Sports handicapper Ian Cameron provides a betting preview of the SEC East Division for the upcoming College Football season. Find out the odds offered and the future bets for you to stay ahead of the game.
The Vols have been one of the college football picks in the media landscape to possibly win the SEC this season and it's understandable why as Tennessee brings back 18 starters including 9 on offense highlighted by senior QB Joshua Dobbs, who should have a big season in store for him, throwing the football to a slew of talented receivers and behind an offensive line that returns four starters and has more depth than a season ago.
The Vols also have one of the strongest RB units in the country led by juniors Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. The defense is just as loaded in terms of talent, athleticism, experience and depth with 9 starters back. The defensive line is strong as well with a dominant pass rusher at DE Derek Barnett returning and the LB corps returns all 3 starters and should be exceptional.
The secondary has senior CB Cameron Sutton back along with junior safety Todd Kelly Jr. to lead a defensive backfield that is loaded with depth and should be the best secondary in Butch Jones tenure here in Knoxville.
Tennessee isn't without its challenges, though. The target is on their back and this team must prove they can handle the expectations of a terrific season. The Vols were miserable in close games last season losing a ton of them and they will have to improve in that area this season and they have a wickedly tough schedule in late September and early October.
They have to face Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama in consecutive weeks and that slate is more than difficult enough to possibly quiet the SEC title and national title talks for this otherwise very talented Tennessee team that has the personnel required for a special season.
Things will look a little different in Athens this season with Mark Richt no longer head coach and Kirby Smart former Alabama DC taking over. Richt was criticized for not winning the big game and getting Georgia over the hump in the SEC race in recent years so now the onus will be on Smart and his pedigree on Nick Saban's coaching staff at Alabama to push them over the top.
They have 8 starters back on offense and a 3 way QB battle ongoing right now between freshman Jacob Eason, junior Brice Ramsey and senior Greyson Lambert. There are concerns about whether or not their leading RB Nick Chubb will be healthy and ready to go to start the season but either way, they have solid depth at that spot.
They lose their top WR in Malcolm Mitchell but have some decent options in the passing game including Terry Godwin, Isaiah McKenzie, and Reggie Davis. The Bulldogs defense has some concerns up front along the DL losing four of their top 9 but they did recruit well in that area and it is just a matter of how quickly the youth along that defensive front develops and the LB corps is also dealing with some new personnel.
The secondary is the clear strength of the defense as the majority of the secondary from last year's squad returns and that was a pass defense that was ranked 1st in the nation a season ago. The belief is that such a strong and talented secondary will allow the Bulldogs to bring a more blitz-heavy approach up front as they trust their DB's to thrive in one-on-one coverage down the field.
Georgia is a contender in the East and a lot of their success will depend on how they do in B2B games in September/October against Ole Miss and Tennessee.
Jim McElwain did an outstanding job in his first season at the helm of the Florida Gators taking them to a 10-4 season including a 6-0 start. They struggled late in the season as did their offense which was never the same after QB Will Grier was suspended during the season but their defense kept them in games and that defense should be solid again this season.
They have a deep and talented defensive line and while depth is a concern at LB and in the secondary, the secondary in particular is loaded with talent and assuming they avoid major injuries, they should be able to rival Georgia as one of the top pass defense units in the division. The offense will be the major work in progress as they only have five starters back on that side of the football and a new QB under center as either junior Luke Del Rio (Jack Del Rio's son) or senior Purdue transfer Austin Appleby will be the starting QB for the Gators.
The battle is ongoing right now in camp. They have a new starting RB this season in Mark Thompson but the offensive line should be much improved from last year's group which struggled. This team will be solid on defense but it's the offense that will determine just how good Florida is in 2016 and whether or not they can take down Georgia or Tennessee for supremacy here in the East.
The Missouri Tigers will try to bounce back from a 5-7 campaign last season in the final year of 15-year head coach Gary Pinkel who retired after last season. Barry Odom who was the DC last season at Missouri takes over as head coach so the transition to a new head coach shouldn't be too rough on the team.
The Missouri Tigers will go with sophomore Drew Lock as their starter and while his play was choppy late in the season last year he is regarded as a strong-armed NFL prospect and one that should be in for a major improvement this season.
The passing game was woeful much of the season last year but the receiving corps looks to be improved and the offensive line is a major question mark with just 1 returning starter and that will be a challenge for the newly hired offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who served time on the Oklahoma coaching staff from 2006-2014, and plans to run an uptempo, fast-paced offensive attack for this Missouri team.
On defense, the Tigers are returning a bunch of talent on the defensive line led by premier pass rusher Charles Harris and DT Terry Becker Jr. who returns from an injury that ended his season last year. Missouri loses their top LB but has Michael Scherer, who is a great candidate to fill the void well. The secondary has 2 returning starters only but appears to be deeper and more talented for the upcoming season.
Missouri isn't a top of the division contender this season but this is an improved team and one that could offer some betting value in the point spread during the season.
The pressure is on for Mark Stoops at Kentucky after three straight losing seasons without a bowl game, and the Wildcats are in for as much of a challenge to get to 6 wins and a bowl game this season as they have been in years past. They are looking at a revamped offense with new coordinators Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw and a new starting QB with sophomore Drew Barker taking over after former starter Patrick Towles transferred to Boston College.
The Wildcats have a three-headed RB with Stanley “Boom” Williams, Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton and the WR corps should be experienced led by Dorian Baker. The defense has 5 starters back and is the major area of concern here for the team. They were at or near the bottom of most defensive statistical categories in the SEC last season and I'm not sure they have the personnel to improve by leaps and bounds.
It's a very young group at all levels. Six of seven starters have departed on the defensive line and they could have upwards of four underclassmen in the starting secondary this season. There could be time required for that Wildcats defense to gain experience and become the defense people are hoping for.
I think there is promise for Kentucky's QB and this could be a team that plays well late in the season but I think there could be some struggles and growing pains out of the gate for this team and I think it will be a challenge for them to get to 6 wins and a bowl.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Steve Spurrier era is over in South Carolina and Will Muschamp will look to turn around a team that was just 3-9 last season. He must find a QB as Lorenzo Nunez, Perry Orth and incoming freshman Brandon McIlwain are battling for the job. They are less experienced at RB and at WR they lose their top two pass catchers so there is plenty of instability for an offense that struggled for large portions of last season.
They only have 2 returning starters on the offensive line. The defense has a less experienced defensive line and 2 of their top 4 tacklers at LB are have moved on a well. The secondary also has question marks even though 6 of the top 8 in the secondary are back because of the fact the team struggled against the pass last season.
It's hard to envision this season being anything but a losing season and a rebuilding one for South Carolina and a last-place finish in the SEC East certainly isn't out of the question.
This is the season we could see Vanderbilt be as competitive as they've been in years and certainly since Derek Mason took over the program as head coach. This team has a solid defense returning a bunch of talent upwards of 7 starters back including many of their top player on the defensive line, one of the top LB corps in the SEC and a secondary that continue to improve as they did from 2 years ago to last year.
The question marks remain on offense but the potential is there at QB for their young sophomore Kyle Shurmur who many expect to be the starting QB for the Commodores.
This is an improved team and one that should be more competitive this season and much like Missouri, I see plenty of potential for this team to be a point spread success story this season.