My goodness it seems like it has been ages since we looked forward to a college football game but the season kicks off for us in four weeks now. I have sifted through tons of data from a myriad of sources including the other Vegas as well as psychics, fortune-tellers and even some voodoo down in the bayou. I am making my predictions here for the SEC East with the West predictions to follow in a few days. These are predictions though but hopefully more on-point than the weather predictions lately. Please feel free to disagree but leave a little bit of reasoning for you thoughts. The easy thing to do would be to go along with the crowd of predictions. I didn’t necessarily do that though, I never have just gone with the crowd. You have to learn to interpret the drumbeats from the jungle. I may not be the Top Dawg at predicting but boy do I have fun with it.
Now for the SEC East. There are two new coaches in the east this year, we all know who one is but there is more change on the horizon in the east if a couple of teams can’t make progress.
7th Place: Vanderbilt 3 – 9 (0 – 8)
Derek Mason has done a good job at one of the most difficult places to recruit athletic depth. The requirements academically at Vanderbilt are so much tougher than at any other SEC school but no brownie points are awarded for that. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur is back for his senior season but gone is the outstanding running back Ralph Webb. There are more spots to fill than there are sinkholes around the Nashville area.
If Shurmur had SEC talent at the wide-outs he would be hard pressed to find the time to get the ball to them before he has to find a hole to duck into. The defense gave up an SEC record 346 points last year and averaged 40 in SEC games. Think that is bad? Well most of those guys have moved on (that could be good... or bad) but remember that defense is Coach Mason’s to run. The Commodores will fight and have pride but there just isn’t enough SEC talent and very little depth.
I have always loved Vanderbilt kind of like the military academies because of the way they play hard and put academics first. A break-even season is to be celebrated at Fort Nashville but there will be no celebration this year and there may be calls for Mason’s job but what can realistically be expected? There just is not enough Flex-seal to fill all the holes but he can’t leave the ship in dry-dock.
6th Place: Kentucky 4 – 8 (1 – 7)
Coach Mark Stoops may have shot his load in Lexington last year. The Wildcats have given us fits as a steady SEC crossover opponent but just have never been able to break through against the top tier SEC teams with the exception of South Carolina whom Stoops has owned.
We all watched Benny Snell make enormous predictions at SEC Media Days but living up to those will be harder than dodging spit into the wind. Snell does have a veteran OL back to block for him but the QB job is between a green sophomore and a JC transfer, both unproven. The passing game was nearly non-existent last year and shows no sign of growth. The defense does have 8 starters returning but there are just not any playmakers to be found on either side of the ball except for Snell.
Stoops tenure in Lexington may come to an end this year if they get plucked early on in “The Swamp”. The middle of the Wildcats schedule could produce a loud stench from which there is no recovery. Snell may strongly regret his words before this season is in the books because teams are sure to fill the box and slow the run game to a crawl.
5th Place: Tennessee 5 – 7 (2 – 6)
The Big Orange nation is happy for change although how they got there is beyond comprehension. Can a coach who was finally enlisted after ten others passed be what a Volunteer army needs to lead them out of the dense wasteland? Stanford transfer Keller Chryst should help elevate play at the quarterback position along with improved depth at receiver and running back. Those upgrades have to help the last place scoring offense in the SEC last year.
Now common sense says that if the offense plays better, scores more and keeps the defense off the field more you win more often. This combined with Jeremy Pruitt’s specialty being defense influenced by Saban should help to build more opportunities for victories. Pruitt is having surprising results recruiting which bodes well for a proud program that has fallen way, way down. Rocky Top will have a little more bounce this year and Ol’ Smokey should begin to find his deep woods howl again indicating more prey on the radar but can it be caught?
4th Place: Missouri 8 – 4 (4 – 4)
Barry Odom has slowly made great strides in making Missouri relevant in the SEC East. That looks to stay the course at least for one more year as Drew Lock has returned for his senior season hoping to build a high draft slot. Almost all the supporting cast is back around him for another year including he entire OL. The only real change in the offense is having a new OC, Derek Dooley (former TN HC). Dooley is no Josh Heupel who left for Central Florida (the fantasy national champ). If the offense doesn’t hiccup under Dooley then Lock could make the black and gold a player in the East.
The defense is weakest in the secondary and road games at Purdue, South Carolina and Florida will be key to their season. Purdue, yes Purdue is becoming an upper mid-tier team in the Big 10 (12 or 14 or whatever it is) and they shellacked the Tigers in Columbia last year. Win in West Lafayette and the Tigers can reach an upper tier bowl, lose and it will be a tough time for Odom’s cats.
3rd Place: Florida 8 – 4 (5 – 3)
He (you know who I mean but I can’t say his name just yet) completed his move to Gator Land where he thinks he can win at a higher level. Well we all have dreams right? There is little doubt that there is enough talent at Florida to win now, how much is the question.
The defense returns 6 starters including the top rated secondary in the SEC. The Gators don’t leave Florida after Oct. 13th at Vanderbilt. But, HE must take the Lizards to play a solid State team on the road and you know that Davis-Wade stadium will be waiting for his band of geckos.
After that loss on the road, Florida’s schedule is very favorable as they face no other power teams from the SEC West. Under HE, Feleipe Franks should improve and count on true freshman Emory Jones getting some PT. If the sunshine boys can ambush the Carolina Chickens when they come calling then Florida could well finish second in the East.
I really like me some grilled gator and am looking forward to the stadium wide cookout Sept. 29th. There is also a rumor that orders will be taken post-game for alligator boots.
2nd Place: South Carolina 9 - 3 (6 – 2)
Will Muschamp has certainly parlayed his opportunity in Columbia, SC. Some of that though has been due to the weakness of the SEC East. Before some of those programs begin to rise from the grave Muschamp needs to make hay now. Thus there is a sense of quite urgency in the South Carolina camp.
Offense has never been considered a strength anywhere he has been including getting him run out of Gainsville. The Yard Birds return 8 starters on offense including QB Jake Bentley who I personally love and the whole OL. The problem is they only averaged 24 pts./game last year which was 12th in the SEC.
The Gamecock defense has to find some answers in their secondary but Muschamp is hoping the front seven takes pressure off of them until the pieces can fit tighter. My soothsayers tell me losses to Georgia and Texas A&M at home coupled with an end of the year road loss at Clemson results in a strong year for the Cluckers. However a road game at TSUN could be a trap game as it comes between a visit from Tennessee and a road trip to the Swamp.
1st Place: Georgia 12 – 0 (8 – 0)
I mean come on, was there really any doubt? Smart has been smart since taking the reigns in Athens. Kirby above all other Saban disciples so far seems to have learned how to build and run a program in college football. There doesn’t appear to be any serious challenger to Georgia this year or next but that isn’t causing Kirby Smart to take a siesta.
The offense is primed to be another “hot rod” with sophomore Jake Fromm at the wheel and a true freshman (Justin Fields) licking his chops to get on the field. Fromm was simply outstanding as a freshman last year but Fields was the top QB prospect in the nation last year.
As good as the offense was and will be again, the defense set the table all year allowing only 16 points/ game including the playoffs. Most of that defense is ready to pounce again with other young pups yelping to join the hunt. It will take nothing short of a natural disaster to keep the Georgia Bulldogs from making the playoffs yet again, but there just may be a tsunami on the rise. Time will tell.
So that’s it for T-Dawg’s SEC East prognostication. I will try to present my dissection of the SEC West in a few days after one last consultation with my Gypsies and how the planets are aligning this fall. All of this along with my gut feelings will hopefully make you dive in with me.
Leave me your thoughts and some reasoning. See you soon!