I should point out two things: First, Tennessee was the team to beat coming into last fall; the Gators have won the SEC East for the last two falls.
Both are important to point out because, as anyone reading this knows, what folks think will happen in the spring and summer is irreverent by October. Its also important to acknowledge that while the Gators have won the division the last two years, no program has won the SEC East three years in a row in more than 20 years.
And, too, while I picked the Vols to win the SEC East last year I also said to anyone that would listen that I might have been picking them to win the division, but that I would believe them getting to Atlanta when I saw it.
I didn’t see it, and that’s probably why Butch Jones should have known better than to direct the Pride of the Southland Band playing Rocky Top in September - no matter how big a win it felt like just happened.
Back to the Dawgs - too many things are becoming evident for me to side against them winning the division this fall.
First, UGA's offensive line is legitimately pushing Georgia’s defense around... maybe not as much as Kirby Smart has indicated with his disappointment with the defense, but they are pushing them around some. That’s a big deal because UGA’s defensive front returns pretty much all starters and a slew of backups. Its also a big deal because UGA’s offensive line didn’t really push anyone around last year. That cost them in losses to Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and the Gators. The offensive line being better is critical to the hopes and dreams of the Bulldogs’ 2017 season.
Second, there are so many more knowns heading into this summer and fall. We know that Nick Chubb will be healthy at the start of the season. We know that Jacob Eason will be the starting quarterback. We know that Kirby Smart isn’t a rookie head coach any more. Those three things take away a lot of unknowns from this time last fall.
Finally, the schedule is difficult, but manageable. Georgia should have an undefeated first four weeks of the year - home games against Appalachian State, Samford and Mississippi State should be wins. The trip to Notre Dame probably sounds much worse than it really will be.
Something other than a 4-0 start… it might be time to wonder what’s going on. Anyone that’s saying the trip to Neyland is going to be something other than very difficult is fooling themselves. The Vols won’t be as good as last year, but its terribly difficult to play there.
Games at Vanderbilt and vs. Missouri should be wins, which sets up the do-or-die game with the Gators. And Georgia should take Florida out this fall - that’s if the Dawgs’ offensive line has improved as we are being led to believe, and if the Gators’ defense will have as difficult a time replacing the stalwarts on that side of the ball as it seems they should.
November is hardly a cake walk. South Carolina’s defense is a problem for the Chickens. That will likely cost them the game against the Dawgs. But games with the Chickens, at Auburn, vs. the Cats and at Tech are all losable contests.
The trip to Auburn will be the most challenging game of the season, but Tech and Kentucky are going to be difficult as well. There will be no easy game after the bye week in late October.
But this program played better at the end of the season than the beginning last year. And from everything I have seen this spring and heard from folks I trust, there’s no reason this program should have more than three losses this fall.
10-2 or 11-1 hardly seems out of the question, but anything other than the short trip to Atlanta to play for the SEC title will be a disappointment - there is no sugar coating that.