SEC Football: The East Is A Beast Again

Ladies and gentlemen, the Southeastern Conference has an announcement to make: "Welcome back, Eastern Division!" There are plenty of folks who think that Louisiana State has the best team in the SEC this year, but in the bigger scheme of things, it's hard to shake the notion that this 2005 season --- like the next several years in America's toughest conference --- will smell a lot like the 1990s.

Florida figures to be potent, for one thing.

A man wearing a visor will be coaching in the East again.

Phil Fulmer will have a loaded team in Knoxville.

Kentucky won't be as good as it was in the Hal Mumme days, but that decline is more than offset by the fact that Georgia boasts a first-rate program. Vandy is still Vandy, but that one breather on the slate doesn't hide the fact that the East is a solid, four-deep division where you can't feel too comfortable.

To briefly look at the West for a moment, the fact that LSU is a clear favorite actually serves to underscore the East's returned supremacy. LSU's position as the best in the West is a testament to the division's weakness as much as (if not more than) LSU's excellence. The fact that there's no clear-cut favorite in the East, on the other hand, serves to illustrate just how cutthroat this division has become once again. Florida, Georgia and Tennessee figure to beat each other up, and South Carolina will be quite the pesky team, to say the least.

Consider more reasons why the East is a beast again, just like it used to be:

Tennessee-Florida seems to have regained SEC Game of the Year status: It's hard to think that this year's edition of Vols-Gators, in mid-September, won't have anything less than a truly decisive and defining impact on the rest of the season. It just might propel the winner to an emotional place of overflowing confidence and to a favorable place within the BCS standings... if Texas loses to Oklahoma.

Steve Spurrier will be stirring up the drink: He'll be in a different location, but that won't change the fact that every SEC East team will be that much more motivated to be at its best. Spurrier made Fulmer and Tennessee become the program they became because the Vols were forced to reach new levels of hunger and precision in the way they played. The awareness of having Spurrier in your backyard, coaching against you, makes you that much more intense and competitive. The antennae of every SEC East program just pricked up a bit more, and as a result, the overall quality (not to mention color and aggressiveness) of the division should escalate once again, just as it did the previous time Spurrier coached in the SEC.

Florida has a commanding presence as its head coach: We all know what Bear Bryant famously said about Florida: "If those guys ever find the right coach, the rest of us will be playing for second." Steve Spurrier was that man for 12 years, but Ron Zook most certainly wasn't that kind of man for three wrenching seasons. Urban Meyer might face a steep learning curve in year one ---"you're not in Kansas.... errr, Utah... anymore" --- that will prevent him from making a huge splash right off the bat. But it is also undeniable that Meyer commands a stage and possesses a presence with the confidence of a man born to coach in this conference, and especially this division. He seems destined to learn how to deal with this job, and once he does, watch out. With a studied, football-savvy leader back in Gainesville after a three-year period without one, the collective temperature in the East will return to that familiar boiling point maintained so often in the division's 1990's heyday (which didn't really end until 2001).

You know what a robust SEC East looks, cooks, tastes and smells like. You know it because you remember it well. As Florida Gator fans, in fact, you reveled in that feeling.

That makes it very easy to see that the ingredients in a hearty SEC East recipe for success are finally back in the pot.

Welcome back, SEC East. It's good to have you at the tailgate parties again.

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