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SEC Talking Points: The East Division

‘Talking Points’ is back this week, and we’ve got more participation to boot!

Georgia v Mississippi Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt: Do any of them make a bowl game?

Julian Council: Lol. Coming into the season I believed that Vanderbilt and Kentucky were both bowl teams. Well, that all came to a screeching halt when Vandy lost to South Carolina on the opening Thursday night of the season, and when Kentucky followed that up with a loss to Southern Miss and former OC Shannon Dawson. For Vandy, the only sure fire win they have left on their schedule is crosstown foe Tennessee State. Outside of that game, the Commodores will need to find three wins vs. Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee. The ‘Dores have a good defense, but it ain’t happenin.

South Carolina was my pick for last place in not just the East, but the SEC. Their win over Vanderbilt may have prevented that from happening. What it has insured is their ability to make a bowl. The Gamecocks should have a good chance to beat UMass, who just gave Mississippi State all that they could handle in Foxboro this past weekend, and Western Carolina for the sake of not losing to an FCS school for a consecutive year but there’s no more than two wins left on the schedule.

Kentucky will have a difficult time without quarterback Drew Barker, starting with this weekends trip to Tuscaloosa. Getting both Vanderbilt and Mississippi State at home bodes well for a potential five wins, but for Mark Stoops to finally get to a bowl, the Cats are going to have to win at either Alabama, Tennessee, Louisville or Missouri. Considering how well Mizzou has played thus far this season and the winnable games all three teams have already lost, I'd be hard pressed to believe in any of them. If you twist my arm and I had to choose one, I'd reluctantly choose Kentucky, because at least they can score some points.

Will Marshall: I don’t think so. Kentucky’s path became untenable after losing to Southern Miss in the opening week. Even assuming for a moment that they are a good matchup at home against Vandy, they play them immediately after a trip to Tuscaloosa and the “Body Blow Theory” carries weight. Assuming even farther that they manage to beat Vandy and Austin Peay, they are still sitting at four wins. Where do the other two upsets come from? Mark Stoops hasn’t managed more than one upset per season, so I won’t bank on him carrying out two in 12 games.

South Carolina probably beats Western Carolina and UMass, but I’m not sure where the two other wins come from. Same goes for Vandy. They’ve got at least two more wins in them, but where are the other two wins beyond that coming from? I get that these three teams all play a weak Georgia, but Georgia still has more weapons than any of these three teams. Maybe one of them will pick them off on a weak day, but even then six wins look out of reach with an impressive looking Missouri.

I wouldn’t be surprised if all three of these teams end up 4-8 or 5-7, because I think they are all pretty equal teams.

Bryan Manning: I don't think so. I think all three will be close, but just not enough to be bowl eligible. For Kentucky, it's sad. Mark Stoops showed early he could recruit and it hasn't paid dividends.

Vanderbilt has some good things going for it. Ralph Webb is a stud and the Commodores play good defense. Is that enough to get to a bowl? Maybe. I can see Vanderbilt beating Tennessee.

South Carolina, nope just don't see it. Muschamp is making some noise in recruiting, but he's always done that and it's not going to help him in 2016.

Jonathan Waldrop: Two-thirds no. With Kentucky’s remaining schedule (including road trips to Alabama and Louisville), I see two, maybe three wins that are possible: Austin Peay, Vandy and possibly a home upset of Mississippi State. 5-7, probably 4-8 for the Wildcats.

I had hopes that Derek Mason would continue to work his team upwards and, at 2-2, it’s not impossible, but they draw Ole Miss and Auburn from the West and Tennessee, Florida and probably Georgia are just too strong right now. Although, thinking about it, Vandy might sneak up on the Dawgs in Athens. Like Kentucky, this is a 5-7 team at best.

Looking at South Carolina’s schedule, they just may be able to win four more games. Even though it’s not a given, let’s assume they can beat UMass and Western Carolina. So, now, you’re looking at two more games. They won’t beat A&M this week or Clemson at the end of the year. UT and Florida probably won’t happen. They do, however, get UGA and Mizzou at home. It’s not easy, but I say they pull it off. 6-6 for the Gamecocks.

Christopher Novak: All three at the moment currently sit at 2-2 through the first four weeks of the season. Vanderbilt’s schedule is looking much too rough to skate through to garner four more wins. They have to take trips to Athens, Auburn and Columbia, Missouri and bookend their season with back-to-back home matchups against Ole Miss and Tennessee. The only surefire win I see on their schedule is against Tennessee State. Even with how woeful Kentucky has been, it’s not too much of a lock.

