days before the spring game. It was the fifth suspension in his five years in Columbia. He is the best quarterback Spurrier has but right now we don’t even know if the decision will be in Spurrier’s hands. Shaw, a sophomore, has the work ethic and dedication Spurrier likes in a quarterback but right now he is not ready to make all the throws against a quality SEC defense.

    X-factor:  How will South Carolina respond as a defending division champion? One of Spurrier’s constant complaints is that his team does not handle success well and the mindset of being the hunted, instead of the hunter, is totally different. The Gamecocks open with East Carolina and then there will be a huge trip to Georgia on Sept. 10.

    What we know:
    The offense is going to be pretty good. Tennessee took its lumps last season when the Volunteers started three true freshmen on the offensive line. Now four players who combined for 39 starts return and the Vols actually have a little depth up front. Freshman Tyler Bray (1,849 yards passing, 18 TD) exceeded all expectations when he became the starting quarterback in the last five games of the season. He is now established and has a couple of big time receivers (Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers) as targets. The biggest loss on the offense was tight end Luke Stocker. Tennessee has some good young tight ends, like junior Mychal Rivera, but OC Jim Chaney told me that Stocker’s presence will be sorely missed. Tauren Poole (1,034 yards rushing last season) is a good back who needs to be better.

    What we don’t know: How much will the defense struggle? Tennessee is going to have to score a lot of points because there way too many holes, not enough size and certainly not enough speed on this defense. Their best tackle, Malik Jackson, is only 275 pounds. If another tackle like Montori Hughes steps up, the Vols should be okay, but only okay, up front. But Tennessee is really hurting at linebacker where Nick Reveiz (108 tackles) and LaMarcus Thompson are gone. And Tennessee won’t know until his summer if safety Janzen Jackson (left school with personal problems) will be back. “It’s a challenge but that’s why you come to a place like Tennessee,” said defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, in his second year.

    X-factor: They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Tennessee hopes that’s the case because the veteran players on this team have been through a lot. The non-conference schedule is considerably easier this time around, as North Carolina was taken off and replaced by Buffalo. But the Volunteers do have to play arguably the three best teams (LSU, Alabama, Arkansas) in the Western Division. Seven wins would be a really good season for Tennessee.

    What we know:
    James Franklin is bringing some energy to the program. Franklin, considered to be one of the ACC’s best recruiters in his time at Maryland, has made it clear that he will be more aggressive when it comes to trying to lure better athletes to Nashville. He clearly has his work cut out for him. Vanderbilt has been to two bowl games in the past 30 years and was a dismal 2-10 last season when Robbie Caldwell took over for the retiring Bobby Johnson just a week before media days in July. How bad is it? Vanderbilt was 11th or 12th in the SEC in the four major offensive categories last fall. The Commodores were 11th or 12th in three of the four defensive categories. A total 18 starters return (9 on each side of the ball).

    What we don’t know: Will Larry Smith be the starting quarterback for the opener with Elon on Sept. 3? Smith looked like Vanderbilt’s quarterback of the future when he led the Commodores to a win over Boston College in the Music City Bowl in 2008. But Smith has struggled the past two seasons. Franklin has vowed to put some zip into the offense and so that may mean that Smith gives way to Jordan Rodgers (brother of Aaron) who was limited by a bad shoulder in the spring. The hope for Vanderbilt fans is that Smith, who has the experience, will find his way behind an offensive line that returns five starters. If Warren Norman recovers completely from a hand injury, he and Zac Stacy should give Vanderbilt a decent running game.

    X-factor:  Vanderbilt plays SEC road games at South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee. Welcome to the SEC, Coach Franklin.


    Barnhart Bio

    •  1988-Present: College Writer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    •  2004-Present: Contributing Reporter, "College Football Today on CBS"
    •  2009-Present: Host, "The Tony Barnhart Show," The CBS College Sports Network
    •  2006-Present: Co-host, "Talkin' Football," CSS (Nominated for Southern Regional Emmy Award, 2007)

    • The Southern Football Kickoff Show

    •  "Southern Fried Football"

    •  2008 Edwin Pope Vanguard Media Award
    •  2007 Fred Russell Contribution to Sports Writing Award