If you are like me then you have been enduring a summer of sweltering heat. When you get into the July and August heat you may see many strange things, like yesterday my yard thermometer boiled over. I tried to get my dog to come outside to do her ‘business’ but she slammed the door shut on me, locked it and then I soon heard the flush inside. I would have been outside all night if she hadn’t needed me to operate the can opener.
We’re all starting to get cabin fever and will soon exchange some sunburn to enjoy some football again. Everyone believes their team has a great chance to get something done this year right now because it is all fantasy but soon reality will start to set in. You can read articles everywhere and hear “sports-talk” people putting their spin on the season to come. Well I like to do my own thing as well.
My first story of the 2019 season will be my prediction of how I think the SEC East will finish this year. Last year was the first time in years that the SEC East bettered the SEC West. This year it turns back around I believe. I see few to no coaching hotseats this year with one exception which I will talk about later. Now, my SEC East predictions and my reasoning.
# 7. Vanderbilt:
Last year’s quarterback for the Commodores, Kyle Shurmur, has graduated. Ball State grad transfer Riley Neal has already enrolled and will probably be at the helm. The scary thing for Vandy here is that Neal led Ball State to 2-10 and 4-8 seasons as their starter. He is more mobile than Shurmur was but can he get the ball downfield with accuracy? If he can TE Jared Pinkney and WR Kalija Lipscomb were both in the top three in the SEC at their position last year. The “Red Mamba” (Ke’Shawn Vaughn) is back for his senior year after being third in SEC rushing yards last year only carrying an average of 10 times/ game. He will have three veteran OL in front of him. If Neal can throw effectively then the Commodores should be able to score 30+ pts/ game and compete.
Derek Mason gave up the DC job last year to Jason Tarver so he could be free to work with the entire team. Tarver did help the Commodore defense perform better going from the 89th overall defense to the 61st. The problem now is they were gutted by graduation. What is left is inexperienced and not overflowing with talent. Vanderbilt should be able to play with mid to lower level teams but stopping others may be a problem especially on the ground. I love the attitude of Vanderbilt but having to recruit elite academics hampers them compared to others. Maybe that is how it should be everywhere though? Vanderbilt has two championships now in baseball and forked out the big bucks for their new basketball coach (Jerry Stackhouse). It is well past time to vastly improve football facilities at Vandy which would help with recruiting. If there isn’t a commitment to that Mason may depart and that would be a shame. Coach Mason is a great motivator and will get the most out of what he has but wins will be tough to come by so the non-conference games are a must then maybe an upset or two?
2019 Projection: 4-8 (1-7 SEC)
# 6. Kentucky:
Kentucky had a remarkable season last year but the offense wasn’t the reason as much as Bennie (Smelly) Snell would try to make you believe. The defense fueled their season. The offense was DEAD LAST in passing in 2018 in the SEC. Two players caught more than 30 passes the others weren’t even on the radar screen. Junior QB Terry Wilson returns but he only threw 11 TDs last year to go with 8 INTs. The new QB may well be Troy grad transfer Sawyer Smith who would be an a definite upgrade passing and he also ran for over 600 yards last year. The Mild Cats will have three returning offensive lineman to try to keep out defenses set on revenge from 2018.
The defense that was so vaunted last year is history. Josh Allen was drafted and will be a force in the NFL. The defensive secondary is all gone as well. There are some skilled players but totally inexperienced. It will be bombs away at the secondary unless they grow up fast. The Wildcat offense will have to score this year because the defense may struggle to effectively slow down opponents. Mark Stoops had opportunities to fly the coup after last year but stayed. He may regret that after this season. The Mild-Cats begin the fall to the lower tier they held for many years.
2019 Projection: 6-6 (2-6 SEC)
# 5 Tennessee:
Jeremy Pruitt began to change the culture some in Knoxville last year. There is a lot of work still to do though including pretty much overhauling the roster in many areas. I personally think Pruitt is one of the good young coaches growing in the SEC and will move the Volunteers towards the upper tier of the SEC East given time. Jim Chaney takes over as OC after coming over from Georgia. The offense should improve under Chaney and returning QB Jarrett Guarantano has shown the ability to deliver the ball at any distance accurately. If the running game can improve and a couple of talented recruits can learn quickly at WR, the Volunteers will put up a lot of points.
Pruitt’s defense made definite strides last year in just competing. As the talent rises on defense, and it will with some of the freshman coming in, Pruitt’s defense will become better and better although freshman will have to play and learn to compete at the SEC level. Five-star Henry To’oto’o along with a couple of JC players will multiply the talent up front significantly. The secondary all returns which is a plus. Experienced depth will come in another year or two but will still be a problem this year. If the offense does well enough the Volunteers could move ahead of #3 and #4 in the East.
