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SEC East Talking Points: Week 7

What’s happening in the SEC East this week?

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Did this weekend’s action deter you from the idea that Tennessee is the presumptive favorite to win the SEC East?

Joe Clarkin (@Joe_Clarkin): Not at all. I think they’re a better team than A&M, actually, all things considered. The Vols do have a turnover problem, but seven of them is still a lot, even by their standards, and they were still able to take the Aggies to double OT in Kyle Field. They were very, very impressive on Saturday, even if they continued to do frustrating Tennessee things that I’m sure drive their fans crazy.

Who’s challenging them for the East at this point? Even if we assume they lose to Bama this weekend, I can’t see any other East team finishing with fewer than two losses, especially with LSU-Florida being rescheduled. The Vols should have the tiebreaker over any East team that somehow manages to avoid losing three or more games, and I think they should cruise to Atlanta barring (more) major injuries.

Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): I mean… look, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the first six weeks of the season, it’s that Tennessee is going to do the bare minimum needed to win a game, and at some point it’s going to come back and bite them. I’m not going to predict that they’ll lose to one of South Carolina, Kentucky, Mizzou, and Vandy… but you can see how that might happen, right? And if Tennessee picks up a third loss somewhere, the door is wide open for whoever wins the Cocktail Party to take the East. I still think they’re the favorite, but they’re not the leader in the clubhouse.

Bryan Manning (@bdmanning4): Not at all. I think Tennessee is a bit overrated, sure. However, who in the East is better? The Vols are finding ways to win and there's not a more talented team in the division. UT surely has a flair for the dramatic and showed last week, even in a loss on the road to A&M, the Vols are never out of it. Tennessee has already beaten UGa and Florida, so the East is Tennessee’s to lose. I have to say I was more impressed with them last week, in a loss, than I have been all season.

Alex Dusza (@alexdusza): I think Tennessee is certainly the favorite (and I would say they’re the leader in the clubhouse), but--hypothesizing that they do lose to Alabama--they have little margin for error for another loss along the way. However, what have Georgia or Florida done to give us confidence they will run the table and not trip up in a game they should win?

Jonathan Waldrop (@aukiwal83): Nope. Tennessee takes every game to its illogical conclusion (seven turnovers and still forces a double OT??) and I don’t think there’s one team, aside from ‘Bama, that poses a real threat to them the rest of the way. Their defense is depleted but Bob Shoop is getting the back-ups to play way over their heads. I think they even have a good shot to upset the Tide this weekend, so...UT to ATL!

Julian Council (@JulianCouncil): Not in the slightest. I still believe that Tennessee win or lose this weekend will close out the season 10-2 (6-2 SEC). That will good enough to win the East. The Vols already hold the tiebreaker over Georgia NA Florida. Regardless if the Gators make up their date with LSU I don't have faith in that team posting fewer than 2 or 3 losses.

Niesha D. (@nidimi86): Not at all. Even though UT scares the hell out of everybody with these comeback wins, they are still the team to beat in the East. The only team they really have to worry about is Alabama, which they have the potential to beat. However, if they could come out the gate all guns blazing and stop setting themselves for failure, they could be at the top. Their slow starts to each game will hurt them eventually and at this point in the season, they cannot continue this trend. But even if UF and UGA make their run, UT has the East.

Does the readdition of Luke Del Rio give you confidence in Florida going forward?

Joe Clarkin (@Joe_Clarkin): A little bit. I thought Austin Appleby was pretty good stepping in for Del Rio, but the Gators are definitely better with Luke back there. This team isn’t going to win through their offense anyways. If Del Rio can get them 20+ points in most games, Florida will always have a shot, because that defense is awesome, the second half against Tennessee notwithstanding. Del Rio’s return isn’t going to swing the SEC East or anything, but it’s definitely a nice get for Florida, if for no other reason than a more secure depth chart at the game’s most important position.

Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): In a word: yes. The Gators were playing at a top 10 level before Del Rio went down, and while that was mostly because of the defense, Del Rio gave them some offensive punch as well. With Del Rio back, Florida could very well win out against the rest of their SEC schedule (particularly if the LSU game doesn’t get rescheduled) and if Tennessee picks up another loss, the SEC office will be in an incredibly awkward position.

Bryan Manning (@bdmanning4): I think so. Del Rio is certainly the better option, but he isn't exactly a world-beater. Appleby did ok. This team wins with defense and needs a QB that takes care of the football and can make the occasional big throw. Del Rio showed that ability early in the season.

Jonathan Waldrop (@aukiwal83): Yup. Note that the past two years of UF’s offense being functional came down to the original first-stringer not playing. Luckily for the Gators this year, they get the guy back. Luke Del Rio probably doesn’t have the ceiling that Will Grier did, but I like the way he ran the offense the first games of the season. They may not go 10-2 again, but they have a good chance to go 9-3. I really like this team. They just need a pulse on offense. Del Rio might be it.

Julian Council (@JulianCouncil): Nope. Luke Del Rio makes the Gators a much better football team but not good enough to win the East, simple as that.

