Oct 12, 2013; Athens, GA, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback James Franklin (1) releases the ball before being hit by Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Jordan Jenkins (59) during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Missouri defeated Georgia 41-26. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

SEC East As Wide Open As Ever

Entering Saturday afternoon’s contest with the Georgia Bulldogs ultimately serving as a barometer for how they stacked up in the SEC East, the Missouri Tigers had a lot to prove in Athens, Ga. They eyed it as an opportunity to show they belonged in the Southeastern Conference, and they attacked Georgia, coming away with a 41-26 victory that puts them atop the divisional standings.

And now, despite losing quarterback James Franklin to a separated shoulder that could cost him the remainder of the regular season, the Missouri Tigers are undefeated and control their own destiny in the SEC East as they battle with Georgia, the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Florida Gators, who all exit the weekend with one SEC loss under their belts.

In their second season as a full member of the conference, the Missouri Tigers have managed to carve out a niche for themselves temporarily among the division’s elite.

However, the SEC East is far from won, and with Missouri now forced to move forward without their star quarterback, the divisional picture is starting to get a little hazy.

Coming off the loss this week to the Tigers, the Georgia Bulldogs have now played through the toughest part of their schedule and should really only be challenged at the World’s Largest Cocktail Party against Florida and when they travel to Auburn to take on the other other Tigers on Nov. 16.

Meanwhile, the Florida Gators are also sitting at one loss in the conference and despite their offensive struggles they still sport one of the most dominant defensive units (particularly in the secondary) in the country. Then, of course, there’s South Carolina who now has a healthy Connor Shaw back in the mix.

The Gamecocks’ biggest obstacle to date has become the spectacle that Jadeveon Clowney’s become, and whether or not the attention we’ve given Clowney’s motivation–or lack thereof–is merited, the South Carolina Gamecocks are quite clearly better off with the potential Top Three pick in next spring’s NFL Draft on the field and focused.

All totaled, the SEC East is going to be an incredible race going foward.

Even the Tennessee Volunteers, a team sitting at 0-2 in the SEC, have been more competitive, and with their resurgence, Missouri’s emergence as a divisional power and Kentucky’s improved recruiting, it’s apparent that the SEC East is finally back on the upswing after a few down years in correlation with the rise of SEC West powers like Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M.

What that means is we’re in for an entertaining stretch run in the SEC East race, and who comes out on top could hinge entirely on who can handle adversity the best.

The Missouri Tigers are without their starting quarterback. South Carolina has no idea what they’re going to get from Jadeveon Clowney on a weekly basis. The Georgia Bulldogs are depleted at the skill positions and the Florida Gators are struggling to find ways to move the football offensively.

Everyone has their issues, and the team that emerges from the fracas will likely be the one who makes the necessary midseason adjustments. In Missouri that means bringing along new starting quarterback Maty Mauk. In South Carolina that means minimizing the Clowney distraction. In Florida that means finding some offense and in Georgia it means finding some playmakers.

Halfway through the season, it’s time to step up or step out.

The Missouri Tigers might be the only undefeated team in the SEC East, but it’s clear the division is as wide open as ever. Four teams in the division are within a game of first place, and they all have their issues.

I guess that makes the undefeated Missouri Tigers the favorites, but we’ll know a lot more about the new kids on the block after they square off with Florida and South Carolina. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the SEC, it’s that you’ve got to be able to bring it on a weekly basis. And that’s one area where Gary Pinkel and Missouri still have to prove themselves.

Tags: Florida Gators Georgia Bulldogs Missouri Tigers SEC East South Carolina Gamecocks

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