In our week-long quest to break down the SEC East, we’ve sorted the schools by several different criteria in an effort to come up with a prediction on how the 2016 SEC East standings might look at season’s end.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Now, let’s have a look at the X-factors, including 2015 record in staff turnover, record in close games, number of returning starters, 2015 fumble recovery rate, turnover margin, bye week placement and strength of schedule.

They’re X-factors, in part, because they’re hard to quantify. But let’s try anyway:


Positives: Bye week placement, strength of schedule

Negatives: Distractions, offensive staff turnover

Barry Odom was a smart choice to follow Gary Pinkel at Missouri, but he has some work to do in order to live up to his predecessor’s standard.

The good news is, after a season-opening trip to West Virginia, the schedule is pretty manageable. There’s a bye week after what will be a challenging trip to LSU, and both Kentucky and Vanderbilt visit Faurot Field for SEC East games.

The bad news is that last season may have left a hangover. Maty Mauk’s on-again, off-again drama, racially-charged protests and Pinkel’s health concerns kept the team in the headlines for all the wrong reasons off the field.

Between the lines, an above-average defense was undermined by one of the nation’s worst offenses. Enter new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and offensive line coach Glen Elarbee, who will be charged with improving a unit that averaged less than 14 points per game.


Positives: Non-conference schedule, lack of expectations

Negatives: Turnover margin

Despite a 7-17 record in his first two seasons in Nashville, coach Derek Mason isn’t shy about announcing his team’s expectations for the 2016 season. He’s thinking about a bowl game, he told ESPN, and he’s confident.

The non-conference slate sets up nicely as the Commodores seek the six-win mark, but the crossover games (at Auburn and Ole Miss) could have fallen better.

The schedule won’t matter much if Vanderbilt can’t take better care of the football. It turned the ball over 25 times in 2015, leading to a league-worst minus-8 turnover margin.

What the Commodores have going for themselves is a lack of pressure. Tennessee, Georgia and Florida are the SEC East favorites, and that’s where the weight of expectations can get heavy.


Positives: Renewed energy in the program, ball control

Negatives: Record in close games, bye week placement

Steve Spurrier is a legend in the coaching profession, but his regime had grown a little stale at South Carolina. The new leader of the program is Will Muschamp who, for better or worse, has never been described that way.

Despite a 3-9 record last fall, the Gamecocks took pretty good care of the ball — committing just 15 turnovers.

They’ll need to do a better job in close games, though, after going 3-5 in such contests in 2015.

Having the bye week before a non-league game against UMass isn’t ideal, but South Carolina gets both Tennessee and Georgia at home.

There’s plenty of excitement around the program, but it may take some time to close what had become a wide gap in talent compared to the league’s better teams.


Positives: Non-conference schedule, fumble recovery percentage

Negatives: SEC crossover games, offensive staff turnover

After a pair of 5-7 seasons, Mark Stoops would very much like to lead Kentucky to a bowl game this season.

The Wildcats were in the top five last year in both fumble recoveries and recovery percentage, which is all the more impressive when one considers the fact that they had only 17 sacks, fewest in the SEC.

The non-conference schedule is friendly, with only a season finale at Louisville about which to fret. However, drawing a road trip to Alabama as a crossover game likely won’t help the Wildcats reach the six-win plateau.

Eddie Gran will be calling the plays this season, while Darin Hinshaw will be working with Drew Barker and the other quarterbacks. If those two can replicate their success at Cincinnati, Kentucky may wind up with December plans this season.


Positives: Fumble recovery stats, record in close games and bye week placement

Negatives: Uncertainty surrounding the offense, roster turnover

It’s hard to ask for more out of a coach in his first season than what Jim McElwain achieved in Florida last fall. He won the SEC East title despite quite a bit of turmoil at the quarterback position.

Along the way, the Gators posted a 5-1 record in close games and finished second in the league with 25 takeaways.

The schedule isn’t terrible. There’s a bye week before the Georgia game, a comfortable non-league schedule (minus Florida State) and a crossover game at Arkansas.

But no team in the East returns fewer starters (12) than Florida, and wide receiver Antonio Callaway’s status for the fall is still unclear.


Positives: Takeaways, bye week placement

Negatives: Strength of schedule, staff turnover

Kirby Smart has come home to take the reins, and the pieces are in place for him to hit the ground running.

The team finished in the top five in takeaways last fall with 22, which helped offset the woes from its offense to a certain extent.

A bye week before the Florida game is a welcome sight, but the team still plays North Carolina and Georgia Tech in the non-conference slate and will visit Ole Miss in one crossover game.

The coaching change also led to a lot of new voices for the players. How quickly the new staff bonds with the team might be the key to the Bulldogs’ success this fall.


Positives: Ball control, bye week placement, strength of schedule

Negatives: Record in close games, the weight of expectations, bad publicity

The Butch Jones era has been building toward this season, and the pressure to win big in 2016 is real.

The Volunteers have 17 starters returning, a confidence-building non-conference schedule and the chance to host what should be a pivotal SEC East clash with Florida. They will have to visit Georgia, though, and will, of course, play Alabama from the West.

Improving on a 2-4 record in close games will be a must, however, and avoiding the negative headlines that have plagued the program in recent months would be nice as well.