Niesha D. (@nidimi86): Somewhat of a better chance. Austin Appleby started out okay, but not good enough for UF to be a big contender. You can't rely on the defense to win games. With Del Rio coming back, will the Gators offense become a better team? Yes. But will it be enough to win the East? I don't think so.

Does either coach coming out of the Kentucky-Vanderbilt collision make it to 2017?

Joe Clarkin (@Joe_Clarkin): This is tough. I think Derek Mason has a better shot to make it to 2017 than Mark Stoops, but Vanderbilt is worse than Kentucky right now so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Both programs have definitely not progressed as much as their fans would have liked, but Mason is only in year three, whereas Stoops is in year four. You might say that one year isn’t that big of a difference, but the Kentucky roster is all Stoops’ guys at this point. He’s had an entire graduate cycle to get things going and he hasn’t been able to do it, despite Kentucky reeling in some nice recruiting classes by their standards. I think four years is the minimum any coach should get barring an off-field scandal or an on-field tank job, so I think Mason deserves one more go, even if I don’t have faith that he’ll be able to turn it around. Kentucky, however, might want to start reaching out to search firms.

Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): Neither one deserves to be retained, assuming the second half of the season for both plays out like the first half of the season did, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that both will. I’ll let wamarsh speak to the Stoops situation since he knows a lot more about it than I do, but as to the Vanderbilt situation, well, let’s just say that a significant number of Vanderbilt fans are bracing themselves for the possibility that Vanderbilt will go 3-9 (likely at this point) and Mason will be retained anyway.

Why? Because it’s happened before; this is a university that gave Watson Brown and Woody Widenhofer five years each for no particular reason, and while those happened under a completely different administration, Vanderbilt is just incredibly gunshy about firing coaches (and that’s not just true for football, either.) In that sense, Mason is probably cursing the fates that he’s following on the heels of James Franklin, who showed that winning at Vanderbilt is possible.

There was a time when Vanderbilt would have seen a coach with nine wins in two and a half years, shrugged, and given him a fourth year, but there are at least some semblance of expectations now. So I’d say it’s more likely than not Mason is not back next year, but I could be wrong, and a lot of the reason for that is that Vanderbilt is probably concerned that they’ll just wind up with a similar coach either way.

Alex Dusza (@alexdusza): I am way more confident in Kentucky and Mark Stoops at this point than many people (probably most Kentucky fans included). As a matter of fact, I picked Kentucky to go bowling this season in our bowl projections out this week and, if they do make it to a bowl, obviously Stoops’ job is safe. Coming off a bye week, Kentucky stands a very good shot at home against Mississippi State this Saturday, could certainly beat Missouri and has Austin Peay yet to play.

That’s not even taking into account the possibility of an upset over Georgia or Tennessee which with the way both of them have been playing (Georgia for the mediocrity, Tennessee for the potential for malaise) is not likely, but not completely unrealistic. Vandy, on the other hand, looks a sure bet for a 3-9 season with the only remaining win over Tennessee State. I do not, however, think that will force a regime change for the reasons Tom spelled out above.

Jonathan Waldrop (@aukiwal83): It’s hard for me to believe that at least one of them won’t get fired. I really like Derek Mason and what he’s done with the Vandy D, but that offense is putrid. Kentucky has, at least, some signs of life, but that may not be enough for Stoops to hang on to his job. I like the idea of giving a guy a full recruiting cycle to make something happen. By that rationale, Stoops’ time could be up. I’d give Mason one more season, but this ship may be way past righting.

Julian Council (@JulianCouncil): Vanderbilt has a decision to make if things don't turn around for the ‘Dores don't the stretch. There is no denying how good of an defensive coach Derek Mason is but the inability to find a quarterback has marred his tenure on the West End. Vandy has its limitations but after James Franklin’s success and the lack of powers in the East, there's little excuse for the Commodores not be competitive.

For Kentucky, that buyout is going to be an issue. Since taking over the defense, Mark Stoops has the Wildcats looking like a team that could still make its way to a bowl after winning three of their last four. The key for Stoops is getting to a bowl, if they don't then things could get dicey in Lexington. The major issue for Kentucky continues to be that you can't dribble a football.

Will Marshall (@awillmarshall): As a Kentucky fan I’d point out that if Stoops is fired before December 1st, 2016 he is owed $15.5 million. He was hard-pressed to be fired before the team started playing better in the last three weeks, but now it’s even more difficult to imagine. If UK fires Stoops they’d have to pay him and the new guy. The new guy will probably get at least $2.5 million a year.

Other reasons to bring him back assuming the team finishes with four or five wins: they return about 18 starters and about 39 of the 44 two-deep in 2017. This is a young team, and that coupled with the benevolent nature of the UKAD along with the buyout, probably keeps Stoops around. On December 1st, 2017 Stoops buyout drops to a much more manageable buy-out of $9 million, he will have had fire years, and the fan base probably won’t even have to force the UKAD’s hand after another bowl-less season.

So, if pressed, I guess I pick Mason.