Who’ll grab hold of the SEC East – UGA or South Carolina?

Will Isaiah Crowell and Georgia leave South Carolina in the dust? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Will Isaiah Crowell and Georgia leave South Carolina in the dust? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

For the first 10 years of the SEC East’s existence, Florida usually won. When it didn’t, Tennessee did. Then Mark Richt arrived at Georgia — and, not incidentally, Ron Zook took over in Gainesville — and the Bulldogs won the division three times in four seasons. Then the Gators, under new and better management, won three times in four years. And then, in 2010, something strange happened: The East was taken by none of the above.

South Carolina finally broke through, and two weeks into the 2011 season the Gamecocks were poised to consolidate that gain. They’d beaten Georgia in Athens. The Gamecocks had four of the more talented players — Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney — in the nation’s most talented league. But Carolina lost at home to Auburn and booted wayfaring quarterback Stephen Garcia from the squad for good and lost Lattimore to a knee injury and then lost at Arkansas. Georgia won the East for the first time since 2005, and today the Bulldogs stand where South Carolina did a year ago.

Georgia is a good young team coming off a lousy ending. Just as South Carolina did in 2010, the Bulldogs were routed in the SEC title game and contrived to lose their bowl. The 2011 Gamecocks, by way of contrast, finished by thrashing Clemson, which would win the ACC, and then Nebraska to wind up 11-2 to Georgia’s 10-4. And the Bulldogs must go to Columbia next season.

In sum, the SEC East remains in heavy flux. South Carolina has cause to believe it was the division’s best team, but was undone by luck and scheduling. Georgia can point to its 10 wins and its 15 returning starters as proof that its rise was no trick of the light. And then there are the others.

Various recruiting rankings indicate that Florida, which had to win its bowl to finish above .500, is poised to sign the top class among SEC East programs. Tennessee finished 5-7 and won only one conference game and could well be seeking a new coach soon. In Year 2 under James Franklin, Vanderbilt figures to do more than simply scare some of the big boys. About all Kentucky accomplished in Year 2 under Joker Phillips was to beat Tennessee for the first time since 1984. And this fall Big 12 expatriate Missouri, flouting geography, opens play as a member of the SEC East.

Most projections for 2012 show Georgia and South Carolina in the preseason top 10, and whichever one takes the East this year — it’s hard to envision anyone else rising past both — can lay claim to being the class of the SEC’s lesser division. (SEC West zealots may consider this the equivalent of being the world’s strongest weakling, but you can’t win the conference unless you play in Atlanta on the first Saturday in December, can you?)

Once again, all schedules aren’t created equal. Georgia, which managed not to play any of the West’s Big Three in the 2011 regular season, will miss them again. South Carolina has to play LSU in Baton Rouge and Arkansas in Columbia, which means the Gamecocks could again beat Georgia and still lose the East.

The 2012 SEC East champ will be:

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In a division laden with uncertainty, signing day can have an outsize impact. The Gamecocks won the East in 2010 because Lattimore chose them over Auburn. Georgia won in 2011 largely because freshmen Isaiah Crowell and Malcolm Mitchell became playmakers. This year the Bulldogs have gained commitments from running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, making the matter of Crowell’s durability less significant. South Carolina’s top commitment is receiver Shaq Roland, who should slide into the spot vacated by Jeffery.

Looking toward autumn, it’s a close call between the two, but the pick here is Georgia. The Bulldogs have the kinder schedule and figure to have more good players returning, and South Carolina’s best player will be coming off knee surgery. That said, seizing control of a division — even if it is only the SEC East, as opposed to the West — requires a level of consistent excellence above and beyond what was required to break through once.

South Carolina knows this all too well. The Gamecocks were a better team in 2011 than in 2010 but didn’t play for the conference title. They missed their chance to stamp themselves as the post-Urban Meyer power in the SEC East. Now it’s Georgia turn to try.

By Mark Bradley

530 comments Add your comment

Andy

January 25th, 2012
1:59 pm

What up Mark?

Mark Bradley

January 25th, 2012
2:00 pm

What’s up is kudos for Andy.

JaxDawg

January 25th, 2012
2:02 pm

JaxDawg

January 25th, 2012
2:04 pm

So close and Go Dawgs!!!

tvradioguy

January 25th, 2012
2:06 pm

This would be the PERFECT time to lose BOBO. With an easier schedule, this would be the time to break in a new offense – especially with the defense being much better. Alas, it will not happen because Richt for some reason I DONT UNDERSTAND is loyal to a fault to under achievers.

ole ball coach

January 25th, 2012
2:09 pm

I’ll concede Georgia is the much better team. We were lucky to win last year and Georgia is better coached and more talented.

