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SEC East predictions

By Compiled by Joanne Korth

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


Listed in predicted order of finish.

Florida

COACH: Steve Spurrier, 11th season (102-22-1; 157-54-2, 16 seasons).

1999 RECORD: 9-4, 7-1 SEC (lost 37-34 to Michigan State in the Citrus Bowl).

KEY RETURNEES: QB Jesse Palmer (517 yards, 2 TDs); OT Kenyatta Walker; TB Earnest Graham (654 yards, 5 TDs); RB Robert Gillespie (471 yards, 8 TDs); RB Bo Carroll (577 yards, 3 TDs); DE Alex Brown (13 sacks); DT Gerard Warren (52 tackles); PK Jeff Chandler (101 points, 21-24 FGs).

KEY LOSSES: WR Travis Taylor (463 yards, 6 TDs); WR Darrell Jackson (1,156 yards, 9 TDs); QB Doug Johnson (2,574 yards, 20 TDs).

NOTES: After three tumultuous seasons with Johnson at quarterback, the job is Palmer's to lose. If he falters, freshmen Brock Berlin and Rex Grossman are next. A big-play receiver also must emerge. The good news is the running game is strong with bruiser Graham and speedsters Gillespie and Carroll. The defense is potentially one of the nation's best with depth at each position.

Georgia

COACH: Jim Donnan, fifth season (32-15; 96-36, 10 seasons).

1999 RECORD: 8-4, 5-3 SEC (beat Purdue 28-25 in the Outback Bowl).

KEY RETURNEES: QB Quincy Carter (2,713 yards, 17 TDs); RB Jasper Sanks (896 yards, 6 TDs); WR Terrence Edwards (772 yards, 9 TDs); OT Jonas Jennings; TE Randy McMichael (457 yards); DT Richard Seymour (74 tackles, 4 sacks); DT Marcus Stroud (37 tackles); LB Boss Bailey (66 tackles).

KEY LOSSES: RB Patrick Pass (335 yards); C Miles Luckie; LB Orantes Grant (69 tackles); PK Hap Hines (78 points).

NOTES: With 19 returning starters, the Bulldogs are expected to challenge in the SEC East. Quarterback Carter, a 21-year-old former pro baseball player, is the key ingredient. He should get help this season from an improved running game and a variety of options at receiver. The defense also should be stronger under the direction of former Oklahoma coach Gary Gibbs, who Donnan lured out of a five-year retirement.

Tennessee

COACH: Phillip Fulmer, ninth season (76-14).

1999 RECORD: 9-3, 6-2 SEC (lost 31-21 to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl).

KEY RETURNEES: WR Cedrick Wilson ((57 catches, 827 yards, 4 TDs); RB Travis Henry (790 yads, 8 TDs); OG Fred Weary; LB Eric Westmoreland (51 tackles); P David Leaverton (42.6 avg.); LB Dominique Stevenson (65 tackles).

KEY LOSSES: QB Tee Martin (2,317 yards, 12 TDs); OG Cosey Coleman; RB Jamal Lewis (816 yards, 7 TDs); DE Shaun Ellis (8.5 sacks); LB Raynoch Thompson (87 tackles, 3 INTs); CB Dwayne Goodrich (3 INTs); SS Fred White (65 tackles); FS Deon Grant (69 tackles, 9 INTs).

NOTES: The Vols face a rebuilding season, though Fulmer prefers to call it a team in transition. First order of business is to choose a quarterback, though the competition amongsophomore Joey Matthews, redshirt freshman A.J. Suggs and true-freshman Casey Clausen could last into the early season. There also are gaping holes on the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary, where young players could prove vulnerable.

Vanderbilt

COACH: Woody Widenhofer, fourth season (10-23; 22-54-1, seven seasons).

1999 RECORD: 5-6, 2-6 SEC.

KEY RETURNEES: QB Greg Zolman (2,059 yards, 10 TDs); RB Ricky Williams (644 yards, 8 TDs); RB Jared McGrath (575 yards); TE Elliott Carson (25 catches, 267 yards); LB Jamie Winborn (141 tackles, 5.5 sacks); LB Matt Stewart (6.5 sacks); CB Jimmy Williams (PK John Markham (16 FGs).

KEY LOSSES: WR Tavarous Hogans (53 catches, 837 yards); HB Todd Yoder (25 catches, 361 yards).

NOTES: After an inspiring 5-6 season, which included narrow losses to Georgia and Florida, the Commodores are brimming with optimism. Always strong defensively, Vandy is improving on offense and has high hopes of receiving its first bowl bid since 1982. The only question mark is at receiver, where freshmen and sophomores will have to fill the roles of Hogans and Yoder.

Kentucky

COACH: Hal Mumme, fourth season (18-17; 84-44-1, 11 seasons).

1999 RECORD: 6-6, 4-4 SC (lost 20-13 to Syracuse in the Music City Bowl).

KEY RETURNEES: DE Dennis Johnson (39 tackles, 5 sacks); LB Marlon McCree (68 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs); CB Eric Kelly (3 INTs).

KEY LOSSES: FB Anthony White (562 yards rushing, 469 yards receiving); TE James Whalen (90 catches, 10 TDs); LB Jeff Snedegar (84 tackles, 4 sacks).

NOTES: The biggest names in Kentucky's quick-pass offense will be new this season, starting with freshman quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who was named the starter weeks after the conclusion of spring practice. As a result, 1999 starter Dusty Bonner transferred to Valdosta State, leaving UK without a solid backup. Seven starters return on defense, led by Johnson, who had a sack, tackle for loss or blocked kick in every game but two last season.

South Carolina

COACH: Lou Holtz, second season (0-11; 216-106-7, 28 seasons).

1999 RECORD: 0-11, 0-8 SEC.

KEY RETURNEES: QB Phil Petty (803 yards); RB Derek Watson (394 yards); RB Andrew Pinnock (261 yards); WR Jermale Kelly (24 catches, 366 yards); OT Melvin Paige; DT Cleveland Pinkney (44 tackles); DT Cecil Caldwell (3 sacks); DE Kalimba Edwards (64 tackles, 5 sacks).

KEY LOSSES: FL Kerry Hood (16 catches, 287 yards); LB John Abraham (60 tackles); LB Corey Atkins (104 tackles); CB Arturo Freeman (34 tackles).

NOTES: The Gamecocks, whose 21-game losing streak is the longest in Division I-A, were beset by injuries that crippled the offense last season. Even with a completely healthy roster, Holtz faces the biggest rebuilding job of his career. Lacking physical talent, USC also lacks a winning attitude. There could be a win or two in the non-conference schedule, but winning an SEC game would be a huge accomplishment.

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