SEC East teams’ journey to today

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(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
This happens in life, you wake up one morning and look at your surroundings (there may or may not be the severed head of a horse next to you) and you wonder about your choices in life.
Why am I here?
How did I get here?
When you start to go through the snapshots in your head, there are some that make you smile and some that make you wince. You laugh, you cry and then you put on your work sweatpants and try not to think about it or the fact you haven’t been to your home office in 11 weeks.
But that’s another story.
This is the story of you.
I’m looking right at you Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
This is also the story of us because we share the SEC with our brethren and think about what they are doing all the time. Some are on the rise, some on the decline, some bounce around like a Super Ball in a racquetball court (do people still play racquetball?)
Here we go:
THE EAST
Florida
Where you are: You are in a good place. Now. You found the right coach and you have high expectations. You finally broke your GameDay to Gainesville drought last year, but you still haven’t won an SEC title since 2008. You definitely have Georgia on your mind.
How you got here: This program was broken. And the hires that were made didn’t do a good job of fixing it. As a result, Florida had two seasons that felt worse than the 0-10-1 of 1979. Because Florida should be at a point where it should never have a four-win season, let alone two of them. I don’t think that ever happens again. But it did and those seasons are one reason it has been more difficult for Dan Mullen to get the program over the hump.
Georgia
Where you are: Possibly on the verge of becoming one of those teams you can pencil into the playoffs every year. Give Kirby Smart credit for building an East dynasty. But it has been since 1980 since Georgia has won it all and Florida fans like to point that out. This is a big year for the red and black.
How you got here: I blame South Carolina. The Gamecocks were going to hire Smart to replace Steve Spurrier and Georgia kicked Mark Richt to the curb so Greg McGarity could hire the Kirbanator. And then Georgia threw all kinds of money at recruiting and facilities. It’s worked so far, just not as much as Georgia fans want it to.
Kentucky
Where you are: You are in a place that is rarified air for this program. Four straight bowl games, 18 wins over the last two seasons. But at least once a year, you wake up screaming from a nightmare that turns out to be true. Like forgetting to cover a receiver or letting a back-up quarterback beat you.
How you got here: Patience. You let coach Mark Stoops build something rather than over-react to his 4-20 start in the SEC. You competed in the SEC arms race with aggressive moves. You are still a basketball school first, but you have a true SEC football program. Because you were patient.
Missouri
Where you are: Uh, let me get a map out. Well, Mizzou, you woke up one morning and you were in the SEC. So what did you do? You went out and won a pair of East titles. Nobody over on this side appreciated it (especially when you gave up 101 points in the two SEC Championship Games). Since those two games, meh. You’re kind of just there and hard to get to.
How you got here: Gary Pinkel’s health. He’s the reason Mizzou did so well when it started in the SEC. But Barry Odom just didn’t cut it. He was six games under .500 in the SEC and lost both of his bowl games. Now, nobody is sure what to think of Eli Drinkwitz.
South Carolina
Where you are: In a weird place. The Gamecocks are good enough to beat you (ask Georgia), but not good enough to sustain greatness. That’s why they are 26-25 over the four years of Will Muschamp.
How you got here: Talk about not sustaining greatness. Spurrier won 11 games for three straight years. But when he lost 10 of the next 19, he also lost interest and left the program. A lot of coaches turned SC down. Enter Sandman, er, Muschamp. Expect more mediocrity.
Tennessee
Where you are: You are that person at the high school reunion who used to be so popular and people were jealous of you, but you showed up 20 years later with a hairpiece and a banlon shirt that needed a manssiere. You bought a Peloton and are hoping things start to get better. In the past decade, you’ve finished the season ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll zero-point-zero times.
How you got here: It’s pretty simple. You pushed Phil Fulmer out and then made a series of bad hires. You were so desperate, you hired a guy named Dooley (no relation). Fulmer won 10 games eight times. He was also the last guy to win 10 games at Tennessee. That says a lot. Maybe the right guy is there now. We’ll see.
Vanderbilt
Where you are: Please don’t take this personally, but you are the ultimate bottom feeder of this conference. You don’t even have home-field advantage for many of your games. Derek Mason is 20 games under .500 in six years. He has 10 SEC wins during that stretch. Ten! During that same six years, Nick Saban has 43.
How you got here: You have become the San Diego Padres of the SEC. You collect the money, live in a great city and just keep losing games. You’re stuck with Mason and may not be able to cut him loose after the pandemic no matter how bad this season goes. Where have you gone, James Franklin?
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

Coming Monday: We take a look at how SEC West teams arrived at their current locations.