This Monday was supposed to have been the start of SEC Media Days, a time where The Plainsman brings you content to get you ready for Auburn’s upcoming season. This year is different with the annual media event currently postponed. The Plainsman wanted to continue providing our readers content similar to Media Days; to prepare our readers if there is a football season, we interviewed other SEC sports editors and their staff.
As the week progresses, be on the lookout for similar interviews from around the SEC. Don't worry if you miss one; the bottom of each story will be updated with links to previous "State of the SEC's."
Christian: Who do you think will be a breakout player for Kentucky on offense this season?
Braden: “Wide receiver Josh Ali. My gut/common sense says I should go with one of the three returning running backs, but with each being so productive, it’s hard to see one, in particular, outshining the other two, let alone becoming the breakout bell cow of sorts. Meanwhile, the passing game has nowhere to go but up (just 1,487 yards through the air in 2019; three FBS receivers had more yards individually). That’s certainly attributed in part to the limited offense the Cats ran through the last half of the year.”
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“Nonetheless, Ali stands to be the primary benefactor of what should be a better aerial attack this season. He is the team’s leading returning receiver in catches (23), yards (233) and touchdowns (3), and snagged four catches for 52 yards and the game-tying touchdown in the Belk Bowl. That performance, with the more balanced attack, should serve as a springboard for a much more productive 2020 campaign.”
Christian: Who do you think will be a breakout player for Kentucky on defense this season?
Braden: “Outside linebacker Jamarr “Boogie” Watson. The Cats have had some pretty successful edge rushers under Mark Stoops, including NFL picks Bud Dupree (22nd overall in 2015, Steelers), Josh Allen (7th overall in 2019, Jaguars) and Za’Darius Smith (122nd overall in 2015, Ravens).”
“Boogie” appears to be next in line after picking up 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in 2019. The Bednarik Award watch list member was Pro Football Focus’s third-highest returning edge rusher among Power Five schools.”
“Before Allen’s meteoric senior rise (21.5 TFL’s, 17 sacks), which earned him nearly every conference or national defensive award he was eligible for, he recorded similar numbers to “Boogie”: 9.5 TFL’s and 7.0 sacks. The now-senior Watson’s total tackle numbers aren’t what Allen’s were, but his prowess for making plays in the backfield could have him as a household name and highly-touted NFL prospect sooner than later.”
Christian: What are your expectations for the Wildcats this season?
Braden: “They should compete for the SEC East crown. I’m not going to predict they win it, but this season is Kentucky’s best chance to make its first trip to Atlanta. The Cats get back the signal-caller of their 10-3, Citrus Bowl-winning season (Terry Wilson) while boasting PFF’s highest-graded SEC offensive line (returning players) even after losing stalwart left guard Logan Stenberg to the NFL.”
“They also add popular 2019 breakout candidate Davonte Robinson – who missed the season due to injury – and LSU transfer, Kelvin Joseph, to a secondary that tied Ohio State for the least amount of passing touchdowns allowed in the country (9).”
“The Cats blew their last two home games against Florida, but have outplayed the Gators in their last three meetings and get to face a Georgia team that is replacing Jake Fromm in Lexington. The departure of Hornung Award winner Lynn Bowden undoubtedly hurts, but Wilson’s return should lead to a more balanced offense and enable the backfield trio of Asim Rose, Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez – who each averaged over five yards per carry and totaled over 500 yards last season – to somewhat mitigate the loss of Bowden in the ground game.”
“A few things outside of Kentucky’s control will likely have to occur for it to play for a conference title, but if everything breaks right, it could be another history-making season for Mark Stoops and the program.”
Christian: What’s one big storyline for Kentucky this season?
Braden: “How Terry Wilson rebounds from his injury. The general sense among fans during the special 2018 season was that the team was winning in spite of Wilson’s play. Last season’s lull where the team lost three of four – aka before Bowden began playing Superman – proved that wasn’t truly the case.”
“If Wilson is able to provide the improved passing ability, he showed in his brief 2019 action (33/52, 360 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s) while continuing to limit turnovers and improvise with his legs when necessary, and it will go a long way toward making another potential dream season a reality.”
Christian: When Kentucky arrives at Jordan-Hare, will Auburn fans see any of Joey Gatewood, or will he be the backup to Terry Wilson?
