Randy Smith: SEC East Preview

Wednesday, August 3, 2022 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith
For the past several seasons, there has been Georgia.... then everybody else in the SEC East. The Bulldogs have dominated the East every bit as much as Alabama has in the West. The 'Dawgs finally got the championship monkey off their back by winning the national title in January by finally beating 'Bama. There is no reason to believe the dominance will continue in 2022.

7. Vanderbilt - Head coach Clark Lea stated just a few weeks ago at the SEC Media Days that Vanderbilt will eventually be the country's top football program. I beg to differ. While it's great to be an optimist and talk your program up to the media, that comment is a bit too much. Maybe a lot too much. Going into the 2022 season Vandy is rated as the country's number 87 team.
That's 87 out of 124 teams currently playing FBS football. The Commodores have a long way to go. They went 2-10 overall and were winless at 0-8 in the SEC in 2021. The talent just isn't there yet, though Coach Lea has recruited faster more talented athletes. I don'y think Vandy will be winless in the SEC again, but wins will be hard to come by.

6. Missouri - Eli Drinkwitz has gone 11-12 at Missouri in his first two seasons and Mizzu fans are anxiously awaiting a breakthrough season. It could come this year as Drinkwitz has had back to back top 20 recruiting classes. He's also brought in several talented players through the transfer portal and if he settles the quarterback situation before the season begins, things could look a lot different in Columbia this fall. Brady Cook and Tyler Macon battled for the QB job in the spring with no clear winner in place. When that is settled, the Tigers can move ahead with their rebuilding task. A third defensive coordinator in three seasons under Drinkwitz seems to suggest things aren't where they should be but Mizzu should be better defensively. A winning season is definitely reachable.

5. Florida - The Gators return half their starters from last year's 6-7 squad, (2-6 in the SEC) and new head coach Billy Napier has impressed Gator fans with his early "changing of the culture" in Gainesville. There is some really good talent on the team but not a lot of depth. That could lead to another dismal season at the "Swamp." Quarterback Anthony Richardson had a great spring and should be a real plus for the offense. However, Napier must find some receivers for Richardson to throw to because the Gators return only two of five from last year. On defense, the strong point should be in the secondary but again depth will be a problem on both sides of the ball. A home game with Kentucky on September 10th and the road game at Tennessee will be early season tests.

4. South Carolina - The Gamecocks are a program on the rise under second year head coach Shane Beamer. They were 7-6 last year and that includes an impressive 38-21 win over North Carolina in the Duke's Mayo Bowl. The biggest change in the team from a year ago is the addition of quarterback Spencer Rattler from Oklahoma. Rattler had a fantastic freshman season with the Sooners but struggled greatly in his sophomore season. He's hoping that a fresh start at South Carolina will turn things around. Depth could be a real problem on both sides of the ball but Beamer has his team ready to compete, though not quite ready to contend in the SEC East.

3. Kentucky - The Wildcats have enjoyed some of their greatest success in the last decade under Mike Stoops. They were 10-3 a year ago and finished second in the East . Quarterback Will Levis has been the big key to that success and for the first time in his tenure at Kentucky, Stoops doesn't have to worry about his quarterback position. The 'Cats will also be good at running back and they have four quality runners to choose from. They will also be strong on the defensive front but the "Big Blue Wall" returns only a pair of starters on the offensive line. Kentucky should have another banner season and could be 4-0 going into the second SEC clash of the year at Ole Miss in game five.  However, to think the Wildcats will overtake Georgia for the SEC East title is ill-advised.

2. Tennessee - Most people are picking the Vols third and Kentucky second in the East but I think Tennessee is a better team than Kentucky, though that remains to be seen. The Volunteers have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Hendon Hooker who put up some monster numbers after he was named the starter in game two. While they lost several receivers they do have Cedric Tillman back as well as a veteran offensive line and three strong running backs. As always the schedule will be very tough. The Vols face each of the last three national champs....LSU, Alabama and Georgia. They also have a date with ACC Champ Pittsburgh but a nine win season is not out of the question. There should be no problem with Josh Heupel's explosive offense, but there is a big concern on defense. Tennessee was absolutely awful defensively in 2021 and, while things should be better this season, the Big Orange defense still needs to prove itself.

1. Georgia - In the SEC East there is Georgia....then everyone else. No other team comes close to the talent level as the Bulldogs look to repeat as national champs in 2022. Now....the "Dawgs lost eight starters to the NFL on defense last year, including top draft pick Trevon Walker. Realistically Georgia won't be as good on defense as a year ago but they will still be very good. There is a lot of talent on defense but it's very young. In other words, they'll be much better in the second half of the season. Offensively, Stetson Bennett returns after guiding the Georgia  offense to some big numbers on their way to the national title. There will be some questions at running back and receiver but Coach Kirby Smart has recruited very well so finding talent won't be a problem. Standing between Georgia and another national title is Alabama and I'm sure the Tide will remember last year's championship game.

SEC Championship - As good as Georgia is, Alabama is better. The Tide returns to the top of the league in 2022.
 
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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com

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