Several teams have not even opened fall camp, but we at SEC Country are not swayed. With new powers and names emerging, this is poised to be a wild season in the SEC East.
With just a month left until intercollegiate games are played, it is the perfect opportunity to make predictions that are sure to be wrong. Here are 10 of the boldest SEC East predictions for 2016.
Vanderbilt beats a ranked opponent
While the Commodores did improve last season, the results largely stayed the same. Vanderbilt went 4-8 in Derek Mason’s second season as head coach. This is the year the squad finally records a marquee win. The big game to circle on the calendar is Oct. 1 against Florida. The Gators still are looking for a quarterback. Vanderbilt could catch them early and pick up a program-changing victory.
Jacob Eason is not the opening day starter
Many have proclaimed the true freshman the heir to the Georgia quarterback throne, especially after a dominant performance in the spring game. However, Kirby Smart has remained hesitant to turn to the true freshman. Early on, expect Georgia to stick with the more experienced Bryce Ramsey. However, if things go south, Eason will step in.
Missouri makes a bowl game
Things could not have gone much worse at Mizzou last season, both on and off the field. The Tigers lost head coach Gary Pinkel to health problems, and then QB Maty Mauk to suspension. With the roster in trouble, Missouri turned to former LB Barry Odom as the newest head coach. The Tigers have to take care of business against Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt, plus win at least two non-conference games. If the Tigers can do that, the strength of the defensive line is enough to take Missouri to a bowl game.
Joshua Dobbs doesn’t lead the division in passing yards
Dobbs was named Preseason All-SEC Second Team, behind just Ole Miss star Chad Kelly. Additionally, there are few returning quarterbacks left in the SEC East. It doesn’t matter — Dobbs will not lead the division. Dobbs threw for less than 2,300 yards last season, good enough for just No. 65 nationally. Drew Barker at Kentucky likely gets a greener light next season than Dobbs. Jacob Eason and Brandon McIlwain also have a shot to light up scoreboards.
Tennessee has the SEC’s best rushing offense
Leonard Fournette is the best running back in the world — period. However, with the combination of QB Joshua Dobbs and RBs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, few teams have as effective a unit as the Volunteers. Tennessee ranked No. 3 last season in rushing yards, fewer than 200 total rushing yards behind LSU. If Hurd gets more efficient with the ball, Tennessee’s running offense quickly will become unstoppable.
Multiple true freshmen start at quarterback
While Eason will not start right away, he will eventually take over the job at Georgia. Additionally, expect South Carolina to turn to true freshman QB Brandon McIlwain to open the season in Columbia. McIlwain was the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the class and received offers from all around the country. He will have a stranglehold on the job by season’s end. Florida’s Feleipe Franks could also force his way into the lineup after a productive spring.
Ralph Webb leads the SEC East in rushing
While Tennessee could have the top overall rush attack in the SEC, the offense will be split up amongst Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and Joshua Dobbs. That will open the door for Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb quietly to become the class of the SEC East. Webb rushed for 1,152 yards last season, but was limited to just 4.2 yards per carry. He should continue to progress this season.
South Carolina’s offense improves
Will Muschamp is known for two things: great defenses and putrid offenses. Muschamp’s Florida team produced one of the most disappointing offenses in all of college football. For this to happen, Muschamp must learn from his failures in Gainesville. He has said all the right things so far. Soon, he will put it into action.
No head coaches depart after 2016
The SEC East has seen tremendous turnover in the last few seasons. This past season alone, conference mainstays Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt and Gary Pinkel left the conference. But surprisingly, every head coach will survive this season and return for the 2017 season. The biggest name to watch will be Mark Stoops, who has failed to get Kentucky to a bowl game. Regardless, there is enough upside on the squad to keep him around.
Tennessee breaks Florida’s streak, wins the SEC East
Florida fans love to tout their 11-game winning streak over the Volunteers. Tennessee has not beaten Florida since 2005, when Phil Fulmer was coaching in Knoxville. With Tennessee’s rise under Butch Jones, this is the year it needs to happen. The game takes place on Sept. 24, which means Florida will not have time to develop a quarterback. It’s time for Tennessee to step up and break through the mental hurdle.