2014 SEC East Picks

Here come the picks and we’ll begin by taking a look at the Eastern division.  Anytime you have either Florida or Tennessee having down years (and the Vols have had a lot lately), the SEC East will seem down and that’s the case this year, too.  

South Carolina and Georgia are clearly the class of this division and it’s somewhat of a shame that these two meet so early in the season.  Ah, but such is life.  On to the picks…

1) South Carolina Gamecocks [Overall 11-1, SEC 7-1] – The Gamecocks make it four straight 11 win seasons and find their way to Atlanta for the second time. The ‘Cocks will survive Texas A&M and Georgia in the first three weeks of the season, but fall to Auburn in their October trip the Plains.

2) Georgia Bulldogs [10-2, 6-2] – An early loss to South Carolina will ultimately keep the Dawgs from their second trip to the SEC championship game in three years. Their other loss will come late to longtime rival Auburn. [Edit: Actually, that would be three out of four years.]

3) Missouri Tigers [8-4, 4-4] – The Tigers take a step back from last season’s SEC East division championship. New starting quarterback Maty Mauk will play well, but not good enough to prevent four conference losses.

4) Tennessee Volunteers [6-6, 3-5] – The Vols become bowl eligible in their second season under Butch Jones.  A win in week six over division rival Florida is the highlight of this season as UT ends a skid of three straight seasons with no bowl.

5) Florida Gators [6-6, 3-5] – If Gator coach Will Muschamp is indeed on the hot seat, things will only get hotter by season’s end. The conference scheduler did Florida no favors by writing in games against Alabama and LSU, both losses.

6) Kentucky Wildcats [4-8, 1-7] – Baby steps. That’s the key phrase for Wildcat fans this season, the second under head coach Mark Stoops. The ‘Cats haven’t won a conference game since 2011, but should get one this year against Vanderbilt.

7) Vanderbilt Commodores [4-8, 0-8] – Speaking of Vanderbilt, things return to normal for the ‘Dores this year as their streak of three straight bowl games end. If you’re a Commodore, you’re thankful for out of conference games.

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SEC East Swing Games

UGA’s Todd Gurley

The conference schedule for SEC teams can be a meat grinder.  Win that big game against your divisional rival and the next week you’re on the road heading into an ambush.  The week after that?  Another conference foe is ready to take you down.

That’s one reason why it’s so impressive for an SEC team to run the table with an undefeated season.  It’s also a reason why a one loss (and occasional two-loss) team can play for a national title.

As teams move through their schedule, though, there’s usually one stretch of games that define the season.  For some teams, that stretch determines whether it will be a championship season.  For others, it means the difference between bowling and staying home.  For some, it might decide the fate of the coaching staff.

So let’s take a look at the toughest stretch of games for each SEC team.  These group of games will likely determine the overall outcome of each team’s season.  We’ll start with the SEC East (in alphabetical order).

Florida – The schedule isn’t kind to the Gators this season and they’ll have a lot of work to do to move past their 4-8 2013.  Alabama and Florida State dot the schedule, but the October stretch against Tennessee, LSU and Missouri is the most important stretch for the Gators.  Win two of three and Florida moves to .500 or better for the season and Will Mushchamp likely makes it back for 2015.

Georgia – Clemson and South Carolina in September are tough, but there’s a bye week in between and a loss to either (or both) doesn’t wreck the Dawgs’ hopes for an SEC title.  Beginning September 27th, the Dawgs begin a four game stretch against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Arkansas that will either propel UGA toward a title in the East or send folks screaming for Mark Richt’s head.

Kentucky – There’s nowhere to go but up for the Wildcats, and they will likely be improved. For the Cats, though, the five game stretch also beginning on October 18th will tell us just how bad things will get.  LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee form a murderer’s row for Kentucky that will tell us how much fight is in Mark Stoops’ team.  Will they quit or take a step forward?

Missouri – The defending SEC East champs don’t have a horrendous schedule.  It comes in bite size chunks that Gary Pinkel’s team looks to swallow for a return to Atlanta.  The key stretch, however, begins on October 11th against Georgia and continues with Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.  The UGA and Florida games could go either way, but can the Tigers keep their intensity through all four games.

