Florida Gators Face Two Challengers for SEC East Supremacy

Jay HendryCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2010

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 06:  The Florida Gators celebrate their 31-20 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship on December 6, 2008 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Florida Gators have been in both the BCS and SEC title picture since Urban Meyer stepped onto Florida Field.  The remainder of the SEC East, for the most part, has not. There has been no clear number two in the East for the past five years, with the 2005 Georgia team and 2007 Tennessee team both needing help to get to the SEC championship game.

Part of this is because of the Gators' dominance.  The Gators have been a one loss team three times in the past five years.  There is more talent in Gainesville than there is in any other city in the SEC East.

However, it is a two way street.  The Gators pulled such a high number of top recruits because nobody was really challenging them for the talent (that is, until Saban arrived, but that's a whole other article).

Tennessee was up and down until 2008 and has been down ever since.  Georgia has been in a slow slide since the 2008 Sugar Bowl win over Hawaii.  South Carolina never really got it together under Spurrier.  Kentucky has been steadily improving, but still has a long way to go.  Vanderbilt is...well, Vandy is Vandy.

Florida hasn't had to worry about their division recently.  In fact, the Gators are 23–2 since 2005 against SEC East opponents.  The status quo has been, "worry about Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and other SEC West opponents first.  Win those games and an SEC Championship game is guaranteed."

When you look at who has played in the SEC championship game, that becomes more clear.  In both 2005 and 2007, the years Florida failed to make it to Atlanta, the Gators beat the eventual Eastern champion in their regular season matchup.  The Gators are always the team to beat in the East, even in their off years.

Sure there's been some close games, but most came in Meyer's first two years.  After Meyer got rid of that pesky "real quarterback" and installed his system guy, Tebow, the Gators won by an average margin of 25.53 points per game over SEC East opponents.

Hey, conclusion jumper, sit down.  I realize that Vanderbilt and Kentucky are in the SEC East, and I realize that the Gators wax those two teams quite regularly.  If you're still here, and you haven't jumped to the comments to tell me what I think you are going to tell me, then I'll break down the SEC East by average margin of victory since 2007.

Gators' SEC East Opponents since 2007
Georgia 30–42 (L) 49–10 41–17 AVG: 17 High: 39 Low: -12
Kentucky 45–37 63–5 41–7 AVG:33.33 High: 58 Low: 8
South Carolina 51–31 56–6 24–14 AVG: 26.67 High: 50 Low: 10
Tennessee 59–20 30–6 23–13 AVG: 24.33 High: 39 Low: 10
Vanderbilt 49–22 42–14 27–3 AVG: 26.33 High: 28

Low: 24


As you can see, the Gators haven't had any competition in their division recently.  They have only one loss, and only one single score victory outside of that (2007 Kentucky).  Furthermore, every team was beaten by an average margin of 17 points or more (three scores). 

You can argue "close" two touchdown games.  I don't like it, but some people call 14 point wins "close".  You can't argue anything close about a three score game.  17 points is a blowout no matter how you slice it.

So why did I just feed you all of that delicious 100 percent whole grain stat?  It's not just because stats are loaded fiber and you need your fiber.  For the first time in three years, the Gators are going to face real adversity week in and week out, something that the players on this team haven't seen.

For the first time in at least two years, the Gators aren't miles better than everyone in their division.  For the first time in three years, they don't have the best offense either. The Gators have two real challengers in the SEC East this year. 

South Carolina has a better rushing attack than Florida.  Jeff Demps is very good, but Lattimore is a star in the making.

The Gamecocks may have a better quarterback with that fourth stringer-turned-starter-thanks-to-an-all-you-can-eat-calamari-buffet, Mayhem.  He's looked pretty good through two games.  He has yet to throw a touchdown, but Garcia can move the ball with his arm and his legs.

Their defense is stouter up front, and their kicker is less erratic, too.  Florida has an advantage in returns and the secondary, and that's about it right now.  On paper, South Carolina should be the better team (note: the Gators also have a depth advantage, which goes a long way when your teams play each other in week 11).

Georgia is minus their best player right now and hung in tough with South Carolina on Saturday.  Watch out for AJ Green once he returns.  He's going to be as mad as any player ever, and he's going to make opponents pay as soon as he can return to the field.

Georgia's quarterbacking situation is similar to Florida's minus the enormous pressure that Brantley has to carry.  I think Brantley has more talent at receiver than Aaron Murray does while Green is out, but Green is such a game changer that he may make that entire mediocre receiving corps great.

Once again, Florida's secondary is second to none.  Georgia hasn't been bad at pass defense, but Florida is out of this world good right now.  Teams will have to run to win against the Gators, and Georgia's rushing game is only mediocre this year. 

All three teams have bad SEC West schedules.  South Carolina's is probably the worst, by getting the three A's (Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas).  None of the three East teams should expect to run through the SEC West unscathed.  However, the team that wants to win it all can't drop more than one of their three cross–divisional games.

Overall, the Gators have been caught up to.  South Carolina is probably the biggest threat, as they're a more complete team.  That's good for the Gators though, as South Carolina plays Florida in Gainesville, and the Gators have time to work out their new offense before facing the Gamecocks.

Georgia isn't bad, but they're probably a step behind.  A trip up by Florida or a couple of SC losses puts Georgia right in the mix though.  They're good enough to compete; good enough to win, really.

The rest of the SEC East is less dangerous, but this is 2007 all over again.  FCS schools beat FBS teams on the regular.  FBS schools that lost to FCS schools beat BCS conference champions.  To channel Yogi Berra: Don't count out the SEC East's "bottom three", just don't count on them.

It's a wacky year. One that could lead to a wacky SEC East result. The Florida Gators could get knocked off the mountain top by a team who actually beats them on the field.