It’s been a two-team deal for a while.
Dating to the start of 2018 when Mullen started in Gainesville, Florida and Georgia have a combined East record of 26-3. Again, that’s excluding games played against each other. Two of those losses came in Mullen’s first year after taking over a 4-win team.
The last time an East team swept Florida and Georgia in the same season was 2016 Tennessee … which then followed up that momentum by immediately losing 3 consecutive games (the Vols went 2-12 in their next 14 SEC games). That was also Year 1 of Smart, and Mullen was still at Mississippi State.
Meanwhile, the rest of the SEC East has yet to earn a New Year’s 6 bowl berth since Mizzou earned a Cotton Bowl trip in 2013 (Arkansas is the lone SEC West squad that hasn’t been to a New Year’s 6 bowl in the Playoff era). That obviously predates the start of this Florida-Georgia run to Atlanta in 2015. Kentucky had its best season in 40 years in 2018, and it still got left out of a New Year’s 6 bowl.
Is it gonna get tighter? Well, the challengers have a long way to go.
That 2018 Kentucky team, to its credit, ended its 31-game losing streak to Florida (in Mullen’s first game vs. FBS competition at Florida) and hosted what was essentially an SEC East Championship vs. Georgia that year. That also was Kentucky’s first winning SEC season since 1977.
Perhaps there’d be more conversation about Mizzou sneaking into one of those top 2 spots if that Year 1 included a better showing against Florida or Georgia. That wasn’t the case, though. The Tigers were outscored 90-31. Also, away from Faurot Field, Mizzou was 1-3 with the lone road win coming against a South Carolina squad that had just fired Muschamp midseason.
Shane Beamer fits that mold, as well. The difference is that Beamer has a rebuilding job ahead. Sure, he inherited some talent , especially on the defensive line, but let’s be real: South Carolina went 2-8 and ranks No. 125 of 127 FBS teams in percentage of returning production…
Tennessee hasn’t beaten a top-10 team in 15 years and South Carolina played 80 of its last 81 games as an unranked team dating to 2014.
The lead dog doesn’t show much of a sign of slowing down, either.
In the 21st century, we haven’t seen a team so far above the East for 4 years like Georgia has been. At least not with a coach who stayed for multiple years after that run (see Meyer, Urban). Compare these 4-year windows to some of the other great East runs:
- 2002-05 Georgia vs. East: 16-4
- 2006-09 Florida vs. East: 19-1
- 2010-13 South Carolina vs. East: 18-4
- 2017-20 Georgia vs. East: 22-2
Notice those runs don’t overlap with each other. You know, like Florida and Georgia’s are right now.
The thing that was notable between 2006-09 Florida and 2010-13 South Carolina’s East runs was that things went downhill in a hurry for both programs, and 2 legendary coaches left less than 2 years removed from those runs. Richt was around much longer obviously, but from 2007-15, how many top-3 classes did he sign? Zero. From 2017-20, Smart signed nothing but top-3 classes (that streak ended in 2021 when his class ranked a measly No. 4).
The only other comparable run of talent and East dominance was Meyer’s stretch from 2006-10 when he signed classes ranked No. 2, No. 1, No. 5, No. 7 and No. 1.
Of course, Corch has a couple of nattys to go along with that, although he had the good fortune of dominating when Saban was just putting the pieces together in Tuscaloosa. Smart hasn’t had that luxury.
Still, in the end, the road to the CFP starts with winning the East. Georgia sits in good position for that.