This can’t be the start SEC commissioner Greg Sankey hoped for the East Division to have.
After getting a pair of teams into the top 10 within the first two weeks, Tennessee and Georgia nearly choked away wins against a Sun Belt and FCS team, respectively, which dropped both out of the top 14. Florida obliterated Kentucky in its SEC opener, but the Gators also struggled to move the ball against UMass a week earlier.
It gets even worse when looking further down the list. Missouri dropped against West Virginia in the opener, Vanderbilt choked away a lead against South Carolina and Kentucky might be the worst team in the Power Five. At least the Gamecocks were supposed to be bad in Will Muschamp’s first year.
This was supposed to be a breakout year for the division. Tennessee was meant to join the SEC’s elite and Georgia was going to be revitalized under Kirby Smart. All of the bottom four teams were expected to at least compete for a bowl game.
But while the division has clearly had its troubles to start, let’s avoid writing off the SEC East after a two-week sample size.
Things have looked bleak at times, but several teams have showed flashes of brilliance. Florida destroyed Kentucky’s will last Saturday, holding a pretty decent offense scoreless for 55:33 of game time and allowing just 3.1 yards per play. Regardless of the team, that’s dominance.
For all of its faults, Tennessee has shown flashes of being an elite team. After trailing 14-0 against Virginia Tech in the Battle at Bristol, the Volunteers scored 31 unanswered points and went on a 45-10 run to close out an easy win.
Tennessee had an inordinate amount of pressure heading into the season and looked understandably rattled through its first five quarters. But after the Volunteers loosened up and played within themselves, they unleashed what we expected of them.
Even Vanderbilt and Mizzou have played better than their records. Had the Commodores not choked away a 10-0 lead against South Carolina, the narrative instead would have focused on how Vanderbilt was 2-0 and dominated a Middle Tennessee team it only beat by four last season.
It had been eight years since Missouri produced multiple 100-yard receivers in a game, since Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin were on the roster. The Tigers already have done that twice this year, with four different receivers no less.
September is supposed to be the time for teams to develop and grow, and that’s exceptionally true for these programs. Five teams entered the year with a new full-time starting quarterback, while South Carolina is still in the midst of breaking in blue-chip freshman Brandon McIlwain. Three programs also have new coaches this season, while Jim McElwain and Derek Mason remain within their first three years with their respective programs. Growing pains aren’t a surprise.
Struggling and falling in early-season games could come back to bite when bowl season rolls around, but nonconference play is a period of rapid growth. But now, this is where coaching really comes into play. If the teams can capitalize and move on from mistakes, the division still can have the resurgence we all expected in August.