The SEC East was fairly terrible last season, evidenced by a Florida team with no offense winning the division and the bottom four teams combining to win six conference games, among other embarrassments. And guess what? It might be worse in 2016.
By the time Barry Odom’s first game as Missouri’s coach was mercifully over Saturday, we’d seen four of the East’s seven squads in action, and every one of them looked awful.
Alleged College Football Playoff contender and runaway division favorite Tennessee needed overtime — and a few big breaks — to beat Appalachian State at home. South Carolina and Vanderbilt staged a rock fight in which they combined to use four quarterbacks and score two touchdowns.
Then, as if to say, “Anything you can’t do, we can’t do it either,” Odom’s Tigers rolled into Morgantown, W.Va., like a jalopy on four flats. Don’t let their 462 yards of offense fool you, especially since 185 of them came in a purely garbage-time fourth quarter. The offense still stinks.
They lost 26-11, but it wasn’t that close. Missouri trailed 13-0 and 26-3, and its only touchdown came with 1:49 to go. New offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and sophomore quarterback Drew Lock had a few flashes, but on the whole, both play-calling and execution left a lot to be desired.
Lock, the former blue-chip recruit who is trying to shake off a disastrous freshman season, produced 309 total yards — but he completed just 23 of 51 passes. The Tigers’ running game didn’t help him any, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.
But that’s not new. Missouri should be more worried about its defense, which ranked top-10 nationally in both points and yards allowed last season but looked quite vulnerable Saturday. West Virginia threw for 253 yards and ran for 241, keeping the Tigers off balance all day.
If not for a few red-zone stalls — and yeah, sure, give Missouri some credit for those — it might’ve gotten ugly. Well, uglier. This performance was not pretty for Odom, who was the team’s defensive coordinator last season.
The Tigers gave up 10 more points and 192 more yards than their season averages in 2015.
All of this to say: Missouri looks a lot closer to repeating last year’s 5-7 record (or worse) than to rediscovering the magic that led to consecutive SEC East titles in 2013 and 2014. Which also means the bottom half of this division could really be an eyesore again.
While the seventh-place team in the West is often still good enough to reach a bowl game — Mississippi State might buck that trend this year — the East is staring at a second straight season with the Tigers, Commodores and Gamecocks as roadkill. Kentucky figures to take a step forward, but perhaps only because of how bad those three are, and that’s hardly a sure thing. The Wildcats haven’t been to a bowl game since 2010.
Georgia is unsettled at quarterback and Florida is starting a former walk-on at the position.
Brace yourselves, SEC fans. It might be another brutal season for the East.
* Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleTucker_AJC. Reach him at Kyle.Tucker@ajc.com.