Monday, we discussed the most indispensable players in the SEC West. Today, we head east and list the most indispensable player for every SEC East team.
Florida Gators: Linebacker Jonathan Bostic
Bostic started every game last season at middle linebacker for Florida and led the team with 94 tackles. He's the unquestioned leader of that Florida defense, and he's looking to cap off his stellar career with a solid season in 2012.
Florida's defense finished eighth in the nation last year, giving up just 299.5 yards per game. As the quarterback of that defense, it's Bostic's job to make sure the defense is once again a dominant force in 2012.
Behind Bostic, there isn't a ton of experience. The Gators need a big season out of Bostic if they want to contend for the SEC East title.
Georgia Bulldogs: Quarterback Aaron Murray
Aaron Murray is one of the SEC's top quarterbacks, and he's expected to be in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy in 2012. The rising junior set the single-season Bulldog record for touchdown passes last season with 35, but he also threw 14 interceptions.
He needs to be more consistent this season if Georgia is going to take the step into legitimate national title contention.
Behind Murray, there are some issues. Fellow junior Hutson Mason is hoping to redshirt to give him at least one season as the starter, which leaves redshirt freshman Christian LeMay as the likely backup to Murray in 2012.
Kentucky Wildcats: Offensive Guard Larry Warford
Warford is one of the stars on an otherwise anonymous Kentucky football team. The 6'3", 336-pounder has proven to be one of the SEC's top offensive guards throughout his first three seasons with the Wildcats, and he was recently named to Phil Steele's preseason first-team All-SEC team.
He and Matt Smith combine for a solid veteran presence up front, which is key for any team. Behind them, though, there's a lot of youth.
Shaquille Love is listed as Warford's backup on Kentucky's most recent depth chart, but he's a redshirt freshman.
Missouri Tigers: Quarterback James Franklin
Franklin may not be known as a legitimate threat at quarterback in the SEC yet, but that will change when the junior takes the field in an SEC stadium near you this fall.
He passed for 2,865 yards and ran for 981 last season, and he's the SEC's next dual-threat quarterback star.
Behind Franklin is redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser. Berkstresser got the benefit of taking first-team snaps this spring as Franklin recovered from shoulder surgery, but the combination of inexperience and the adjustment that offensive coordinator David Yost would have to make with Berkstresser taking the snaps would be too much to overcome.
South Carolina Gamecocks: Quarterback Connor Shaw
You might have thought that this spot was reserved for running back Marcus Lattimore, and there's certainly an argument to be made there. But the Gamecocks went 5-1 after he was lost for the 2011 season with a knee injury, with the only loss coming against seventh-ranked Arkansas.
South Carolina adjusted enough without Lattimore to win the games they were supposed to win, but I'm not so sure they can do that if Shaw goes down.
Shaw improved as the season went along, which included a three-game stretch to close out the season where he averaged 219 passing yards and 80 rushing yards per game. He gets lost in an SEC quarterback conversation that includes Heisman candidates Tyler Wilson and Aaron Murray, but Shaw is a very important piece to the Gamecock puzzle.
Behind Shaw there's sophomore Dylan Thompson and junior Andrew Clifford, who have combined to throw six collegiate passes.
Tennessee Volunteers: Cornerback Prentiss Waggner
Waggner has bounced around between safety and cornerback during his career on Rocky Top, and he has made the move back to cornerback as a senior.
He had seven interceptions over the last two seasons and is being counted on to be a leader on that Vol defense in 2012.
He was listed as a first-team cornerback with Justin Coleman exiting spring practice ahead of Izauea Lanier, who was recently ruled ineligible for the 2012 season. Lanier's departure makes Waggner's presence in the defensive backfield even more important.
Why not quarterback Tyler Bray or wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers? Justin Worley got enough experience under center last season to be a viable backup, and Justin Hunter is back to complete the nation's top one-two punch at wide receiver.
Vanderbilt Commodores: Running Back Zac Stacy
Stacy ran for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns last season in relative anonymity in Nashville. He established himself as one of the SEC's top running backs and is looking to cap off his career with another bowl appearance in 2012.
Warren Norman is still there to back up Stacy, but the rising junior sat out last season with an injury. He posted a solid 2009 campaign that earned him SEC Freshman of the Year honors, but he hasn't had a carry in live game action since Oct. 30, 2010.
Wide receiver Wesley Tate was moved to running back this spring to give the commodores some depth, and Jerron Seymour is also expected to get looks as a backup.
Without Stacy, though, Vanderbilt's offense may be lost.
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