2021-2022 SEC East preview
It's been a while since the SEC East witnessed dominance in the conference.
Sure, the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs are two of the most storied teams in the nation. But since 2009, they've accounted for nine division titles and only won one of them.
Even that year, the Playoff champion was an SEC West team.
Since the Playoff was introduced in 2014, only the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs have represented the SEC East there. 11 of the last 12 conference champions were from the SEC West. We always see a ton of NFL-caliber players in the East, but their teams somehow never manage to put it all together and compete for the championship.
Of course, it's not their fault that there's Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide on the other side.
The SEC East Division is composed of seven teams:
- Florida Gators
- Georgia Bulldogs
- Kentucky Wildcats
- Missouri Tigers
- South Carolina Gamecocks
- Tennessee Volunteers
- Vanderbilt Commodores
Once again, it looks like the division will be decided between the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs, who amassed the last six SEC East championships. The Bulldogs are the favorites this year and the Kentucky Wildcats are a dark-horse candidate - they have never played in an SEC Championship Game.
The Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the nation. Their defense is never weak with Kirby Smart on board and JT Daniels has one of the strongest arms in the country. They're not only favorites in the division but they can also pose a challenge for the national championship with a strong recruit once again.
Their main opponents will be the Florida Gators, who won the division in 2020 but lost a lot of talent after the season, especially with Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney heading to the NFL. The Kentucky Wildcats also present a threat coming from a third straight season with a bowl game victory, but the Wildcats haven't beaten the Bulldogs since 2009.
The talent gap to the other four teams is sizable. Missouri moved to the SEC East in 2012 and have won the division twice since then, but they haven't put together a nine-win season since 2014.
South Carolina has a new coach in Shane Beamer but you can't expect them to pose a threat this year, just as you can't expect a lot from Vanderbilt after they didn't win a single game last season. Tennessee could carve out a bowl season spot, but they will not compete for the division title.
Let's take a deep dive on the SEC East teams now, starting with the Florida Gators.
Florida Gators: SEC East
Dan Mullen has proven himself a capable head coach to win football games in the SEC, but he's also made a few mistakes outside the field that have hurt his legacy. While the Cotton Bowl loss to Oklahoma was ugly, the fact that several offensive stars opted to sit out the bowl game made it forgivable.
Here's a look at the Florida Gators' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC East Conference preview: Florida Gators
Florida's strengths: Although Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney are gone, the Gators are not short of pass-catcher options as Xzavier Henderson and Jacob Copeland look set to take over, with Trent Whittemore looking to build on his freshman season.
The passing offense won't be as strong as last season, but with Emory Jones taking over at quarterback, scoring won't be a problem for the Gators in 2021.
Florida's weaknesses: The Gators hope the coaching changes in the defense will fix a secondary that allowed 28 passing touchdowns last season. There's talent in the group, but it was a big headache last season.
Florida Gators key player: Offense
QB Emory Jones: One of the first recruiting wins for Dan Mullen, Jones is a strong-armed, mobile quarterback who'll have a tough task filling the shoes of Kyle Trask. He's got a small sample size throwing the ball with only 86 throws since 2018, but there's a lot of expectation regarding how he'll evolve the offense with a rushing element that Trask didn't have.
Florida Gators key player: Defense
DL Brenton Cox: A physical front seven will be the tone of the Gators' defense this year and Cox is a great candidate for a breakout season. He amassed 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for a loss last year, and he's strong enough to become one of the stars of the SEC East. Watch out for senior Zachary Carter playing next to him.
2021-2022 Florida Gators schedule
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. FAU Owls
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 at South Florida Bulls
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 at Kentucky Wildcats
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 at LSU Tigers
Week 8: Bye week
Week 9: Saturday, October 30 vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 at South Carolina Gamecocks
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 vs. Samford Bulldogs
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 at Missouri Tigers
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 vs. Florida State Seminoles
2021-2022 Florida Gators prediction (8-4 overall, 4-4 SEC)
While the Gators will still have a positive season and a good offense, they're just not at the same level as 2020. They'll make sure they don't lose to weaker SEC teams, but they won't be a match to Alabama and Georgia. Losses to Kentucky and LSU outside of The Swamp will also hurt Florida's overall SEC record.
Georgia Bulldogs: SEC East
Georgia has seen a great amount of success under Kirby Smart's reign, but they have yet to win a championship. They fell to Alabama in overtime during the 2018 Playoff and never returned since. After a year away from the SEC Championship, they're hoping to take the crown away from Florida and represent the division again.
