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Georgia Opens as Heavy SEC East Favorite

Upcoming Season

The new NFL season is less than 100 days away and the next college football season is now three months away. Spring practice has ended and teams are taking it easy before summer training camp begins in early August. There will be a much more normal rhythm to this particular offseason after all the enormous disruptions and uncertainties posed by the pandemic in 2020. Let’s look at the SEC East news and see what has changed throughout the division, and then consider what might happen for each team in 2021.

Georgia Bulldogs

    • Odds To Win National Championship: +550

The Georgia Bulldogs struggled last season under quarterback Stetson Bennett. His football IQ was high, but he was very short and simply could not see over the line of scrimmage. A large number of his passes got batted down at the line of scrimmage, and that became a really big problem for the Dawgs and head coach Kirby Smart. The team struggled on offense for the first two months of the season before making a change in November. J.T. Daniels was inserted into the lineup, and Georgia’s offense promptly improved in ways which were noticeable for everyone. Daniels now begins the 2021 season at quarterback after not playing for most of 2020 but winning the Peach Bowl against Cincinnati.

Quarterback JT Daniels of the Georgia Bulldogs drops back to pass during the second half of the G-Day
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images/AFP

Georgia loses center Trey Hill and guard Ben Cleveland. The Bulldogs lost six members of their secondary to the NFL or the transfer portal. There will certainly be some concerns about this roster. However, Georgia returns 12 starters and will be loaded at wide receiver, where all the main targets are coming back.

Having found the right quarterback means a lot for Georgia. Yet, it still remains to be seen if Daniels can be relentlessly consistent over 12 games. He was not faced with that season-long challenge a year ago and still has a lot to prove. As long as he is solid, though, and makes the plays he is supposed to make, Georgia should win the East Division, for reasons we will soon explain. The Heisman Trophy odds show he’s among the favorites.

Florida Gators

    • Odds To Win National Championship: +3000

The Gators suffer huge losses at quarterback, tight end and wide receiver. Emory Jones replaces Kyle Trask, a Heisman Trophy finalist. Kyle Pitts was easily the best tight end in America, and he was a No. 4 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Kadarius Toney was a top-25 pick as a wide receiver. That is a lot of high-end talent to lose in one offseason. Replacing Pitts and Toney as Florida’s main pass-catching threats will be Jacob Copeland and Xzavier Henderson. They will try to compensate for what the Gators no longer have, and they will try to make Jones look like a much better quarterback.

The enormity of the Gators’ roster losses, combined with the reality that Georgia was really bad on offense for two whole months last season before finding its quarterback, should lead to a situation in which Georgia will reclaim the East back from Florida this year. The Bulldogs had won the East title three straight years from 2017 through 2019.

Tennessee Volunteers

    • Odds To Win National Championship: +5000

The Vols were one of a few SEC East programs to change coaches in the offseason. Former UCF head coach Josh Heupel replaces Jeremy Pruitt. The Volunteers had gone with cautious and conservative coaches in recent years. They finally switched to Heupel, an offense-first head coach who should install a more pass-first offense which tries to find the big play instead of pounding the ball between the tackles.

The quarterback battle is an open one, with no runaway favorite. Transfer Hendon Hooker from Virginia Tech is someone to keep an eye on in Knoxville.

The Vols might be really good in a few years, but going through a coaching transition and a change of systems this season will limit Tennessee’s progress.

South Carolina Gamecocks

    • Odds To Win National Championship: +10000

The Gamecocks hired coach Shane Beamer after firing previous head coach Will Muschamp. At quarterback, Ryan Hilinski is out, having transferred to Northwestern. Luke Doty is one of several players battling for the quarterback job.

South Carolina is starting over, and Beamer – son of Frank Beamer, the retired coach of Virginia Tech – does not have extremely strong credentials for being a head coach. This is likely to be an ugly transitional year for the program. The offense is going to suffer before it gets better.

Missouri Tigers

    • Odds To Win National Championship: +15000

The Tigers have a change in their backfield, but not at quarterback. Tyler Badie replaces Larry Rountree at running back, trying to give the Tigers a change of pace in their ground game. Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks is the new defensive coordinator for Missouri. The Tigers lose receiver Damon Hazelton, which will force them to have to make adjustments, and linebacker Nick Bolton, the team’s top tackler in 2020.

All in all, Missouri has a low ceiling to begin with. Losing Bolton feels like a bigger blow than some analysts appreciate. It should be a difficult year in Columbia, Mo.

Kentucky Wildcats

The Wildcats still have Mark Stoops at head coach, but Eddie Gran is out as offensive coordinator. Liam Coen is in, coming from the Los Angeles Rams’ coaching staff, where he worked under Sean McVay.

Quarterback Terry Wilson transferred out of the program, while Will Levis transferred to the Wildcats from Penn State. Kentucky got new receivers Wan’Dale Robinson and Tre’Von Morgan will need to make big plays to boost the offense. Kentucky loses key offensive linemen Landon Young and Drake Jackson.

Kentucky plays strong defense on a relatively consistent basis. Stoops knows how to teach defense and how to get his guys to play physical football. However, the offense has regularly lagged behind for this program, getting shut down on days when a modestly productive game (not spectacular, not even well above average) would be enough to win. Kentucky might have the defense needed to thrive but the Wildcats lack the offense.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Odds To Win National Championship: +50000

The Commodores went for a head coaching change and they picked an alumnus of the school. Former Vanderbilt football player Clark Lea replaces Derek Mason as head coach. Keyon Henry-Brooks is out at running back and Temple transfer Re’Mahn Davis is in. Vanderbilt loses its best pass rusher from 2020, Dayo Odeyingbo.

Vanderbilt has the least margin for error of any SEC team. There is no reason to think the Commodores will escape the basement of the SEC East.

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