Braden: “Assuming Wilson is fully recovered and ready to roll whenever the season ultimately begins, I expect him to start. Gatewood is uber-talented, of course, but by virtue of leading the Cats during that magical ride two seasons ago, Wilson has earned a little leeway.”
“Not only that but uncertainty over whether Gatewood will be ruled eligible for 2020 still reigns. The NCAA tabled further discussion over a potential one-time transfer waiver until 2021-2022, meaning he needs a waiver to be able to suit up this season.”
“The Cats went through a similar situation last year with now-former Cat and former Seminole Xavier Peters, who was ultimately ruled eligible, but not until Kentucky was getting ready to play its third game of the season.”
“A decision could come sooner for Gatewood than it did Peters (see: JT Daniels), but you never know with the NCAA. Gatewood would have to become eligible and pass Wilson on the depth chart in roughly eleven weeks to jog onto his former team’s field as the opposing starter. That feels to me like too much to happen in a relatively short period.”
Christian: Who do you think will be a breakout player for Georgia on offense this year?
William: "Redshirt sophomore Zamir White, taking the top spot from Swift, will likely break out at tailback. With Brian Herrien signed in NFL free agency, it'll be White and James Cook seeing the most looks. White has some experience with the offense, and if his career highs in carries and yards in the 2020 Sugar Bowl are any indication, he's ready to see his touches per game nearly triple next year."
Christian: Who do you think will be a breakout player for Georgia on defense this year?
William: "Azeez Ojulari. He led the team in sacks and was second in tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman. With inside backer Tae Crowder moving to the NFL, he could be even more impressive. While 6-foot-4 sophomore Quay Walker will likely step up on the inside, Ojulari's outside rush has no reason not to trend upward from an already high level."
Christian: What are your expectations for the Dawgs this year?
William: "Again, this is a tough question with few to no looks at roster development this offseason and so much uncertainty surrounding the fall. Kirby Smart said at the end of May that he's excited about the experience coming back on defense, most obviously with senior inside backer Monty Rice and junior defensive back Eric Stokes, but I expect some kinks on the offensive side as Georgia tries to figure out its quarterback situation."
"Still, Georgia is Georgia, and if White breaks out from the backfield and one quarterback, likely either Jamie Newman or J.T. Daniels, can game manage à la Fromm, I expect another top SEC east finish and a shot at the CFB playoff if it happens."
Christian: What's one big storyline for Georgia this season?
William: "The big storyline is who will replace Jake Fromm to lead the Georgia offense this fall. It seems unlikely Smart would waste Wake Forest graduate transfer Newman's final year of eligibility, but Daniel's didn't transfer from Southern California looking for a back-up job."
"The team has less than two months to sort out its depth chart, but that will be the storyline throughout the season. Also, 2020 is the 40th anniversary of Georgia's most recent national championship in 1980."
Mattison: Who do you think will be a breakout player for Vanderbilt on offense this year?
Simon: “My breakout player is going to be Amir Abdur-Rahman. He is a wide receiver, and now Vanderbilt is plagued at the wideout position. We lose skilled players like nothing before. After last year we lost Ke’ Shawn Vaugh at running back who wasn’t as active in the passing game but still held his ground as a pass-catching back.”
“Moreso in losing Jared Pinkney our tight end who was virtually unused for no reason last year alongside Kalija Lipscomb, who was our most talented wide receiver. That makes us extremely thin at the wide receiver position, and Abdur-Rahman is well known.”
“He hasn’t had the most playing time since his time at Vanderbilt, but he’s well known for one catch against the University of Tennessee in, I believe it was 2018. He made a spectacular diving catch, falling into the endzone with his defender draped on him. Vanderbilt went on to win the game against Tennessee, but that was sort of our first glimpse of Rahman.”
“Again, we’re extremely plagued at wide receiver. I typically say a quarterback as a potential breakout player, but because we’re switching quarterbacks this year given all of ours have either graduated or transferred, it is so unclear who is going to emerge as the starting quarterback that I’m going to pick Rahman over a quarterback.”
Mattison: Who do you think will be a breakout player for Vanderbilt on defense this year?