Kentucky likely suffers from the same problem. They have a date in Tuscaloosa this Saturday against Alabama and, well, it would be a hell of a shock if they came away with a win there. The aforementioned meeting with Vanderbilt is at home, so they benefit from that, but it’s still much of a coin flip. Mississippi State has been enigmatic this year so they could sneak up on them, but in their final four games, only one win looks for certain and that’s their game against Austin Peay. They’ll be hosting Georgia and Tennessee and then will head to Louisville to face the super dynamic Lamar Jackson. At 5-7, they may be able to score a bowl invite if the field is weak.

South Carolina’s path to six wins looks pretty difficult too. They have five straight home games coming up which should prove to be a benefit, but will have to face A&M, Georgia, and Tennessee. The Bulldogs have looked very inconsistent this season but there’s still a tremendous contrast between the two rivals. UMass is a winnable game and Mizzou, meanwhile, looks like a bit of a mystery but their offensive firepower has blown the Gamecocks out of the water. 1-4 is very likely in this stretch which would put them at 3-6 heading into the final three weeks of the year. In those games, the only winnable matchup is against Western Carolina as trips to Gainesville and Clemson are on the docket.

So in summation for me, I think the lone team that stands a chance is Kentucky and, even then, it’s still up in the air.

Tom Stephenson: I don’t think so. Kentucky, at 2-2 with home games against Vandy, Mississippi State, and Austin Peay remaining on the schedule, might have the best chance -- but, well, where does the sixth win come from? Georgia at home? Missouri on the road? You can practically forget about road trips to Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisville. All of Vanderbilt’s “easy” games remaining, with the exception of a home game against Tennessee State, are on the road with trips to Georgia, Kentucky, Auburn, and Missouri. South Carolina should beat UMass and Western Carolina, but it’s hard to figure out where the other two wins will come from without an offense. So I would guess none of these teams get to 6-6. Vanderbilt might get in a bowl game at 5-7 because of their APR score -- but then I’m not particularly sold on them getting five wins, either. The bottom line is that none of these teams are all that good and so it’s hard to see them winning many games.

Chris Dougherty: VANDY AIN’T PLAYED NOBODY.

Joe Clarkin: South Carolina probably has the best shot of the three, but I don’t see it for any of them. If the Gamecocks can beat Missouri at home, then I think they could do it, but Mizzou is the better team right now.

Kentucky and Vandy are just a mess. Kentucky can score a little bit, but they’ll give those points right back once they kick the ball off. I had relatively high expectations for the Dores this year -- I thought the defense would be somewhere between solid and very good -- but they’ve laid an egg so far this year. This was a make or break season for Derek Mason, and it’s safe to say not making a bowl game would officially be filed under the broken category.

Cam Newton: Of the three teams mentioned, I think that none of them will end up making a bowl game. Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you which one of them is likeliest to make a bowl. For each team, it would take a pretty big upset just to make it to 6 wins.

For Kentucky, that would entail beating Mississippi State (that’s much likelier than defeating Tennessee, Bama [ha], or Georgia). I really don’t see a way that Kentucky can do that, given their defensive woes (although, they looked solid last week against an iffy Gamecocks offense).

Vanderbilt, a team whose defense was supposed to carry them this season, likely won’t make a bowl either. Derek Mason’s departure is all but set in stone at this point, and it’s doubtful that the Commodores will make a run that will save his job.

As for South Carolina? Well, they can’t even beat Kentucky.

Whose perception has changed for the better or the worse after last week: Georgia or Tennessee?

Jonathan: Tennessee’s for the better. Georgia was stumbling into that meat grinder in Oxford last week. The wins against UNC and Mizzou weren’t overly impressive given the talent discrepancy and the Nicholls State game was just a mess. I don’t know if I expected them to get shellacked the way they did, but I saw a bad loss coming sooner rather than later. This year may be a little tougher for Kirby than I initially expected, but it is early. You never know.

Judging how Tennessee had pretty much played throughout the first three games, I wasn’t expecting much out of their offense. Especially against a reputed defense like Florida’s, but I guess when your competition is UMass, UK and North Texas, your squad is going to look pretty great.

Now, Tennessee hasn’t put a full game together, yet, and they do have the difficult task of getting A&M and Bama back-to-back, but obviously Butch is putting together something and with the talent now appearing to gel at the right time, they should be able to handle the Dawgs this weekend. I don’t think they win both games, but I feel they’re going to split the Aggie/Tide combo in the following weeks. If this team can actually put together a “60-minute game,” it could be a helluva thing to watch.

Will: Tennessee and for the better. As David’s post on Monday pointed out, Tennessee really should have beaten Florida by more points, and would have if they executed in the first half. There aren’t other teams in the SEC East that can match them talent-for-talent on both sides of the ball.

