The SEC’s historic decade of dominance has been impressive.
The conference has won eight national titles in the last 10 seasons, and a host of SEC teams are among the top contenders heading into 2016. However, the biggest hiccup to the SEC’s power as of late has been the weakness of the SEC East.
With the SEC West being responsible for five of the last seven national champions and the West winning the last seven SEC championship games, the division is regarded as the best in college football. The East has been a target for SEC detractors.
But there are reasons to think the likes of Tennessee, Georgia and Florida will be responsible for a bounce-back season that will shift the power in the conference closer to the center.
Let’s take a look at five reasons why the SEC East will be better in 2016:
1. Things can’t get worse
The SEC East has seen better days. Last season, the division went 2-12 against the SEC West, and it was arguably the worst division among all Power 5 conferences accounting for the last two years. So while that doesn’t speak favorably about how things are going in the East, things really can’t get much worse, so here’s to 2016 when there’s no place to go but up.
2. More stability across the board
It remains to be seen whether the East will produce a team that can be in the College Football Playoff discussion, but overall, the division should be more stable.
Tennessee has been pointing to this season for some time now. Georgia is loaded with talent and entering a new era. Florida returns a ton of talent, and quarterback play should be more consistent throughout the season. Add in a new coaching staff at South Carolina and Missouri, and those programs could be better this fall. Vanderbilt continues to take small strides in the right direction under coach Derek Mason. And if Kentucky can figure out a way to play well in November, the Wildcats will be improved.
3. Coaching changes bring new life
There are three new head coaches in the SEC East, and while it may take some time to see the results fans are hoping for, a new jolt of energy is never a bad thing for a football program.
First-year coaches typically have a lot of success at keeping their players motivated throughout a strenuous season, and that could be good for an upset or two along the way. Whether it’s Georgia coach Kirby Smart having the folks in Athens sniffing a title in the near future, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp looking to prove doubters wrong about his tenure at Florida or Missouri coach Barry Odom looking to restore the Tigers to levels reached in 2013 and ’14, there’s renewed hope in the East.
4. SEC West could take a small step back
No matter how improved the SEC East is in 2016, the division will be compared — fairly or not — to the SEC West. That comparison probably won’t bode well for the East, but the West could take a small step backwards this fall.
Five SEC West schools will begin the season with a new starter at quarterback. Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M enter the year with coaches on the hot seat. Arkansas and Mississippi State are replacing true difference makers at quarterback and Alabama and Ole Miss lost a ton of talent to the NFL draft — not to mention that pesky NCAA investigation in Oxford.
Most of those programs don’t know what rebuilding means, but if there’s ever a year for the East to play catch up to the West, it has to be now.
5. Easier non-conference schedule
If the SEC East can have any leg up on the West, it’s in the non-conference schedule.
With the conference entering its first year where teams are required to play one non-conference game against a Power 5 school (or a few select independents), the schedules are tougher than in years past. But survey the list of Power 5 schools each team is playing this fall and it’s apparent the East enjoys more favorable matchups.
For the East, the toughest opponents are part of yearly rivalry games (Florida State, Clemson and Louisville). However, the Seminoles and Tigers also play teams from the SEC West in Ole Miss and Auburn in Week 1. Outside of those matchups, there aren’t many scary games for the SEC East, while the West will go up against the likes of Wisconsin, UCLA, TCU and USC.