You saw the ground rules in yesterday’s early look at the SEC West, so without any further ado, here’s the same for the East, again in order of 2007 division finish.
- Tennessee (10-4, 6-2). I look at this team and see one area where it should be better than it was in 2007 – the secondary. Tennessee is also Steele’s fourth most experienced team in the conference. Coming off of ten wins, ordinarily you might think that would be enough to have UT stand a good chance of repeating the success of last season. But there are a lot of trends and changes that don’t bode particularly well for the Vols. There’s a new starting quarterback taking direction from a new offensive coordinator. Tennessee got no favors on its schedule from the SEC this season, as Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina all have off weeks before playing UT. This team was the biggest overachiever in the conference in ’07, playing in the SECCG despite being outscored and outgained (ninth!) in conference play. One reason for its success: a 3-0 record in close games. That won’t happen again. Plus, UT starts off this year with a road game against a team that will have had Norm Chow gameplanning against its defense all summer (Mike Bobo, take notes). Finally, if you believe Fulmer is a better head coach when he’s staring into the abyss, you can’t be too thrilled that he just signed what amounts to a lifetime contract. Prognosis: decline.
- Georgia (11-2, 6-2). We all know the pluses and minuses here. Seventeen returning offensive and defensive starters. An entrenched coaching staff. The ruggedness of the schedule – not so much the ballyhooed trip to Arizona State as the Bataan Death March that comes mid-season when the team doesn’t see Athens for more than a month. Right now, that all has the feel of washing out evenly. Prognosis: unchanged.
- Florida (9-4, 5-3). Believe it or not, according to Steele, Florida enters the 2008 season as the least experienced team in the SEC. That’s because the Zooker’s last class, who would be this year’s seniors and redshirt juniors, essentially vaporized. So while this team returns a large number of starters on the offense and defensive sides of the ball, it in essence has a depth problem in that many, many of the backups being counted on are young and green. But that’s really not much different than last year, and the schedule, which drops Auburn in favor of Arkansas, is friendlier. That sounds like a net gain to me. Prognosis: improved.
- Kentucky (8-5, 3-5). This one writes itself, doesn’t it? With only four returning starters, UK’s passing game has been gutted by graduation, led by the departure of Andre Woodson. And even with those players, UK finished last year in negative territory in net yards per conference game. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the defense. The good stuff is meh. Steele does list the Wildcats as having the third most experienced roster in the SEC. The OOC schedule is pretty weak, but so was last year’s. LSU drops off the schedule, replaced by Alabama. All told, it’s not a recipe for success. Prognosis: decline.
- South Carolina (6-6, 3-5). Georgia’s opposite in 2007, this is the hardest team to handicap in the conference this year. The offense, which is supposed to be the OBC’s strength, was mediocre, so much of it returning means what, exactly? Quarterback, Spurrier’s hallmark position, looks especially shaky. The defense, with ten returning starters, appears formidable on paper. But there’s a new defensive coordinator and several starters being moved around, so who knows how that winds up shaking out? And while many claim that overall team depth is on the rise under Spurrier, how do you square that with the way the defense went in the tank last season after one key injury? On the other hand, the schedule is somewhat kinder according to Steele and Spurrier’s ego has to count for something. Maybe. Prognosis: slight improvement.
- Vanderbilt (5-7, 2-6). The simple truth is that Vandy should have played in a bowl game last year, but Bobby Johnson’s tendency to sit on a lead against a good opponent came back to bite him in the rear in the Georgia and Tennessee games. This team lost a lot on the personnel front, particularly on offense (only three starters return) where it wasn’t that strong to begin with. They’ll be somewhat respectable on defense, but it’s hard to see where the scoring will be coming from, especially considering that Steele ranks the Commodores’ schedule as the fourth toughest in the nation this year. Talk about adding insult to injury. Prognosis: going down.