I know Georgia won the SEC East last year, but you can’t say they were the favorite, nor can you say they’re the favorite this year.
Simply put, Georgia was the single worst team to ever represent a finalist for a conference championship contest.
In their defense, they did win 10 games- with a schedule softer than a feather. They beat Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State by an average of 9 points. Three of those teams they struggled against didn’t even make bowl games. The other three were 6-6. So to sum it up: all six of these teams were .500 or below in the regular season. They also had a 31-17 win over a de facto mid major team in Georgia Tech, which was semi-impressive since you never take a win on the road lightly. In addition, Georgia blew out big bad Coastal Carolina and New Mexico State. Boring.
The two and a half games Georgia looked legitimate were: a 45-42 loss to South Carolina, a game that was yet was actually not their fault in a comic sort of way; the Gamecocks scored in some of the most unconventional ways possible (fake punt, pick 6, fumble recovery, another fumble recovery that put the ball inside the UGA 5), a 45-7 blowout over an Auburn team that had nothing whatsoever to play for (and boy, it showed) and the first half against an LSU team that seemed perfectly content to give Georgia a half to run up as big of a lead as it could before settling down and playing to win in the second half instead of showing a flair for botcher seldom seen in a Pee Wee game, let alone an SEC Championship.
Get the point?
The Dawgs are not a team to fear. If anything, they are a team to laugh at, mock, and dismiss in any national title talk.
When you’re done laughing, take a second to look at their schedule from a year ago.
See what I mean?
But now, in 2012, the schedules have halfway evened out. Alabama and Auburn are off the Gators’ schedule, replaced by Texas A&M and Missouri, two mediocre ex-Big 12 teams. Then remember how close the Gators were in all of their losses to the teams not in last year’s BCS Championship Game. Meanwhile, UGA’s schedule is pretty much the same. The one difference is Missouri replacing Mississippi State, which is basically a lateral move. Neither team particularly impresses as better than the other one.
The only other possible threat to Georgia’s SEC East repeat chances aside from Florida would be the obvious choice, Carolina. Losing Alshon Jeffrey is a blow, but never count out a Marcus Lattimore led team (as long as he’s healthy.)
Here are my way too early SEC East projections for 2012:
1)Florida- This is strictly by default. Remember, Georgia was awful last year and won the East due to a nice schedule. Florida should definitely be better on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Even with the loss of Ronald Powell (I’ve heard he is targeted to return for the first SEC game against Texas A&M), this defense is simply evil. The offense has enough playmakers (Andre Debose, Trey Burton and Quinton Dunbar especially impressed) to put up winning point totals, but this team will ride its defense. The schedule sets up nicely, with the toughest opponents (LSU, South Carolina) coming to the Swamp. The road games are for the most part jokes. The Gators are a good, not great team, but will win the East not because they are so great, but because there’s simply nobody better.
2)South Carolina- Cocky is never out of the race to Atlanta for one two word reason: Marcus Lattimore. Assuming this warrior is healthy, Carolina should ground and pound their way to the mid 20’s every game. With their defense, that should be enough. Melvin Ingram, Stephon Gilmore and Devin Taylor have departed for the NFL, but Jadeveon Clowney is still a one man wrecking crew up front and should do his usual job of singlehandedly forcing the opposing QB to make quick and often bad decisions. Connor Shaw seemed to have a good grip on the offense last year. He’ll need to if Carolina wants to get back to the ATL. It’ll be a replay of last year- the SEC East title game in Gainesville. But this time around, the depleted Gamecocks don’t have quite enough to win, despite a fairly easy schedule.
3)Tennessee- this is the bold pick of the article. If I’m wrong about this, then Derek Dooley begins to feel the heat in Knoxville. A third straight season in the bottom half of the SEC East, no matter how many injuries the Vols have, would spell doom for Dooley, one of the true class acts of the SEC (a grudging admission from a Gator fan). Last season Georgia was on the verge of firing Mark Richt in 2011, only to win 10 straight games (albeit against horrible competition, remember). The same could happen to the Vols this year. Tyler Bray may be virtually unknown now, but I don’t believe that Tyler Bray’s talent will be unknown to the world for long. His top target, Justin Hunter, will return with a special fire in him. Together, the two could send scoreboard numbers flying, along with help from a much improved offensive line. But the question marks on defense are too big and too many to seriously label this team a contender.
4)Georgia- this isn’t really so much a slap in the face to Georgia, nor a hopeful plea from a huge Gator fan as much as I would like to say it is. No, this is simply a guess that all the close games UGA won last year will turn into heartbreaking losses in 2012. Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky in particular could have easily beaten Georgia and Tennessee, Ole Miss and MSU were never out of it until the last few minutes. Their 2012 schedule is essentially the same, as is their roster, particularly on defense. Their lone big loss is their great tight end Orson Charles. Perhaps their real losses come due to suspensions- Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings and Branden Smith are all out from a variety of 1-4 games. That means they might lose a game to a mediocre Mizzou team they shouldn’t- and if they do, well, then they certainly won’t win the East unless they can pull off a string of thrillers- again. Which is nearly impossible to do in the SEC- even in the weaker division.
5)Vanderbilt- the Commodores are no joke. Ask Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, or even Alabama. All four of those teams beat Vandy, but not without a serious fight first. And with Alabama and Arkansas off the schedule in 2012, the Dores have a real chance. For once, Vanderbilt, kick started by energetic coach James Franklin and QB Jordan Rodgers, appears to be a legitimate threat to win the East. The schedule even sets up nicely- South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee have to visit them, and they go to Georgia, Kentucky and Missouri. The only problem is that the rest of the SEC knows not to take them lightly, and when you’re in the SEC and you suddenly have high(er) expectations, you tend to fall flat. Plus, you know, they’re Vandy. They always make Vandy plays, even when they’re good. Watch this good-by-other-conference-standards-but-not-by-SEC-standards-team this year and you’ll see what I mean if you don’t already know.
6)Missouri- say hey to the new kid on the block. Here’s your schedule. Now go take your maulings. Truthfully, Mizzou is probably sick of hearing how good the SEC is by now and they’re hungry to take the league by storm, but that doesn’t mean they will. In fact, chances are they won’t, no matter how good QB James Franklin (no relation to Vandy’s coach) really is. They’re in way over their heads. Even if heralded freshman DGB (Dorial Green-Beckham, the latest awesome three letter nickname in college football) turns out to be a stud, he and Franklin will never light up scoreboards against the nastiest SEC defenses. Good luck with that. Their defense actually wasn’t bad last year, and should be good again this year, but they need more offensive playmakers before they can make a run, even with the element of surprise with them. They’ll get there in time- Gary Pinkel recruits too well not to- but not yet.
7)Kentucky- fresh off their season ending triumph over Tennessee, Kentucky celebrated for hours on end. Now, they can play all the mediocre to good SEC teams and be reminded of why they like basketball so much. Josh Clemons emerged as a playmaker last year for them, but he couldn’t carry them by himself. There are too many ghosts on this team- Derrick Locke, Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline and Micah Johnson. Now two more join them from last year’s team: Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan. The defense can’t be all that good, and unless Morgan Newton emerges as the next Cam Newton (there’s no relation there) Joker Phillips is in for a long season.