Following a very underwhelming showing in 2015, the SEC East is looking to take a big step forward this fall.
However, there are plenty of unknowns surrounding almost every team in the division entering the season, so it’s hard to say what will happen when the games actually start. Let’s take a look at six burning questions that should end up shaping what happens in the SEC East this fall.
Can the SEC East be any worse than it was last season?
There’s no denying the lackluster season the SEC East had last season. Florida limped into the SEC Championship game after a strong start, UGA was a tame 10-win team and Tennessee couldn’t show the consistency needed to take the next step. The Vols should be a much more steady team this fall, but it’s hard to say what will happen with anyone else in the division. Vanderbilt will be Vanderbilt, Kentucky has to take a step forward in order for coach Mark Stoops to keep his job and Missouri and South Carolina are both rebuilding. UGA and Florida both have the potential to win the division, but they could allso be quite average. Needless to say, we’ll know more by the beginning of October.
How many teams can really win the division?
If the answer to this question wasn’t made clear in the previous answer, Tennessee, UGA and Florida seem like the only three teams that could end up playing in Atlanta in December. The Vols are the proverbial favorite. Anyone else getting in the conversation would be a major surprise, but among the three favorites, it’s really anyone’s division to win.
Will the SEC East champion be a legitimate threat to win the SEC Championship Game?
The SEC West is much deeper and stronger than the SEC East, so it’s hard to see how the East champion would be favored over the West champion. Yes, any of the top three teams in the East would certainly be a threat to win the title. However, barring major changes among which schools content this season, you’d have to prefer the West team in most matchups.
Will Tennessee finally beat Florida and win the division?
Tennessee hasn’t beaten Florida since 2004, and if there was ever a year for the Vols to snap that streak, this is the year. Tennessee is among the most veteran football teams in the entire country, the Gators are replacing key pieces defensively and at quarterback and the game is being played in Knoxville. If I had to make a prediction, I would say the Vols finally get the hump off their backs and take down Florida on their way to an SEC East title.
Which first-year coach will have the most success in his debut season?
The SEC East features three new head coaches this season, as Kirby Smart (UGA), Will Muschamp (South Carolina) and Barry Odom (Missouri) all look to get off to hot starts at their respective schools. Obviously, Smart walks into the most ideal situation, so he’s undoubtedly going to have the most success in Year One. However, the expectations on Smart’s shoulders are much greater than Muschamp and Odom, who both have major rebuilding jobs in front of them.
Who will be the second-best quarterback in the division?
Obviously, Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs is the best returning quarterback in the SEC East, with every other team entering 2016 with question marks at quarterback. That being said, it will be interesting to watch which quarterbacks become steady play-makers for their respective teams. Florida’s Luke Del Rio has garnered a lot of preseason buzz that would leave me to consider him the front-runner to become the division’s second-best signal caller. But freshmen Jacob Eason at Georgia and Brandon McIlwain at South Carolina could also join a list of first-year players making a big splash in the SEC right away.