SEC Football: Power Ranking the East Division for 2012 with Missouri
Two important things will happen next season in the SEC East division. First, the Missouri Tigers will be joining the division and should be a solid addition. Secondly, the Eastern division will start closing the gap on the West division for conference supremacy.
The East division only has one national championship contender. However, there are four teams that could win 10 games.
This is an early look at how the conference might look. However, you never know what players might declare early, get injured, or in this division, get kicked off.
With the information we have available, here is the most likely scenario.
No. 7: Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky is a really young team. However, they are also a really bad team as well. I do like their young playmakers but they are losing three key offensive linemen and three-fourths of their secondary.
Freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith and freshman running back Josh Clemmons have a great deal of potential. However, Smith will not have enough protection to set his feet, and Clemmons will not have enough holes to run through to be effective.
The defense has some young players up front but will lose five players in the back seven. Unless the Wildcats are able to grow up fast, this will be Joker Phillips' final season with Kentucky.
No. 6: Vanderbilt Commodores
Coming into this week, Vanderbilt needs a win over Wake Forest to get bowl eligible at 6-6. However, they could easily be 9-2 right now. The Commodores have lost four games on the final drive.
Vanderbilt has seven players returning on a defense that was third in the SEC in creating turnovers. They will be losing all-SEC defensive back Casey Hayward but should still have a solid unit.
The offense will take a step forward in 2012, as they have nine players returning. They are only losing one tackle and one tight end.
The reason that I do not have Vanderbilt higher is that they do not know how to win big games yet. They will be good but not great.
No. 5: Missouri Tigers
The Missouri Tigers will make their SEC debut in 2012. I lived about 40 minutes west of Columbia for six years. As a result, I have followed Missouri closely before they joined the SEC. It is going to take the Tigers a while to build the depth needed, but they are a solid football team.
However, this was not their best season to have to face an SEC schedule. They are losing two of their top three receivers, but that is not a big deal. Missouri turns out solid wide receivers each season. The problem is that they are losing three offensive linemen and that will be the difference.
Games in the SEC are won in the trenches, and Missouri will need to build depth there. Moreover, the Tigers are losing three of their four down linemen on defense.
Missouri has talent and will win some games next season, but they will be a middle-of-the-road team.
No. 4: Florida Gators
The good news for the Florida Gators is that their defense will be much better in 2012. The bad news is that the offense could be much worse. The Gators are losing senior quarterback John Brantley and running backs Chris Rainey and Jack Demps.
However, I do think this defense will be very solid next season. These young playmakers on the defensive line will have one more season under their belt and the linebacker unit should be much better. The most improved unit should be this young secondary, which was baptized by fire this season.
The difference in a bad season and a good season is simple. The offense must control the time of possession. This defense is good but they cannot stay on the field all game long.
Of all the teams below No. 1, this team has the best shot to improve because of the talent that is on campus. However, with their two home-run hitters gone on offense and special teams, Coach Will Muschamp will need someone to step up.
No. 3: Tennessee Volunteers
The Tennessee Volunteers will enter the 2012 season with no more excuses. Yes, this team was young but this is year three of the Derek Dooley era, and it is time to produce.
The Volunteers will have all the pieces needed for a dynamic defense. They will have Tyler Bray and Da’rick Rogers returning, but the most important returning player is Justin Hunter, who will be the top wide receiver in the SEC if he comes back from his injury strong.
The defense has not been very good for Tennessee this season. However, eight of their 11 starters are freshmen and sophomores. They should be able to take a step forward next season.
Critics will argue that this will still be a young Volunteers team and age-wise, they would be correct. However, they will have the game experience of seniors because the past two seasons was trial by fire.
If the Volunteers do not finish in second place next season, Dooley needs to be fired. He is likely to lose Justin Hunter and Da’rick Rogers to the NFL draft following the 2012 season. If Tyler Bray has any kind of NFL stock value, he is likely to leave early with his two top weapons.
Would the Vol nation be willing to spend another two seasons of patient rebuilding? I don’t think they will. As a result, less than nine wins means an early exit for Dooley.
No. 2: South Carolina Gamecocks
Steve Spurrier has accomplished at South Carolina what no other coach has been able to do, and that is make the Gamecocks relevant in the SEC. South Carolina won the Eastern division in 2010 and finished second in 2011 despite going undefeated against Eastern division teams.
The Gamecocks don’t lose a lot of players next season, but the ones they do lose are crucial. For example, they only graduate two off the offense. However, it is a forgone conclusion to Alshon Jeffery will declare for the NFL draft. If he does as expected, this will be a huge loss for the Gamecocks.
He is the only receiver that can command a double team. As a result, that means that there is one more man in the box to stop Lattimore.
On defense, it is much the same. They Gamecocks only lose four starters, but one of those is Melvin Ingram, who should be an All-American this season. This defense should still be solid and will keep them in ball games, but losing a play maker like Ingram will hurt.
In my opinion, Tennessee and South Carolina are a push. The difference is Steve Spurrier. However, with South Carolina having to go to Georgia so early in the season and Lattimore fresh off an injury, the Gamecocks will not be able to leap the Bulldogs.
No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs
The Georgia Bulldogs will be the top team in the Eastern division next season and really is not even close. The Bulldogs are likely to be a top five preseason team in 2012 and, with their schedule, could run the table in the regular season.
The Georgia defense will be in year three under Coach Todd Grantham with nine players returning. The Bulldogs are only losing one defensive back and one defensive end. This unit is currently No. 4 in the nation in total defense. It is likely that they will battle LSU next season for the nation’s top defense.
The offense for the Bulldogs should be solid as well. They will have Aaron Murray starting at quarterback for the third straight season and return every player at the skill positions.
It is very possible that Orson Charles will leave early for the NFL draft. However, their leading rusher and receiver are both true freshmen.
If these young Bulldogs progress properly, they could be looking to party like it's 1980 next season.