- South Carolina
My pick to win the East is the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier finally has amassed the talent the “Ole Ball Coach” needs to not only win his division but possibly the entire SEC. Connor Shaw played much of the year banged up but was still able to compile 2,391 yards and account for 20 td’s through the air and on the ground. If he can stay healthy he seems to be primed for a monster year. In back up duty, Dylan Thompson was good for 10 td tosses with only 2 interceptions. Replacing Marcus Lattimore will not be easy but rising sophomore Mike Davis averaged over 5 yards a carry and seems like a great option to inherit the bulk of the carries. Losing Ace Sanders hurts but returning leading WR Bruce Ellington (40 rec 7 td) and big play WR Damiere Byrd (26.14 ypc) ensure the WR corps will be stocked with playmakers. The offensive line remains mostly intact, only having to replace the C position. On defense it all starts with the line. Arguably the best in the country, Jadaveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, and Chaz Sutton return 38.5 TFL from last year. They are poised to wreak more havoc. The biggest question mark is at LB where they lost 5 of their top 6 guys. Their hoping the talented but inexperienced group’s transition will be eased by the dominance of the DL. The secondary only has to replace the FS position with all the other positions having incumbent starters who combined for 6 INT’s last year. The schedule will tell the tale for the Gamecocks. They open with North Carolina, at Georgia, then Vandy. They also get Florida and Clemson at home at the end of the year. Definitely a tough schedule but they should have the talent and coaching to overcome it.
Mark Richt returns a team that was seconds away from beating Bama which would have given them the right to slaughter Notre Dame and be national champions. Again, it all starts and finishes with senior QB Aaron Murray (3893 yds 36 TD 10 INT) who should be a Heisman contender. Fantastic freshman duo Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 2,144 yds and 25 TD’s and both averaged over 6 yards a carry. Michael Brown and Michael Mitchell return at WR and as sophomores they combined for 64 catches and 8 TD. Mitchell seems poised to be the next superstar WR at UGA. The entire offensive line returns intact and with the numbers the Murray and the RB’s put up last year, I expect more of the same. On the defensive side is where it gets dicey. In losses they averaged giving up 33.5 ppg. They lose the entire D line and DE Ray Drew is the only one with at least a little experience. A lot of new faces at LB too; they will count on Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera and neither were starters last year. Basically a whole new front 7. Keeping with the reoccurring theme, UGA will also field a new secondary as well. Although they are young and talented they will have a hard time replacing Baccari Rambo, Branden Smith, and Shawn Williams. The schedule for UGA is a killer too. They open at Clemson and then get USC at home. They get LSU at home but travel to Vandy and Auburn and don’t forget about the cocktail party in Jacksonville.
After a resurgent 2012 featuring an 11-2 record, Will Muschamp’s Gators are ready to challenge for the East again. Florida’s ability to challenge will rest on the improvement of Jeff Driskel who passed for 1,646 yards 12 TD and only 5 INT. For them to really take the next step, Driskel will have to as well. Last year freshman Matt Jones played pretty well in limited carries averaging over 5 ypc. WR is a position where they need multiple younger guys to step up. Quinton Dunbar is the best playmaker returning. He had 36 catches and 4 TD’s last year. Florida only lost 2 seniors from last year’s O line. The group had a lot of injuries and played a bunch of guys. They return a lot of experience from an array of player. O line should be a strong point for the Gators next year. The Gators return a loaded group on the D line led by Dominique Easley, Leon Orr, and Jonathan Bullard who combined for 19 TFL last year. Also add in 2 highly touted juco guys in Damien Jacobs and Darius Cummings and they are set. The LB’s are led by Jelani Jenkins and Ronald Powell even though he is more of a hybrid. At CB they return studs in Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy but hey also signed #1 hs CB recruit Vernon Hargreaves III who many believe to start immediately. Matt Elam going pro hurts at S but they are loaded with talent there as well. I expect a slight dip without Elam but nothing terribly noticeable. Of all the East contenders, Florida has the best schedule. They have 2 road test at LSU and USC but get the rest of the big games at home (I’m counting Jacksonville as home). Georgia, Vandy, and FSU are their other test. Those 2 road trips will make or break their chances.