Spring Football Winners and Losers: Part II

mark-richt2Last Friday we looked at Part I of college football’s spring practice winners and losers (the article took on added importance with the release of a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA on Monday morning. I said last Friday that I didn’t think Jim Tressel would be coaching Ohio State in 2012, and now it seems like all but a certainty.)

Well today it’s time to look at Part II. Included, is a deeper look at the SEC East race, Charlie Weis’ eating habits, and life on the Plains for the defending BCS Champs…

Loser: Stephen Garcia

Since I started this site a year and a half ago, I’m not sure I’ve made more jokes about anyone other than Garcia. The guy is like Bret Michaels, Jim McMahon and Danny Wuerffel all rolled into one: Just good enough to win you some games he shouldn’t, just wacky enough to make you wonder what the hell he’s thinking at least 4-5 times a game.

With that said, even I can’t joke about his latest suspension. If you haven’t been following, Garcia showed up drunk at an SEC mandated event, one that was actually in place to teach young people about making good decisions. For a guy whose whole career has been ironic, that was the ultimate irony.

Anyway, now that the dust has settled and we’re a few weeks removed from the event, it’s looking more and more like Garcia will end up back on the field come fall. Considering the circumstances though, I’ve got to say that I’m not sure South Carolina should let him back. This is the guy’s fifth suspension since enrolling in school, and second since the end of last season, with alcohol being the common denominator in just about all of them. And the problem is that Garcia isn’t some 19-year-old early enrollee anymore. He’s a 23-year-old man that clearly has a problem. Football should be the least of his worries right now. Getting ready for the adult world- and the responsibilities that come with it- should be his only concern.

As for the Gamecocks, unfortunately, I do think that to a degree his suspension speaks about what to expect from their season. Yes they’re the defending SEC East champs, but they also needed just about everything to go right just to get there. Florida, Georgia and Tennessee were uncharacteristically down last year, and the Gamecocks still had three losses in conference play. Plus, Garcia kept his nose clean for four months, and- for the most part- actually played pretty good football (fourth quarter against Auburn aside). Will all that actually happen again this fall? I’m not betting on it.

Needless to say South Carolina is most definitely a loser year. Know who isn’t?

 

Winner: Georgia

 

Georgia, who is the ultimate winner in all this.

It’s funny, because a few weeks ago I was thinking about Georgia, and thinking to myself, “If someone held a gun to my head, I think I’d take the Dawgs to win the East.” I wasn’t totally sold on them, but looking at the landscape, I still think Tennessee is a year away, I still think Florida has too much to figure out on offense and I still think that South Carolina, well, we just went over them. Kentucky and Vanderbilt? Do I even need to make a joke, or do you just want to insert your own?

Then I did a podcast with Barrett Sallee of CFN.com last week, and our discussion only verified things. As Barrett and I broke down Georgia’s schedule, it became painfully clear that if the Dawgs can’t win the division this year, well it might be time for Mark Richt to start looking at alternative employment (Luckily, I heard that McDonald’s just hired 50,000 employees last week, so I guess that’s a good start. With his experience, I’d have to assume Richt is at least qualified for an assistant manager’s position. No?)

Anyway, do yourself a favor and look at that schedule again. Yes the Boise State game is brutal to open the year. But it is at the Georgia Dome, and Boise doesn’t seem like they’ll quite be Boise this year. Not with all the talent they lost, especially at the offensive skill positions.

After the Boise game though, take a careful look at how things take shape. From then on out, what’s Georgia’s toughest road game? Tennessee? Then there’s South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn, but all those games are at home. And of course Florida in Jacksonville. At the same time, you know who isn’t on the schedule? Alabama, Arkansas or LSU; also known as the three favorites in the West. So here’s the question: With what we’ve already said about the East, and with such a favorable schedule, how exactly doesn’t this team make it to Atlanta?

All I’m saying is this team is out of excuses. 2011 better be their year.

Winner: Every Sonic, White Castle, McDonald’s and 7-11 in the greater Gainesville area

Because Charlie Weis is in town. And he’s HUNGRYYYYYY!!!!!

Loser: Everything Else To Do With Florida Football

Because, I’ve got to be honest, I just don’t see them being much better this year than they were last.

Now I know Weis’ pro-style offense was supposed to come in and resurrect John Brantley’s career, but so far I’m hardly sold. And really, I don’t think it’s Weis’ fault or Brantley’s for that matter. But watching the Gators spring game, Brantley reminded me of one of those shelter dogs who’s  been abused so much through the years that even a loving family can’t save him. After everything he went through last year, I just don’t know if he’s redeemable at this point.

Now, to be fair, I know that Brantley was missing a whole bunch of his offensive linemen and skill position guys for the spring game. I get it. At the same time, he was still had what, three or four balls knocked down at the line of scrimmage? Blame protection if you want, but something as simple as “Not throwing the ball into a defensive end’s hand,” shouldn’t be happening at this point. And it is. Weis or not, was there any progression at all this spring from Brantley?

One more thing. Of all the injured skill position guys, who exactly is going to be a difference maker? Is Chris Rainey going to be a star in the pro-set? I doubt it. Jeff Demps? Only if he adds three inches and puts on 30 lbs. of muscle in the spring. Will it be Mack Brown? Maybe, but he’s still a freshman. So who else is left?

