Return To Form In 2021?
The 2020 college football season was like none ever seen before. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the SEC went to a ten-game all-league schedule. On the field, Florida claimed their first SEC East title since 2016. Now as we head into 2021 schools are planning a return to normal. Of course, the landscape of the league is changing with the knowledge of Oklahoma and Texas joining that will change the balance of the SEC. For now, we’re sticking with the present. As we begin our 2021 SEC East Predictions we start with the squad poised to reclaim the top spot.
Back On Top
1. Georgia- 8-2 in 2020- As mentioned in the beginning last season was the first time since 2016 Kirby Smart’s team didn’t win the east. However this year they look like not only the team to beat but a college football playoff contender. Once he got healthy the offense really took off under JT Daniels. In only four games Daniels finished eighth in the league with 10 touchdown passes and completed 80 of 119 passes. The entire backfield is back headed by Zamir White, who ran for 779 yards and 11 touchdowns. The receivers took a big hit when George Pickens went down with a torn ACL. However, Kearis Jackson returns and is poised for a breakout season.
On the other side of the ball, the Georgia defensive line is one of the best in the league led by Jordan Davis and DeVonta Wyatt. Leading tackler Nakobe Dean returns at linebacker along with Nolan Smith and Adam Anderson. If Georgia has a weakness then it’s the secondary where the NFL Draft and transfers leave them with little experience. It’s very likely the Bulldogs lose their first game against Clemson but runs off 11 in a row after that.
Key Games- Clemson- September 4th (In Charlotte), At Auburn- October 9th, Florida- October 30th (In Jacksonville)
The Major Challenger
2. Florida- 8-4 in 2020- Dan Mullen’s team started 8-1 but lost their last three. They also lost the dynamic duo of quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts. Emory Jones steps in as the new man under center. All three of the contributing ball carriers return from 2020 and they added a couple of big-time transfers in Clemson’s Demarkus Bowman and Lorenzo Lingard from Miami. In addition to Pitts, the Gators also lost Kadarius Toney and his 70 receptions and 10 touchdowns. Jacob Copeland takes over the lead receiver role while Penn State transfer Justin Shorter will help.
Mullen’s decision to keep defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was a head-scratcher to many. A season ago the Gators allowed 31 points per game and more than 50 in the season-ending losses to Alabama and Oklahoma. Defensive end Zachary Carter’s decision to return to school was a big boost for the defense. The linebackers return a ton of depth but the secondary was hit hard by transfers. Obviously, the defense is an area to watch and the Gators won’t win the east but should hold off the next two teams on our list.
Key Games- Alabama- September 18th, At Kentucky- October 2nd, Georgia- October 30th (In Jacksonville)
As we continue our 2021 SEC East Predictions let’s look at two clubs wanting to make the jump towards the top of the division.
Looking To Play Spoiler
3. Kentucky- 5-6 in 2020- Mark Stoops begins his ninth year in Lexington with big expectations. However, they first have to find a quarterback. The three-way battle between Penn State transfer Will Levis, Joey Gatewood, and Beau Allen may go up until the September 4th opener against Louisiana-Monroe. No matter who runs new offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s offense one thing is for sure. Look for a healthy dose of Christopher Rodriguez. The league leader in yards per carry a season ago expects 25 touches per game. In addition, the Cats got a big-time transfer when Wan’Dale Robinson returned home after two years at Nebraska. Upfront the “Big Blue Wall” is led by All-American Darian Kinnard.
On the other side of the ball, Brad White’s defense is led by linebacker DeAndre Square and safety Yusuf Corker, who was second on the team in tackles a season ago after leading the Wildcats in 2019. If UK has a question on defense it’s upfront where two of the three starters graduated. However Josh Paschal returns for his senior year. Now the Cats need a couple of players to step up. The Cats have a favorable schedule and if they put all the pieces together it shapes up much like 2018.
Key Games- Missouri- September 11th, Florida- October 2nd, at Georgia October 16th.
