Missouri can shake up the SEC East race in a major way Saturday.
The 5-0 Tigers are off to a hot start, including last week’s thumping against Vanderbilt, hanging 50 on the road. That doesn’t happen too often in the SEC, especially against a solid Commodore team that has played good defense the last two years.
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Combine the hot start with major injury concerns for Georgia, and all of a sudden Missouri looks like a trendy pick in Athens.
The SEC East race is wide open, and it’s the most fantastic subplot to watch play out in 2013.
Let’s take a stroll through the main contenders:
Related: Current SEC East standings
Florida (4-1, 3-0)
Florida’s top defense and emerging passing game makes the Gators a trendy pick in the SEC East heading into LSU; some are even arguing the Gators are East favorites. Even if the Gators lose to the Tigers, they still control their own destiny with remaining games against Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina, but all three come away from Gainesville.
We’ll find out how good Florida’s defense is against LSU. QB Tyler Murphy is absolutely an upgrade at quarterback. His instincts are the biggest upgrade for an evolving playbook and offense.
Florida’s biggest obstacle? Try four ranked opponents in their next five games. If the Gators win the East without the conference’s best defensive player in Dominique Easley, is Will Muschamp the coach of the year?
Florida’s remaining SEC schedule:
- Oct. 12: @ #10 LSU
- Oct. 19: @ #25 Missouri
- Nov. 2: vs. #7 Georgia (Jacksonville)
- Nov. 9: Vanderbilt
- Nov. 16: @ #14 South Carolina
Georgia (4-1, 3-0)
One week ago, several were counting down the days to Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville as the Bulldogs last major test before Atlanta. But after season-ending injuries to RB Keith Marshall and WR Justin Scott-Wesley, two of the offense’s biggest weapons are now gone. WR Michael Bennett is also out for the foreseeable future with a torn meniscus. Todd Gurley is 50-50 with an ankle injury, and defensive backs Tray Matthews and Connor Norman are all question marks for the game due to injuries.
Can they survive the injuries? The losses of Marshall and Scott-Wesley were a major hit to a luxurious depth chart that helped make the offense great. Now, the average defense is going to have to step up and win some games. And that starts Saturday against the explosive Missouri Tigers. And they still have some guy named Aaron Murray, who’s taken his game to the next level in 2013.
Georgia still holds the head-to-head over South Carolina, and the major obstacles remaining are Missouri, Florida and top 25-worthy Auburn. If Georgia survives and wins the East, Mark Richt may be your coach of the year, knowing how nasty the Bulldogs schedule truly is in 2013.
Georgia’s remaining SEC schedule:
- Oct. 12: #25 Missouri
- Oct. 19: @ Vanderbilt
- Nov. 2: vs. #17 Florida (Jacksonville)
- Nov. 16: @ Auburn
- Nov. 23: Kentucky
Missouri (5-0, 1-0)
Missouri made a statement Saturday against Vanderbilt. The Tigers hung 51 on the road, and they officially announced their presence in the East race. Saturday, the Tigers can turn the East race completely on its head if they upset the depleted Bulldogs.
Quietly, James Franklin is having a fantastic season. He’s thrown for 1,407 yards, 13 TDs and three INTs. He threw for just 1,562 yards, 10 TDs and seven INTs in 2012, but last year is a distant memory. He has weapons all around him on offense. Three different receivers have 20-plus catches, and the Tigers feature a potent and explosive backfield in Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough.
Almost as quietly as the offense, the defense is having a great year, too. They are allowing just 22.4 points per game, and DE Michael Sam already has six sacks, tied for the SEC lead. With only one conference game played, several are still wait-and-see on Missouri.
The Tigers’ next three games against Georgia, Florida and South Carolina will separate them as contenders or pretenders. But right now, they look like major contenders.
Missouri’s remaining SEC schedule:
- Oct. 12: @ #7 Georgia
- Oct. 19: #17 Florida
- Oct. 26: #14 South Carolina
- Nov. 2: Tennessee
- Nov. 9: @ Kentucky
- Nov. 23: @ Ole Miss
- Nov. 30: #9 Texas A&M
South Carolina (4-1, 2-1)
While Missouri may be a bigger unknown, the contender with the most question marks is South Carolina. The Gamecocks are 4-1, but the defense has struggled putting games away.
USC jumped out to a 28-0 lead against Vanderbilt, only to see the Dores cut it to 35-25. They also jumped out to 28-10 lead over UCF, and the Knights jumped back into it and lost just 28-25. And last week, it was the same story against Kentucky, as SC took an early 21-0 lead, and Kentucky cut it to 27-21 before ultimately losing 35-28. The defensive numbers aren’t terrible, but they can’t seem to put away teams and continually leave lesser foes in the game. Will this come back to bite them down the stretch run?
Connor Shaw and Mike Davis continue to lead the offense. Shaw has thrown for 927 yards and seven TDs, while Davis has rushed for 614 yards and eight TDs, leading the SEC averaging 122.8 yards per game.
The Gamecocks would need to win out and need Georgia to lose twice to get to Atlanta.
South Carolina’s remaining SEC schedule:
- Oct. 12: @ Arkansas
- Oct. 19: @ Tennessee
- Oct. 26: @ #25 Missouri
- Nov. 2: Mississippi State
- Nov. 16: #17 Florida
Saturday will educate us on the SEC East race – the biggest evolving storyline thus far.
Photo Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports