The SEC East figures to be one of the most competitive divisions in college football this season.
An argument can be made that at least five teams have a legitimate shot at getting to Atlanta at season’s end, and the other two are more than capable of playing spoiler.
College football is exceptionally hard to predict, which is part of what makes it so exciting, and this season can turn out any number of ways. As we look ahead, however, we’ve identified five possible upsets that could greatly impact the division race.
For clarification, games between the East’s primary contenders are what will most likely determine which team wins the division. In a tightly-contested race, though, it can be the school with the fewest slip-ups that is left standing.
Here are five of those possible slip-ups.
South Carolina at Missouri, Week 2
The Gamecocks aren’t factoring much into the SEC East conversation, but they have the potential to build momentum and become a dangerous midseason contender.
That is, of course, if they can get off the ground.
South Carolina’s defense will be slightly retooled from last year, and it will be tested early. In Week 2, the Gamecocks face the SEC’s No. 5 scoring offense from 2016. Missouri has defensive problems to figure out, but the Tigers can score enough points to win this one.
Mississippi State at Georgia, Week 4
The Battle of the Bulldogs could be an exciting affair in Athens. Georgia is expected to be much improved in Kirby Smart’s second season, while Mississippi State has one of the SEC’s most exciting players in Nick Fitzgerald and a defense that will be full of JUCO transfers.
If Mississippi State’s defense performs early under Todd Grantham, he won’t hesitate to bring a lot of pressure at Jacob Eason. With so many obstacles in its own division, Georgia doesn’t want to drop an early one against the SEC West. Not with annual partner Auburn still looming, on the Plains, no less.
Florida at Kentucky, Week 4
These two teams should be the most evenly matched on paper among the competitors on this list, but Kentucky has lost 30 consecutive games to Florida and will be considered an underdog until it breaks that streak.
Last year’s matchup was lopsided, but things might have gone differently had they met later in the season. Although it has talent, Kentucky’s defense struggled to keep opponents out of the end zone in 2016. There are reasons to believe it will play better in 2017, however.
Unless Florida’s offense is vastly improved from last year, the Wildcats should be able to keep the game close enough to earn their first victory over the Gators in three decades.
Georgia at Vanderbilt, Week 6
There’s no way Georgia loses to Vanderbilt two years in a row, right?
After dropping a winnable game at home last season, it should be easy for Smart to motivate his team for this one. Coming off a road game against Tennessee, however, there’s a chance the Bulldogs have an emotional letdown after a big win or a hangover after a deflating loss.
Vanderbilt won’t be afraid of Georgia after last year’s victory, and the Commodores are surprisingly 2-2 against the Bulldogs in their past four games.
Tennessee at Missouri, Week 11
Tennessee has a few potential losses late in its schedule, but with the Vols hosting LSU in Week 12, a trip to Missouri a week earlier seems like a dangerous trap.
Although Tennessee scored 63 points against the Tigers in 2016, it’s unlikely any player will replicate Josh Dobbs’ 5-touchdown performance.
More concerning for the Vols is the 740 yards and 37 points they allowed against Missouri because most of those Tigers are back.
Both teams have questions entering the season, but those should be ironed out in some fashion by Week 11.
Right now, it’s not difficult to imagine the Tigers’ offensive weapons gashing the Vols’ defense again. This time, Dobbs won’t be around to play the role of Superman.