The more I look at this team, the more I’m thinking that another 7-5 regular season may be coming down the pike. Especially with a three-game stretch that has the Gators playing Alabama at home, at LSU and Auburn. Man, oh man.

I hate to say it Gators fans, but what’s the reason to believe things will be different?

Winner: Ron Zook

Who remains gainfully employed by a college football program for another season.

How? Well I’m really not sure.

I’m still impressed none the less

Loser: Tyler Bray

Like Brantley, I know that we can’t take too much out of one spring scrimmage. Truth be told, it’s just a tiny sample of everything that happened over the course of 15 practices.

At the same time, the quarterback of Tennessee’s past, present and future went 5 for 30 in the Vols spring game a few weeks ago. As in he completed just five passes…out of 30 attempts. I’m no math major and hardly a college football expert, but I know that’s not good.

Obviously, I’m still expecting big things from Bray this fall. The guy has a cannon for an arm, and a cool as hell, “I got this,” attitude, that makes him appear to be at least 14 times better than he actually is. Having Da’Rick Rodgers and Justin Hunter on the outside certainly can’t hurt.

But at the same time, are we sure the Matt Simms era is over at Tennessee?

Winner: West Virginia

Who not only brought one of the great offensive coordinators in college football to Morgantown in Dana Holgorsen, but also, apparently a poet laureate as well. Holgorsen had the quote of the spring when he said, “Success is the difference between lethargic… and vivaciousness.” No seriously. He actually said that. Go ahead and print that one up on a t-shirt!

But all the bad jokes (and quotes) aside, it’s because of Holgorsen that West Virginia is my preseason Big East champs. Despite his weak word play, the guy can coach. Last year he took a pretty ordinary Oklahoma State team (with a pretty ordinary 26-year-old baseball burnout at quarterback), and turned them into nothing short of an offensive juggernaut. The Pokes averaged an astounding 522 yards and 44 per game, both of which ranked in the top three in the country.

And really, I’m curious to see how Holgorsen’s offense impacts things in Morgantown, especially quarterback Geno Smith.

If you watched West Virginia last year, you know that no one in the country vacillated between “absolutely awesome,” and “utterly unwatchable,” quite like Smith did. At times, he looked like the best quarterback in the conference, and others the worst. Well, if Holgorsen’s work last year at Oklahoma State is any indicator, I’m thinking Smith could be much more consistent, and quite possibly in line for an All-Conference type season. He’s that good. And so is his offensive coordinator.

Now let’s just hope Bill Stewart doesn’t somehow screw things up.

Finally…

Winner and Loser: Auburn

Needless to say, it’s been a tough offseason at Auburn.

Ok, actually that’s a bit of an understatement. Saying Auburn had a tough offseason is like saying Charlie Weis has problems with portion control in his diet. Between the NCAA investigation of recruits, an HBO story and the arrest of four players, you could make the case that Auburn had the toughest off-season in college football.

But could it have been as awful as everyone made it seem?

Let’s start with the arrests. Were they bad? Absolutely. But were they different than a lot of incidents at a lot of other schools through the years? Sadly, no. And say what you want about Gene Chizik, but the man acted quickly, decisively and correctly in throwing those guys off the team. You can’t change history. But Chizik made sure it wasn’t repeated.

As for the HBO stuff, well, I re-watched it the other day, and to me, it was nothing more than a fancy dog and pony show. The allegations were obviously serious, but at the same time, I’m a little, umm skeptical. Especially considering that the harshest accusations came from Stanley McClover, a guy who is basically broke after his NFL career was cut short, and who never bothered to finish his degree at Auburn. At this point, the guy is about as credible in Auburn as Harvey Updike. It didn’t help that he basically ended the interview saying that he wished he’d spent his time more productively at Auburn. Hmm… Did anyone else catch that? And by the way, how is that Auburn’s fault exactly?

(And while we’re here, I’ve got to ask, why isn’t there some kind of statute on the timeliness of NCAA investigations. Like, how in the world is the NCAA going back to Auburn right now, and snooping around for dirt on McGlover? The guy left five years ago, and not a single guy who coached him is still there! At this point isn’t it just McClover’s word against anyone else’s? And where exactly are you going to find a paper trail on $100 handshakes? Am I imagining things?

Look, I give the NCAA credit because they’ve got a tough job to do. But sometimes, they just act a little foolish for me.

**Note: A reader named Sonja R pointed out to me that Gene Chizik did in fact coach at Auburn during McClover’s time there. I apologize for the error.)

Finally, let’s get to the on the field stuff.

Obviously, given everything they lost, it’s going to be a tough fall for Auburn. But even the most die-hard of fans (at least the ones I talk to) understand that. This is a young team lacking depth and breaking a new quarterback. They’ve got a grand total of six returning starters. Six. And other than Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb can you name one prominent player on their roster? I barely can, and it’s kinda, sorta my job to know these things.

Still, Auburn has had two killer recruiting classes in a row, a killer head coach in Chizik (who thought we’d be saying that two years ago?) and has their whole staff back intact. This team will be better than people expect.

Plus, they’re the defending BCS National Champions. I can’t imagine anything better than that.

(Love the article? Hate it? Disagree with something Aaron said? Let him know by commenting below, or e-mailing him at ATorres00@gmail.com

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About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.

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