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Old 05-01-2014, 10:27 AM   #1
1st Team All-SEC
Ericvol2096's Avatar

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Default ESPN SEC East Projections

I don't agree with this ranking at all.

My list

1-USC - 10-2
2-UGA - 10-2
3-UT - 7-5
SEC East

1. South Carolina Gamecocks
Projected finish: 10-2 (6-2)
Chance to win SEC: 20 percent
Chance to finish 11-1 or 12-0: 26 percent

Replacing the presumed No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in Jadeveon Clowney is certainly a challenge, but South Carolina has a healthy number of starters back in the fold and Steve Spurrier's track record of success can't be ignored in the projection model. The Gamecocks didn't have much flashy productivity on offense last year, but they were efficient, controlling the ball with the fourth-most methodical offense (23 percent of drives lasted at least 10 plays) and limiting opponent possessions as a result. The backfield led by running back Mike Davis (1,183 yards, 5.8 yards per carry in 2013) is projected to reinforce that ball-control identity this fall. South Carolina draws both Georgia and Missouri at home, games that should put it in the driver's seat for the division title.

2. Georgia Bulldogs
Projected finish: 9-3 (5-3)
Chance to win SEC: 8 percent
Chance to finish 11-1 or 12-0: 11 percent

Teams that were better than their record in one season often find the pendulum swings back in their favor the following year, and Georgia may be one of the best candidates across the country to bounce back in 2014 after a very difficult season. Four of the Bulldogs' five losses last year came by five points or fewer, and turnovers played a part in all of those games. The other major factor was a defense that just couldn't get stops, allowing 42 percent of opponent drives to cross the Georgia 30-yard line (89th nationally). Ten starters are back on defense this fall, including linebacker Ramik Wilson, who led the team and finished the season tied for 10th nationally in tackles (133). That defense will be responsible for helping to overcome the loss of four-year starter Aaron Murray. Georgia draws two of its toughest tests of the season early, hosting Clemson in nonconference play to start the year and traveling to South Carolina in Week 3. A strong start (my projection model gives Georgia a 79 percent chance of a split or better) will help erase the bad memories from 2013 in a hurry.

3. Missouri Tigers
Projected finish: 9-3 (5-3)
Chance to win SEC: 6 percent
Chance to finish 11-1 or 12-0: 7 percent

The Tigers won the SEC East last year and positioned themselves for an opportunity to play for the BCS championship before falling short in the SEC title game against Auburn. A step back is likely in the works due in no small part to Missouri returning fewer starters in 2014 than any other SEC team (nine total). The offense has the biggest question marks, especially following the April announcement that wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham had been kicked off the team. The projection model looks favorably on Missouri's program trendline to overcome that attrition, but if the Tigers are going to contend again this fall, they have to thrive on factors like field position control. A year ago, Missouri allowed only 7 percent of opponent drives to start in Tigers territory, the eighth-lowest rate nationally and a key for tilting unfavorable matchups their way.

4. Florida Gators
Projected finish: 7-5 (4-4)
Chance to win SEC: 1 percent
Chance to finish 11-1 or 12-0: 0 percent

The Gators finished the 2013 season on a seven-game losing streak, and the seat under coach Will Muschamp couldn't be hotter. The offense was held to 20 or fewer points in all seven of those games, and the unit was dreadful all season (101st in avoiding three-and outs, 92nd in points per possession). There isn't much confidence in Florida's ability to make a major turnaround on that side of the ball immediately. Defense and special teams can lead the way once again (top 25 in non-offensive efficiency last year), which is why the projection model forecasts a return to bowl eligibility. A mediocre season may not be enough for Muschamp to survive in Gainesville, but it might make the recovery process for future seasons easier.

5. Vanderbilt Commodores
Projected finish: 6-6 (3-5)
Chance to win SEC: 0 percent
Chance to finish 11-1 or 12-0: 0 percent

James Franklin brought Vanderbilt up from doormat status to holding its own in the SEC, setting a baseline for the program under new coach Derek Mason. His defenses at Stanford were outstanding, and there is room to improve that side of the ball at Vandy, which never cracked the top 25 in our opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency ratings under Franklin. The Commodores seized on favorable field position in 2013, starting 18 percent of their drives in opponent territory (No. 2 nationally), and field position advantages were another hallmark of the Stanford success model Mason brings to the table. Bowl eligibility will come down to the swing games against Ole Miss, Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee (71 percent chance of going 2-2 or better in those games).

6. Tennessee Volunteers
Projected finish: 4-8 (1-7)
Chance to win SEC: 0 percent
Chance to finish 11-1 or 12-0: 0 percent

Program progress is measured by most in terms of wins and losses, but Tennessee fans would be wise to focus on other signs of improvement this season. Why? The schedule may be too burdensome for that improvement to show up in the win column. The Volunteers face Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina -- all five of which rank among the top 20 in our projected FEI rankings (out Monday on Insider) and three of which rank among the short list of legitimate national championship contenders. Tennessee's defense is the biggest liability to pulling upsets in any of these games, as it allowed explosive drives (averaging at least 10 yards per play) on 18 percent of opponent possessions last season.

7. Kentucky Wildcats
Projected finish: 4-8 (1-7)
Chance to win SEC: 0 percent
Chance to finish 11-1 or 12-0: 0 percent

The Wildcats return more starters (16) than any other SEC program, but the talent is still a long way from closing the gap with the rest of the conference. The projection model gives Kentucky less than a 40 percent chance of winning any individual conference game and a decent chance of going winless in conference play (21 percent) for the third straight season. The defense has almost nowhere to go but up, and it can start to turn things around if it finds a few more wins on opponents' first series of drives. Kentucky forced a three-and-out on only 21 percent of opponent possessions last year, the fifth-worst mark in the country.
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