As I mowed the lawn yesterday, I listened to the guys on ESPN's college football podcast recap the weekend's action. On the topic of the SEC East, they eventually came to the conclusion that the division might basically be South Carolina's to lose right now.
Yeah, South Carolina. They came to this conclusion based on the fact that Missouri has lost James Franklin for a while combined with all of Georgia's lingering issues. While the Tigers technically are the team to beat right now and Florida still controls its destiny, they thought that the Gamecocks are the team in the best shape.
I too am concerned about Missouri's ability to seize the division without Franklin's services, given it still has games against Florida, South Carolina, and Texas A&M to go. However if that means someone else has control of this side of the conference, I still lean towards not South Carolina but Georgia.
Georgia, after all, still owns the tiebreaker over the Gamecocks, and it's no guarantee that the Bulldogs will lose again. The biggest thing for the Red and Black is to get the win over Vanderbilt this coming weekend. Given that Vandy isn't quite what it was from the past two seasons, that's more than doable. After that is a bye week, and there's a pretty good chance that Michael Bennett and Todd Gurley will be back healthy again for the Cocktail Party the week after that.
Florida is pretty banged up too, but it's not going to get some of its key players back. Starting running back Matt Jones went out for the season after an injury against LSU, meaning its starting quarterback (Jeff Driskel), running back, defensive tackle (Dominique Easley), kick returner (Andre Debose), and right tackle (Chaz Green) are all lost for the year. LSU set out a pretty easily repeatable template for beating the Gators—send the house in passing situations, because Tyler Murphy and the receivers can't do something quickly enough to beat it—and UGA can certainly follow it.
After Jacksonville, Georgia will basically just have to beat Auburn, as those Tigers and Kentucky are all they've got left in the SEC. AU is certainly going to be a dangerous team, provided Nick Marshall doesn't get hurt again, but a partially restored UGA team is still the better one in that matchup. If the Bulldogs get past the Gators, they should be able to sew up the East after all.
We'll see what happens with Mizzou. With their strong defensive line led by guys like Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, MU could certainly use LSU's template to beat Florida too. If so, they they just have to split the games with South Carolina and A&M to go to Atlanta—maybe requiring help if the loss is to the Gamecocks, but definitely without help if it's to A&M. I say maybe with help because if there's a three-way tie with UGA, South Carolina, and Mizzou, the Tigers could win the tiebreaker. Ole Miss is hanging out there the week before the Aggies, but the Tigers get a bye week ahead of time to focus and not overlook it. The game against the Rebels is six weeks away, so if the timeline on Franklin really is three-to-five weeks, he'll be back by then too.
I am not discounting Missouri just yet from the SEC East race. However if it's not going to be the Tigers, I still give the edge to Georgia.