It happens every year. Players leave early or transfer, but some do make the decision to come back to school for their senior year.
The SEC East, as a whole, is the weaker half of the conference – it’s obvious. However, with new recruits and a new mindset, the East will try to reclaim what was once theirs.
Here are the key losses, key returnees and future studs waiting in the wings for the SEC East:
Key Losses: RB Chris Rainey, RB Jeff Demps, DT Jaye Howard
Key Returnees: WR Andre Debose, LB Jon Bostic, S Matt Elam, DT Dominique Easley
Future Studs: DB Marcus Roberson, TE AC Leonard, OL Chaz Green
Low Down: The Gators return 10 of 11 players on defense, but they lose senior quarterback John Brantley and running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Rainey and Demps have been a big part of the running game over the course of the last few years. Now, Florida will have to rely on its defense to keep them in football games moving forward, and they are going to have to find a running game rather quickly. One name to watch here will be redshirt sophomore running back Mack Brown. He could be the answer in the power running game for Florida.
Key Losses: OL Cordy Glenn, OL Ben Jones, TE Orson Charles, CB/KR Brandon Boykin
Key Returnees: LB Jarvis Jones , QB Aaron Murray, DB Bacarri Rambo
Future Studs: WR Malcolm Mitchell, RB Keith Marshall
Low Down: Georgia returns a ton of talent on both defense and offense. With Aaron Murray at the helm of this offense, look for him to take another growth step in maturity as a quarterback in what will be his redshirt junior season. He has a cast of receivers to throw to in Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and company. Defensively, Georgia returns the finest linebacker in the conference in Jarvis Jones, and an extremely fast and physical defense. Look for the Dawgs to take control of the East next season.
Key Losses: LB Danny Trevathan, S Winston Guy, DB Randall Burden
Key Returnees: QB Maxwell Smith, QB Morgan Newton, RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King
Future Studs: RB Josh Clemons, DT Mister Cobble
Low Down: Kentucky is coming off of a very forgettable season in 2011, and Joker Phillips needs to right the ship immediately. Even though they beat the Vols, something they have not done in several years, Kentucky’s goals of getting to a bowl game fell short. Someone has to step up at quarterback between Smith and Newton. Defensively, Kentucky will be replacing their two best players in Trevathan and Guy.
Key Losses: RB De’Vion Moore, S Kenji Jackson
Key Returnees: QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, WR TJ Moe
Future Studs: DB EJ Gaines
Low Down: Missouri returns a very potent offense headed by quarterback James Franklin. Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns. Running back Henry Josey returns with 1,191 yards and nine touchdowns next year after injuring his knee during the 2011 season. The Tigers will have to have their offense firing on all cylinders to make a dent in the SEC East because they will face some tough defenses in SEC play.
Key Losses: DE Melvin Ingram, WR Alshon Jeffery, DB Stephon Gilmore
Key Returnees: DE Jadeveon Clowney, RB Marcus Lattimore, QB Connor Shaw, DE Devin Taylor
Future Studs: RB Brandon Wilds, DT Kelcy Quarles
Low Down: The Gamecocks are losing some talent with Ingram and Jeffery leaving; however, they will feature two bookends in Clowney and Taylor, and I fully expect the defense to not miss a beat next season. The secondary will be the biggest question mark because the Gamecocks have to replace Gilmore, Whitlock and Allen. Offensively, South Carolina hopes that Lattimore returns at full strength and Connor Shaw continues to progress as a passer. If those two things happen, expect the Cocks to have their say in the East title.
Key Losses: DT Malik Jackson, RB Tauren Poole
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Bray, WR Da’Rick Rogers, WR Justin Hunter
Future Studs: LB AJ Johnson, LB Curt Maggitt, DB Brian Randolph
Low Down: Tennessee should be very potent next year on offense, at least in the passing game. However, the running game has to develop in order for this team to make a push for the East. Tennessee’s defense has to improve as well. Young leaders such as Johnson, Maggitt and Randolph all have to step up and be leaders. Derek Dooley is replacing six staff members going in to 2012, and this team better gel rather quickly in spring practice.
Key Losses: CB Casey Hayward, LB Chris Marve, S Sean Richardson
Key Returnees: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, WR Jordan Matthews, DB Trey Wilson
Future Studs: WR Chris Boyd, RB Jerron Seymour
Low Down: The Commodores are entering 2012 very different than where they were a year ago with only two wins. This team and program accomplished a ton in 2011, including six wins and a bowl game berth. Even though Cincinnati ruined the parade, there is something to build on. With quarterback Rodgers and running back Stacy back for another year, expect the offense to carry this team and improve in 2012. There’s still a lot of work to do, though.