Thank goodness football is back, well almost. SEC Media Days is just a few days away and all the speculation begins to grow along with the hype. Now I remember the great Bear Bryant very well. I grew up in Alabama listening to and watching “The Alabama Crimson Tide Football Review” every Sunday evening right before Ralph “Shug” Jordan and the “Auburn Football Review” came on. Now I was torn between the two schools as I grew up until I decided to head off to college because it seemed like a “cool” thing to do. I applied to five different schools but ultimately choose Mississippi State over Tennessee, North Carolina, N. C. State and Auburn (Thank you Lord for not sending me there).
I will always remember the low, gruff and growling voice of Bear Bryant with a 6-pack of bottled Coca-Cola and 2 bags of Golden Flake potato chips one of which was opened and dumped into a bowl in front of him and host Charley Thornton. Bear always downplayed his team especially early in the year saying how inept, slow and confused they always were. Bear never put forth a glowing expectation before the season or an individual game. After winning a big game he would say “we won despite ourselves”. Football was always a passion of mine then and it still is now. It is about time for some FOOTBALL baby and optimism looms large for everyone. Close your eyes and try to remember the smell of hot buttered popcorn, grills casting the odor of seasoned meats into the air and a variety of game-day snacks.
This will be my brief look at the SEC EAST division and forecast finish for each team. Last year I picked Tennessee to win the east and go unbeaten….yeah. I think they had it in them but Tennessee had a serious case of choke and internal divisions began to show and the deep grumblings of the Volunteer alumni are gaining traction monthly. So here we go…….
7th Place – Missouri
Last year the Tigers were 4-8 (2-6) in Barry Odom’s first year. The talent level hasn’t been very deep but interest has grown. I think Missouri will win with Coach Odom but it will take time and competing for the SEC East regularly, I don’t see it happening. On offense Drew Lock is back at QB but his name is Lock not Luck so these Tigers will have little of it. Mizzu has serious depth issues at running back and quarterback. There is a good receiver core of “Starred Players” but the OL was a problem last year as I remember and will be again this year. Defense?......ehhhhh. Predicted finish: 5-7 (1-7).
5th Place (Tie) --- Vanderbilt
Yes I know I don’t have a 6th place but that is because I predict Vanderbilt will be in a tie for their conference record but in a tie-breaker scenario the other team would be higher because they will defeat the Commodores. Vandy is a team I would love to see win consistently because I honestly believe they try to do it right and the emphasis is on academics. That is how it should be. The Commodores were 6-7 (3-5) last year. They have one of the best running backs in the nation in Ralph Webb who could win the Heisman on an elite team. Shurmur is back at QB but there were major losses up front. The defense lost Zach Cunningham at linebacker. Zach will be a Pro-Bowler within three years in the NFL but that doesn’t help this team Anchor Down. I am predicting they drop both anchors heavily at Vaught-Hemingway making the ground shatter. Vanderbilt is a veteran team overall but depth just isn’t there. Predicted finish: 5-7 (2-6).
5th Place (Tie) --- Tennessee
Prognosticators are predicting the Volunteers to be a top twenty team and that could be but I humbly disagree. There is no proven quarterback and the defense is lacking in more ways than one. There is a really speedy core of wide-outs but can someone get the ball to them in open space? Tennessee should be able to run the ball on some teams but they cannot get into a scoring smorgasbord with many teams or they are doomed. Neyland Stadium holds around 105 K and they can shake the ground when Tennessee is rolling but Old Smokey won’t catch the scent of many opponents this year and hunt them down. Last year Tennessee was 9-4 (4-4) and the masses were not happy when this team is now stocked with all of Butch Jones’ boys. 4-4 will not get it with the Big Orange this year but by the time South Carolina leaves Rocky Top in mid October Butch Jones’ days will be numbered and they may run out before season’s end. Predicted finish: 4-8 (2-6). WOW, yeah I know I am out there but I think the team quits on him this year.
4th Place (Tie) --- South Carolina
Will Muschamp showed me a little something last year after the game in Starkville when he challenged his players and they responded finishing 6-7 (3-5). Taking the redshirt off of Mr. Bentley (Phoenix City HS, AL) took guts but this kid can play. He played high school quarterback about twenty miles from Auburn’s campus but they offered him zilch. I’m not sure he would have played for Auburn anyway though, maybe he didn’t drink Malzahn’s Kool-aid. Expect the Gamecocks to score often and if the defense can grow fast they could challenge on this side. Predicted finish: 8-4 (5-3)
4th Place (Tie) --- Florida
The Gators have benefitted from other teams (better teams) choking the last two years but give them credit for seizing their opportunities. I don’t think they can quite copy last year’s SEC record (6-2), 9-4 overall but if the transfer quarterback works out then who knows? The kid may have some talent but if he is that good then why didn’t Notre Dame make it to a bowl game last year? Also think back, when is the last time you can remember a transfer quarterback coming in and getting a team to follow him the first year? I can’t and I don’t think Zaire will be the “Golden Boy” at Florida. They will lose to Bentley’s Raiders in Columbia, to Georgia at the cocktail party and (OH BOY we’ll see) I think Kentucky gets the Gators in game 4 at Lexington. Predicted finish: 9-3 (5-3)
2nd Place --- Georgia
Kirby Smart went home to his roots last year. The Georgia alumni had hopes he could duplicate what he was a part of at Alabama for several years and that maybe one day if they have patience they can win another NCAA Championship. They sure didn’t with Mark Richt though. Eight, nine, ten wins just were not enough. Georgia was 8-5 (4-4) last year but I think they make a step forward this year with the year’s experience under Coach Smart’s leadership. I see them losing two conference games this year, both at home (WOW)! The November 18th game with Kentucky will decide the SEC East champ. Predicted finish: 10-2 (6-2)
SEC East Winner? Man I am sticking my neck out here worse than last year but IF they can pull off two September SEC wins, @ South Carolina and the next week when Florida comes to hunt on the bluegrass in Lexington. Then if Stoops yardbirds can keep it rolling over the lower half until they visit Georgia in mid November it may decide the SEC Champ? Kentucky should no doubt improve on their 2016 record of 7-6 (4-4) behind the quarterback play of Stephen Johnson who really came on last year. He is backed up by Gunnar Hoak. Running-back Benny Snell reminds me of the great Matt Snell who helped Joe Namath win a Super Bowl with the NY Jets. This Kentucky group is a veteran group on both sides of the ball and they learned how to survive and win some games last year ( don’t forget that sting Bulldogs) yet drop a heart breaker also. If they don’t get it done this year then they never will. I am stepping way out there I know but I think they have a real shot to play in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. Either way I think Mark Stoops moves on to new horizons after the season. Predicted finish: 10-2 (7-1) I wonder who that lone conference loss comes to?
So there you have T-Dawg’s SEC East predictions. Next week I’ll give you my SEC West predictions. Agree or disagree at this point it is all opinions and as I always say, “Opinions are like names, we all have one”. It is great to be talking football again isn’t it? I got my STATE season tickets do you?