College Football is right around the corner and I will look to continue my College Previews with a look at East Division of the Southeastern Conference. Here are the current Odds (Courtesy of BetUS) for teams to win the East Division this year. Georgia (+175); Florida (+250); South Carolina (+250); Tennessee (+1000); Missouri (+1000); Vanderbilt (+1200); Kentucky (+1500). Below is how I see this division stacking up this year.
Georgia: The Bulldogs are set up to have a very special season. Last year this team went 10-4 overall and made it to the SEC title game, before getting blown out by LSU and they have 16 starters back from that team. The Bulldogs are losing only two starters from one of the nation’s top defenses, so they should be even better than they were last year now that they have more experience. Brandon Boykin and his 11 tackles for loss and 9 PBU’s will be hard to replace, but he is the only one of their top 13 tacklers from last year that they have to replace. This will be one of the better defenses in the nation again. Offensively, junior QB Aaron Murray had a phenomenal year (3,149 pass yds, 35 TD, 14 INT) and he’s getting back all of his favorite weapons with the exception of RB Isaiah Crowell, who was dismissed from the team after being arrested on weapons charges. Still this offense will be explosive and if you couple that with a stout defense and a favorable schedule then you are looking at a team that should make a return visit to the SEC title game and may even be a dark horse contender for the National Title.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are off an impressive 11-2 season and this year they may be fielding a better team than that edition. Granted they do lose 11 starters from that team but Spurrier has had some great recruiting classes and they should fill in the gaps nicely. QB Connor Shaw proved to be solid last season (65.4% completions, 14 TD, 6 INT; 8 rush TD in final six games) and RB Marcus Lattimore (818 rush yds, 10 TD in 7 games) should be fully recovered from his knee injury and ready for a Heisman campaign. The OL is much improved and with 7 of their top 8 pass catchers back from a year ago this could be Spurrier’s best offense yet here. The defense was very good last year as they allowed just 18.4 ppg and should be just as good this year, despite some holes in their secondary. They also have some work to do on special teams but Steve will get them ready. The Gamecocks do have BB road dates with LSU and Florida, and a home date with Georgia, but the rest of their schedule is very manageable and that should allow them to finish 2nd in the SEC East for the 2nd year in a row.
Florida: The Gators had a mediocre 7-6 season in Will Muschamp’s first year, but they will be a better team this time around, especially on defense. Last year the Gators allowed 20.3 ppg and they have 15 of their top 126 tacklers back from that group and 10 starters. Overall this group lost just 3 of their 24 defensive lettermen from last year. Replacing departed John Brantley (will be Jacoby Brissett or freshman Jeff Driskel, both of whom are good enough to play. Along with losing Brantley, they have lost their top 2 RB’s and 2 of their top 4 pass catchers from last year’s team that averaged 25.8 ppg, which is kind of low for a Florida team anyway. The Gators roster is full of backs and receivers with track-star speed but with very little game experience and it may be hard for them to top last year’s offensive output. Without an offense to compliment their defense I just don’t see the Gators taking the East this year. They will still be very good most likely top last year’s 7 win total, but a battle with Gamecocks for 2nd in the division is about the best they will do.
Tennessee: The Vols are off a bad year in which they went 5-7 overall and 1-7 in the SEC, but this may be the most improved team in the conference this year. On offense, the Vols return QB Tyler Bray (283 passing YPG, 17 TD, 6 INT in 7 games) and stud WR Justin Hunter, who totaled 302 receiving yards in two games before suffering a season-ending ACL injury, along with 8 other starters. The running game should improve too, as Tennessee is getting back every offensive lineman it had last year, and there is enough talent at running back to make up for the loss of departed senior RB Tauren Poole. Their WR corps rates as the best in the league. Defensively they were very good last year, allowing 22.6 ppg and 9 starters return from that group. They do lose 2 of their top 3 tacklers from last year, including their sacks leader Malik Jackson, but still this defense should be better than last year. The Schedule is tough with road dates at S. Carolina and Georgia and home dates with Florida and Alabama, but still I feel that Dooley will be able to post just the 2nd winning record that the Vols have had in the last 5 years and make it back to a bowl game.
Missouri: The Tigers make the jump to the SEC this year, but this team will be facing much tougher defenses in the SEC than they did last year and that could lead to a tough year for the Tigers. The Tigers have most of their talent back at skill positions. Dual threat QB James Franklin (2,865 pass yds, 21 TD; 981 rush yds, 15 TD) gets back outstanding targets in WRs T.J Moe (649 rec yds, 4 TD) and Marcus Lucas (414 rec yds, 5 TD). RB Henry Josey (1,168 rush yds, 9 TD) is likely out for the year with a knee injury, but Kendial Lawrence (566 rush yds, 5 TD) is a nice replacement. James Franklin ( 2865 yds, 21 tds & 11 INT’s last year) returns at QB, but again he will not be facing the soft defenses of the Big 12 this year. On the defensive side, the Tigers bring back an experienced secondary, but their top linemen, DE Brad Madison and DT Sheldon Richardson, both missed the spring with shoulder injuries. They’ll need to get healthy and have big years for Missouri to be competitive in the SEC. The Tigers may be able to eek out 6 wins and get to a bowl game this year, but no more.
Vanderbilt: After a pair of 2-10 seasons the Commodores went to a bowl last year. They lost their bowl game vs Cincinnati and finished 6-7 on the year, but those extra bowl practices should really help this team that brings back 16 starters this year. This has the look of a promising season for the Commodores as their top three offensive players return in QB Jordan Rodgers (1,524 pass yds, 9 TD, 10 INT), RB Zac Stacy (1,193 rush yds, 14 TD) and WR Jordan Matthews (778 rec yds, 5 TD). Efene is where Vanderbilt could struggle as they lose their top 3 tacklers and all of their defensive units rank 10th or worse in the SEC. Vanderbilt may be a bit better than last year, but the schedule is tough and their defense is weak, which should keep them out of the postseason this year, but they are headed in the right direction.
Kentucky: This is a team that has a lot of ground to make up after going just 2-6 in the SEC and being outgained by 182.8 ypg in conference play. Last season was definitely one to forget for the Wildcats, whose offense had trouble scoring in the worst of ways (15.8 PPG, 4th-worst in FBS). Things should be a little better in 2012 mainly because the team has finally decided to stick with one quarterback. Maxwell Smith struggled at times as a freshman, but he did show signs of promise with a 283-yard, two-TD game against Ole Miss in November. The Defense was halfway decent last year, but they did bring 10 starters back that year and have just 5 back this year. They have lost 5 of their top 7 tacklers and will most certainly struggle on that side of the ball .Look for a basement finish in the East for the Wildcats.
All in all I expect a rematch of last years SEC title game, but in a surprise I expect the Bulldogs to walk away with the Title this year in a tight game vs LSU. Here are the current overall Odds to win the SEC Title this year (Courtesy of BetUS). LSU (+190)... Alabama (+190)... Georgia (500)... Arkansas (+600)... South Carolina (+900)... Florida (+1000)... Auburn (+1600)... Mississippi State (+2500)... Tennessee (+3000)... Missouri (+4000).... Texas A&M (+5000)... Vanderbilt (+5000)... Mississippi (+10000)... Kentucky (+10000).
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