SEC Football: Down Year for the Eastern Division? No Way

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 1, 2013

Florida head coach Will Muschamp
Florida head coach Will MuschampKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For the last four seasons, a team from the SEC West—from the state of Alabama, in particular—has hoisted the crystal football at the end of the season and claimed the BCS National Championship.

But it isn't just college football's ultimate prize that has shifted the balance of power to the Western Division. Six of the eight BCS spots secured by SEC teams over the past four years have been from the Western Division—Alabama (three bids), Auburn, LSU and Arkansas.

Division power is cyclical, but there's no doubt that the SEC West is enjoying quite a run not only as the top division in the SEC, but in all of college football.

But the SEC East showed that it's on its way back last season, as Georgia came within five yards of playing for the BCS National Championship, Florida made the Sugar Bowl, South Carolina won 11 games for the second straight season and Vanderbilt won nine.

The Eastern Division was strong a year ago; but roster turnover in Athens and Gainesville, questions at skill positions on South Carolina's offense and a coaching change at Tennessee could suggest that the East could take a step back in 2013.

That won't be the case.

Georgia's offense is going to be stacked with five returning offensive linemen, a Heisman contender in quarterback Aaron Murray, two studs at running back with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and a talented wide receiving corps led by Malcolm Mitchell.

Almost all of Georgia's issues this offseason are on the defensive side of the ball—and that's a good thing. While the defense was loaded with NFL talent, it was the offense that was the driving force behind Georgia's 2012 SEC East title team.

In fact, the defense was more of a liability.

The Bulldogs gave up 182.1 yards per game on the ground last season, the third-worst mark in the SEC. With what head coach Mark Richt has coming back on offense, all the defense has to be is opportunistic.

Florida was embarrassed—and exposed—in the Sugar Bowl, but the Gators will still be back in the title mix. Quarterback Jeff Driskel will benefit tremendously from an offseason as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback, and despite having only four healthy scholarship wide receivers this spring, a talent infusion this summer should produce at least one downfield weapon.

On defense, the Gators still have an ultra-talented secondary and an incredibly athletic defensive line. They also filled immediate needs at linebacker. And while there may be a drop-off on D as the newcomers become familiar with each other, such growing pains should be offset by an improved offense.

I've already gone over my thoughts on South Carolina. Despite the loss of Marcus Lattimore and seven senior contributors on defense, the Gamecocks have the schedule and the roster to make a run not only for the SEC championship, but the BCS National Championship.

Yes, the ceiling is that high.

Throw in a Vanderbilt program that's on the rise and a more competitive Tennessee program under first-year head coach Butch Jones, and the SEC East is poised to pick up right where it left off a year ago—and could be better.

Three teams from the SEC East in the final Top 10 of both major polls for the second straight season? Don't dismiss the possibility.