Handicapping the SEC East: Predicting first to last
Over the past few days, we’ve broken down the SEC East into four compartmental rankings in an effort to predict the teams’ order of finish in 2016.
Here are the results of those rankings:
- Handicapping the SEC East — defenses
- Handicapping the SEC East — offenses
- Handicapping the SEC East — coaches
- Handicapping the SEC East — X factors
Here are the results of the rankings in each category, tabulated to make an overall SEC East prediction for order of finish:
|T4. South Carolina||5||6||3||5||19|
Tennessee is the favorite in the SEC East on paper, and these rankings support that. The Volunteers are tied for the most returning starters (17) in the SEC — including the leaders in passing, rushing, tackles and sacks.
In addition, the schedule is manageable, and with the coaching turnover in the East, Butch Jones is suddenly tied with Kentucky’s Mark Stoops as the head man with the longest tenure in the division.
It’s only May, but the hype surrounding the Volunteers is already on full blast. How Tennessee handles being the hunted will determine whether it lives up to expectations.
Georgia and Florida occupy the next two spots, and both harbor legitimate designs on the SEC East title.
The Bulldogs, under new head coach Kirby Smart, must replace most of their linebacking corps and find a long term solution (Jacob Eason) at quarterback, while the Gators must also improve at the quarterback position (Luke Del Rio?) while coping with the loss of several draft picks from their defense.
Kentucky and South Carolina are tied for fourth in these projections, and both fan bases would celebrate that result.
The Wildcats, coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons, are trying to get back to a bowl game. To do so, they will need consistency from sophomore quarterback Drew Barker and some improvement — and a much better pass rush — from the defense.
South Carolina, last season’s basement dweller at 3-9 overall, is breaking in a new coaching staff and facing questions all over its roster.
But Will Muschamp has brought in renewed enthusiasm to the program. There are eight true or redshirt freshmen listed on the team’s post-spring depth chart, and it’s not hard to imagine five or six more first-year players getting in the mix when they arrive this summer.
Vanderbilt is next in sixth place, and the Commodores will be looking to make this prognostication look silly. Their key to improving on last season’s 4-8 finish will be quarterback Kyle Shurmur. Any help from the offense will help a talented, but overworked defense this fall.
Missouri rounds out the projections, simply because it has too many questions to be picked any higher.
Can new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel develop quarterback Drew Lock and fix one of the nation’s worst offenses? Can the defense cope with the loss of Kentrell Brothers, the nation’s leading tackler? Can new coach Barry Odom follow in Gary Pinkel’s footsteps and build a winner at Missouri through hard work and player development?
Time will tell for Missouri, and indeed, for the rest of the SEC East.