So Go DAWGS!

Glock 45

January 25th, 2012
2:10 pm

JaxDawg

January 25th, 2012
2:02 pm

First
—————————————————————————
Grow Up!

Bad Dawg, Bad Dawg

January 25th, 2012
2:13 pm

USC of course! Better coach! Listen up Dawg Nation you know that you’re an after thought in the SEC. Bama, LSU, Razorbacks, Auburn and now USC are the teams. An elite team would not have lost to Central Florida in a 3rd tier bowl last year and lost to MSU this year. More off the field issues for Richt and Dawgs will embarrass the school…..again!

Vance Duly

January 25th, 2012
2:14 pm

Offensive line play and Coach Bobo’s approach to playcalling in ALL 4 quarters of the games — those 2 factors will tell the tale. I’m hopeful, but not confident. There are holes in both! ……….GO DAWGS!

coachx

January 25th, 2012
2:15 pm

UGA will win the SEC East. Everything that could go wrong for UGA, did go wrong for UGA in their loss to USC last year. Next year the best team will win and that team in UGA.

Shug

January 25th, 2012
2:15 pm

When in 2011 did Crowell become a “playmaker?” Nice article, until I read that.

Dirty Dawg

January 25th, 2012
2:18 pm

Look for the OBC to ‘raise the rhetoric’ on CMR and Georgia going into next season. Nothing like a steady stream of smart-a$$ cracks to get the fight started.

JB

January 25th, 2012
2:26 pm

Rivals, for what it’s worth gives the edge to Carolina. Talent about the same, but coaching gives SC the edge. Go to Yahoo home page, click on sports and click on NCAA football to read it.It’s titled SEC preview.

Boobie Bowden

January 25th, 2012
2:29 pm

So UGA is the pre-season SEC East Champion as well as the pre-season national champion, eh?

GTBob

January 25th, 2012
2:29 pm

It’s almost impossible for UGA to not win the east next year. They probably won’t play any ranked teams other then South Carolina. As long as they show up in uniform, the SEC east is easily theirs.

RxDawg

January 25th, 2012
2:30 pm

Dawgs win. You can’t predict a team that’s whinning about the rules and schedule like USC is. If they actually won the SEC division a few times, they would see that ties and tie breakers are a regular occurence.

Andy

January 25th, 2012
2:31 pm

If Carolina loses the East again after beating UGA all the Carolina fans will go CRAZY!

RxDawg

January 25th, 2012
2:31 pm

Oh and one more thing… playing Arkansas is no great disadvantage. Dem boys is overrated.

JB

January 25th, 2012
2:36 pm

But, that being said, Spurrier not having all summer to prep for us this year and playing like 6 games into the season will give the Dawgs the edge IMO.

randy

January 25th, 2012
2:37 pm

Amazing………..same old story from the AJC and the whiner fans of UGLYville. Here’s to the mighty bulldogs who have done nothing except whine and cry about the success of programs such as Florida, Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas. The difference? They have all proven (Get That?? Proven) to be winners. So here come the University of Georgia Wannabees, already proclaiming to be next years SEC Eastern Division Champions and have yet to set one foot on the field. Same old story, same old heartbreak, same old Richt Kool Aid, same old AJC Kool Aid, keep drinking it because it’s the only thing that relieves that mental anguish you feel each year after the season is over.

ChopAttack

January 25th, 2012
2:39 pm

Bad Dawg…

A season before going to the SEC Championship game a Saban coached Alabama team lost at home to Louisiana–Monroe. Who cares about the Central Florida game. It’s in the past.

elroy

January 25th, 2012
2:40 pm

neither team will make March Madness…what? football! wasn’t last season’s lame championship game played a couple of weeks ago. What don’y you discuss the Super Bowl or the Hawks or Braves.

old time dog

January 25th, 2012
2:41 pm

UGA should be in the mix for the top spot in the division but there are a lot of question marks at this time to address. OL,special teams,kicking game,effective and smart play at QB and playcalling concern me as obvious parts of the team that must show improvement. If they can fix the nagging problems in these areas then it may be possible for UGA to be a pretty strong team. I think the jury needs to remain out until some hard evidence is presented and by that I mean showing it on the field.

ChopAttack

January 25th, 2012
2:43 pm

After the 2008 season I’m not getting too excited about football. A team has to stay healthy and they need little luck (see: Florida 2008 and Alabama 2011).

c.q.

