I don't really feel like doing this Astronomy paper I have to write. Instead, I'd rather type up a short preview of each team on our schedule. You know, for fun. As mentioned later on, the projected starters returning do not factor in those who may leave early for the NFL.
NC State: 7-5 in 2011, 14 starters returning in 2012 (7 offense, 7 defense)
I can't be the only one who was completely shocked to see NC State had won seven games this year. Every time I've seen them play save for the Clemson game they were utterly awful (losses by 30 to Cincinnati, 34 to FSU, loss to Boston College, falling behind Maryland by 27 before coming back). I really don't treat this as a toss-up game as I'm pretty confident Tennessee wins this, but I like Mike Glennon a lot. 62.4% completion rate/28 TDs/134.9 QB rating in 2011.
Georgia State: 3-8 (FCS), ??? starters returning (no info available), 3rd year as football program
It's Georgia State, so I won't spend much time on them. I think Bill Curry can take this program fairly far, though. It's going to take some time. From what I can tell based on their very FCS-level site they started 3 QBs at some point in 2011 and their top three rushers all missed at least one game, so I'm guessing they had a good amount of injuries this year.
Florida: 6-6 in 2011, 16 starters returning (6 offense, 10 defense)
As bad as Tennessee's offense was from October on, Florida provided a strong (and ugly) challenger. After John Brantley left the Alabama game with an injury, they put up 6 points and 194 yards on an Auburn D that ranked 78th in the nation allowing 406 YPG. Couple that with two crapshows against South Carolina and Florida State, the fact that they lose Brantley, Demps, and Rainey, and that Charlie Weis did a terrible job as the OC this year, fans shouldn't expect much of anything from Florida's offense next year. It'll be the grown-up and more experienced D that finished 10th in yards allowed per game that should provide a challenge.
Akron: 1-11 in 2011, 15 starters returning (8 offense, 7 defense)
Akron's only win in 2011: VMI. Georgia State may provide a tougher challenge. I'm hoping they hire Luke Fickell, because it'd be a great opportunity for him and it's probably the best hire they can make. Still feel terrible for Rob Ianello, who learned of the loss of his job en route to his mother's funeral.
@Georgia: 10-2 in 2011, 17 starters returning (8 offense, 9 defense)
Yes, Georgia had the easiest SEC schedule by far. Regardless, they didn't slip up in games they easily could've lost (Florida, Tennessee) and there's been a clear improvement in their play since the start of the year. While everyone expected UGA's offense to be the impressive part of the team, the defense has quietly had an outstanding year, finishing 5th in total defense. They're also pretty high in the "competitive" stats too
. Georgia should be the clear East favorite in 2012 and a Tennessee win here could mean more than any other game on the schedule.
Bye week: 0-0 in 2011, 0 starters returning (0 offense, 0 defense)
@Mississippi State: 6-6 in 2011, 12 starters returning (5 offense, 7 defense)
For all the hype this Bulldogs team had this season, they sure didn't live up to it. Chris Relf was an absolute horror show at QB, and while the defense held up their end of the bargain fairly well, the offense could never match it. Tyler Russell looked impressive at times at QB, but the loss of a solid tailback in Vick Ballard will hurt State's offense that much more.
Alabama: 11-1 in 2011, 13 starters returning (7 offense, 6 defense - potential NFL draftees not included)
The amount of starters returning for Alabama will heavily depend on the individual players' thoughts on leaving for the NFL a year early. Dre Kirkpatrick, Trent Richardson, and Dont'a Hightower are all projected as first-round picks, so that number could be as low as ten. What else can I say about Alabama that doesn't scream of bias? Um...they're well-coached? They're an NFL machine? Even though this is at home against what could be an Alabama team missing a good amount of their 2011 roster I'm still not excited to play them?
@South Carolina: 10-2 in 2011, 16 starters returning (9 offense, 7 defense)
Unlike Alabama, I'm pretty sure we know what we're going to see back from SoCar/Sakerlina/Fighting Spurriers outside of the status of projected top-10 pick Alshon Jeffery. With Jeffery, Carolina is still a very tough team to play against, returning everyone on offense save for two linemen and returning a good amount of their sneakily good defense. Thankfully, though, Jeffery probably ends up leaving and Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson are both graduating.
Troy: 3-8 in 2011 (one game remaining @Arkansas State), 14 starters returning (8 offense, 6 defense)
Rough season for Troy, as they've battled injuries on offense all season long and have had tons of trouble replacing NFL draftee Jerrel Jernigan. They lost two receivers right before the season started to eligibility that would've played a big part in helping replace Jernigan and neither side of the ball has been particularly effective this season, including the defense, ranked 100th on Football Outsiders S&P rankings after finishing 82nd in 2010 and returning 8 starters on that side of the ball. Next year, they should be back on or near the top of the Sun Belt, but it'll be a wait-and-see game.
Missouri: 7-5 in 2011, 11 starters returning (5 offense, 6 defense)
Not exactly the model year for Missouri football. Gary Pinkel gets arrested for DUI, the team's best win is over a Texas A&M squad that forgets to play 60 minutes instead of 30, and while the offense has been pretty good the defense has been solidly below-average. They really don't return a lot on either side of the ball next year, losing 60% of the offensive line, their top two receivers, and their tight end on offense (currently projected as a first-round pick) while losing 3/4 of their defensive line. Don't be surprised if next year's Missouri squad goes .500 or below in their adjustment period to the SEC.
@Vanderbilt: 6-6 in 2011, 15 starters returning (8 offense, 7 defense)
James Franklin's a douchebag. While Vandy's returning a great amount of starters, they're still Vanderbilt. Until they show actual success above making the Music City Bowl, I'll continue to believe in Vandy being Vandy.
Kentucky: 5-7 in 2011, 13 starters returning (7 offense, 6 defense)
One of the worst SEC offenses ever? Check. Losing maybe their best all-around offensive player in Roark? Check. Losing 3/5 of the offensive line? Check. Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, the two best players on the team, gone to graduation? Check. Good grief, just don't lose to these idiots again.
I'm thinking 9-3 sounds realistic. Steal a win on the road against UGA or South Carolina and that becomes 10-2. Go Vols