SEC East as wide open as ever, but will anyone rise above?
The SEC is lacking for true contenders. In the West, there are several teams who might just be on the verge of making a leap, provided they can figure out some very crucial issues — quarterback at schools like LSU and Alabama, defensive adjustments at Auburn and Texas A&M and so forth.
The East, though, is a different story.
In the most recent SEC championship odds released by online sportsbook 5Dimes, Georgia was given the third-best title odds, Tennessee the fifth-best and Missouri eight-best. The other four teams in the division occupy the bottom four slots, meaning they’re perceived as the conference’s four worst teams. That’s not good for the East, even if it maintains parity in the division.
There are talented rosters throughout the division. Georgia remains one of the better teams on paper, as the Bulldogs have been for the better part of a decade, while Tennessee has pieced together a roster brimming with blue-chip players, almost all of which is young and relatively inexperienced.
After those two, the possibilities in the East are murky. Back-t0-back division champion Missouri is always lurking, but if the Tigers were long shots to win the division in 2013 and 2014, it appears Gary Pinkel’s team will have an even bigger hill to climb in 2015. Gone is SEC Defensive Player of the Year Shane Ray and tag team partner Markus Golden. While losing the conference DPOY is nothing new to Missouri, this time the Tigers have to weather it without long-time defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who left for a head coaching opportunity.
And while Missouri is one of few teams in the East with an established quarterback, the reports on Maty Mauk this spring were less than stellar. Mizzou has issues at wide receiver, but Mauk didn’t show any improvement in spring ball, and it’s fair to say that his development has stagnated.
Around the rest of the conference, there’s a lot of mediocrity to be found. Florida has no offensive line and no starting quarterback (although Will Grier looks like a good option), and they’re rebuilding under new coach Jim McElwain. Kentucky brings back much of the same core that lost its final six games last year, minus its two best defensive players. While the Wildcats gain experience, they still lag behind in talent at many positions. South Carolina is in rebuilding mode as well following a 7-6 season, also searching for a quarterback and hoping its defense can bounce back. Vanderbilt has a long way to go before re-entering the nine-win territory it reached under James Franklin.
Where does that leave the East with in terms of contenders? To write Pinkel and Mizzou off would be foolish, as the Tigers have proven the last two years. Georgia has all the talent to make a run, but will be counting on inexperienced quarterbacks and receivers to get them there. Tennessee might have the most talented player in the division in Joshua Dobbs, but the Volunteers are as young as any team in the conference, and under Butch Jones don’t yet have a win over an SEC elite.
Someone from the East will end up as division champion; that’s how it works. At least one team will separate from the muck, but whether or not that team will be included in the upper echelon of the rankings by season’s end remains to be seen.