January 25th, 2012
2:45 pm

This is how the sec has stacked up over the last 11 seasons… most wins–1) Lsu–115, 2) UGA–106, 3) florida 105, 4) auburn–101, 5) (t) arkansas–86, tennessee–86, 7) south carolina–80, 8)alabama–77 (note they have won 98 but had to vacate 21 for ncaa rules violations). 9) ole miss–62, 10) kentucky–59, 11) mii st–50, 12) vanderbilt–39. second most wins is pretty solid in my opinion. how have we matched up with the other sec teams and rival tech? against tech 10-1, vandy 10-1, kentucky 9-2, auburn 7-4, south carolina 7-4, tennessee 7-4, ole miss 5-0, arkansas 5-1, bama 3-1, miss st 3-1, lsu 3-4, florida 3-8. winning record against everyone but lsu and florida with only the gators really owning us. overall against other sec teams 62-30. how many times has each team finished ranked?? always a sign of a good season—UGA 9, LSU 9, florida 7, bama 6, auburn 6, tennessee 5, south carolina 3, ole miss 3, arkansas 2, miss st 1, kentucky 0, vandy 0. only 2 “bad” seasons in 11. who has the most sec titles– LSU 4, UGA 2, florida 2, auburn 2, bama 1. who has the most division titles? east-uga 4, florida 3, tenn 3, sc 1. west-lsu 5, bama 2, auburn 2, arkansas 2. just a quick note/thought on the programs—how many coaches each one has had… UGA -1, LSU -2 (both saban and miles have done well) – auburn 2 (tuberville was solid and chizik has the one great season), arkansas 2 (nutt had a good run and petrino looks like a really good hire, even though I have zero respect for the man). south carolina 2 (holtz had a couple good seasons then fizzled. spurrier is a great coach). tennessee – 3 (fulmer dropped off, kiffen made a mess and dooley looks to be in trouble). kentucky 3, miss st 3, florida 4 (spurrier left, zook struggled, meyer had a great run and fell apart the last year, jury is out on muschamp) .ole miss 4, vandy 4, alabama 5 (hot right now with saban but a mess before him) I’m honestly more excited about ugas future that i have been in several years. looks like we have a great defensive staff, recruiting is strong. I understand what we are up against. the last 6 years the national champ has come from the sec but its more than just that—during those 6 seasons the sec has had 11 teams finish ranked in the top 5. six DIFFERENT teams have done it. –bama, auburn, arkansas, florida, UGA and LSU. In comparison, the pac 12 has had 6 top 5s, the big 12 had 5, the big ten had 4 and neither the acc or big east has had a single top 5 finish. i know its easy to focus on what we haven’t gotten done yet – the nationaltitle. I choose to be thankful for the POSITIVE things CMR has done for UGA .most sec east titles during his tenure, second most wins,10-1 against tech no probations, no vacating wins, great class last year and looks like another this year. 2009 and 2010 were tough but 2011 was a good rebound and im really excited about 2012 and beyond. GO DAWGS!!!!

c.q.

January 25th, 2012
2:46 pm

BTW… that was “borrowed” material. I didn’t compile those stats personally. (don’t want to get in trouble for plagerizing)

go dwags

January 25th, 2012
2:48 pm

the only reason uga won the east last year was they didn’t have to play ark lsu or bama in the reg season. they luck out again and will probably win it due to an easy sec schedule and then get blown out again against bama or lsu

JB

January 25th, 2012
2:49 pm

go dwags……………………But we all know one game we’ll win…..good team or bad. Tech.

Big Crimson 75

January 25th, 2012
2:49 pm

Randy — I reed these blogs daily. I’ve never seen “fans” of a school so wrapped up in other programs, in particular Alabama. If someone else wins — they are cheating. If a recruit signs elsewhere — they were paid off.
I guess that’s what losers do — I don’t know!
Mark my words, after next season, when GA has there typical 9 – 4 campaign with the easiest schedule in the SEC, 4 or 5 players arrested — all you will hear is slandering other schools they just are not good enough to compete with.

ChopAttack

January 25th, 2012
2:50 pm

It should also be noted that SCAR, LSU, and Alabama are signing a lot more players every year than UGA and UF. Once that unethical practice is eradicated those teams should come back to Earth.

DawginLex

January 25th, 2012
2:51 pm

I wish the balance of power could shift from Bama/LSU to UGA/SC next year.

Probably wishful thinking.

If UGA could find a way to beat SC and Mizzou and florida, and SC could beat LSU and Ark, we could get the rematch that the two west teams got.

Gotta lot of football to be played and a lot of tightening up in Athens for that to happen.

I got bashed for advocating a QB platoon system early on but I truly believe Murray needs a mental crutch in big games.

JB

January 25th, 2012
2:51 pm

And by the way…..Mr Tech ” go dwags”… We won the East because we did our job and South Carolina didn’t

WDE

January 25th, 2012
2:51 pm

@randy which team that we beat last year are you a fan of?

