SEC East preseason predictions
Published: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 2:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 9:12 p.m.
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Last week, I offered up my preseason predictions for the SEC's Western Division, picking Alabama to win the division, with Arkansas a surprise pick to finish second ahead of LSU. Now, it's time to move to the Eastern Division, where the race should be wide open in 2011.
1. Georgia: I know I'm going to take some heat for this pick, but the reasoning behind it is simple: I went with the team with the best quarterback to win the division. That would be sophomore Aaron Murray, who very likely could end up as the offensive player of the year in the SEC. The Bulldogs have been heading in the wrong direction the past few seasons, but Mark Richt has recruited well and the talent is there for the Bulldogs to get to Atlanta for the first time since 2005. I'm not saying the Bulldogs will beat the Gators this season. I'm just saying they will win the division.
2. South Carolina: After winning the division last season, South Carolina is a popular choice to go back-to-back in the East. The Gamecocks have two of the SEC's elite offensive players in running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. But they also have unpredictable quarterback Stephen Garcia, whose erratic behavior has been an endless source of frustration for Steve Spurrier the last three or four years. If Garcia can hold it together, the Gamecocks will be tough to beat. But there's a big early bump in the road — South Carolina goes to Georgia in the second week of the season. I'm saying the Bulldogs win that game to gain the early edge in the division race.
3. Florida: The Gators have a lot of talent, but much of it is young and unproven. And this is a team with some serious issues heading into Will Muschamp's first season. Depth on both lines of scrimmage could become a major problem, and the Gators enter the season with no proven playmakers at wide receiver. Then, of course, there is the brutal schedule and the huge question mark at quarterback. John Brantley won the job on the practice field last spring, but then Brantley has always performed well on the practice field. The question is, can he carry it over to the actual games? Based on last season, we still don't know.
4. Tennessee: The Vols have some very good players. The problem is they still don't have enough to make a serious run at the division title in Derek Dooley's second season. But this team is going to be very dangerous, especially on offense, and the Vols are going to spring some upsets and impact the race in the East. Georgia and South Carolina both have to go to Knoxville in October.
5. Kentucky: Getting bowl-eligible for a sixth consecutive season is going to be tough for a team that must replace most of its impact offensive players. Morgan Newton has a chance to be a pretty good quarterback, but he just hasn't played much. UK's defense is always supposed to be better, but it never seems to turn out that way.
6. Vanderbilt: The Commodores won seven games and played in a bowl game in 2008. That seems like forever ago following back-to-back 2-10 seasons that saw the program sink to a big-time low. The offense should be a little bit better than it was last year, when it was simply awful (110th in the nation). The ‘Dores will compete hard on defense, but will wear down over another long, losing season.
Final prediction: Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game to win the league title.