SEC East bowl projections: 3 teams to play on Jan. 1
SEC Media Days are upon us and that means the prognostication of who will finish where in each division comes to the forefront.
Bowl game picks also surface, so let’s take a look at where each SEC East team might find itself bowling – or not bowling.
There is a very good chance that Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all can finish with three losses.
Let’s take a look at all seven East teams and forecast where they could be ending the season.
Florida (10-3, Peach Bowl)
Florida may have the easiest road schedule ever. The Gators only have to travel to Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina in conference play.
The season will kickoff in Arlington, Texas, in a marquee match-up against Michigan. The other non-conference games are all at home: Northern Colorado, UAB and Florida State.
The Gators’ season could result in three losses before the bowl game — against Michigan, Florida State and Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Even with three losses, Florida could still reach a New Year’s Six game in the Peach Bowl. (The Sugar Bowl is one of the national semifinals, and we like Auburn to make the Orange Bowl.)
Georgia (9-3, Outback Bowl)
The Bulldogs — coming off an 8-5 season and a Liberty Bowl victory over TCU — are favorites for many to reach Atlanta as SEC East champions, but a tough schedule to navigate and losing the majority of the offensive line could hamper them in that pursuit.
Georgia opens with Appalachian State, which is no pushover, but the Bulldogs should take care of business before heading to South Bend and taking on Notre Dame.
A 3-0 start should take place after hosting FCS Samford in week three. Mississippi State at home the following week will pose a test in the battle of the Bulldogs, but Georgia should be looking at a 4-0 start before traveling to Knoxville and trying to end a two-year losing streak against Tennessee.
A loss at Tennessee in front of what should be a checkered Neyland Stadium and possible Smokey Grey uniforms will have Georgia coming back to the Volunteer State to take on Vanderbilt after its first loss. Then Georgia’s defense should prevail against Missouri for homecoming.
Based on track record, an off-week still will not be enough to knock off Florida in Jacksonville. Home games against South Carolina and Kentucky and a road contest at Georgia Tech should be victories in the last month. At Auburn on Nov. 11 should be the Bulldogs’ only other regular season loss.
The Wildcats have a lot of optimism coming into this season. After losing last year to Southern Miss, they should get revenge in Hattiesburg in week one. Hosting Eastern Kentucky in week two will have Kentucky at 2-0 heading into a week three match up at South Carolina.
The Wildcats could easily face a 2-2 start with losses at South Carolina and hosting Florida. A week five win against Eastern Michigan will set up an interesting match-up at home versus Missouri. The edge could lean to Kentucky based on its defense.
An off-week before heading to Starkville may not be enough to defeat Mississippi State. Then Kentucky will face Tennessee at Kroger Field, and Stoops has not proven he can defeat the Volunteers.
How will Kentucky respond to a possible 4-4 start with consecutive losses with Ole Miss coming to Lexington in a season with nothing to lose? I would give a slight edge to Ole Miss, with Kentucky bouncing back the following week at Vanderbilt, setting up needing to win one of the last two games to go bowling.
The problem: contests at Georgia and hosting Lamar Jackson and a Louisville team looking to avenge its loss from last season.
Missouri might have the best quarterback in the SEC East in Drew Lock, but how well can the Tigers fare without a stellar defense?
Missouri State in week one will have the Tigers victorious, but contests against South Carolina, Purdue and Auburn will be tough before the first off-week on their schedule. The Tigers should be looking at a 2-2 start heading into back-to-back road games at Kentucky and Georgia.
After a likely 2-4 start, the Tigers should rebound with consecutive wins against Idaho and at UConn. Then reality sets back in with losses to Florida and Tennessee, thus needing to win out on the road at Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
South Carolina (6-6, Belk Bowl)
The Gamecocks kickoff their schedule in a familiar venue in Charlotte to play North Carolina State and can very well begin the season 1-0. After games at Missouri, Kentucky and Louisiana Tech, a 4-0 start is not out of the picture heading into playing Texas A&M in College Station.
But three consecutive losses could very well happen with games at A&M, vs. Arkansas and at Tennessee. After a tough seven-game stretch, an off-week comes at the perfect time before a must-win game at Vanderbilt. Being one win away from bowl eligibility is key with four games remaining.
Playing at Georgia, then hosting Florida and Clemson will make a Nov. 18 game against Wofford enough to become bowl eligible.
Tennessee (9-3, Citrus Bowl)
The Vols will look to bounce back from a disappointing finish last season. A revised coaching staff and a change in strength and conditioning will have Tennessee back in play to compete in the SEC East.
An opening game in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Georgia Tech and hosting Indiana State should make for a 2-0 start heading to The Swamp.
The Vols have not proven that they can win at Florida under Butch Jones, so predicting a win in Gainesville is a reach. Tennessee should start 3-1 with a home game against UMass following the Florida game. Then what should be a checkered Neyland Stadium should help the Vols prevail against Georgia.
Then the Vols’ schedule has an off-week before playing South Carolina, and they should learn from last year in how to take care of business following the week off.
A 5-1 start is still not enough to win at Alabama, paving the way for the Vols to realistically start 8-2 before hosting LSU Nov. 18. Between Alabama and LSU, Tennessee plays at Kentucky, hosts Southern Miss and travels to Missouri.
For now the edge goes to LSU, then the Vols will look to avenge last year’s loss to Vanderbilt to close out the regular season.
The Commodores were able to reach a bowl game last year in Derek Mason’s third season. But can they make it back-to-back seasons?
Vanderbilt travels to Murfreesboro to open the season at Middle Tennessee State, which could be a loss right out of the gate. A win in week two versus Alabama A&M may be the last sign of victory for weeks. Home games against Kansas State and Alabama, then at Florida, Georgia at home and at Ole Miss before an off-week.
A 1-6 start is not out of the realm. At South Carolina, Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Missouri and at Tennessee finish off the schedule.
One would think Mason could reel off at least three or four wins, but it will be tough. Three wins might be realistic.