OK, SEC East fans, this is the weekend you have been waiting for. It is pretty clear that the East is a three team race between Florida, Tennessee and Georgia. It will likely become more of a two team race with one team a distant third Saturday. It could even become a leader with two teams in the rearview mirror.
Make no mistake, the Florida-Tennessee game will give one of those teams a big leg up in the race to Atlanta. Tennessee has been the popular choice to win the East all summer long but has looked a little lackluster in their first three games. The Vols’ running game was supposed to be next to unstoppable but that has not been the case so far. Florida enters the game without their starting quarterback. The Gators DO have the top ranked defense in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense. And, oh yeah, Florida also has an eleven game winning streak in the series. It should be a great game.
Tennessee came into this season with predictions of winning the SEC East and in some cases even winning the SEC and going to the playoffs. The Vols return almost their entire starting roster from last season and the popular opinion was that 2016 was going to be their breakout season. And it still can be. The Vols are still undefeated, but they have looked less than dominant in their first three games. Tennessee must get much better production out of both Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd than what we have seen so far. The Gator defense might not be what you want to see across from you while you are trying to get your offensive struggles worked out.
Florida lost starting quarterback Luke Del Rio to a questionable hit in last week’s game against North Texas but does get star receiver Antonio Callaway back for this game. The Gator running game has improved each week with four back all contributing. If the Gator defense continues to play at such an elite level against this step up in competition and starting QB Austin Appleby doesn’t have a rash of turnovers, the Vols will find it hard to score in this game. I expect it to be a fairly low scoring event which may well come down to a field goal one way or the other. The Gators have to feel better about that possibility this season with Eddie Pineiro. Eddie might get the chance to kick a 60 yarder this week.
Meanwhile Georgia goes out of the division to play Ole Miss. The Rebels have already lost two games but have somehow looked better than Georgia even though the Bulldogs are 3-0. Georgia has found ways to win and in the end that is all that matters. The Bulldogs and new head coach Kirby Smart really need to find a way to win this one. It will not be good for Georgia if they come out of this weekend with a loss and still have to play both Florida and Tennessee. That would make winning the East very difficult.
The Rebels are not the Ole Miss of the past couple of years now that the trio of stars from head coach Hugh Freeze’s early recruiting class have left for the NFL. Quarterback Chad Kelly has not looked like the best returning quarterback in the league as touted. If Georgia can play solid defense and not turn the ball over I think they have a very real chance to win one on the road. Running back Nick Chubb should break out any week now. The Bulldogs could really use it this week. This is the real Kirby Smart coming out party. I don’t like noon road games so I give a slight edge to Ole Miss but I would not be surprised if either team pulled away in this game.
The bottom line is that we will know a lot more about the SEC East by Saturday night. Then Georgia plays Tennessee next week. One of the three viable contenders for the East will likely establish themselves as the front runner over the next ten days. This is the fourth week of college football and I have yet to be disappointed in single weekend. I am confident that this will be another great weekend of football. Let the games begin.