A Trendy Pick
4. Missouri- 5-5 in 2020- The trendy dark horse team in the east is Eli Drinkwitz’s Tigers. Connor Bazelak returns at quarterback after throwing for 2,366 yards and completing 67 percent of his passes. Drinkwitz must find a replacement for Larry Rountree III and his over 4,000 career yards from scrimmage. The receivers struggled somewhat last season but Damon Hazelton and Keke Chism return. However one player to watch out for is Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper, who could make an instant impact.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers must replace linebacker Nick Bolton, who declared for the draft. Overall Missouri’s defense didn’t live up to the lofty standards of the year’s past. To that end, Drinkwitz brought in former NFL coach and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. Trajan Jeffcoat leads the defensive line. You may remember he left the team in 2019 but returned last season finishing fifth in the SEC with six sacks in nine games. The staff thinks Blaze Alldredge is a great replacement for Bolton. He comes from Rice where he finished second in the nation in 2019 with 21.5 tackles for loss. Much like Kentucky, the Tigers have a favorable schedule and an eight-win season isn’t out of the question.
Key Games- At Kentucky- September 11th, At Georgia- November 6th, Florida- November 20th
Continuing our 2021 SEC East Predictions we look at two schools that have work to do in order to catch the teams above them.
Playing Catch Up
5. Tennessee- 3-7 in 2020- No team was hit harder by the transfer portal than the Volunteers, who had more than 20 players leave since the end of last season. In addition, the head coach Jeremy Pruitt was sent packing too. Heading to Knoxville is Josh Heupel, who went 28-8 in three years at Central Florida. Leading the offense is Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker or Michigan transfer Joe Milton. Sophomore Harrison Bailey’s right there as well. Whoever ends up under center will be looking at receiver Jaylin Hyatt, who hauled in 20 passes a year ago.
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee’s strength lies in the secondary where they have three experienced players returning. The group is headed by safety Trevon Flowers, who was second on the team in tackles last year with 62. Coming off their worst season in 97 years and possible NCAA sanctions it may take Heupel a while to get things going in Knoxville.
Key Games- Pittsburgh- September 11th, At Kentucky- November 6th, Vanderbilt- November 27th
Yet Another New Coach
6. South Carolina- 2-8 in 2020- Much like Tennessee the Gamecocks also have a new man on the sidelines in Shane Beamer. Son of legendary coach Frank Beamer, Shane spent the last two years as assistant head coach at Oklahoma. He spent four years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator under Steve Spurrier in Columbia. The offense is headed by junior Kevin Harris, who finished second in the SEC with 1,128 yards rushing. MarShawn Lloyd returns after missing last year with a torn ACL. Beamer brought in St. Francis quarterback Jason Brown to compete with Luke Doty for the job.
On defense, questions abound everywhere from a group that gave up 36 points a game. The one bright spot on that side of the ball is the defensive line. Kingsley Enagbare ranked second in the SEC with six sacks while Jordan Strachan is a big-time transfer from Georgia State. He tied for the FBS lead in sacks with 10.5. So far Beamer has said and done all the right things but much like Tennessee, it may take a year or two to see some progress.
Key Games- Kentucky- September 25th, At Tennessee- (October 9th), November 27th- Clemson
Wrapping up our 2021 SEC East Predictions is a look at the team picked in the bottom again.
In A Familiar Spot
7. Vanderbilt- 0-9 in 2020- The third team in the SEC East with a new coach as Clark Lea takes over in Nashville. Lea, a former Commodore player comes from Notre Dame where he was defensive coordinator. As a true freshman, Ken Seals put up respectable numbers throwing for 1,928 yards and 10 touchdowns. Lea brought in former Arizona Cardinals wide receivers coach David Raih to lead the offense. As a result, look for the Commodores to incorporate a pro-style spread attack. Temple transfer Re’Mahn Davis, who ran for 936 yards and eight scores, takes over at running back. The strength of the unit is at wide receiver where Cam Johnson and his 56 receptions return.
The defensive side of the ball gets a big boost with linebacker Feleti Afemui returning after opting out of the 2020 season. Last year’s leading tackler Anfernee Orji provides depth as well. Winning at Vandy is always tough but the school should give Lea ample time to prove his worth.
Key Games- At South Carolina- October 16th, Kentucky- November 13th, At Tennessee- November 27th
Now that we’ve run down how we think the SEC East plays out let’s put some numbers on it.
- Georgia 11-1 8-0 SEC
- Florida 9-3 5-3 SEC
- Kentucky 9-3 5-3 SEC
- Missouri 8-4 4-4 SEC
- Tennessee 5-7 3-5 SEC
- South Carolina 4-8 2-6 SEC
- Vanderbilt 2-10 0-8 SEC
Thanks for checking out our 2021 SEC East Predictions here at Last Word On College Football. Next time we’ll look at the west and can anyone beat Alabama?