I tend to think Georgia is going to be okay. Looking over their schedule they’ve got at least another five wins in them. The offensive line has issues, but the weakest teams in the SEC East are still ahead of them, Louisana-Lafayette, they host Auburn and Georgia Tech, and Florida is flawed offensively. They really only have two true road games the rest of the way.

Tom: Oh, Georgia’s is definitely worse. You don’t lose like that -- and I don’t care who you’re playing -- without taking a negative hit in perception. Keep in mind, the Bulldogs trailed Ole Miss 45-0 at one point. I think a lot of people wanted this team to be an East contender and I’m just not seeing it right now.

Last week didn’t really change my perception of Tennessee. If you were as good as the experts think Tennessee is, you beat a Florida team that’s without its starting quarterback, especially at Neyland. How they perform in College Station and against Alabama will tell me a lot more about this team, but the Florida win (given the circumstances surrounding the Gators) was about what I expected of them.

Julian: I was at the Georgia-North Carolina game, and call me biased, but I left the Dome unimpressed with the Dawgs. UNC, much like the South Carolina game the year before, found ways to lose rather than run. The Tar Heels neglected to run the ball and gave up a safety and another touchdown after costly penalties and a special teams mistake.

Georgia’s win at Missouri only reaffirmed my position on Kirby Smart’s bunch. The Tigers committed five turnovers and Georgia turn that into zero points. Good teams capitalize on their opponent's mistakes. I came out of the Mizzou game more impressed by the Tigers than Jacob Eason’s spectacular touchdown throw to Isaiah McKenzie.

That’s why the ass-whooping at the hands of Ole Miss didn’t shock me at all. Actually, I predicted that Georgia would get it handed to them by a team that very well should be No. 1 in the country had they closed games out. Georgia will stick around in the East conversation until November, but they won’t be as good as their record shows at the end of the season.

Georgia has been miserable in the kicking game and still has a long way to go offensively, particularly on the line and with its receivers. I love McKenzie and all that he does as the ‘Human Joystick”, but when he’s your ‘go-to’ target then there’s a problem. The health of both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel is also a major concern of mine. We have yet to see the two operating together like they did in the first half of last season, prior to Chubb’s injury. I trust that Kirby will get it done in years to come, but right now Georgia doesn’t have the personnel or health to win an SEC title.

As for Tennessee, they keep truckin along. I don’t think that there could have been a better way for the Volunteer to end the streak. Up 21-0 I’m sure the hubris of the Florida players reached an all-time high, while the pressure was relieved from the entire Volunteer sideline. The game was similar to the Georgia-Tennessee matchup last year, of course differing in significance. Where the parallels lie is in Josh Dobbs’ ability to run and pass the ball with maximum efficiency. I’m not sure whether it’s Dobbs putting too much pressure on himself in close games; Mike DeBord handcuffing the offense; or somehow Butch Jones limiting his team’s production, but Tennessee needs that second-half Dobbs in the final eight games.

To answer your question, Georgia, even though I already suspected them as fraudulent.

Joe: I don’t see how the answer is anything but Tennessee. The Vols are for real. Every year we write off teams that have a shaky September, only to watch them find an identity once they get a few games under their belt. We did it to Ohio State in 2014, and we did it to Stanford last year. We’ve been doing the same thing to Tennessee in the here and, and we did it without the Vols even losing a game like those two programs did. Even with the injuries they’ve sustained, they’re far and away the favorites in the East. I still don’t fully trust Butch Jones when the lights get bright, but the Florida win was a big confidence booster, and you should never underestimate confidence for a bunch of moody teenagers.

Georgia, meanwhile, has been a sheep in wolf’s clothing from the jump. The UNC win was impressive at the time, but it really looks like an outlier performance at this point. The Nicholls game was an embarrassment, and the Dawgs were extraordinarily lucky to walk away with a win in Columbia against Mizzou. You get gifted five turnovers and still need a 4th and 10 touchdown with less than two minutes left to win?

To borrow a baseball term, it’s a line drive in the scorebook, but that’s not a great sign going forward. I think we saw a much more realistic representation of this Georgia team last week. They can’t hang with elite talent like Ole Miss, and nobody should be surprised at that fact given how they looked in the three preceding games. They’ll still get to eight or nine wins, but 12th in the country was not accurate.

Christopher: Georgia is thought of to be worse off now for sure. The escape at Columbia compounded with a blowout loss on the road to Ole Miss isn’t going to do them any favors at all. They’re going to go through growing pains with a freshman QB under center, even if Jacob Eason is the real deal. The defense is lacking a bit and they’ll have to giddy up in the near future if they want to make something of this season.