2016 should be a rebound year for the SEC East
Unless you’re a Florida fan, 2015 was a year to forget in the SEC East. And even if you support the Gators, you have to be wondering how your season might have developed if Will Grier hadn’t been suspended.
Life in the SEC East was difficult this season, and no school was spared:
- Tennessee spent the early part of the season squandering double-digit leads before righting the ship.
- Georgia’s quarterbacks failed to support a stellar running game, and the boosters got fed up with Mark Richt.
- Vanderbilt’s defense was stout, but its offense was awful for long stretches.
- Kentucky turned in its second-straight 5-7 season, raising the temperature on Mark Stoops’ seat.
- Missouri had a slew of injuries, a quarterback suspension, a threatened boycott from its players and the resignation of coach Gary Pinkel en route to a dismal year.
- The Steve Spurrier era ended in midseason for South Carolina, and interim coach Shawn Elliott couldn’t stop the skid.
The 2016 season should be better, if for no other reason than it could hardly be worse. But the East has a chance to bounce back in a big way, and that’s because traditional powers Florida, Georgia and Tennessee should each improve.
A CHANCE TO REPEAT
Florida was much improved in Jim McElwain’s first season at the helm, and his second one could be even better.
Only five seniors depart in the two-deep for the SEC Championship Game, so even if CB Vernon Hargreaves III leaves early for the NFL, there will be a wealth of experience back for the Gators.
Grier will be eligible again in Week 7, and with another off-season to prepare, both he and Treon Harris figure to be better at quarterback.
McElwain and company are also working on a top-10 recruiting class, which could be highlighted by highly touted quarterback Feleipe Franks. The nation’s highest rated junior-college RB, Mark Thompson, has already signed.
Long story short, the Gators aren’t going anywhere.
RETURN TO GLORY?
Tennessee was a trendy pick to win the SEC East in 2015, and if the season had started on Halloween, the Volunteers would have done just that. With a bowl win against Northwestern, the Volunteers would carry a six-game winning streak into 2016.
Like Florida, this is a very young roster. Only five seniors will leave the starting lineup for Tennessee, and assuming coach Butch Jones and his staff can finish strong on the recruiting trail, the Vols should be in the hunt for the title next season.
Go ahead and circle it. Tennessee hosts Florida on Sept. 24.
OLD DAWG, NEW TRICKS?
Richt won 145 games in 15 seasons, but some fans and boosters felt the program had gotten a bit stale. Enter Kirby Smart, former Bulldog defensive back and Alabama defensive coordinator, as the man charged with getting Georgia over the hump — and adding trophies to the case.
It’s not going to be easy in the short term.
Two of the team’s biggest issues in 2015 (quarterback and wide receiver) will need to be addressed as soon as possible.
The nation’s top quarterback recruit, Jacob Eason, likely will get every chance to play his way into the starting lineup, and there’s help coming at wide receiver and on the defensive line in the current recruiting haul.
If Eason is as good as advertised and some playmakers (other than the excellent running backs) emerge, Smart can get the Bulldogs back on track in a hurry.