The 2013 SEC East appears to be a three-horse race between Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, much like the 2012 season. There has been a change of culture in Kentucky that may allow for a grace period for new head coach Mark Stoops. Missouri looks to prove that it belongs in SEC football in its second year in the conference. Vanderbilt wants to show that 2012 wasn’t a fluke and Tennessee hopes to avoid another year near the bottom of the division.
But what constitutes a winning season in the toughest conference in America? That view is different from team-to-team and situation by situation for the SEC East.
Florida Gators – (2012: 11-2, 7-1 SEC)
The Gators are not going to have an easy path to the SEC Championship game in 2013 and the fan base is getting restless three years removed from the Tim Tebow era in Gainesville. Florida still has questions at who is going to be its quarterback, and whoever wins the position is going to have to rely on an offense that lost 10 from last year’s 11-2 team.
Still, the expectation is that Florida is a team not only competing for a spot in the SEC Championship game, but a spot in the BCS national championship.
Florida has its three toughest games all away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, as it plays LSU and South Carolina on the road, as well as Georgia in Jacksonville.
If, and that is a big if, the Gators get through at lest two of those games with a W it will be in a strong position to make it to the conference championship game.
What’s a winning season?: A spot in the SEC Championship game is the destination for the Florida faithful. Anything less is below expectations for a fan base that was used to titles from Tim Tebow.
Georgia Bulldogs- (2012: 12-2, 7-1)
If Georgia had a few more seconds in the SEC Championship it may have found it self getting a chance to lay the smack-down on Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game. This season, Georgia seems poised to make another run at a conference and national championship.
The Bulldogs are the early favorites to win the East division in 2013 and have a schedule that may work favorably for them in doing so. The team has the awful taste of coming so close to defeating Alabama that the Bulldogs may just be the conference’s most dangerous team.
Aaron Murray is going to have the opportunity to guide Georgia through a rough slate of early games early in the season as three of the first four games will have conference and national championship implications. Georgia opens on the road at Clemson before hosting South Carolina, North Texas and LSU.
What’s a winning season?: A winning season for Georgia in the upcoming season is nothing less than a spot in the SEC Championship game. The team enters as the favorite to earn the spot.
Kentucky Wildcats- (2012: 2-10, 0-8)
There are questions all over the place for the 2013 version of the Wildcats, a new coach in Mark Stoops may provide some of those answers in 2013. The basketball fan base of Kentucky is already wrestling with a disappointing season for their Wildcats and much of the fan base already turns their heads away after a few games into the season.
The offense in 2012 was one of the worst in college football, averaging just 17.9 points a game. Injuries to multiple starting quarterbacks likely played a part in that but Kentucky can only go up from here.
Whats a winning season?: Mark Stoops should have a year or two with this team before the fans expect anything out of Kentucky. Having a winning non-conference schedule and a win or two in conference, though unlikely, may be just enough to hold blue nation till basketball season begins.
Missouri Tigers- (2012: 5-7, 2-6)
Expectations may be higher than what this team can produce on the field. But the second go around for Missouri has everyone in Tiger country asking if they can compete in the SEC or not. This year may not be where Missouri wants to be in the next few, but the Tigers have a chance to rise to at least a bowl eligible year.
A large part of where this team is going to be at the end of the year is going to rely on the health of its QB, James Franklin. The senior should surpass his 10 touchdown total of 2012 and guide this team. The problem is the defense. Losing a few key positions on defense is going to put more pressure on the offense this go around.
What’s a winning season?: Bowl eligibility will make the Tiger faithful happy. It is not where the team wants to be in the future but it is a start. Missouri has a schedule that should see it to having six to seven wins at the end of the year but a tough stretch in the middle may leave fans holding on for must win games down the stretch.
South Carolina Gamecocks- (2012: 11-2, 6-2)
The departure of Marcus Lattimore leaves big questions on South Carolina for 2013. The Gamecocks were a favorite in 2012 before Lattimore’s injury and should be one of three teams that have the inside track towards the East division crown this year.
South Carolina is relying on a two-QB system and without a go-to back, there will be a lot of questions on if the quarterbacks can produce enough offense to get through the gauntlet of a schedule it faces. Back-to-back losses in 2012 to Florida and LSU left South Carolina in the back of the pack and this year will likely come down to how it performs early. South Carolina travels to Georgia in its second game of the season to begin SEC play and then hosts Florida in the final conference game.
What’s a winning season?: Hopes are high for the Gamecocks and the expecation is to make it to Georgia. If the Gamecocks answer early questions when traveling to face the Bulldogs, then those expectations could become a reality. For a winning season, USC will at least need to be playing in either the SEC Championship, or earn an at-large bid to the BCS.
Tennessee Volunteers- (2012: 5-7, 1-7)
Another rebuilding year is going to be likely for Rocky Top in 2013, first-year head coach Butch Jones is hoping to make a better impression than Derek Dooley.
The road is not going to be easy for Jones. Losing QB Tyler Bray and most of his offensive targets leaves a lot of holes for the Volunteers. There are areas to improve all over the field and being over .500 is going to be a goal that may be well out of reach.
What’s a winning season?: Winning anything more than the opening two games and a game against South Alabama would be a lofty goal for a Volunteer fan. Winning anything more would have to constitute a winning season. Four games may not be much but there is low hopes for the orange. UT travels to Kentucky at the season’s end and will likely be searching for its fourth win of the year after a very tough schedule.
Vanderbilt Commodores- (2012: 9-4, 5-3)
The Commodores surprised a lot of people in 2012 by winning nine games, five in the SEC, and may have raised expectations to an all-new high. Some put Vandy just outside the top-3 in the SEC East and expectations are on earning a 10-win season this year.
Vanderbilt is searching for its third consecutive bowl bid, something it has not done in program history. To do so, it will have to replace both its starting QB and RB as each departed. The lone offensive threat returning is WR Jordan Matthews, who turned down the NFL to play one more season in Nashville.
To be successful defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is going to have to have his defense in top shape and head coach James Franklin will have to find out answers to his missing pieces quick. The SEC season starts in Week 1 with a home date against Ole Miss.
What’s a winning season?: Vanderbilt doesn’t get any favors to its 2013 schedule with road games at South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida so a 10-win season seems difficult at best. However, the third consecutive bowl trip is a something to work towards and anyone following this team could be happy with that. Based on the schedule, winning its opener against Ole Miss will go along way in seeing that Vandy would need just one win out of its final two games to be eligible. The last two are at Tennessee and home against Wake Forest.