Here's a look at the Georgia Bulldogs' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC East Conference preview: Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia's strengths: Well, basically, the whole roster. It's loaded with five-star prospects after great recruiting classes under Smart. The offense has one of the best quarterbacks of the SEC in JT Daniels and the backfield is stacked. The defensive line is as strong as ever. They have all the components to fight for the national championship.
Georgia's weaknesses: Will there be enough juice to account for the loss of Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell? Even though the Bulldogs have Derion Kendrick coming from Clemson, losing two great cornerbacks can have a negative effect on the first few games. As you'll see later, this can be a major problem considering Georgia's schedule.
Georgia Bulldogs key player: Offense
QB JT Daniels: Daniels is a strong-armed quarterback whose vertical game can do wonders for this power offense. George Pickens could be the name here, but he tore his ACL during spring practices and his injury will hurt the entire offense. Will Daniels be up to the challenge of elevating Todd Monken's offense?
Georgia Bulldogs key player: Defense
LB Adam Anderson: 5.5 sacks was a good number last year, but Anderson has to step up in 2021 to account for the loss of Azeez Ojulari - he could be an even better pass rusher for Georgia. Last year, Florida did whatever they wanted against this defense, not quite a sustainable approach.
2021-2022 Georgia Bulldogs schedule
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 at Clemson Tigers
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 vs. UAB Blazers
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 at Vanderbilt Commodores
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 at Auburn Tigers
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Week 8: Bye week
Week 9: Saturday, October 30 vs. Florida Gators
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 vs. Missouri Tigers
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 at Tennessee Volunteers
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. Charleston Southern Buccaneers
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2021-2022 Georgia Bulldogs prediction (11-1 overall, 8-0 SEC)
It's such a strong roster that it's really difficult to see anyone in the SEC East catching up to them. The only probable loss for the Bulldogs would be exactly in Week 1 to Clemson, but they have the talent to go undefeated for the remainder of the regular season. They'll reach the SEC Championship, then it's anyone's game.
Kentucky Wildcats: SEC East
It's a good time to be a Kentucky fan. On the back of a three-bowl game win streak, the team looks set to make a statement in the SEC East and surprise Georgia and Florida in order to reach the SEC Championship.
Since Mark Stoops joined as head coach, there's been steady progress within the program. Kentucky has played bowl games for five straight seasons now. There's hope that with maybe one or two lucky breaks, this could be the year Kentucky wins the division and plays in the SEC Championship Game for the first time ever.
Here's a look at the Kentucky Wildcats' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC East Conference preview: Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky's strengths: The running game will still be the main source of happiness for the fans, as the offensive line is still really good and Chris Rodriguez Jr. is back after a season with almost 800 scrimmage yards splitting carries.
Kentucky's weaknesses: Kentucky's passing offense was awful last year, amassing just 121.5 yards per game. Even though new offensive coordinator Liam Coen comes from the so-called McVay coaching tree, there's a lot of work to do for the aerial offense to become at least mediocre.
Kentucky Wildcats key player: Offense
RB Chris Rodriguez Jr.: Rodriguez Jr. will once again be the star of the show. He had 6.6 yards per carry last season and a new, modern offensive coordinator will help him produce even more this season. He's got the potential to surpass 1,000 rushing yards, especially if the team dominates weaker opponents this season as expected.
Kentucky Wildcats key player: Defense
S Yusuf Corker: Corker is definitely a key piece of the 2021 version of this defense: he's one of the best safeties in the SEC and, if the Wildcats don't have a good enough passing offense, they should at least defend it well. He's amassed 151 tackles and three interceptions in the last two seasons.
2021-2022 Kentucky Wildcats schedule
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. UL Monroe Warhawks
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 vs. Missouri Tiggers
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. Chattanooga Mocs
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 at South Carolina Gamecocks
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 vs. Florida Gators
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 vs. LSU Tigers
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 at Georgia Bulldogs
Week 8: Bye week
Week 9: Saturday, October 30 at Mississippi State Bulldogs
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 at Vanderbilt Commodores
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. New Mexico State Aggies
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 at Louisville Cardinals
2021-2022 Kentucky Wildcats prediction (9-3 overall, 6-2 SEC)
It'll be a fun season where Kentucky will be Georgia's biggest challenger inside the SEC East, but the fact is that the Bulldogs will have home-field advantage when the two meet in October. It'll be really tough to overcome this, and the Wildcats will surely be proud of the 2021 season once it finishes, especially if the team wins their fourth straight bowl game and reaches 10 wins.
Missouri Tigers: SEC East
The days when Missouri ruled the SEC East are long gone. The team posted a .500 season in 2020 and will be pinning hopes on the development of sophomore QB Connor Bazelak, who could help the Tigers make a run for a bowl invitational, perhaps even the division title.
