Saban protégé, Shark Week fan, and Colin Cowherd’s former college roommate, Jim McElwain is 19-4 in his two years in Gainsville and has never finished lower than first place in the East so it would make sense that Gator fans come in with high expectations, but as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast.” The Gators scored a mere 35 touchdowns last year and will be starting a new QB in 2017, whether that be the highly touted redshirt freshman, Felipe Franks, or Notre Dame graduate transfer, Malik Zaire remains to be seen. Offensive struggles probably are not the biggest concerns for the Gators. Florida’s leaned on their defense since some minor league outfielder named Tim Tebow graduated. UF will need to replace eight starters on that side of the ball, including DBs Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson. With the Gator’s success largely dependent on the QB position and defense, both of which are unproven coming into 2017, it could be a down year for McElwain.
Moving onto another Saban protégé, Kirby Smart starts his second season at the helm in Athens. The Bulldogs are coming off of somewhat of a rebuild last year, and bring back a wealth of talent with a season behind their back, along with veteran running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Georgia has the potential to be a great team, but SEC fans can always count on Georgia to be disappointing, it’s what Georgia does best. It’s like there’s some sort of Murphy’s Law in Athens, if something can go wrong, it usually does with the Bulldogs. Maybe it will be different with Kirby Smart. Maybe the key players will stay healthy, and the team will stop finding ways to lose ball games, but never count out Georgia being Georgia
I really like Kentucky as a SEC East sleeper pick, but that is not what this article is about. While Mark Stoops and the UK athletic department have finally figured out a way to trickle down that basketball revenue into their other athletic programs, there are still reasons why Kentucky is not quite the “sexy pick.” While Kentucky may have their best team in a long time, they by no means have an easy schedule, against an East that has improved, pretty much across the board. It would be an upset if the Wildcats were able to beat either Georgia or Florida, two teams that they have not beat since 2009 and 1986, respectively. Going to South Carolina on week 3 and traveling to Starkville off of a bye week will both be challenges. Missouri, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and of course Southern Miss, as they found out last year, are games that cannot be overlooked. Kentucky could very well come out on top in eight, nine, maybe even ten games, but they could just as easily lose seven or eight.
Missouri shocked the conference in 2013, as “the school we got for basketball” made it to the SEC Football Championship in their second season, the Tigers followed that up with a 10-2 regular season, and another SEC championship bid, and they followed that up with a nose dive off of a cliff. 2015 included Maty Mauk being suspended after week 4, and never coming back, a four game losing streak in the middle of SEC play, turmoil at the university due to protest which ended in the President’s resignation, the year was then capped by the shocking retirement of Gary Pinkel, the man that deservedly gets a lot of the credit for making Mizzou an SEC program. The Tigers have improved coming off of a 4-8 season last year, but this program and university are still rebuilding after 2016. I really do not see a way in which this team wins more than five or six games. Talent wise, this team is at the bottom of the conference. Drawing Auburn as their west opponent, and getting key games against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas on the road do them no favors. If I were a Mizzou fan, I would be rooting on those students, because getting an APR bowl bid might be the best the Tigers will do.
Will Muschamp is still a head coach in the SEC. That is crazy. Give him credit though, South Carolina was bowl eligible in 2016, despite having no discernable strong points. The Gamecocks are flying under the radar (no pun intended) in 2017, and could luck into some wins again this season. They return QB Jake Bentley, and an All-SEC talent in WR Deebo Samuel, the running game was mediocre last year, as it was carried by Freshmen Rico Dowdle and AJ Turner, but they are sophomores with a year of experience this year. The defense was bad last year, though, and it will be even worse this year. Losing Darius English, and having a lack of depth at linebacker puts them as one of the worst defenses in the SEC. The East improved across the board over the offseason, but South Carolina more or less stayed put. Do not count on these guys to win more than six.
The Volunteers in the post-Fulmer era can appropriately be described as enigmatic. It was an era started by a personality that will one day make for the greatest 30 for 30 of all time, Lane Kiffin. Derrick Dooley, a name that shall still not be spoken in Knoxville, followed Kiffin with a 15-21 tenure. Since 2013, we have been in the Butch Jones tenure, while it has not been bad, Jones’ stay at Tennessee has come with a lot of hype, only to result in disappointment. I see no reason while that trend will not continue in 2017. The loss of Josh Dobbs leaves a gaping hole at the quarterback. The loss of Josh Malone will leave a huge hole at receiver. The losses of Derek Barnett, Cameron Sutton, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin leave huge holes on the defense. The majority of the position groups took a step back from 2016 to 2017. Going up against Georgia Tech, Florida, and Georgia in the first five games with a young team is something that Vols fans should be worried about. Also, It does not matter what your experience and talent amount to, getting Alabama and LSU from the West is a BAD draw. Butch Jones’ seat appears that it will get a fair amount hotter after a disappointing 2017
With Derek Mason improving this team every year, he has given the fans room to have expectations. That means that Vanderbilt fans also will have room to be disappointed. I like what I am seeing from Mason, but I would not set my sights too high if I were a Commodore fan. This seems like a team that could just as easily go 2-10, as they could go 7-5. For the most part, this team has improved, but so have their opponents. Being bowl eligible is reasonable, but I would not be surprised if they disappoint. The Dores improved, but so did most of their East counterparts. Outside of the East they have to play Alabama, even though we are living in the times of solar eclipses and a Trump presidency, Vanderbilt will not beat Alabama. The non-conference schedule is no cake walk either. Their week 3 opponent, Kansas State has a solid team, and getting reigning C-USA champions, Western Kentucky after a brutal 5 game stretch will not an easy enough game to schedule as their homecoming. Vanderbilt will be a better team in 2017, but it probably will not translate in the record.
Photo Credits: SB Nation