You might want to check out Bruce Feldman’s The Audible podcast with Jim Donnan here. The general topic under discussion was the pressure facing Kirby Smart in his first season, but starting at about the two-minute mark, they both note how sorry the overall state of the East appears to be. Donnan in particularly points out how bad the bottom of the division is likely to be.
It’s hard to argue with him about that.
Take a look at how the two divisions finished in Sagarin’s final 2015 ratings. Start with overall divisional rankings:
CONFERENCE CENTRAL MEAN SIMPLE AVERAGE TEAMS WIN50%
1 SEC-WEST (A) = 85.47 86.36 ( 1) 7 85.98 ( 1)
2 PAC-12(NORTH) (A) = 79.54 78.56 ( 2) 6 79.28 ( 2)
3 BIG 12 (A) = 77.85 76.85 ( 4) 10 77.75 ( 3)
4 PAC-12(SOUTH) (A) = 77.55 76.88 ( 3) 6 77.15 ( 4)
5 BIG TEN-EAST (A) = 76.19 76.49 ( 5) 7 76.31 ( 5)
6 ACC-COASTAL (A) = 75.02 75.28 ( 7) 7 75.20 ( 7)
7 ACC-ATLANTIC (A) = 74.88 75.78 ( 6) 7 75.25 ( 6)
8 BIG TEN-WEST (A) = 74.56 74.01 ( 9) 7 74.22 ( 9)
9 SEC-EAST (A) = 74.07 74.74 ( 8) 7 74.54 ( 8)
10 I-A INDEPENDENTS (A) = 73.06 71.64 ( 10) 3 73.45 ( 10)
That’s not a good look there. And when you look at the breakdown by team, you get an idea of what Donnan’s talking about. The lowest rated team in the West last season, Texas A&M, was ranked 33rd by Sagarin; that would have been good for fourth in the East. But that only begins to tell the whole story, which is the rankings of the teams below that: Missouri (62nd), South Carolina (65th), Kentucky (81st) and Vanderbilt (82nd).
Two of those teams have new head coaches. Kentucky has replaced its offensive coordinator. And the lack of stability extends to Georgia (23rd), with its new head coach, as well as Florida (28th), which fell off badly in the second half of last season and has to reset its offense – again – around a new quarterback and offensive line.
It’s easy to see why Tennessee (10th) is the consensus pick to take the East this season, but even there you’ve got serious questions about the turmoil surrounding the program and the reality that Jones still hasn’t put together a serious run of success against quality opponents.
Obviously, there are no guarantees. We could see an unexpected breakout team. But sitting here before spring practice gets underway, it appears that Kirby’s chances for success are definitely helped by the setting in which Georgia finds itself operating.