After a series of poor showings, the SEC East has been reinvigorated. Several top coaches have joined the division, which should make for a competitive division.
With four non-conference games and a tough conference slate, few games are guaranteed in the SEC East. Whether teams make bowl games, or whether they can win the division will come down to performance in a select few games.
Here are the games each team in the SEC East should win, and what the remaining games will mean.
Should win: vs. UMass, vs. Kentucky, vs. North Texas, at Vanderbilt, vs. Missouri, at Arkansas, vs. South Carolina, vs. Presbyterian
The Gators made great progress in Jim McElwain’s first season as head coach. But after QB Will Grier was suspended and transferred, the same old question came up: Who will run the offense? Florida limped out to a 3-3 record after Grier went out, including 0-4 against ranked opponents.
With a tougher schedule, it might be difficult for the Gators to hit 10 wins again next season. Tennessee is expected to improve. Georgia and Florida State also represent tough competition. A crossover game with LSU will be difficult even if the Gators get quality quarterback play.
Should win: vs. North Carolina, vs. Nicholls State, at Missouri, at South Carolina, vs. Vanderbilt, at Kentucky, vs. Auburn, vs. Louisiana, vs. Georgia Tech
When Georgia fired Mark Richt, the message was clear: average is not good enough. Richt led the Bulldogs to several SEC East titles, but always seemed to come just short of contending for a national championship.
Championships will be the expectation as Kirby Smart takes over at Georgia. He has a relatively easy schedule to make things happen in his first season. The Bulldogs have nine games they should win, including a non-conference matchup with North Carolina. The major trouble spots on the schedule will come against Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida.
A 10-win season would be a great start to Smart’s tenure.
Should win: vs. Southern Miss, vs. New Mexico State, vs. Austin Peay
It’s time for Mike Stoops to win some games. During his time in Lexington, Ky., Stoops has brought an impressive amount of talent to the Wildcats. It has been a long road back since Joker Phillips’ regime crippled the program, but the talent is now there to be competing at a higher level.
The Wildcats have failed to qualify for a bowl game since the 2010 season, and that needs to change. Kentucky has three games it should win, along with four it has little to no chance of winning (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida). This leaves games against Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Louisville to decide a bowl berth. Go 4-3 in those games and UK will make the postseason.
Should win: vs. Eastern Michigan, vs. Delaware State, vs. Middle Tennessee, at South Carolina
Even in all the mayhem at Mizzou, dominant defensive line play is all but a given in Columbia, Mo. With Charles Harris back terrorizing opposing offensive lines, the Tigers have a chance to take a step forward in Barry Odom’s first season as head coach.
Missouri has a gaping hole at quarterback, but touted transfer WR Chris Black could help ease the way for sophomore Drew Lock. If the Tigers find offense, they could contend for a bowl. If not, they could go 3-9.
Should win: vs. East Carolina, vs. UMass, vs. West Carolina
With Will Muschamp at the helm, South Carolina should be one of the most confusing teams in football next season. The Gamecocks return some talent, but Muschamp is one of the great unknown quantities in college football. His first tenure at Florida was an absolute disaster, but Muschamp claims to have learned from his offensive failures. Whether that plays itself out is another story.
Regardless, the Gamecocks should have a much improved defense under one of the league’s best defensive minds.
Should win: vs. Appalachian State, vs. Virginia Tech, vs. Ohio, at Texas A&M, at South Carolina, vs. Tennessee Tech, vs. Kentucky, vs. Missouri, at Vanderbilt
This is the year everything is supposed to come together. The Volunteers have starters back at almost every key position, which should allow them to truly contend for the SEC championship.
Tennessee has nine games that should be straightforward enough. The season will come down to three games: Alabama, Florida and Georgia. If UT can go 2-1 in those games, expect a trip to the 2016 SEC Championship Game, and the College Football Playoff committee will take notice.
Should win: vs. Middle Tennessee, at Western Kentucky, vs. Tennessee State
Ever since James Franklin left Vanderbilt, it has been hard to be a Commodores fan.
Making postseason play could be a pipe dream for Derek Mason in his third season at the helm. The Commodores play defense at a high level, but don’t do much else. With only three surefire wins on the schedule, Mason will have to pull a miracle to be competitive in conference.