2019 SEC East preview
With our look at the SEC West complete, lets mosey on over to the East where the race to the top isn’t any less contested, but might be just a touch more open.
Georgia – 11-3 (7-1) – “Close, but no cigar.” If that phrase can sum up any team over the last couple of years, it might be Georgia. Two years ago, it was having Alabama on the ropes in the National Final only to have a backup QB swoop in like Superman and pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Last year it was the same story in the SEC championship game, Kirby Smart’s squad had ‘Bama down 28-14 at one point before the Tide’s backup came in and took the win away. One could almost forgive the Bulldogs if they started feeling snake bit. On the upside, the ‘Dawgs still have Jake Fromm under center (though this is likely his last year in Athens) and return a talented, albeit inexperienced, cast on offense. Andrew Thomas (junior-LT) protects Fromm’s blindside and will anchor the offensive line, look for him to be playing on Sundays next year. The defense is equally inexperienced, returning only six starters on the two-deep roster. They do return their top two tacklers from last season, safeties Richard LeCounte (Jr.) and J.R. Reed (Sr.).
If everything goes right – The Bulldogs have enough talent to make it all the way to the Final game of the season again.
If everything goes wrong – UGA X (Mascot) could be looking at a three loss regular season and a Citrus Bowl invite.
Prediction – Georgia manages to avoid any hiccups and advances to the SEC championship game, whether they make the CFP is too hazy to see (and depends on other teams), but it is certainly possible.
Missouri – 8-5 (4-4) – As rough as Mizzou’s schedule was last year (@Purdue, @’Bama, a surging Kentucky), this year’s schedule is more forgiving (West Virginia, Ole Miss, and @ a depleted Kentucky). They were also fortunate to land Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant as a replacement for Denver-bound gunslinger Drew Lock. While Bryant isn’t the polished passer that Lock is, he came to Missouri to improve that aspect of his game; he also adds more of a running threat to the offense. The Tigers also return most of their offensive line, Junior RB Larry Roundtree III, Junior Albert Okweugbunam (Albert “O” if you’re not feeling adventurous), and two wide receivers. On defense, the Tigers are looking to replace quite a bit. New starter Jordan Elliott (former 4-star transfer from Texas) could develop into one of the better DTs in the country now that he has a chance to play and senior MLB Cale Garrett is a tackling machine.
If everything goes right – Mizzou could be 8-0 and in the Top 10 going into the only game of the year that I feel they should lose (Nov 9 @Georgia). A win there and they could be in line for another SEC East title and trip to Atlanta. All of this is moot if the NCAA doesn’t overturn the Tiger’s bowl ban (academic misconduct) for 2019.
If everything goes wrong – The Lock-to-Bryant transition is anything but smooth, the Tigers have 3 losses heading into the final month and finish the season 7-5.
Prediction – With a soft-ish schedule and a capable offense that should be more ball control oriented than last year, the Tigers should be 8-0 or 7-1 going into the game at Athens. 10 wins isn't out of the question.
Florida – 10-3 (5-3) – With the Gators’ first ten-win season in the bag since 2015, The Swamp’s faithful would seem to have a lot to look forward to, especially when the season finished with back-to-back thrashings of rival Florida State and then Michigan in the Peach Bowl. In just one season coach Dan Mullen has revived interest in the program after a combined seven seasons under Will Muschamp (now South Carolina’s head coach) and Jim McElwain (Central Michigan’s new head coach for 2019) which saw more bad than good. If junior QB Feleipe Franks can continue his growth as a passer and become more consistent on a game-to-game basis, the Gators have talent to build off last season. That said, the offensive line (allowed 18 sacks in 2018) would need to be rebuilt after losing four of the five starters. The stingy defense the Gators showed last season is returning (mostly) intact with eight starters returning. The downside is that sack master Jachai Polite and 2018’s leading tackler Vosean Joseph aren’t among the returnees.
If everything goes right – The Gators are waltzing into their game with Georgia (Nov 2 in Jacksonville) with a single blemish (Oct 12 @ LSU) on their record.
If everything goes wrong – That “single blemish” turns into a full-on outbreak snowballing into losses @USCe, Georgia, and (after a breather against Vandy) @ Mizzou.
Prediction – The Gators will be taking a small step back this season, but the future looks to be bright as long as coach Mullen can continue to recruit.
South Carolina – 7-6 (4-4) – Some people were surprised that the Gamecocks dropped off from 9 to 7 wins last season, most of those people do not pay much attention to the SEC. South Carolina had the type of season where they (mostly) beat the teams they should beat and (mostly) lost to the teams that should beat them. If your Head Coach is Will Muschamp, you should get used to those type of seasons. With Jake Bentley back, the Gamecocks hope to count on better decision-making from the fourth-year starter after seeing him toss six red-zone INTs last year. A better ground game is on that wish list as well and that will be up to senior RB Rico Dowdle to improve. Five of the front seven return including last year’s top two tacklers OLB Sherrod Greene (73) and T.J. Brunson (106). The secondary will need to be built as only sophomore CB R.J. Roderick returns.
