This division has a potential playoff team, a new head coach and some breakout stars, here’s the SEC East.
There’s a lot of buzz in Knoxville, where the Volunteers have been picked by many experts and fans to win the division and could make a push for the College Football Playoff. They have 18 starters returning. Preseason All-American running back and potential Heisman candidate Jalen Hurd needs just 892 yards to become the school’s all-time rusher. His backfield mate Alvin Kamara can help make them a prolific tandem.
Preseason all-SEC quarterback Joshua Dobbs rushed for 11 touchdowns last season, if he can improve his passing numbers, the Vols could be right there in the playoff hunt. Kamara is also a solid receiver, expect Dobbs to target him down the field.
Bob Shoop takes over as defensive coordinator. He has plenty of talent to work with, led by preseason All-American defensive end Derek Barnett, who could be one of the best pass rushers in the conference, if not the nation. Preseason All-American linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin will help out as well. Preseason All-American cornerback Cameron Sutton thrilled Vols fans by returning for his senior season.
They play Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway. They host Florida and Alabama. They face Georgia, Texas A&M, and South Carolina on the road.
To Athens we go to next as Kirby Smart takes over for Mark Richt as head coach. Preseason All-American running back Nick Chubb is coming back from a serious knee injury. Once healthy, he and Sony Michel could be a solid duo. Fifth-year senior Grayson Lambert could start under center. Terry Godwin and Isaiah McKenzie could become great playmakers.
Smart is a defense-minded coach, and he’ll have the players to work with including preseason All-SEC safety Dominick Sanders and linebacker Lorenzo Carter.
They play North Carolina in Atlanta. They host Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. They face Ole Miss and South Carolina on the road.
Off to Gainesville next, where the defending SEC East champion Gators still have question marks on offense. Both of the quarterbacks from last season are gone. Jordan Scarlett leads a backfield that’s short on experience but have loads of talent. Wide receiver Antonio Callaway can be a productive playmaker.
As for the Gators’ defense, yes they’ve lost All-Americans cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and tackle Jon Bullard but they’ve reloaded. Preseason All-American safety Marcus Maye and All-SEC cornerback Jalen Tabor can give Florida a top secondary again. Linebacker Jarrad Davis and defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. could give offensive players nightmares.
They host LSU and of course their annual meeting against Georgia in Jacksonville. They face Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida State on the road.
Up next Lexington, where the Wildcats just missed reaching a bowl game last season after a hot start. Head coach Mark Stoops has a completely new offensive staff. But they do return nine starters. All-SEC running back Stanley “Boom” Williams leads a strong rushing attack. Tight end C.J Conrad earned All-SEC Freshman honors last season.
By contrast, the defense will feature many new faces such as linebackers Nebraska transfer Courtney Love and Minnesota transfer De’Niro Lester. Cornerback Chris Westry leads a veteran secondary.
The Rest of the SEC East
In Nashville, the Vanderbilt Commodores have 12 starters back. Vandy showed improvement last season. All-SEC running back Ralph Webb, wide receivers Jordon Matthews and Jonathan Krause and preseason all-SEC linebacker Zach Cunningham can help lead the Commodores to a bowl game this season.
In Columbia, the Missouri Tigers have a new head coach, Barry Odom. He’ll try to solve the injury and depth issues that plagued the Tigers last season.
And finally to Columbia, South Carolina, where new head coach Will Muschamp must find a quarterback. Running back David Williams could be a top SEC tailback. Their top defender, linebacker Skai Moore is out for the year after having off-season neck surgery.
That’s all for the SEC, next stop, we go to the Big 12.