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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 24, 2015 at 7:00 PM

When the Missouri Tigers joined the SEC East a couple of years ago, it was assumed that they’d quickly learn a hard lesson about how great SEC football was. No way a Big 12 “finesse” team was going to come in and compete physically with the brutes of the SEC!

Well…Missouri shocked the world by winning the East in their inaugural season…then shocked everyone again by repeating! What happened Georgia? Where did you go Florida? Hey, why isn’t the old ball coach at South Carolina doing something about this?!

Those three teams plus Tennessee are all looking to make headlines this year after winning their bowl games and talking about upgrades in the offseason. It’s still not as strong as the West division (which we’ll discuss on these pages tomorrow). But there’s a lot to like about the SEC East in 2015…at least if offseason media hype is to believed. Let’s run the numbers to see if that hype is justified. All information comes from the respected Athlon newsstand publication.



2014 Record: 10-3

2014 Rankings: 28 on offense, 17 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Mark Richt

Notebook: The Bulldogs were Preseason #8 last year…yet couldn’t maintain consistency during a three-loss campaign. At their best, they could seemingly play with anybody. They’ve brought in Brian Schottenheimer from the NFL to upgrade the offensive attack. That could just lead to more turnovers! Particularly with a lack of experience at quarterback. The running game looks like it will be stellar, so back the Bulldogs against opponents who are soft vs. the run. We’ve learned to be skeptical of this program. We’ll stay open-minded. South Carolina is the only tough game of September. October is brutal with Alabama, at Tennessee, Missouri, and the cocktail party with Florida providing quite a gauntlet. Can Richt find consistency?



2014 Record: 7-6

2014 Rankings: 90 on offense, 36 on defense

Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 8 on defense

Head Coach: Butch Jones

Notebook: Whoa…Tennessee jumped all the way up to #2 in the division? This is one of the most intriguing programs in college football this season. They certainly closed 2014 well, but beating Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Iowa doesn’t mean you’ve arrived. You can see that a lot of experience returns. And the offense did get things going once Josh Dobbs took over at quarterback. For now, we’re going to assume the mainstream media is overly gung ho about the Vols. Being better doesn’t mean you’re “great.” Let’s see what happens September 12 vs. Oklahoma, and then the final Saturday of the month at Florida.



2014 Record: 7-5

2014 Rankings: 93 on offense, 15 on defense

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Jim McElwain (from Colorado State)

Notebook: The embarrassing Will Muschamp era has come to an end. Remember when he was going to be the next super-coach? The media seems to be penciling in a resurgence just because Muschamp left! Sorry…but it’s hard to go from helpless to strong on offense in a finger snap, particularly with so few returning starters. McElwain did well in the Mountain West. Is he ready to lead an SEC program after being a coordinator in this conference? There are reasons to expect a step forward…but not necessarily a return to the Top 25. A home game vs. East Carolina will prove a nice September test before the Tennessee game. It gets much tougher after that. It may take awhile for recruiting to recover from the Muschamp mess.



2014 Record: 11-3

2014 Rankings: 95 on offense, 23 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Gary Pinkel

Notebook: Well…here’s Missouri. Once again they’re seen as a middle-of-the-pack team that’s going to be outclassed. Yet, they still have decent talent amidst a group of SEC East question marks. Important to note that quarterback Maty Mauk has been NOWHERE near as good as his hype (see that #95 team offensive ranking). Will be tough to know what to expect until October brings South Carolina, Florida, and at Georgia in successive weeks. Who knows, may be a three-peat is possible.


South Carolina

2014 Record: 7-6

2014 Rankings: 33 on offense, 92 on defense

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier

Notebook: The Gamecocks were preseason #9 in Athlon last year before kicking the ball around toward a 7-6 finish. That season opening 52-28 loss to Texas A&M was a real shocker…and then the Aggies turned out not to be very good anyway! Quarterback is likely to be a huge problem for an inexperienced offense under a grouchy head coach. We could be seeing Spurrier’s career wind down as he loses touch with the game. Defense will be a big concern…and the offense may not be able to make up for what’s being allowed. Tough to bounce back from a relative collapse with such an inexperienced offense.



2014 Record: 5-7

2014 Rankings: 79 on offense, 75 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Mark Stoops

Notebook: The Wildcats started the season 5-1, with the only loss coming in overtime vs. Florida. Remember how excited the SEC media (and ESPN) got when that was happening! The Wildcats lost every time out after that and didn’t qualify for a bowl. The program is moving in the right direction though under Stoops. They’re no longer a doormat. Patrick Towles at quarterback will give them a chance to compete in a tough September that includes South Carolina, Florida, and Missouri. Talk about getting thrown right into the fire! Probably best for undersized programs to have big conference games that early. Wildcats might provide early season value again.



2014 Record: 3-9

2014 Rankings: 122 on offense, 68 on defense

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 9 on defense

Head Coach: Derek Mason

Notebook: The three victories were over UMASS, Charleston Southern, and Old Dominion. So….they were more like a 1-11 team in terms of major conference standards. They did have some competitive losses though…and they do return a lot of starters. The season opener vs. Western Kentucky will tell us a lot about the overall outlook. September SEC matches against Georgia and Ole Miss will be very difficult. At first glance, hard to see how this team climbs out of the cellar unless there’s a surprising collapse above. Maybe they’ll be 3-5 points better in Power Ratings while staying in last place.

On the whole…we have to respect the respectable bowl results from this group (wins and covers for Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Florida, and South Carolina vs. Louisville, Iowa, Minnesota, East Carolina, and Miami respectively). Yet…if you stuck those victims in the SEC, they wouldn’t look very good! We’ll stick with our assessment that the media is over-hyping this division until we see evidence showing otherwise. Luckily, challenging September schedules will give us some good reads.

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We’ll finish the SEC tomorrow with a look at a slew of projected superpowers. Other conference previews are coming up later in the week in the NOTEBOOK…

Sunday: College Football Preview…SEC “West”

Monday: MLB Series Preview…Detroit at Tampa Bay

Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…LA Angels at Houston

Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview…NY Yankees at Texas

Thursday: College Football Preview…American Athletic Conference

Friday: College Football Preview…the Independents

Saturday: College Football Preview…ACC Atlantic

Sunday August 2: College Football Preview…ACC Coastal

We hope you’re printing out all of these conference previews. And, we hope you’re using the virtual printing press for BIG, JUICY WINNERS that is JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!


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