If everything goes right – the Gamecocks make a bowl game and win a game or two that they shouldn’t.
If everything goes wrong – We see a season that makes last year look like a dream. I don’t look at their schedule and see fewer than five losses.
Prediction – Will Muschamp’s seat gets considerably warmer after this year, scheduling and the SEC West opponents (TAMU and ‘Bama) along with traditional rival Clemson make this a rough year to be a Gamecock.
Tennessee – 5-7 (2-6) – With year one of the Jeremy Pruitt regime under their belt, Vols fans could, at least, point to an increased win total (+1) over the last year of Butch “Trashcan” Jones. With that said, incremental improvement isn’t what the Rocky Top faithful had in mind when they hired their fourth (not counting two interim coaches) Head Coach in ten years. The offense could be in position to make that leap from “OK” to “Wow!” with returning junior QB Jarrett Guarantano into his third year of being able to pick Peyton Manning’s brain about all things passing as well as returning all starting skill players on offense. The defense is in good shape… if the D-line can be rebuilt and produce to any sort of acceptable level. The back eight returns almost everyone save one linebacker and a safety, but there is talent there.
If everything goes right – The Volunteers will be entering October 4-0 (possibly) or 3-1 (more likely) and finish November 4-0 (again, possibly) and 3-1 (again, more likely). If they can scrape together 2 wins in October, the Vols could be back in the national discussion.
If everything goes wrong - Tennessee could go 0-for-October and limp into the bowl season.
Prediction – We’ll likely see the Vols drop a game (or two) that they shouldn’t and (maybe) win a game that they shouldn’t to get to six wins and a bowl game that fans will wish that they hadn’t made.
Kentucky – 10-3 (5-3) – If nothing else, last season was a wild ride for the Wildcats. They broke the 31 year(!) losing streak to Florida, narrowly lost to TAMU in OT, and got blown out by a mediocre Tennessee team (?), before beating Penn State in the Citrus Bowl(!). However, that was last year, a year that coach Mark Stoops had been working towards since he was hired. This year, the Wildcats are replacing much of the talent that made last season possible. On offense, the only returnees are QB Terry Wilson, junior WR Lynn Bowden Jr., and a pair of offensive linemen. While Bowden caught 67 passes, he only averaged a touch over 11 yards per catch (11.1YPC); to come anywhere close to last year’s success he’ll have to improve both of those numbers. On defense the ‘Cats are replacing (debatably) their best defensive player ever in Josh Allen who provided so much in the way of pass rush pressure last year. Inside the Wildcats look to be solid with Quinton Bohanna at the NG and senior ILB Kash Daniel stopping the run.
If everything goes right – The Wildcats will still have a drop off, but it may not be as precipitous as most think. I think 8 wins is within reach, and 9 is do-able with an upset or two.
If everything goes wrong – The losses of Josh Allen and RB Benny Snell Jr. will weigh heavily on this team and the offense never really gels while the defense isn’t as stout as last year.
Prediction – A bowl game and seven wins is on tap for Kentucky this year, the schedule is forgiving with the first two and last three all winnable. If they can win a couple of games that are tossups, the Wildcats could be in line for a good bowl game.
Vanderbilt – 6-7 (3-5) – At many, OK, most schools, 6 wins and a low-level bowl game isn’t cause to celebrate. Vanderbilt is not most schools. With 17 wins in the last three years and a pair of bowl appearances to his credit, Coach Derek Mason was awarded an extension last February. Whether Vandy ever becomes more than the academic foundation and football doormat of the SEC is up for debate, but the athletic department is clearly happy with the job that Mason is doing. With standouts Ke’Shawn Vaughn (SR-RB), Kalija Lipscomb (SR-WR), and Jared Pinkney (SR-TE) all ready for a final season that will go down in history, only one thing stands in the way – a competent quarterback. With last season’s starter Kyle Schurmur gone, it looks like it will be on the shoulders of Ball State transfer Riley Neal to determine how the ‘Dores offense performs. On defense Vandy is lacking experience in the front seven but has a pair of returning starters at safety.
If everything goes right – Seven wins is reachable and if they can be better in one possession games (2-4 last season), they might be able to reach 8.
If everything goes wrong - We could be looking at a 4-win season and see just how strong that commitment to Mason is from the athletic department.
Prediction - I think Vandy is looking at a 5-win season where the only hope is beating in-state rival Tennessee.