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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 7:00 AM

The SEC East will likely feature one of the most competitive divisional races in all of college football if the qualifications are QUALITY and COMPETITIVENESS. Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida were all quality teams in 2012…all return their starting quarterbacks…all return other high impact talent…with neither establishing certain superiority over the other two.

There will be other great races across the sport, but none with trios this good. The SEC West may have its own blockbuster battle amongst Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU (previewed yesterday on these pages). But, early Power Ratings have Alabama well clear of the other two. Somebody’s going to have to “upset” Alabama to make that a classic three-way race. Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida are all within fractions of each other in early estimates.

Here’s are look at the SEC East, as we continue our summer series of college football conference previews. Note that returning starter data comes from the respected Athlon publication. Be sure to look for the big display ad for JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK on page 173 across from Notre Dame!

 

SEC EAST

GEORGIA

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 3 on defense

Quarterback: Aaron Murray

Head Coach: Mark Richt

Georgia is already a popular top five pick nationally even though they lost most of their defense. They might be a consensus #2 behind Alabama if they hadn’t been hurt so badly on that side of the ball. Murray had a big year in a killer conference in 2012, and will be on the short list for Heisman Trophy candidates if the Bulldogs keep winning. Murray and the team can frontload media coverage with a brutal opening stretch that includes a road game at Clemson, and home games against South Carolina and LSU. Some teams will have barely played a real game by the start of October. Georgia will have had THREE major TV showcases.

 

SOUTH CAROLINA

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense

Quarterback: Connor Shaw

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier

You know that the Gamecocks won with defense last year, led by force of nature Jadeveon Clowney. That side of the ball is going to have plenty of swagger again in 2013 even while losing some players. Can the offense score enough to put them over the top in their biggest challenge games? Last year’s team ranked #11 on defense but only #82 on offense. Shaw is a game manager…which works great when the other team is making turnovers…but not so great when SC has to drive the field in a must-score situation. A soft schedule is headlined by their two East rivals and Clemson. Easiest slate of the East’s big three.

 

FLORIDA

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 3 on defense

Quarterback: Jeff Driskell

Head Coach: Will Muschamp

The Gators will have the toughest time getting up to speed of the big three. And, we don’t have them as close to Georgia and SC in our own proprietary numbers as many other paces do. Florida was hurt on both sides of the ball by graduation. The offense was pretty horrible most of the year outside of their ability to occasionally break long runs vs. soft defenses. They couldn’t play catch up vs. Louisville in the Sugar Bowl once that game got out of hand. The schedule is no friend this year either, with road games at Miami-FL, LSU, and South Carolina. This still a lot of athleticism on the roster of course. Florida would bully people in lesser conferences. They are likely to be outclassed in this division unless they find a way to move the ball consistently.

 

VANDERBILT

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense

Quarterback: Austin Carta-Samuels (transfer from Wyoming)

Head Coach: James Franklin

Vanderbilt made tremendous strides last year, stringing together impressive late season victories and a double digit bowl win over NC State. They have to replace their quarterback. And, there were off-season headlines that could prove to be a distraction. Vandy wanted to upgrade their program in a killer conference…but they didn’t want to do that by bringing in guys who get arrested or skip classes! We will look for value spots in the line either as live dogs or bullying favorites.

 

TENNESSEE

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense

Quarterback: ???

Head Coach: Butch Jones (new)

What a mess! New head coach, new quarterback, for a team that only went 1-7 in conference play last year. Three of their five full season wins were over Georgia State, Akron, and Troy. There is talent here…which means new coach Butch Jones has a chance to get things moving in the right direction quickly. He’d better! Or Tennessee is going to become the new Kentucky in this division.

 

MISSOURI

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense

Quarterback: James Franklin

Head Coach: Gary Pinkel

Once again the Missouri quarterback has the same name as the Vanderbilt coach. If you didn’t know that, you need to pay more attention when handicapping college football! A rude awakening for the Tigers last year, who could only manage a 2-6 record in their first year in the SEC. The league is much more physical than the Big 12…which created injury problems very quickly. The program will love the additional money that comes in from this marquee conference. They may have bitten off more than they can chew in terms of staying competitive. Staying healthy is of the utmost importance for this veteran team.

 

KENTUCKY

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense

Quarterback: ???

Head Coach: Mark Stoops (new)

Interesting stuff going on with the Wildcats. We have a Stoops at head coach, which should mean better defense and more toughness. The offense is going all in with a version of the spread that you’ll recognize from the way Texas Tech runs it. Generally speaking, the SEC is NOT a great league for running the spread because monster linemen will annihilate your quarterback. Having to play Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama in succession in their first three SEC games will provide the ultimate test for the new approach. We’re interested, but skeptical.

JIM HURLEY has had great success for years in the SEC…and that’s led to great success in bowl games and National Championships because the SEC is so much stronger than everyone else. Will Las Vegas ever catch up?! You can sign up for a full season of the very best from college and pro football right here at the website. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453

Our run through major conference previews continues tomorrow and Thursday with the Big 10. We’ll devote Friday to baseball when MLB returns from the All-Star Break. Then, it’s back to college football for the weekend with the two divisions of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

These few days off for baseball provide the perfect opportunity for you to finalize your football plans. TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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