Here's a look at the Missouri Tigers' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC East Conference preview: Missouri Tigers
Missouri's strengths: Even though the team lost Nick Bolton to the pros, there's still a good amount of talent in the front seven for new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to work with. Late defensive collapses against Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi State were a problem last year within the SEC, but a coaching change will do wonders for this group.
Missouri's weaknesses: Bazelak showed potential last year, but he couldn't do much as the Tigers' receivers were underwhelming. The trend is set to continue this year with a largely unproven group of pass-catchers; if Mookie Cooper doesn't produce the expected impact coming out of Ohio State, it'll be a tough year for Bazelak in the SEC East again.
Missouri Tigers key player: Offense
QB Connor Bazelak: Bazelak's emergence was the highest point of Mizzou's season, as the team finally has a quarterback it can trust. His stats weren't really impressive (seven touchdowns, six interceptions), but it's worth repeating that it says more about the receivers' lack of quality than anything about the quarterback himself. He should have a great sophomore season.
Missouri Tigers key player: Defense
DE Trajan Jeffcoat: Is this the year Jeffcoat starts to generate early-round buzz for the NFL? As a sophomore, he amassed six sacks, one forced fumble and six tackles for loss in only eight games. There's still a lot of room for the defensive end to grow and he'll be instrumental in Mizzou's success in 2021.
2021-2022 Missouri Tigers schedule
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. Central Michigan Chippewas
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 at Kentucky Wildcats
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. Southeast Missouri State Redhawks
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 at Boston College Eagles
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 vs. North Texas Mean Green
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 vs. Texas A&M Aggies
Week 8: Bye week
Week 9: Saturday, October 30 at Vanderbilt Commodores
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 at Georgia Bulldogs
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. Florida Gators
Week 13: Friday, November 26 at Arkansas Razorbacks
2021-2022 Missouri Tigers prediction (7-5 overall, 4-4 SEC)
Missouri has to set its expectations accordingly. The best-case scenario would still not involve a run for the SEC, as the roster isn't nearly as loaded as other competitors like Alabama, Georgia, LSU or even Florida.
However, it's another important season for Eliah Drinkwitz to make strides in his program and maybe make a run for the SEC East next year. A 7-5 with a bowl invitation would represent a positive 2021 for Missouri.
South Carolina Gamecocks: SEC East
The first year of new head coach Shane Beamer probably won't translate to a lot of wins for South Carolina. There's not enough talent to mount a challenge for the SEC East title, so the best the Gamecocks can hope for is to reach the bowl season with one or two lucky breaks during 2021.
The main objective this season is to turn the program's fortunes around, so the coaching staff will be under the microscope this year.
Here's a look at the South Carolina Gamecocks' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC East Conference preview: South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina's strengths: It's honestly tough to pick something to characterize as a real strength, as much of the expectation around South Carolina's season depends more on the upside than the actual production. The most positive thing resides on the offensive line, as four out of five starters from 2020 will return to the side.
South Carolina's weaknesses: The passing game didn't show up last season and has a lot of work to do to become a strength of this offense in the SEC. There's uncertainty about the quarterback position as the aerial game amassed only 187.2 yards per game last season.
South Carolina Gamecocks key player: Offense
RB Kevin Harris: It's not a team with a lot of juice on the offense, but Harris looks the part. He had 1,138 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and he's back for more in 2021. He amassed 1297 yards from scrimmage last year, which is a fair amount over a 10-game season, especially in the SEC
South Carolina Gamecocks key player: Defense
DE Kingsley Enagbare: Coming into his senior year, Enagbare will harbor hope that a good season against SEC competition can put him in the conversation for the NFL draft. He has amassed 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss during his three-year career with the Gamecocks.
2021-2022 South Carolina Bulldogs schedule
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. Eastern Illinois Panthers
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 at East Carolina Pirates
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 at Georgia Bulldogs
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 vs. Troy Trojans
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 at Tennessee Volunteers
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
Week 8: Saturday, October 23 at Texas A&M Aggies
Week 9: Bye week
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 vs. Florida Gators
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 at Missouri Tigers
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. Auburn Tigers
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 vs. Clemson Tigers
2021-2022 South Carolina Gamecocks prediction (4-8 overall, 1-7 SEC)
It'll be a rough start to Beamer's career with the Gamecocks as conference play will prove too heavy to handle. South Carolina will be able to start the season well as the team wins at least three of the first five games, but the second half of the season will be too much to overcome. Still, there'll be a lot of positives if the new coach can make things positive.
Tennessee Volunteers: SEC East
Tennessee will have an entirely different look this year as the Volunteers fired the defensive-minded Jeremy Pruitt and poached Josh Heupel from UCF after a great job with the Knights.
