Yesterday, we covered the SEC West win totals and predictions (If you must take any of them, then Auburn under 5.5 and Alabama over 10.5 seem the strongest). Today, we’ll tackle an intriguing Eastern division that includes a top-to-bottom rapidly improving division for the first time in about 15 years. And it feels weird saying that.
Georgia 10.5 (O/ -210, U/ +170) — Like Alabama, the Bulldogs are a big favorite to run away with their division, largely because they should be able to out-talent practically everyone on the schedule. The OOC is full of UGA’s usual kicked cripples (Samford, Kent State, Georgia Tech)... except for that season opener vs. Oregon. And while the Lanning connection is somewhat intriguing as a viewer, I suspect the Ducks are a lot like the Gators and Gamecocks: a year away from being the true threat. 4-0 should be the expectation. That said, if Oregon is going to lay into Georgia this year, getting them early is the best shot. The divisional schedule is a bit tougher than usual, with trappish road trips to Mizzou and South Carolina. UGA also hits the road against Bowl-ish Kentucky and Mississippi State. But the ‘Dawgs do host Auburn, the most dangerous team on the schedule in Tennessee, and then the annual drubbing of UF in Jacksonville. Still, the Bulldogs lost a whole lot of talent to the draft, and another 13 players to the portal. It’s rebuilding. Someone is going to wind up getting them, but I don’t see two losses here. Over, 11-1. Just too much talent to Kirby this away.
Kentucky 7.5 (O/ -180, U/ +150) — The Wildcats figure to be in the mix with the Vawls as the East runner-up and dark horses waiting in the wings should UGA slip up. A lot will depend on Will Levis’ ability to develop into a quality SEC starter, and the Wildcats actually showing up in the annual UGA beating that they take: The defense and running game will be there. Given that, it’s odd that the Wildcats are slated to win just 7.5. And well over seems the strongest option on the board here, TBH. The OOC is a 4-0 gift: Youngstown, two MAC teams, and hosting Louisville. UK hosts UGA, Vandy and Mississippi State. There are a few thorny road trips on the schedule, and all of them are losable: Florida, Mizzou, and especially Tennessee. I’m going to say that a harder road schedule, and the annual loss to UGA, keeps this team from double digit wins, but it should still be a good season for UK: Over, 8-4 or 9-3.
Missouri: 5.5 (O/ -150, U/ +130) — Missouri is in an odd position. It is in on Coach Drinkwitz for the long haul (which I think is the right call). Now in Year Three of the rebuild after Odom left that program a shambles, it hasn’t translated to many Ws just yet. I expect the Tigers to be a bit more competitive this year, but they’re still a year away from being truly respectable. Three of the four non-SEC games are very easy (NMSU, Abilene Christian, and Louisiana Tech). So there are three wins. Then we get a real taste of the Tigers when they travel to the Little Apple to face what should be a quality K State team. Even assuming a loss, 3-1 is not a bad way to enter league play. But the league really screwed MU out of the gate, with roadies to Auburn and the Swamp, wedged in with a home game vs. UGA in their first three tilts. If AU were a home game, you’d like their chances better. But still 0-3, 1-2 seems probable. The back half is where Missouri is going to get bowl eligible or really fall well behind: They host two of the harder games (Arkansas, UK), and then have tough road trips to Tennessee and USCe. I just don’t know where the wins are going to come from. The SEC hammered the Tigers here. Mizzou will be a lot better team, but 5 wins still seems the ceiling, even with an upset or two. Under, 5-7
Sakerlina 6.5 (O/ -150, U/ +120) — You have to love what Shane Beamer is doing in his complete revamp of the Gamecocks. It’s a very good defensive team, he recruited well, and USC brought in high profile transfers from the portal. But how do they all fit together? Better than you think, but likely not well enough to contend. USC opens with 7 of its first 8 against bowl teams, including respectable Georgia State and Charlotte, and hosting UGA. It’s a rough beginning, but .500 should be manageable. They’ll need that quick start too, because the last three look like probable beatings: at Florida, vs. Tennessee, at Clemson. 2023 should be the splash year, but 2022 is strictly about a spoiler role and flirting with the Music City Bowl. 6-6, Under
Tennessee 7.5 (O/ -170, U/ +150) — This is the most dangerous team in the SEC East outside of Georgia. The offense is lethal, the recruiting was a lot better than expected, and if the Vols can do something about that hideous defense, they’re going to cause a lot of havoc. It wasn’t illusory offensive success either: Aside from Alabama, they were the only team to move the ball well on the Bulldogs last season. The OOC is very generous, and includes UT-Martin, Akron, Ball State, and a road trip to rebuilding Pitt. 4-0 has to be the expectation here. The remaining question is whether they can get to .500 in SEC action. Three of the four hardest games are at home (Alabama, Kentucky, Florida), though what will likely be its most difficult one is on the road (UGA). Add in a visit by Vandy and Missouri, and a trip to South Carolina, and you see a team that has a fair shot at going 5-3, 4-4. Those 8 wins seem about right, perhaps even 9 if the defense is even marginally better Anything fewer than 8 wins should have fans in Hillbilly Hell sharpening pitchforks. Over, 8-4, 9-3.
