Georgia and Florida are runaway favorites to win the SEC East. Just for perspective, they combined for 234 first-place votes at media days while the other four teams combined for eight. But, which school can shock us all?
On Thursday, an SEC Network panel of Gene Chizik, Chris Doering and Jordan Rodgers made their cases for a dark horse. Two picked Kentucky and one picked South Carolina.
That’s significant considering the Wildcats haven’t won the East since the conference split into divisions in 1992. However, Doering, the former Florida receiver, was optimistic about Kentucky’s chances to break through.
“I’m high on Kentucky,” Doering said. “Kentucky getting to a bowl game last year was quite a feat for them. I think this is a team that can win nine games because of their schedule, because of their depth of talent, four starters back on the offensive line. Can that defensive line become more consistent? Can they become more powerful up front? That was the thing that was the letdown for them last year.”
Rodgers was on board with Doering’s prediction and agrees with one of the reasons Doering gave.
“Kentucky’s schedule is very favorable,” the former Vanderbilt QB said. “They’re going to have some issues. They got Florida at home, they go to Georgia the second-to-last game of the season. They got a chance, as you (Doering) mentioned to win nine or so. Talented Benny Snell Jr. and C.J. Conrad, don’t sleep on a tight end. Feed him the ball if you’re Stephen Johnson.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina has only reached Atlanta once, and that came under former coach Steve Spurrier in 2010. Nonetheless, the Gamecocks were the dark horse pick for the media, which gave them five of the eight first-place votes that didn’t go to the Bulldogs or Gators.
Chizik likes South Carolina for a few reasons, but two in particular.
“Here’s what I say: quarterbacks and defense,” the former Auburn head coach said. “Hey, [QB Jake] Bentley’s got a chance. His sample size is not large. Let’s be realistic about that, lot of pressure on him since he did show some flash. Traverse Robinson and Will Muschamp have to get together and they have to figure out how to really shore up the inside of that defense, because when I watched them on film, I thought they got pushed around a little bit.”
Even with that last concern that Chizik mentioned, he says the Gamecocks have the right guy in place to fix the defense along with a lot of returning starters on offense.
“They got a chance.”