SEC East forecast

The Eastern Division is more balanced this season than at any time since the Southeastern Conference adopted divisional play in 1992. There are no great teams in the East but there are four very good ones and two pretty good ones.

It wouldn't surprise me if Florida finishes first in the East. Nor would it surprise me if Florida finishes fourth in the East. The same goes for Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina. Each team has some significant positives and some glaring negatives.

Florida has young talent and momentum but the Gators are minus 10 starters from the defense that carried them to the 2006 national title. They're also minus a four-year starter at quarterback, their most productive rusher of '06 and their most productive receiver of '06. I see greatness in Tim Tebow's future but I see some growing pains in his present.

Georgia also has excellent young talent. Minus nine starters from their 2006 defense, however, the Bulldogs will struggle to stop people. Like Tebow, Georgia QB Matthew Stafford is talented but unseasoned.

Tennessee, minus two NFL-caliber defensive tackles and three-fourths of its 2006 secondary, also has some holes on defense. Offensively, the Vols are strong at quarterback, running back and tight end but suspect at wide receiver and in the line.

Unlike the Big Three, South Carolina isn't retooling its defense. The Gamecocks return 10 defensive starters but Steve Spurrier's offense will miss big-play receiver Sidney Rice.

I'm tempted to pick a four-way tie for first in the East but that would be a cop-out. So, I'll go with my gut:

1. Tennessee 6-2

2. Georgia 6-2

3. Florida 5-3

4. South Carolina 5-3

5. Kentucky 2-6

6. Vanderbilt 1-7

I'm picking Tennessee to win the division because of a favorable schedule. The Vols catch Florida in Week 3 … while Tebow is still getting his feet under him. They drop the Western Division's most talented team (LSU) from their schedule and replace it with the West's least talented team (Mississippi State). I think the Vols and Georgia will finish with 6-2 SEC records but UT will earn the East's berth in the Championship Game by virtue of a head-to-head defeat of the Dawgs. Tennessee will then lose the Championship Game to LSU.

Georgia is second in the East because I think Mark Richt, who stands 1-5 vs. Florida, is past due to beat the Gators.

Florida ranks third in the East because I believe the Gators simply lost too many quality players from 2006 to mount another title run in '07.

South Carolina is fourth, even though I think it's a legitimate darkhorse to win the division. The SEC road schedule – at Georgia, at LSU, at Tennessee and at Arkansas – is a killer.

Kentucky follows in fifth, despite the fact this is a better team than the one that went 8-5 last season. I simply can't see the Wildcats continuing to win with such a porous defense.

Vanderbilt is sixth, even though the Commodores return just about everyone from a team that was generally competitive last season. Vandy will be good but good isn't good enough in the SEC.


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