SEC Football: Ranking the East Division
7 South Carolina
2015 Record: 3-9 (1-7 SEC)
Points Per Game: 21.9
Opponents Points Per Game: 27.5
The Gamecocks were left in dire straights midseason by Steve Spurrier and now South Carolina looks to Will Muschamp to right the ship, particularly on offense. The Gamecocks are without star playmaker Skai Moore in 2016 due to injury but return much of last season’s defense so experience is on their side. Losing receiver Pharoh Cooper to the NFL certainly hurts the offense, look for this to be a rebuilding season for the Gamecocks.
Key Game: East Carolina, September 17
The Gamecocks have won the last four meetings between the two teams, however, this could be the season where the Pirates come into South Carolina and leave with an upset. With a bare offense, the Pirates could give the Gamecocks trouble on both sides of the ball this season.
2015 Record: 5-7 (1-7 SEC)
Points Per Game: 13.6
Opponents Points Per Game: 16.2
The Missouri Tigers return a majority of last year’s defense including defensive end Charles Harris, who racked up 18.5 tackles for loss. However, boasting the nation’s 126th best offense out of 128 teams is embarrassing. Much of the offensive line from last year graduated and the offensive line continues to be one of the more glaring issues for the Tigers and sophomore quarterback Drew Lock. The defense is good but the offense may leave them hanging yet again in the SEC East.
Key Game: West Virginia, September 3
The Mountaineers will certainly play up for an SEC team and the last thing the Missouri Tigers want to do is lose to a team outside their conference, especially the Big 12. This game will tell the story for how the season will go for the Tigers. It could be 2015 all over again.
2015 Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
Points Per Game: 24.7
Opponents Points Per Game: 27.4
Good news: Boom Williams returns for the Wildcats as the premier back after rushing for 855 yards and seven touchdowns behind 7.1 yards a carry. Bad news: The Wildcats defense returns just four starters from last year’s defense which was second to last in team defense allowing 394.2 yards a game. The Wildcats have optimism on their side though, particularly with the offense, if Drew Barker can take over as starting quarterback. The Wildcats should turn some heads in 2016.
Key Game: Vanderbilt, October 8
If there was ever a program that Kentucky could compare itself to, its the Commodores. Their matchup on October 8 will take on many meanings, one of them being, whoever wins this game is winning the “How to Build an SEC Program While Not Being A Football Powerhouse” award.
2015 Record: 4-8 (2-6 SEC)
Points Per Game: 15.2
Opponents Points Per Game: 21.0
If the Commodores can find their rhythm on offense in 2016, it could be bowl season for Derek Mason’s squad. Linebacker Zach Cunningham anchors a unit looking for a lot more than respect in 2016. Running back Ralph Webb rushed for 1,152 yards and six touchdowns and looks to add to that total as well. Injuries riddled the offensive line but with five returning players with starting experience, Vanderbilt could put together something special on both sides of the ball this season.
Key Game: @Missouri, November 12
The magic number of wins is six for bowl eligibility. If the Commodores want to make their bowl since 2013, the Missouri game is a must win game. With other games on the schedule that may see the Commodores in the L column, November 12 is a must win game.
2015 Record: 10-4 (7-2 SEC)
Points Per Game: 23.2
Opponents Points Per Game: 18.2
The Gators were a bit of a surprise in 2015 in Jim McElwain’s first season as head coach which saw them take the SEC East crown. Quarterback play became an issue towards the second half of the season when Will Grier was suspended due to violating the NCAA performance enhancing drug policy, but they still finished atop the SEC East. This season sees a bigger challenge as key offensive and defensive players have departed from last season’s successful 2015 team. Defensive standouts Jalen Tabor and Jarrad Davis return in 2016 looking to have big years as well.
Key Game: @Florida State, November 26
Florida is 1-4 in the team’s last five meetings, losing the last three in a row. The Gators need a win against ACC rival Florida State this season, the pressure will be on the final week of the season with a lot of ACC/SEC matchups taking place then.
2015 Record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)
Points Per Game: 26.3
Opponents Points Per Game: 16.9
Imagine being a 10 win team and not being good enough as a head coach to keep your job, that’s what happened to Mark Richt. Kirby Smart takes over for the Bulldogs in Athens and expectations couldn’t be any higher. And it looks like things could turn around pretty quickly if the defensive minded Smart can figure out where the Bulldogs front 7 can be successful and figure out the quarterback situation behind new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb look to be in good hands entering 2016.
Key Game: Florida, October 29
The Bulldogs have dropped the last two games against the Florida Gators including an embarrassing 27-3 loss last season. Behind Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs need to set a new tone and attempt to get their first win since 2013 in the annual Florida-Georgia game.
2015 Record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)
Points Per Game: 35.2
Opponents Points Per Game: 20.0
The Volunteers return the most players of any team in the SEC and if the off the field issues can keep from becoming a distraction, they can be very good in 2016. Quarterback Josh Dobbs looks to bring it all together this season as an effective passer as he proved to be a reliable threat on the ground. The defense will certainly have his back led by linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin and the ball hawk cornerback Cameron Sutton as well. 2016 could be a good one for the Volunteers.
Key Game: Virginia Tech, September 10
The Volunteers last met the Virginia Tech Hokies in 2009 when the Hokies defeated them 37-14 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Volunteers look to avenge that loss and then some as this marquee game could bring the College Gameday crew to Bristol for what should be at the very least a very defensive game.