Once again, the SEC East division faces a similar scenario. The Georgia Bulldogs appear to be the favorite, but overall the division is wide open. There is, however, a slight twist this season. It seems that the parody will be because the bottom teams have improved, not that the top teams have regressed. The East division in the SEC has been the butt of jokes the last few years. Its winner was looked at as a sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered in Atlanta by the SEC West division winner. This year may be no different in that regard, but from top to bottom the East does appear to be getting better.
The SEC East: Where Chaos Reigns
Kentucky and Vanderbilt have gotten off to hot starts this season. Florida is the two-time defending division winner. Tennessee has built a foundation of talent with multiple high ranking recruiting classes. South Carolina is still building back to where it was at the beginning of this decade, and has a solid amount of talent. Georgia, as mentioned previously, is routinely looked at as the best collection of talent in the division. Here is a breakdown of each team, and what could help or hurt their chances of making a run to Atlanta in December.
Georgia Bulldogs 3-0 (0-0)
Predicted by most to win the East in the preseason, the Bulldogs are still on course to do so. They are spearheaded on offense by the running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb leads the team with 290 yards and four scores on the ground. Freshman Jake Fromm took over at quarterback in the opener after Jacob Eason got injured. Fromm has been solid so far, with five touchdowns and only one interception. The Bulldogs’ defense has taken a step forward in year two under Coach Kirby Smart. They have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 20 points. Can the passing game continue to develop enough to keep this offense balanced? That will be the main issue moving forward. The running game and defense look the part.
Next Game – Home vs #18 Mississippi State Bulldogs
Florida Gators 1-1 (1-0)
Everyone knows what the Gators have. The defense has been top of the line for years, but the offense has yet to catch up. They grabbed a miracle victory over Tennessee this past weekend, scoring on a 63-yard Hail Mary as time ran out. Kadarius Toney showed flashes of ability against the Vols and could be the play-maker that the Gators have been waiting to see emerge. The defense is certainly championship caliber, but questions will remain about the offense. Quarterback Felipe Franks looked better in his second career start. His development will be key if Florida wants to repeat as division winners.
Next Game – @ Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky Wildcats 3-0 (1-0)
The Wildcats are coming off a big win on the road over the South Carolina Gamecocks. Coach Mark Stoops has built a solid program at this basketball school. Now the Wildcats will look to end a 30 game losing streak to the Gators. If Kentucky wants to be taken as a serious threat in the SEC east, they need to win this game. The Wildcats are led by sophomore running back Benny Snell. The bruising tailback has yet to really get going this year, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. The Wildcat defense is only allowing 15.3 points per game.
Stephon Johnson has solidified himself at the quarterback position, but still has room for growth. The Wildcats suffered a multiple injuries to its offensive line this weekend. Overcoming that will also be a challenge. If Kentucky is to make a run, the offense needs to become more balanced and the defense must continue to play at a high level.
Next Game – Home vs #20 Florida Gators
South Carolina Gamecocks 2-1 (1-1)
The Gamecocks are the only team to have already played multiple conference games. After an 18 point road win against Missouri, they fell at home to Kentucky last weekend. The Defense has been solid through three games. Whether it has been tightening up in the red zone or forcing turnovers, they have found a way to make plays.
Losing star Deebo Samuel to a knee injury hurts. If the Gamecocks can’t find a way to run the ball better, they will be in trouble as the season goes along. Defensive depth could also become an issue, especially if they are hit by injuries.
Next Game – Home vs Louisiana Tech
Vanderbilt 3-0 (0-0)
The Commodores are coming off their biggest win in a long time. They defeated a ranked non-conference opponent for the first time since 1946 on Saturday. The 14-7 victory over Kansas State may be the biggest in Coach Derek Mason’s time in Nashville. The Vanderbilt defense is playing at a really high level. They have allowed 13 points in three games. The offense is still a work in progress. Tailback Ralph Webb is an established play-maker despite his slow start to the year. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur’s development will determine just how much Vanderbilt can challenge in the East this year. They’ll get their chance to show just how far they’ve come with a home match-up against Alabama this Saturday. Vanderbilt hasn’t beaten Alabama since 1984.
Next Game – Home vs #1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Tennessee Volunteers 2-1 (0-1)
Coming off such a tough loss as the clock ran out on Saturday will test the resolve of this Volunteers team. They controlled the game everywhere but the scoreboard in Gainesville. Turnovers and an inability to score in the red zone eventually took their toll. They have two legitimate stars on offense in running back John Kelly and receiver Marquez Callaway. Kelly has 349 yards and five touchdowns through three games. It is hard to get a read on the Tennessee defense based on their opponents. Georgia Tech runs the triple option, Indiana State was an over-matched FCS program, and the Florida Gators offensive struggles are well documented.
The defense is stocked with former big time recruits. Its progression throughout the season will be key. Consistent quarterback play is also a concern for Coach Butch Jones’ team. Through three games it’s hard to tell if this team can make a run at the SEC East crown, or if they will under-perform once again.
Next game – Home vs UMass
Missouri Tigers 1-2 (0-1)
The Missouri football program is at a crossroads. Their current state is a mess. After piling up 800 yards and 72 points in their opener over FCS Missouri State, they have managed just 16 points in the next two games. The defense has been worse, allowing 442 yards and 36.3 points per game. The Tigers only way to have an effect on the SEC East race is to pull an upset and ruin one of the other team’s chances.
Next Game – home vs #15 Auburn
SEC East: Where Chaos is the Norm
Once again parody among its members will make the SEC East winner a tough one to predict. As many as six of the seven teams still feel they have a legitimate shot at making a run to Atlanta. These teams are both evenly matched and have flaws that could hamper them moving forward. It is not known if one of these teams can develop into a legitimate challenger to Alabama or whoever else wins the SEC West. However, with the teams being so even, it should make for a lot of exciting Saturdays in the weeks to come.