While the West will be decided between only three teams, the East is wide open by anyone’s standards. Georgia and South Carolina are the favorites, but you can’t count out Florida or Tennessee. I think we all assume Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky might not be able to get there. But that’s why you play the game. And no disrespect to any of the three teams left out, but they are just not there yet.
Looking at the four obvious contenders, here are the biggest questions for each team heading into the season:
Florida has two sophomore quarterbacks in Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Each is equally as talented but both are unproven. Driskel and Brissett were thrown into the fire during their freshmen seasons because of John Brantley’s injury against Alabama. And neither made the most of their playing time, completing only 46 to 47 percent of their passes. The No. 1 agenda heading into camp is naming a starting quarterback. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has his work cut out for him, as combined the two quarterbacks threw for only 354 yards on 73 total passing attempts. The lack of a proven starter rattles the bones of Gator fans heading into this season.
Georgia: Offensive Line
While most talk is centered on the running backs and who will replace Isaiah Crowell, I’m looking at the problem Georgia faces replacing three starters on the offensive line. There are players who lack experience, and most are unproven. It doesn’t help that Kolton Houston is ruled ineligible, again, for testing positive for a banned substance that he unknowingly took. He won the right tackle position outright in the spring, but he has yet to be declared eligible. Georgia is heading into another season scratching their heads because of the lack of proven players on the line. It seems to be the same topic over and over. Kenarious Gates and Chris Burnette are the only two proven commodities. Georgia needs help here and questions answered.
South Carolina: Wide Receiver
We know the running game will be clicking starting in week one, and we know Steve Spurrier will cater to his team in this area. And quarterback Connor Shaw really developed as a passer throughout the season. He really had one go-to guy in Alshon Jeffery. But with Jeffery gone, there is a lack of proven playmakers at the position. Ace Sanders is the logical shoo-in to be the next go-to guy, but don’t count out DL Moore to play a crucial position with his size (6-5) and experience. SC will be counting on two unproven underclassmen in sophomore Damiere Byrd and freshman Shaq Roland to pick up the slack, too. Third and six is what I’m looking at and asking myself, ‘who is going to be the go-to for Shaw’?
Tennessee: Running Game
The most obvious position of the team that will keep Tennessee away from an SEC Championship is their running game. The Vols were the only team in the SEC to average less than 100 yards per game and ranked 116th nationally last year. Although it will be electric, the offense cannot survive on the passing game alone. With a more experienced offensive line, the cast of Marlin Lane, Rajion Neal, Devrin Young and freshman Davante Bourque should be better than last year. Lane needs to break out and Neal needs to hold onto the football. The Vols are in the discussion for an East Championship. Don’t kid yourself.