Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 7:00 PM
The SEC East used to be so easy to understand. Florida was going to enter every season as the favorite. Georgia was going to be knocking on the door. South Carolina was going to be a capable spoiler that didn’t quite have the depth to be a true college superpower. Maybe Tennessee was going to be a threat…maybe not. And, then you had Kentucky and Vanderbilt as annual patsies.
Now…Florida’s program has COLLAPSED under disappointing head coach Will Muschamp. Georgia keeps “just missing” its destiny, and must now rebuild with a new quarterback. South Carolina is still an annual spoiler, but now better positioned because of Florida’s collapse and Georgia’s missteps. And, out of the blue, MISSOURI from the Big 12 is suddenly a force to be reckoned with.
Missouri was supposed to get crushed in its transition…as a finesse team from a league of soft defenses to a power league of teams with physical defenses. Instead, it was the Tigers shocking the world in 2013 with an East Division Crown…and it’s the Tigers who are being picked by many pundits to repeat in 2014!
Let’s see what the numbers have to say. Remember that returning starter data comes from the respected Athlon publication.
2013 Record: 12-2
2013 Rankings: 16 on offense, 81 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Gary Pinkel
Notebook: You can see that graduation took its toll on the Tigers. Sophomore quarterback Matty Mauk saw plenty of action last year, and looks poised to unleash the full force of his potential at the helm in 2014. Can he make up for all of the lost personnel? A soft early schedule only provides a road game at Toledo as a true test (though it’s possible Central Florida or Indiana could make things interesting in Columbia). The newcomers have a chance to gel before the SEC opener at South Carolina on September 27. Will the de facto Eastern Championship game be played in September?! JIM HURLEY is concerned about the defense given last year’s poor ranking and this year’s new starters.
2013 Record: 11-2
2013 Rankings: 36 on offense, 19 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier
Notebook: Quarterback Dylan Thompson has never been “the man” during his Gamecock career, but he has a lot of experience because Steve Spurrier’s quarterbacks tend to get injured! That will probably happen to Thompson too at some point. You can’t keep asking you signal callers to take so many hits. Carolina has the most offensive experience returning, and the program has been solid on defense ever since Spurrier returned from the NFL. They’d better be ready to start fast with Texas A&M, Georgia, and Missouri coming to visit before October! An unlucky schedule draw sends them to Auburn in late October.
2013 Record: 8-5
2013 Rankings: 17 on offense, 45 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 10 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Notebook: Aaron Murray is gone. Senior Hutson Mason didn’t really impress in the Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska. That’s why so many pundits are skeptical about the Bulldogs even though 10 starters return on defense. The first two games against Clemson at South Carolina will set the tone for the season. Great to have a conference with so many big early games to talk about! Like South Carolina, Georgia has to face defending SEC champs Auburn in cross-divisional play. We will pick our spots with this team, particularly if Mason holds his own early.
2013 Record: 9-4
2013 Rankings: 93 on offense, 23 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Derek Mason
Notebook: There’s a perception that former head coach James Franklin was the single most important key to the program’s recent turnaround. He’s now the head coach at Penn State. That fact, plus the extremely low numbers of returning starters may be setting up a return to doormat status for the Commodores. A home game against Ole Miss on September 6 will tell us a lot. For now, we’re skeptical about this team coming anywhere near last year’s 9-4 success story.
2013 Record: 4-8
2013 Rankings: 113 on offense, 8 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Will Muschamp
Notebook: It’s a minor miracle that Muschamp kept his job after going 4-8 last year and losing a November home game to Georgia Southern. It’s certainly now or never. The defense will still be great. Can the offense improve with so little experience back? Jeff Driskel is a decent threat at quarterback when healthy. JIM HURLEY’S in-house Power Ratings have Florida ahead of Vandy even though Athlon doesn’t. Three tune-ups lead into an October 20 game at Alabama. Bad luck to also draw LSU in cross-divisional play.
2013 Record: 5-7
2013 Rankings: 102 on offense, 83 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Butch Jones
Notebook: Last year’s schedule was brutal. Highlights included an upset of South Carolina, and taking Georgia to overtime in a tough loss. But, also on the slate were Oregon, Auburn, Alabama, and the best from this division. You have to stay skeptical until the new starters show something. They’ll get a chance to do that with Utah State, Oklahoma, and Georgia on the schedule before October.
2013 Record: 2-10
2013 Rankings: 107 on offense, 91 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Stoops
Notebook: The Wildcats were awful last year, with their only wins coming over Alabama State and a horrible Miami of Ohio team. There’s room to improve and still trail the rest of the pack. There may be some value spots early in the season before the undersized athletes run out of gas.
We’re looking at what should at least be an entertaining race…and what could conceivably be a fantastic race if Georgia and Florida can get into the picture. The rest of the SEC is coming up tomorrow, as we end our summer series of college football previews with the best division in the entire sport…the SEC “West.”
Hopefully you’ve been spending this summer building your bankrolls for the coming football season. If now, start NOW by purchasing game day baseball BEST BETS here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about baseball or football service, call us at 1-888-777-4155. Don’t forget that the NFL Preseason starts Sunday!
Here’s this week’s schedule in the NOTEBOOK…
Thursday: College Football…SEC “West” Preview
Friday: MLB Series Preview: Milwaukee at St. Louis
Saturday: MLB Big Game Preview: either Seattle at Baltimore or LAA at Tampa Bay
Sunday: NFC East Preview to get you ready for the NYG vs. Buffalo in the Hall of Fame Game!
Monday: MLB Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels at the Los Angeles Dodgers!
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview: either Detroit at NYY, or SF at Milwaukee
Key handicapping information in the NOTEBOOK, and then BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!