2015 wasn’t exactly a banner year for the SEC East, and the dumpster fire rages on into 2016 with news of Florida kicking off spring practices without Antonio Callaway and Treon Harris.
— Campus Gridiron (@CampusGridiron) March 8, 2016
The defending SEC East champion Gators overachieved in Jim McElwain’s debut campaign, but limped to a finish with an overtime win over FAU, followed by losses to Florida State, Alabama and Michigan by a combined 73 points. In those three losses, Florida scored a combined 24 points.
Without Treon Harris or Antonio Callaway, that anemic Florida proceeds with its first 2016 practices sans two wide receivers. Harris was set to make the move after playing quarterback the last two seasons, starting down the stretch of the Gators’ SEC East-winning run after Will Grier’s yearlong suspension for use of a banned substance and subsequent transfer.
Antonio Callaway was a hero for the Gator offense, most notably eviscerating Tennessee in what proved to be the difference in the SEC East race.
The late-game collapse in Gainesville must sting for those on Rocky Top, continuing both the Vols’ futility against Florida, and its struggle to regain footing in the SEC. The Gators’ apparent backslide 2016 should finally open a door for Tennessee to end the losing streak, and win the division for the first time in almost a decade.
Tennessee is clearly the best the SEC East has to offer. South Carolina’s dismal 2015 leaves Will Muschamp with a major rebuilding project on his hands. His luke-warm stint at Florida warrants doubt.
Georgia’s offense regains Nick Chubb, while also escaping the oppression of Brian Schottenheimer’s play-calling. I picture Schottenheimer-led offensive meetings last season much like Ben Stein’s classroom in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Lambert? Lambert? Lambert? Chubb?
Chubb returns to an offense still lacking a proven quarterback, however, and a program under the leadership of first-time head coach Kirby Smart. Smart flourished as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator, but he’s unproven as the top guy.
Moreover, defense wasn’t Georgia’s problem recently. Is former Pitt offensive coordinator Jim Chaney the man to inject life into the Bulldogs on that side of the ball? The hire didn’t exactly inspire the utmost confidence given the Panthers’ pedestrian No. 68 scoring offense.
That leaves Missouri under a new head coach and perennial cellar-dwellers Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Yikes.
Butch Jones has the division’s only legitimate, preseason Top 25 team. The Vols finished 2015 strong, dominating a good Northwestern team in the Outback Bowl. Tennessee has pieces to even make a College Football Playoff push.
And yet, Tennessee’s offseason lives under the cloud of off-field scandal, one CFB Huddle has yet to cover due to its fluidity and sensitivity. The Title IX issues still unfolding in Knoxville have potentially far-reaching consequences that transcend the Volunteers’ won-lost record at season’s end.
Put simply, the SEC East is a seven-team mess.