No more Tim Tebow.
Florida's all-everything quarterback dominated discussion about the SEC for the past four years—and justifiably so: He was the league's best player since Herschel Walker.
But here's the thing, folks: Even though Tebow is finally gone, he's still a big story in the SEC. Because as we look ahead to the next season of football down South, "The Tebow Question"—specifically, how on earth Florida is supposed to survive without him—is clearly the biggest question facing the league in 2010.
We'll answer that question (and four others) here, as we run down the top five questions about the SEC in 2010.
5. How Much Will Florida Miss Tim Tebow?
A lot. Yes, I’ve seen the somewhat glowing reports about John Brantley, and, as I’ve written before, I’m sure the kid is plenty talented. But you know what? He’s still not Tim Tebow. Tebow carried that Florida offense for the better part of three years, and for all of Urban Meyer’s accomplishments, the fact remains that he's yet to establish a running game in Gainesville. Which means Brantley, like Tebow, will likely have to carry the load on offense (all due respect to Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and gang). That's a tall order for a first-time starter. An opener at home against Miami (of Ohio, of course) will make Brantley’s transition a bit easier, but once SEC play begins, Florida fans will realize just how good they had it under Tebow.
4. How Much Will Tennessee Not Miss Lane Kiffin?
Kiffin came blustering into Knoxville just over a year ago, made some waves on the recruiting trail (as expected), said a bunch of really stupid things (as expected) and then delivered lukewarm results on the field (as expected). New Vols coach Derek Dooley brings a, well, much more understated approach to the job; he seems like the kind of guy who will let the wins and losses speak for themselves. I think that strategy will serve him well. The Vols are still a year or two (or three?) away from challenging in the SEC East, but Vols fans—though, as always, a rather impatient bunch—are sure to enjoy the relative peace, and class, that Dooley brings to town. That being said ... a winning record is probably in the new coach’s best interest.
3. Can LSU and Georgia Bounce Back?
Not too long ago these programs were on top of the college football world. The Tigers won two national titles in the 2000s, while the Dawgs (for a time) took control of the SEC East. More recently, times haven't been quite so good. The Tigers are just 17-9 since their 2007 national title, while the Dawgs struggled to an 8-5 mark last year. Suddenly LSU is looking up at Alabama (and Arkansas?) in the SEC West and the Dawgs are distant No. 2 behind Florida in the East. In short, both Les Miles and Mark Richt need good seasons—really good seasons—to calm their critics. In the softer East, it appears Richt might pull off a 10-win year. But for Miles, the job looks much tougher. Oh, and he better watch out for North Carolina, too.
2. How Much Can We Really Expect from Arkansas?
A lot. An awful lot, actually. If any team is going challenge 'Bama in the SEC West, it's the Hogs, and the reason why is obvious: Ryan Mallett. Experienced, uber-talented, and battle-tested (people often forget that, before arriving at Arkansas, this kid played in some key spots as a freshman up at Michigan), Mallett is by far the best quarterback in the SEC. In a league that, for all of its merits, has not exactly turned out a bevy of great passers of late, Mallett presents a somewhat unique challenge to SEC defenses. If this kid can get any kind of help of offense (hello, Dennis Johnson?) and if the Hog defense can even be adequate, the Hogs can win 10 games. And if Mallett lights it up against 'Bama on Sept. 25? Well, look out, Atlanta.
1. Can Alabama Win Another National Title?
Of course they can. But will they? Well, if you believe the old cliché that "defense wins championships," then, no, they won't. While the Tide return an absolute boatload of talent on offense—Heisman winner Mark Ingram and wideout Julio Jones, among others—they also lose a boatload of talent over on defense. Alabama fans will tell you that losing all of those studs (Rolando McClain, etc.) is no big deal, because Nick Saban recruits like crazy, and there are equally talented players waiting in the wings. Sure. Let's face it: It is the rare team that can replace so many standout stars on one side of the ball and not take a step back. Is Alabama the best team in the SEC? Yes. But will Alabama win another national title in 2010? No.