Simon: “I don’t really think this is going to be to people’s surprise, but Dayo Odeyingbo is going to be an absolute stud on defense. Odeyingbo is a senior. His older brother, Dare, graduated a couple of years ago from Vandy. I do believe Dayo will be drafted in next year’s draft. He’s an excellent defensive end who could really do it all and has athleticism that frankly his older brother didn’t really have. Dayo is going to be great next year.”
“My one concern is that he’s going to be getting a ton of attention on defense because when you game plan for Vanderbilt’s defense you game plan for that one beast up front who’s really commanded the Vanderbilt defense the past few years. I think Dayo is that guy, so my biggest concern is that he could see two or three blockers at once, which may make his stats not jump off the paper.”
“You may see his stats and not be too impressed, but mind you, this guy is putting up penny stats in the position he’s in, which he will do. He’s going to catch the eyes of some NFL scouts. Again, he doesn’t have the same veteran experience beside him on defense. He’s the leader of this defense.”
Mattison: What are your expectations for the Commodores this season?
Simon: “Overall, expectations are not good. My prospects are not high. They rarely are these days. I will say that this year I suppose the expectations are that the offense and the defense can get their footing cause Vanderbilt just fired their coordinators last year.”
“Derek Mason is still the head coach, but with a new offensive coordinator in Fitch and a new defensive coordinator in Roof, the best case scenario I suppose is that they really find their footing and click early on. Despite having not met most of the players or spent much time with most of the players because of the pandemic, I will tell you the expectations are not super high on West End.”
“All that’s going on and off the field with Derek Mason, there’s a whole lot of speculation about what’s going to happen to him after this year. Frankly, I think with two years left on his contract. They’re going to hold onto him. That, coupled with what could be a poor season would not be very good for Derek Mason moving forward.”
Mattison: What’s one big storyline for Vanderbilt this season?
Simon: “I’ll give you two. One big storyline is going to be the huge question mark at quarterback. The quarterback carousel spun so fast it was hard to keep track. We went from Riley Neal to Deuce Wallace back to Neal back to Wallace than to Mo Hason than to Allan Walters. It was a mess. Anytime you’re playing four quarterbacks in a season, that’s a sign that you don’t have one really good quarterback.”
“Mo Hason was the one guy who really exceeded expectations, but in just one game where he played excellent against Missouri, he had a late helmet-to-helmet hit on a quarterback run. They called targeting, and the player was removed from the game, and Hason was concussed. He missed the rest of the season. Just when we thought we had a quarterback, we didn’t.”
“This year, all four of those guys have gone. Allan Walters transferred to Mississippi State. Mo Hason grad transferred to USC. Riley Neal and Deuce Wallace have graduated. That leaves Vanderbilt with zero returning quarterbacks, two incoming freshmen, Mike Wright supposedly duel-threat quarterback, but I personally won’t say that he’s a run-first quarterback until I’ve seen him. He’s probably the highest-rated quarterback of the class.”
“Alongside Ken Seals who’s another relatively high rated prospect quarterback for Vanderbilt. Those two guys are definitely the freshman I expect to see moving forward. We also have two guys transferring in from junior college, Jeremy Moussa and Danny Clark.”
“Frankly, I think Danny Clark is going to be the starter from day one, but again, I think the story here is who emerges and who ends up being the permanent starter because I think Derek Mason and Todd Fitch are going to give all of these guys a chance. They’re going to see what they like best before they select a guy.”
“The other storyline is that various current and former Vanderbilt students accused current and former members of the Vanderbilt football team of sexual misconduct, including rape. I believe the count is at seven or eight people coming out. As court documents showed, a player was expelled from Vanderbilt only to be reinvited for the Pro Day.”
“That whole thing seemed to be handled poorly and again from start to finish this seems like a very, very big issue. My storyline is how Derek Mason is going to address this moreover how he will address this if this team is successful. Not like his team being successful is going to justify any of this. His goal is to focus on football. His goal is to focus on what’s going on on the field, but frankly, he has to really address what’s going on off the field.”
“My storyline is how Derek Mason is going to address this because so far he hasn’t, and the only people who have have been Candice Storey Lee, our athletic director, and the interim chancellor. It will be interesting to see how Derek Mason addresses and handles that situation.”
Catch up on the other State of the SEC's here:
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