South Carolina – The Gamecocks have several high profile match-ups sprinkling their schedule, but the four game stretch beginning on September 13 will tell us if Steve Spurrier can reach double-digit wins for four straight years.  Georgia, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Kentucky fill the stretch before the Carolina’s first by week and while the Dores and Cats don’t strike fear on paper, no one expected a loss to a weak Tennessee team last year.

Tennessee – The Volunteers have four straight losing seasons.  Adding a non-conference game against Oklahoma certainly won’t help Butch Jones break that streak.  Getting to six wins may come down to the last week of the season, so that makes the last three games the most critical stretch for the Vols.  It’s entirely possible that the Vols will have to sweep Kentucky, Missouri and Vandy to go bowling.

Vanderbilt – If there’s a team expected to make a leap backwards this season, it’s Vandy.  The Dores may scratch out six wins this year, but it’s an early season stretch against South Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia that will tell us how together Derek Mason has his team.

 

2012 SEC East Predictions

After going through the schedule three times and predicting the outcomes for each team, I’m finally ready to release my 2012 SEC predictions. The first two times through the schedule provided very similar results – two teams from each division had almost perfect records (guess who?) and all the other teams were very ordinary to bad.   After some thought, I decided my predictions made too much sense, so I went back for a third time and threw in a monkey wrench or two.

Let’s start in the East first…

SEC EAST

1) Georgia Bulldogs [11-1 (7-1)] – Schedules mean something in the SEC and Georgia’s is very favorable. They’ll lose their showdown with South Carolina, but every other game goes in the win column. Their run game will be suspect again with the loss of Isaiah Crowell, but Ken Malcome and Keith Marshall will be enough the loss.  Junior quarterback Aaron Murray is also one of the league’s best and the Dawg defense is nasty and will likely be the best unit in the league.

2) South Carolina Gamecocks [9-3 (6-2)] – These are the best of times for Carolina, but not good enough for a return to Atlanta for the second time in three years. The talent level in Columbia is improving by leaps and bounds, but they lose defenders Melvin Ingram and Stephon Gilmore and lose talented receiver Alshon Jeffery who is deferring his gas pumping gig to play for the Chicago Bears.  To put things bluntly, I doubt Marcus Lattimore will return at 100% (at least not this year) and I don’t think Connor Shaw is enough to put the Gamecocks in the conference title game. I’m predicting a win over Georgia, but losses to LSU, Florida and Clemson. Don’t like the Florida prediction?  Well, Arkansas is also a good shot at a loss as well.

3) Vanderbilt Commodores [8-4 (5-3)] – Vanderbilt?  Third in the East?  Yep, I’m in strange territory, but if you look at the schedule it’s at least possible. Pencil in losses to South Carolina, Northwestern, Georgia and Missouri.  Also pencil in wins over Presbyterian, UMass and Wake Forest. Wins over Kentucky and Ole Miss aren’t gimmes, but they are close (well, Ole Miss is a gimme).  That’s five wins and four losses so far. Add upsets over Florida (payback for last year), Auburn (not so much a stretch) and a win over Tennessee (more payback) – all played in Nashville – and there you go.

4) Florida Gators [7-5 (4-4)] – Excuse me if I don’t jump on the Will Muschamp year two band wagon. The Gator defense will be salty, but the offense?  Not so much. The Gators are continue to move to a pro-style offense post-Urban Meyer, but the running game won’t be up to par yet.  Losses to LSU, Georgia and Florida State are extremely likely. Score losses also against Texas A&M in the Aggies first home conference game and against Vanderbilt as the Dores settle a grudge from last year. I do predict a Gator upset of South Carolina but, overall, Gator fans won’t be happy this season.

5) Missouri Tigers [8-4 (4-4)] – This won’t be a bad first season in the SEC for the Tigers. Outside of league play Mizzou has three reasonably tough games – Arizona State and Central Florida and Syracuse – but should win all three. Tough, key wins will come against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Texas A&M.