Florida 6.5 (O/ -165, U +145) — What is this Napier Florida team going to look like? That seems to be the main question in Year One. If remarks from UF AD Jeremy Foley are any indication, as well as his prior work at ULL, then we are looking at far more disciplined, far more physical Gatas than we’ve seen at any time in the last decade or so. In some ways, it’s a bit like the 2016ish Alabama team: it’s an offense that will pass just enough, use RPOs to put mobile QBs into space, lean heavily on the run game, and smother opponents with an opportunistic defense that forces a lot of mistakes. Or, for that matter, consider it a slightly more modern version of Georgia.
If you’re seeing the obvious issue here, then you’re well ahead of most Florida fans: that sort of football takes a while to develop, as it is highly dependent on talent. And despite a gangbusters recruiting class given the compacted ESP in which he had to work, Napier’s roster simply isn’t up to snuff. Nor for that matter, do I think he’s done running off Dan Mullen headcases and pansies either. Expect another roster bloodbath throughout this season. So, it’s unrealistic for Florida to be anything other than a spoiler in 2022. But, they’ll flash some brilliance at time and feast on foibles as they flirt with the postseason...after a very bumpy first month that sees UF host Utah and Kentucky, while it travels to Knoxville (and throws in a visit by awful South Florida). A 1-3 September is not off the books...nor is a 4-0. However, 2-2 looks to be the most likely, given how poorly Utah travels. October opens a three-game homestand with FCS Semifinalist Eastern Washington, and SEC trips by Mizzou and LSU, before trotting down to JAX for the Cocktail Party. 3-1 is realistic here. The final portion closes out a bit more difficult though, with three road games (two of them losable at A&M and Florida State. We’re gonna ignore Vandy), and then a home tilt vs. sneaky South Carolina. Depending on injuries and cohesion 2-2 to 1-3 are plausible, and 3-1 would be wildly optimistic. Let’s say Florida finishes playing .500 ball in November, gets to 7 wins, and then a nice trip to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl. Over. 7-5, T-3rd in the SEC East, and New Year’s on Beale Street in the sleet.
Vanderbilt 2.5 (O/ +150, U/ -130) — It’s rare that you see 2 wins or fewer as the favorite for a Power 5 team, but that is not a trap. Nor, looking at what Vandy is returning, how poorly it recruits, and the schedule, is it unrealistic. A quick glance at the schedule shows you just one game you can chalk up as a W: in Week Two, hosting Elon. And gone are the Northwesterns and Dukes and Kansases of the world. In their place include a season-opener to Hawaii, a trip to MAC Champion NIU, and a visit by the ACC Runner-Up, Wake Forest. 1-3 is about all you see out of that slate. Though, if the Dores play wildly above their ability, they may catch the new-look Warriors sleeping in Honolulu (unlikely as it is).
The real issue is the conference schedule, where Vandy draws roadies to Athens and Lexington and Tuscaloosa (0-3). The home tilts are a bit more favorable, but VU will be underdogs in every last one of them for a reason: Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina. The best shot for a conference win for Vandy is a surprise win on the road at Mizzou, or a surprise win over USCe in Nashville. And I just don’t see that. For Vandy to go over 2.5 wins this year, they’ll need to play .500 ball against a tough OOC schedule and win at least one in SEC play. Do you think that’s going to happen? Me either. 2-10, but a little more competitive this season despite the record. Under.
This poll is closed
Georgia, over 10.5
Florida, over 6.5
Tennessee, over 7.5
Kentucky, over 7.5
Missouri, over 5.5
South Carolina, over 6.5
Vandy, under 2.5