2011 SEC East Preview


When one starts a college football blog within a week of the start of the new season, the first few posts are inevitably nothing but previews. Here’s the 2011 SEC East preview. The SEC West preview will be up tomorrow.

The 2010 season was a departure from the normal for SEC East teams. In many past seasons, the Eastern Division was dominant, featuring three or four top-20 teams. Last year it was a division of mediocrity with each team ending the season with at least five losses. The upcoming season will feature plenty of mediocrity in the East, but this year, the champion will be an exception.


South Carolina reached new heights in 2010, winning the East and advancing to the SEC

Championship Game in Atlanta for the first time. Head coach Steve Spurrier said at SEC Media Days that the 2011 version of the Gamecocks would be his best team in Columbia yet. He’s right; with 14 returning starters — including receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Marcus Lattimore on offense, and seven of the top eight tacklers from 2010 on defense — Carolina has a strong nucleus to make a run at conference — and perhaps BCS — glory. Only a loss at Arkansas will keep South Carolina from a perfect regular season. But the Gamecocks will reach Atlanta for the second consecutive season.

Predicted wins: ECU, at Georgia, Navy, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Kentucky, at Miss. State, at Tennessee, Florida, Citadel, Clemson

Predicted loss: at Arkansas


Florida enters the 2011 season in a state of complete upheaval. Urban Meyer is gone as

head coach; Will Muschamp is in. Muschamp made a major upgrade at offensive coordinator, replacing Steve “Run the Dive” Addazio with Charlie Weis. Weis will have the Gator offense clicking in a couple of years, but trying to run a pro-style attack with spread athletes will result in some frustrating inconsistency for Florida fans. The defense should be fine under Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and Weis will surely adapt to the talent at hand and make the offense shine at times. But in the end, the lack of proper personnel for a pro-style attack will lead to a forgetful season in Gainesville.

Predicted wins: FAU, UAB, Tennessee, at Kentucky, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Furman

Predicted losses: Alabama, at LSU, at Auburn, at South Carolina, Florida State


It’s now or never for Mark Richt. The longtime Bulldog head man, who happens to be the

longest-tenured head coach in the SEC, is on the hottest of hot seats after consecutive disappointing seasons. Going 14-12 over two seasons usually leads to unrest in Athens, and this case is no different. Eight wins seems like a must for Richt to keep his job following this season, and even that might not be enough. Despite some experts picking the Bulldogs to win the East, Georgia will likely be looking for a new coach next off season. Losing Caleb King to the NFL and Washaun Ealey to off-field nonsense at running back leaves true freshman Isaiah Crowell as the man. Crowell is talented, but he can’t be expected to be a star this early in his career. And with no A.J. Green to target at receiver, quarterback Aaron Murray will struggle to find anyone open. The defense, which has kept just four SEC teams under 20 points in two years under coordinator Todd Grantham will continue to struggle. At the end of the year, Georgia fans will be thinking back to the SEC titles of the early 2000s and wonder where it all went wrong under Mark Richt. And Richt will be looking for a new job.

Predicted wins: Coastal Carolina, at Ole Miss, Miss. State, at Vanderbilt, N.M. State, Kentucky, at Georgia Tech

Predicted losses: Boise State, South Carolina, at Tennessee, Florida, Auburn


Tennessee is hard to figure out. Tyler Bray showed over the course of the final four regular

season games that he as the potential to be a great quarterback. And the Vol defense didn’t allow more than 14 points in a game during that stretch. Of course, those four wins were against Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. In the previous eight games, the Vol D gave up at least 29 points six times. With 1,000-yard rusher Tauren Poole back at running back and an experienced offensive line. Tennessee should be able to run on most teams. After losing the top four receivers from 2010, passing will be a challenge at times, but if Bray can limit the interceptions, the Tennessee offense could be fairly potent. Tennessee allowed 25 points and 382 yards per game in 2010, which ranked ninth and 10th in the SEC, respectively. Derek Dooley has attracted some decent defensive talent, but there aren’t enough playmakers to carry the load. Janzen Jackson and Prentiss Waggner will be good in the secondary, but the Vols will give up yards and points in the second year of Dooley’s rebuilding project.

Predicted wins: Montana, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Georgia, Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt, at Kentucky.

Predicted losses: at Florida, LSU, at Alabama, South Carolina, at Arkansas


The Wildcats have ended the last five seasons in the Music City Bowl three times and the

Liberty and Compass Bank Bowl once each. For just about every other SEC program, that would be considered five years of mediocrity and failure. At Kentucky, it happens to be the best five-year run in school history. Can the Wildcats make it to a bowl game for a sixth consecutive year? That will be a tall order. On offense, replacing the most versatile player in the SEC, Randall Cobb, running back Derrick Locke and quarterback Mike Hartline will be too much to overcome. There just isn’t a strong enough base to make up for that kind of experience in one season. The defense returns 10 starters, but that might not be a good thing. Kentucky allowed 33 points and 400 yards per game in SEC play last season. Another year of experience should improve those numbers somewhat, but they still won’t be great. The Eastern Division is still in a bit of rebuilding mode, so Kentucky could find an upset or two, but if the Wildcats go bowling this season, it might be their biggest success yet.

Predicted wins: W. Kentucky, C. Michigan, Jacksonville State, Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt

Predicted losses: Louisville, Florida, at LSU, at South Carolina, Mississippi State, at Georgia, Tennessee


It looked like Vanderbilt had turned a corner in 2008, finishing the season with a 7-6 record

and a victory over Boston College in the Music City Bowl, the first Commodore bowl appearance since the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl. Two frustrating years and two head coaches later, things are back at Square 1 for Vandy. Two consecutive 2-10 seasons have led to the hiring of former Maryland offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting James Franklin. The Commodores actually return all 11 starters on offense, including solid athletes at running back and quarterback in Warren Norman and Larry Smith. Even with Norman and Smith, Franklin will have a tough time improving on an offense that has been mostly pedestrian over the past two and a half years. Vandy returns eight starters on defense, but there isn’t enough talent on that side of the ball to hope for much improvement on last year’s 34 points and 472 yards allowed per game in SEC play. This season will be tough sledding, but with a few top-notch recruits verbally committed and a proven track record as an offensive coach, Franklin may have the ‘Dores back in bowl play in the next couple of years.

Predicted wins: Elon, Ole Miss, Army, at Wake Forest

Predicted losses: UConn, at South Carolina, at Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, at Florida, Kentucky, at Tennessee