ChopAttack

January 25th, 2012
2:52 pm

Big Crimson 75,

You’ve never seen “fans” of a school wrapped up other programs? One of your fans poisoned Auburn’s tree. The lack of self awareness by some people is awe inspiring.

DawginLex

January 25th, 2012
2:53 pm

chopattack

Luck was florida in 2006 having USC choke versus UCLA and also blocking a last second FG versus SC in the Swamp then getting to play an overrated Ohio state team that half the SEC would have whipped.

@bad dawg

January 25th, 2012
2:54 pm

South carolina is a traditionless program, congrats on finishing in a final top 10 for the first time in over 100 years. Maybe next you SC will actually get to go to a major Bowl. remind me whats spurriers record vs Rich while at SC? and the overall record favors Georgia 43-16, go cackle somewhere else SC will go back to being SC next year with 5 or 6 losses.

JB

January 25th, 2012
2:55 pm

Big 75………………Then you must of missed the 500 post by crying Bama fans on a earlier blog about Saban getting heat about pulling the offer from this kid this year. Your comment was about getting wrapped up. You don’t come here often because there are plenty of Bama fans here daily telling US what’s wrong with our coach and program.

uga has to be favored...

January 25th, 2012
2:56 pm

My chickens have Arky at home, but travel to LSU, I’m hoping for a split, as Arky has lost some key personnel.

So even if SC gets by UGA, it’ll be a very tough row to hoe. UGA meanwhile has a bye week following SC, and Auburn and Ole Miss by comparison.

The East table is tilted heavily toward UGA for 2012. Do I detect the hand of ESPN trying to build Atlanta ratings?

But in the end, to be the best, you have to beat the best. Go SC!

JB

January 25th, 2012
2:56 pm

Big Crimson…………….There has never been a bigger ” look at me” program in world worse than Bama.

ChopAttack

January 25th, 2012
2:57 pm

DawginLex…

The list could go on and on…. UF’s 96 team needed a rematch and Arizona St. loss in the Rose Bowl in the title. LSU won a title with two losses. Auburn went undefeated and got nothing. UGA had one loss in 2002 and the breaks didn’t fall their way. The only thing a team can control is winning their conference and sometimes that’s not enough (See: LSU 2011).

RYAN

January 25th, 2012
2:57 pm

cq
why don’t you go back the past 5 years!

PickleJuicer

January 25th, 2012
2:58 pm

UGA only plays 1 ranked team. South Carolina.

UGA will lose to South Carolina and then get blown out by 30+ again in the SEC Championship by the QB Richt thought was better than Aaron Murray.

If not for Aaron Murray, I’d say UGA has a chance. But when I remember his 14 interceptions, and how he has lost every game to top teams, I realize 2012 won’t be the year.

PickleJuicer

January 25th, 2012
2:59 pm

Take Murray out of the equation, and UGA was in both the LSU game, and the Mich St, until Murray imploded with 6 turnovers in the 2 biggest games of the year and gave them away.

go dwags

January 25th, 2012
3:00 pm

probably will..not a tech fan…you should beat them the same reason why the steelers should always beat the browns and do.

uga has to be favored...

January 25th, 2012
3:00 pm

traditionless? we have a tradition of selling out a stadium of 80,000+. sure, we’ve never won much of jack until the past two years, but so what? are you a time traveler? if so, I recommend going back to watch herschel again, because Highsaiah ain’t the answer.

SC is building a winning program under coach spurrier, who knows a thing or two about SEC football (2nd only to a guy named Bear Bryant in SEC wins).

I’ve never met the UGA fan who wouldn’t trade Richt for Spurrier. good luck next season in Columbia.

GTBob

January 25th, 2012
3:00 pm

And by the way…..Mr Tech ” go dwags”… We won the East because we did our job and South Carolina didn’t

That only means that South Carolina’s job was to beat Arkansas and UGA’s job was to beat Ole Miss. Gee, which one of those was tougher?

1eyedJack

January 25th, 2012
3:00 pm

If we can find 7 or 8 offensive linemen that can play, then we’re in like Flynn.

Since when is Arkansas elite? And Awbun was a flash in the pan.

JB

January 25th, 2012
3:01 pm

Pickle…………Dawgs beat Carolina. They will have trouble scoring on them….as will everyone they play…..Hate on…… but watch.

WDE

January 25th, 2012
3:01 pm

@Big Crimson 75 nice to know you “reed” these blogs everyday….yepper your a Bama fan alright!

uga has to be favored...

January 25th, 2012
3:02 pm

didn’t auburn finish in the top 5?