6) Tennessee Volunteers [4-8 (1-7)] – The recent Da’Rick Rogers news backed me off the Tennessee bandwagon a bit. Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter (if he’s healthy) will be tough, but it’s just not enough. The offensive line will be improved, but the running game won’t necessarily be.  The losses will get started next week against N.C. State in Atlanta and will be frequent after that. I think Derek Dooley needs a 7-5 record to save his hide, but I don’t think that will happen. You can thank Da’Rick for that.

7) Kentucky Wildcats [3-9 (0-8)] – Wildcat fans don’t care how bad their team is.  They won a basketball title last season, remember?  By mid October UK officials may be hunting for Bobby Petrino’s number.

SEC 2011: Review of the Preview

Way back in the pre-season, I predicted the order of finish for both divisions in the SEC, along with who I thought would meet next Saturday in Atlanta.  Now that the regular season is finished, let’s take a look at how I did.

SEC East

1) Georgia Actual 10-2 (7-1), Predicted  10-2 ( 7-1)

  • Preview: “Mark Richt will remain on the hot seat after the Bulldogs lose to Boise and South Carolina, but 10 straight wins later, his future in Athens is extended.  Georgia probably has the league’s best quarterback, at least for this year, and brings in hotshot freshman Isaiah Crowell, who will try to be this year’s version of Marcus Lattimore or Michael Dyer.”
  • Review: This is probably my best call of the season, although I thought South Carolina would wind up in Atlanta.  Crowell had a decent year, but never came close to Lattimore status.  Murray exceeded expectations and has a good shot to be the SEC’s offensive player of the year.

2) South Carolina Actual 10-2 (6-2), Predicted 11-1 (7-1)

  • Preview: “Steve Spurrier calls this his best team yet in Columbia.  If OBC can keep his troops clear of the buffet lines and cocktail parties he may be right.  Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Stephon Gilmore and yes, even Stephen Garcia make it hard to pick against the Gamecocks for a repeat.  They’ll stumble against Mississippi State, but earn another berth in the SEC Championship Game.”
  • Review: The Gamecocks successfully transitioned from Garcia to Connor Shaw and finally hit their stride when Shaw came up to speed.  Although the Gamecocks lost to Arkansas, it was a lackluster loss to Auburn that kept them from a repeat trip to Atlanta.

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SEC East Preview

The college football season is less than two weeks away, team camps are winding down and game plans are beginning be focused for the opening game. I guess it’s time for our preseason predictions. Let’s start by taking a look at the SEC East.

6) Vanderbilt (4-8, 0-8) A new head coach and 11 returning starters on offense, but the Commodores still play in the SEC. The Dores will beat up on out-of-conference foes, but struggle with league teams.

5) Kentucky (5-7, 1-7) Former coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips takes over the Wildcats and their string of five straight bowls seasons ends after their 27th straight loss to the Tennessee Vols.

4) Tennessee (7-5, 3-5) Derek Dooley’s second edition of the Vols improves by one game in the regular season and they make their third straight bowl. An October stretch of Georgia, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina is the make or break portion of the season.

3) Florida (7-5, 4-4) A new coaching staff, thin roster (albeit talented) and a tough schedule make this another subpar year for the Gators. Will Muschamp’s first Florida team will struggle record-wise but won’t be an easy out. Expect losses to Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State.

2) Georgia (10-2, 7-1) Mark Richt will remain on the hot seat after the Bulldogs lose to Boise and South Carolina, but 10 straight wins later, his future in Athens is extended.  Georgia probably has the league’s best quarterback, at least for this year, and brings in hotshot freshman Isaiah Crowell, who will try to be this year’s version of Marcus Lattimore or Michael Dyer.

1) South Carolina (11-1, 7-1)  Steve Spurrier calls this his best team yet in Columbia.  If OBC can keep his troops clear of the buffet lines and cocktail parties he may be right.  Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Stephon Gilmore and yes, even Stephen Garcia make it hard to pick against the Gamecocks for a repeat.  They’ll stumble against Mississippi State, but earn another berth in the SEC Championship Game.