Words can't describe the disappointment last season was for many South Carolina fans. Falling from the status as a legitimate contender for the National Championship to a dismal 3-9 season. However, Coach Muschamp will bring intensity and his recruiting talents (Just look at his wife!), and things WILL change for the better. But this isn't about Carolina specifically, but more about the hierarchy of the SEC East. This isn't some official analysis, just some quick predictions by the typical self-proclaimed football expert sixteen year old. So let's get started.
Butch Jones knows what he's doing. His squad has the talent needed to capture the SEC East title for the first time since 2007. Derek Barnett and Cameron Sutton will lead an extremely talented defense, and Josh Dobbs (Yeah, the guy with the big forehead) will be a dangerous dual-threat QB once-again, carrying a surprising 2-0 record against South Carolina in his career. This squad also has a dangerous and consistent tailback in Jalen Hurd. A punishing, multi-faceted running game with a ferocious defense seems like the right combination for a bid to the SEC Championship.
I was tempted to put Florida here, but there's a big question mark for the Gators at QB after the loss of Will Grier, who many expected to have a "juiced up" sophomore season. Georgia's defense will miss freak athlete Leonard Floyd, but that should still be a relatively strong unit. With Jacob Eason the man to likely take over the starting job at QB, this will be a huge upgrade over Greyson Lambert. But what will be Georgia's key piece to maintain an edge over the other squads in the East is the obnoxiously talented tailback Nick Chubb. Despite Chubb's horrific knee injury, he is a top-3 running back in the country when healthy. If he can even get close to 100%, he will run wild on every team he faces, taking Georgia to a second-place finish in the East.
I'm still not completely sold on Jim McElwain being "The Guy" with Florida, and that's perfectly fine. Losing Will Grier will definitely sting, with Luke Del Rio, a transfer from Oregon State with three collegiate starts, the frontrunner to start. Their defense will be strong as usual, with Jalen Tabor taking over the #1 CB spot previously occupied by superstar Vernon Hargreaves. The run game will likely lack the intensity that Kelvin Taylor brought, but Florida always seems to have a talented running back on hand somewhere. Their offense will be sluggish, but a strong defense should help them finish out strong and grind out wins. I'd look for an eight or nine win season from the Gators.
This is the year Kentucky makes a bowl game. They are chasing Florida closely, and could be on the cusp of an eight win season. Mark Stoops' recruiting abilities are starting to show, as this is the most talented roster that the Wildcats have had in quite some time. JoJo Kemp will remain a key point of the offense and should give this team a boost in the running game. Their defense will be their weakness, but won't drop them behind South Carolina, Vandy, and Mizzou in these rankings.
5. South Carolina
This could incite some irritation, but this will likely be where we end up in the standings, barring a breakout season from Brandon McIlwain, Jake Bentley, or Perry Orth. Offensively, there are a lot of unknowns at receiver, tailback, and quarterback, and the offensive line will take time to gell. Defensively, the loss of Skai Moore will be huge, as he was the leader and on-field shot caller. Despite this, linebackers are the strength of the team, and the secondary should be improved with Jamarcus King, the talented JUCO cornerback. Defensive line could be a cause for concern, as every spot except Marquavius Lewis is up for grabs. The biggest thing we should look for this year is an improvement in fundamentals and talent as Coach Muschamp gets his people and schemes in place to compete in the future. This will be a down year by our standards, but improvement will happen, just not all at once.
After losing their best defensive player in Stephen Weatherly, this Vanderbilt squad will not be in a position to compete for the SEC. They should have more stability on offense with Kyle Shurmar likely to be the starter and the impressively consistent Ralph Webb on the heels of a 1,000 yard season. The defense will be the big question mark, and I think South Carolina should easily handle them in the season opener. This squad is a few years away from general contention, and it will take some good coaching and solid recruiting classes to take them to the top of the SEC East.
Missouri's program is in a mess, with all the scandal going on and then Gary Pinkel's resignation. They have talent on defense, but Drew Locke is not the answer at quarterback, and the offense will be putrid. Charles Harris will be an outstanding player as an edge rusher, and should easily hit double-digit sacks. But outside of Harris, there really is nothing to get excited about, and this is a squad devoid of leadership, coaching, and talent. It will be quite some time before Mizzou is in the national conversation again.