Biddle's Beat: Wed. Aug. 8, 2012 - WKRN News 2

Biddle's Beat: Wed. Aug. 8, 2012

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SEC Eastern Division preseason favorite Georgia eases into the football season against Buffalo. That would not be the Buffalo Bills.

SEC rookie teams Missouri and Texas A&M obviously have studied the pattern of scheduling bakery products to open the season.

Missouri goes directional, choosing a scone in Southeast Louisiana while Texas A&M opted for a cupcake in Louisiana Tech. You can bet the new kids on the block will come away with some Cajun recipes for future tailgate parties.

Mississippi State christens the season by playing Jackson State. Florida welcomes Bowling Green to the Swamp. That would be the university, not the city in Kentucky.

Hats off to defending national champion Alabama, who jumpstarts its season against Michigan at Jerry's World in Fort Worth. Bama saves Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky and Western Carolina for later in the season.

There are two season-opening games that are vital for the SEC teams, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.

The Commodores stay home to play South Carolina, a preseason No. 9 ranked team that is coming off the first 11-win season in the history of the school.

Tennessee will learn a lot about its team and Coach Derek Dooley's future when the Vols meet N.C. State the final day of this month in the Georgia Dome.

Both fan bases can't wait to cut the ribbon on the 2012 season. It has been a long off-season for both programs, for different reasons.

Vanderbilt knows it has to carry over the momentum of going to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in more than 100 years of football.

Tennessee knows its team has to show marked improvement in order for Dooley to retain his current mailing address.

On the other hand, Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin has energized the Commodores fan base like no coach before him in the modern era. Speaking at an annual preseason event that brings long-suffering boosters together on a Williamson County farm to break bread, Franklin had them eating out of his hand.

They came to worship at the altar of the man they consider the savior of the program.

Franklin was there for the first time last season. He reminded them that after they listened to his promise-them-the-moon pep talk last year, half of them bought in and became instant believers. He told them he knew the other half went away that night thinking that Franklin was full of hot air, although that is not the phrase he used.

Franklin's maiden voyage with the Commodores saw them win their sixth game on the road against Wake Forest in the final game. It made them bowl eligible and they played Cincinnati tough before losing 31-24 in the Liberty Bowl. Franklin expects to make it a trifecta this season, hopefully winning the bowl game this time.

The Commodores have more players on their roster that look more like those on some of the SEC's heavyweight teams. Franklin will continue to upgrade the recruiting, the most important key to building a solid foundation.

They used to beat out Furman and UT-Chattanooga for recruits. Now they are beating SEC opponents for players.

They played close games against Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee a year ago, but lost all four. To take it to the next level, Vanderbilt has to learn how to win those type games. That will be the key to this season and an upset against South Carolina would be vital for them to get off on the right foot.

Across the state, Tennessee also has to learn how to win games. They lost to Florida by 10 points in the Swamp. They lost to Georgia by 8 points and won their only SEC game against Vanderbilt in overtime.

Dooley made wholesale changes on his staff as several assistants jumped off the ship. Seven of his assistants are in their first year on the Hill. Dooley seems to like this staff and the players are another year older and the roster is deeper.
 
If key players stay healthy, the offense is capable of lighting up the sky. Quarterback Tyler Bray has all the talent in the world, but sometimes his decision-making and maturity level trails his ability.

Bray has quality wide receivers that are game breakers. Justin Hunter is coming off ACL surgery, but seems ready to roll and he is All-American material. Da'Rick Rogers is a 6-3 athlete who grabbed 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine TDs.

A player to watch is junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, a 6-3 target with good hands. Those three receivers are all 6-3 and over.

They need to find a serviceable running back and the defense will be young but learned a lot of lessons a year ago. They will be in multiple defenses, using a 3-4 at times as new coordinator Sal Sunseri tries to inject a more attacking game plan.

Dooley has won only three SEC games in his first two seasons. That has to improve this season. They also need to earn a bowl bid if Dooley wants to gain some job security.

You have to like the fact that both programs are starting the season against quality opponents, teams that will give Vanderbilt and Tennessee fans an idea of how the rest of the season will play out.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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