2019 Projection: 7-5 (3-5 SEC)
# 4 South Carolina:
The bad news for Wil Muschamp and the Gamecocks is Deebo Samuel is in the NFL now. Jake Bentley is a dynamic quarterback but threw 14 interceptions last year, 6 in the red zone which clearly cost his team wins. Bentley isn’t blessed with star receivers and the run game which was 12th in the SEC last year will not be much better. There is no proven back on the roster but the OL should be the best Bentley has ever had. When the Yard-birds ran for less than a hundred yards last year (4 times) they lost.
The defense should be improved. Five-star Zacch Pickens will play as a true freshman and along with many of the sixteen defensive players who went out for the year at different stages to have various forms of surgery the defense should help more stops and provide the offense with more possessions. The secondary may be the strongest part of Muschamp’s defense. It all boils down to offense for the Cluckers. A Muschamp team has never excelled at offense, ask Auburn. If this team finishes in the top tier of the East, the offense will have to be improved.
2019 Projection: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)
# 3 Missouri:
A slow but steady rise has become the norm at Missouri the last two years. Now Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant rides into town. The returning pieces on offense are experienced and the overall offense should be much more balanced with Kelly Bryant at the controls. Bryant will rely on probably the best TE in the country (Albert Okwugebunam) who is nothing short of a beast. The offensive line finally has depth also and Bryant will use them to run and throw behind. Returning stud back Larry Roundtree (second in SEC rushing 2018) should compliment Bryant making the offense potent.
The defense will be improved across the board except at linebacker which stands out as the weak point. The DL is more than capable and has depth along with an experienced secondary. They won’t dominate but if the offense behind Bryant can control the ball and eat up possession time Missouri may surprise some teams this year. Additionally there will not be a bowl game for Missouri this year and Odom may be able to use that to motivate during the season. The schedule is very favorable except for a mid-season three-game road trip in the SEC but two of those are against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Alabama has rotated off schedule and is replaced by TSUN. Florida must come to Columbia in November. IF the Tigers can get to Georgia (in Columbia) unbeaten they have won the SEC East before, who knows what can happen?
2019 Projection: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)
# 2 Florida:
Mullenex begins year two in Gator Land. Now yes Mullenex made strides with the Gators last year but if you want to see me get into his fan club, well brother don’t hold your breath. It is and always will be the way he lied wasn’t truthful with our kids in December 2017. I forgive as I must, but I won’t forget. There really aren’t many weak spots for the Gators except for quality depth which is coming through recruiting but that takes time to transfer into experience. Feleipe Franks (from now on Frankfurter ) made the largest jump of any Power 5 QB last year. Typically under Mullenex QBs make their greatest jump in their second year. Wideouts are talented and deep providing Frankfurter great targets. Lamical Perine should be the first Gator RB to eclipse 1000 yards in eight years. The OL struggled at times last year and must replace both tackles this year.
The defense started to return to what Florida defenses use to be as they created turnovers in critical situations several times. Edge rushers are very good and the secondary is lights out but defensive line and linebackers were lacking at best. Four blue-chippers signed at LB so that should correct itself as the season goes along. The DL and OL (as it is with most teams) will determine how far Mullenex can take the Gators this year. Road games at LSU and at Missouri**** late with Georgia in the middle will determine the fate of these Gators.
2019 Projection 10-2 (6-2 SEC)
# 1 Georgia:
Jake Fromm is without a doubt the best QB in the SEC East entering this season. Georgia was not a pass happy team in 2018 and rightly so with the run game leading the SEC last year in yards/ game (238.8). D’Andre Swift (163 rushes for 1,049 yards) in 2018 is back for his junior year along with the #1 RB in the Class of 2017, Zamir White will return from ACL surgery. Swift, White and other incoming freshmen give UGA what some say is the best RB stable in the country. The OL is deep and experienced, receivers are very talented as well but young. The Georgia offense should score explosively this year and dominate.
The Georgia defense was pretty good last year (13th Nationally) but were dead last in the SEC in average sacks/ game. That must be improved immensely if Georgia is to come through in championship games. The talent is there and showed last season but the burps in critical situations must be corrected. Kirby Smart and new DC Dan Lanning (Alabama pedigree) will work to get the gas out and prevent those burps from happening again. Kirby Smart is an excellent coach but must put his own stamp on this defense if UGA is to play in Atlanta for the SEC Championship and reach a national title. If not, they will be beaten in this conference.
2019 Projection: 12-0 (8-0 SEC)
So there you have my somewhat factual opinion of where the SEC East teams will finish this season and why. As I always say, opinions are like names, we all have one. Please feel free to leave comments and/ or make your own prediction. Right now, everybody is a winner. I’ll make my predictions for the SEC West in a couple of weeks.
2T. Florida/ Missouri
4. South Carolina