With an offensive-minded approach, Heupel hopes he can take the success he's had over the last three years and help Tennessee reach its first SEC Championship Game since 1998.
Here's a look at the Tennessee Volunteers' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC East Conference preview: Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee's strengths: Will the running back duo of Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans turn into a strength? That's the Vols' hope, as there's not much juice in the passing game for it to compete within the SEC.
Tennessee's weaknesses: The offense was bad last season. Like, really bad. Heupel will obviously help, but until we see the results on the field, scoring is still going to be the main weakness of the Vols.
Tennessee Volunteers key player: Offense
QB Harrison Bailey: The Volunteers have an interesting quarterback situation developing, but they'll likely stick with Bailey to start the season. He was a fine player in 2020, completing over 70% of his throws in six games as a freshman. There's talent to be unlocked.
Tennessee Volunteers key player: Defense
DB Alontae Taylor: Senior Alontae Taylor returns for his final season with the Vols hoping to bounce back from a disappointing year under Pruitt. Even though the new head coach is offensive minded, he'll count on Taylor to be a leader in the locker room. He's also a fine player, with 102 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles during his three-year career.
2021-2022 Tennessee Volunteers schedule
Week 1: Thursday, September 2 vs. Bowling Green Falcons
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 at Florida Gators
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 at Missouri Tigers
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 vs. Ole Miss Rebels
Week 8: Saturday, October 23 at Alabama Crimson Tide
Week 9: Bye week
Week 10: Saturday, November 6 at Kentucky Wildcats
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 vs. South Alabama Jaguars
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
2021-2022 Tennessee Volunteers prediction (6-6 overall, 2-6 SEC)
It won't be easy for Heupel to replicate the same level of success he's had in the AAC to the SEC, but he's more than capable of doing the job. If he reaches the bowl season in 2021 it's going to be a successful first year as he's inherited a roster he hasn't even recruited.
It's difficult to envision a shot for the SEC East, but the team will be part of the bowl season.
Vanderbilt Commodores: SEC East
There's absolutely no way that Vanderbilt can be worse than in 2020 after they had a disastrous 0-9 season.
Playing in the SEC is always a challenge, but the new coaching staff has a mountain to climb in terms of making the Commodores competitive for the long haul.
Here's a look at the Vanderbilt Commodores' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2021-2022 season.
2021-2022 SEC East Conference preview: Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt's strengths: Although the team was truly awful in 2020, freshman Ken Seals had a decent year, with 64.6 percent of completed passes and 12 touchdowns. There wasn't much he could do best, but he's an interesting piece for new coach Clark Lea to build on.
Vanderbilt's weaknesses: There's an argument to be made about the Commodores having success throwing the ball last season. On the other hand, everyone had success throwing the ball against the Commodores last season. It was by far the worst pass defense in the SEC, allowing 2.7 touchdown passes per game.
Vanderbilt Commodores key player: Offense
WR Cam Johnson: Returning for his senior season, Johnson needs less than 100 yards to surpass 1,000 during his career at Vanderbilt. He's one of the few veteran players on this team and his importance in helping Lea build a solid foundation cannot be understated.
Vanderbilt Commodores key player: Defense
LB Anfernee Orji: Orji was a pleasant surprise last year in a truly bad defense. If Vanderbilt is going to field a mediocre unit this year - which would represent a huge evolution from last year - the talents of the third-year linebacker, who amassed 66 tackles, a forced fumble and a sack last season will be fundamental to it.
2021-2022 Vanderbilt Commodores schedule
Week 1: Saturday, September 4 vs. East Tennessee State Buccaneers
Week 2: Saturday, September 11 at Colorado State Rams
Week 3: Saturday, September 18 vs. Stanford Cardinal
Week 4: Saturday, September 25 vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Week 5: Saturday, October 2 vs. Connecticut Huskies
Week 6: Saturday, October 9 at Florida Gators
Week 7: Saturday, October 16 at South Carolina Gamecocks
Week 8: Saturday, October 23 vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Week 9: Saturday, October 30 vs. Missouri Tigers
Week 10: Bye week
Week 11: Saturday, November 13 vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Week 12: Saturday, November 20 at Ole Miss Rebels
Week 13: Saturday, November 27 at Tennessee Volunteers
2021-2022 Vanderbilt Commodores prediction (3-9 overall, 0-8 SEC)
The Commodores are the weakest team in the SEC and it'll show during conference play this year: it's going to be difficult for them to win a single game within the SEC. The most important thing this year is to build a strong foundation so the Commodores can become a mainstay in the bowl season.