This series is something I literally just thought of. We all know what swing games are - games on the schedule that are "iffy" for the team to win, and will decide the fate of the season. We also all know the impact players from each conference - it's not hard to make a list that includes Darren McFadden, John David Booty, Desean Jackson, Brian Brohm, and so forth. Why shouldn't we "care" about the impacts? Because these players will almost 100% likely be constants for their teams. We already know they're going to be good. Every team has a few players who have raw talent but are one of the following: young, underachieving, or coming off an injury. I'll outline 3 players from each team that will tip the scales for the season.
- DT Demonte Bolden (JR), 6'6", 290: Extremely highly-rated out of high school, had 4 TFL last season; UT's run defense was awful after Justin Harrell went down, and Bolden will need to live up to his hype for the line to get better. Bolden is in the mold of former stud linemen at UT.
-WR Kenny O'Neal (JR), 6'0", 195: JUCO signee from California; played at FSU as a true freshman and gained over 600 all purpose yards as a true freshmen there; one signee from a highly touted 2007 receiver class; his experience makes him a swing player for UT, he'll need to try to replace Robert Meachem; this author thinks he'll have a real shot at 1,000+ yards.
-CB Eric Berry (FR), 5'11", 195: The #1 high school cornerback; already expected to start this fall for Tennessee; UT lost 3 starters from an average secondary, and will possibly rely on 3 players from the 2007 class to start (Berry, McKenzie, Willingham); with Hefney locking down a safety spot, UT needs a lockdown corner more than they need McKenzie at safety; if Berry plays even plays to 80% of his potential as a freshman, UT will be fine in the back.
-MLB Brandon Spikes (SO), 6'3", 241: Highly rated prospect a year ago; played in 9 games last season as a true freshman, so there is experience; has the big Brandon Siler shoes to fill, and with 9 new starters on defense, he'll be one of many swing players (but we had to limit this thing to 3 per team); will face strong running games in 2007 from Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina, so he'll need to lead that new corps of linebackers.
-DT Javier Estopinan (JR), 6'1", 270: Estopinan and fellow DT Clint McMillian are both undersized and have huge shoes to fill; Estopinan actually started 2 games last season before an injury, so he has some experience as well; with 3 new starters on the line and 3 new starting LBs, he'll need to clog some gaps up front - if not, Florida will get pushed around early in the SEC season.
-FS Kyle Jackson (SR), 6'1", 201: Jackson, a new starter, but a senior, will need to lead by example for this young defense; learned behind Reggie Nelson; was highly regarded coming out of high school; great size; started 12 games in 2004 and 2005 combined; if he isn't ready to lead the defense, they will struggle to find an identity.
-WR Mohamed Massaquoi (JR), 6'2", 198: This could really be Massaquoi or Sean Bailey, as UGA's receivers have underperformed for years, it seems; highly touted recruit, hasn't lived up; chronic case of the dropsies, possibly no vaccine; 4 TDs in 2 seasons; will need to provide consistency for a young QB; remember, Robert Meachem had a similiar two year stint before his breakout JR year.
-OLB Darius Dewberry (SO), 6'3", 230: Could go to JR WLB Ellerbe; replacing a solid contributor; highly rated prospect; needs to be a beast in run support, or UGA is in a heap of trouble; is the only highly rated LB in the 2 deep at LB
-QB Matthew Stafford (SO), 6'3", 237: Showed signed at the end of the season, but you can't forget the awful stretch he had; with only 2 returning starters from the worst UGA line in 3 seasons, Stafford will have to beat some teams with his arm, is he ready?; he is now THE man in Athens, no excuses; first time he's played in Tuscaloosa and Knoxville.
-WR Larry Freeman (JR), 6'1", 209: JUCO signee in for spring practice, thus, expected to be ready; has the fun task of trying to replace Sidney Rice (two time 1,000 yard receiver); without a #2 WR, defenses will key in on the emerging Kenny McKinley; only needs to provide around 750-800 yards to keep the passing game effective; due to only 2 returning starters on the OL, Mitchell won't have all the time in the world to throw - Freeman will need to be trusted.
-OG James Thompson (SR), 6'3", 320: Needs to step up after 3 years of seeing slight glimpes of action; the 2006 rushing game was the best in 5 seasons, but loses 3 starters; if Thompson doesn't play well, he could be replaced by a DL from 2006; has to bring the nasty attitude to help spring Cory Boyd.
-OG Garrett Anderson (SO), 6'4", 300: Same boat as Thompson; 4 starts in 2006, as well as playing in all 13 games - will be counted on to make the natural progression in his 2nd season; like Thompson, needs to provide time for Mitchell and holes for Boyd; Carolina has the defense to win the East, but everything relies on the OL.
-OT Josh Winchell (OT), 6'3", 305: JUCO signee expected to start from day 1; will have two scrimmages before the big game against Louisville; Kentucky had their worst running game in over 5 years, at least, even with star Rafael Little in the backfield.
-OG Jess Beets (OG), 6'2", 277: Another JUCO signedd slated to start in September; seems a bit undersized on paper; same story as Winchell - must help improve a wretched OL; Kentucky, even with a mobile QB like Woodson, allowed 39 sacks last season; could get bulldozed by premier SEC tackles.
-DT Corey Peters (SO), 6'3", 290: Showed some promise last season in limited action; will need to help clog holes with fellow tackle Myron Pryor; UK allowed 5 ypc last season and had the worst rush defense in the conference.
-WR George Smith (JR), 6'3", 195: Earl Bennett is no longer the best kept secret in the country, so Smith will need to step up to take some attention; Nickson should improve mentally going into his JR season, so he needs more than 1 consistent option; 4.4 speed; 44 catches in 2 seasons, needs to have that many or more in 2007.
-OT Brian Stamper (SR), 6'5", 295: He's not on this list for any other reason than that he's returning from an injury; before he went down, Vandy ran for 240 yards against a great Arkansas front; after his injury, they struggled against Mississippi and Tennessee, two below average rush defenses; also allowed 10 of their 19 sacks in a 4 game stretch without Stamper; with him, they start 5 seniors and could end up special, the best in recent memory.
-QB Chris Nickson (JR), 6'2", 210: Had a decent season, but has to progress; 15 TDs need to grow, 13 INTs need to drop; 20% of his passing yards came in their game against Kentucky (446 of 2085); needs to take heat off capable RB Jackson-Garrison.
For some of these teams, you could mention an entire 2-deep of guys who could be swing players. Every team has holes, but the players listed above are probably the most important in deciding the fate for their teams in 2007.