College Football Predictions: Breaking Down the SEC East
The 2011 SEC East is as wide open as it has ever been.
Florida has an entirely new looking both on the field with its players and on the sideline with its coaches. Georgia is on the verge of making a coaching change itself.
Tennessee is approaching its fourth year with three different head coaches. South Carolina has to find a way to repeat the year it had in 2010.
And then there is Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the perennial basement dwellers. While many things are uncertain, their status of the worst of the SEC East is set in stone every year.
From #1 to #6, here are my predictions for the SEC East final standings for the 2011 season.
No. 6: Vanderbilt Commodores
I live just thirty miles south of Nashville, Tennessee, home to Vanderbilt University.
The local sports radio shows do their best to throw Vanderbilt Commodores football a bone from time to time, but the truth is that any sign of success is worthy of a parade down West End Avenue.
Former university chancellor Gordon Gee dissolved the athletic department in 2003, claiming that sports should not have their own department at an academic institution.
And Vandy fans wonder why they can't get going as a program.
Using the high academic standards is no longer an excuse after seeing the incredible success of the Stanford Cardinal last year.
A successful season for new head coach James Franklin would be defending the home field against out of conference foes Elon, UConn, and Army.
No. 5: Kentucky Wildcats
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The Kentucky Wildcat's window for moderate success closed with the graduation of several key seniors, including do-all offensive star, Randall Cobb.
Cobb averaged nearly eight yards per rush and accumulated over 1,000 yards receiving in 2010. The Wildcat faithful loved him, and they should have.
Mike Hartline, Kentucky's quarterback for 2010, showed flashes of real talent but was unable to put it together in the big games.
He was suspended from the BBVA Compass Bowl due to an arrest, bringing his senior year to a disappointing end.
Derrick Locke and Chris Matthews, solid contributors at running back and receiver respectively, are also gone due to graduation.
You have to scroll a long way down on the 2010 individual statistics for the Wildcats to find an underclassman who can make an impact in 2011.
No. 4: Georgia Bulldogs
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If Mark Richt couldn't win the SEC East with Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, and A.J. Green on the same starting offense, how can we expect them to make a big jump with the players they have now?
Aaron Murray could be the best quarterback in the SEC this year. He had a 154.5 rating last year, which was good for 14th in all of Division I college football in 2010.
Receiver/tight end Orson Charles needs to step up and fill the void left by Green's departure to the NFL. He was a highly recruited player out of Tampa, Florida and is capable of being Murray's go-to target.
The defense also needs to improve its play in 2011. The unit gave up more than 22 points per game last year, including the throw away games against teams like Louisiana-Lafayette and Idaho State.
I don't see that happening, and I think the real story around Georgia in 2011 will be Richt's future.
No. 3: Florida Gators
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It's going to be fun for viewers to watch the dynamics on the Florida Gators sideline this year.
Young and unproven as a head coach, Will Muschamp will certainly have the defense playing respectfully. His defenses at the University of Texas were always well coached and played hard.
But the real story pertains to Charlie Weis and his offense. Something tells me that if Muschamp tries to meddle with Weis' offense at all, there could be a massive eruption on the coaching staff.
Weis is well known for his ego, getting into an on-field argument with Kansas City Chiefs' head coach Todd Haley last year. For some reason, Weis wants to try college again.
John Brantley had significant issues last year getting used to receiving the ball from under center.
While many people say it wasn't his fault, I simply want to note that the center, Mike Pouncey, was an NFL Draft first rounder in April.
It's going to take a few years for Florida to get back on its feet after another Urban Meyer desertion.
No. 2: Tennessee Volunteers
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They're young. They're tested. They're the Tennessee Volunteers offense.
In case you haven't noticed, I'm very focused on offense when it comes to college football. That's because in the college game, that's what wins.
Tyler Bray was inserted as the starter after the grueling Florida and Alabama games last year.
Head coach Derek Dooley says that wasn't done on purpose, but either way, he was able to get his feet wet without get drowned.
Bray has a number of options in the passing game including future first rounder (you heard it hear first) Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers, and DeAnthony Arnett.
Tauren Poole returns to capitalize on his 1,000 yard season in 2010. He will run behind a talented but young offensive line that played nearly every game last year together.
The start of something great.
No. 1: South Carolina Gamecocks
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The South Carolina Gamecocks will represent the SEC East in the conference championship for the second straight year.
The main reason? Marcus Lattimore. If you don't know him yet, please turn on the television you purchased with last month's paycheck. He's a stud at any level.
Lattimore is just a sophomore but runs with the same conviction and power as Mark Ingram did last year as a senior.
His 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010 put him right there with Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Auburn's Michael Dyer as the SEC best running back.
Steve Spurrier has a love/hate relationship with all of his quarterbacks and Stephen Garcia is no exception.
Garcia waffles between team suspension and team quarterback with Spurrier. He is a great dual-threat and Spurrier knows it, which means Garcia's troubles will probably be overlooked to make one last run with the Ole Ball Coach.
Who Needs a Playoff?
The power in SEC football has moved from East to West. Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss. There's not one pushover!
I expect to see good football played all over the conference, minus Vandy and Kentucky of course, and 2011 should be a good but building year for many East teams.
Whatever happens in the SEC Championship, I think we can all agree that it's fun to get to watch the national championship game within the conference.
The last five national champions have been SEC champions.
Say it with me: S-E-C! S-E-C!