Georgia Bulldogs’ 2016 SEC East to lose?

Oct 10, 2015; Knoxville, TN, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Sony Michel (1) runs the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 10, 2015; Knoxville, TN, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Sony Michel (1) runs the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports /

The Georgia Bulldogs will have almost an entirely new coaching staff in 2016, but that doesn’t mean that the Dawgs aren’t the favorite to win the SEC East.

It’s interesting how the SEC East has become the Georgia Bulldogs’ to lose ever since Urban Meyer left the Florida Gators program before 2011. However since Meyer’s departure from Gainesville, the Georgia Bulldogs have only won the SEC East twice (2011-12), having dropped their last three opportunities to the Missouri Tigers in 2013-14 and to the Florida Gators in 2015.

Even though Florida did win the SEC East convincingly in 2015, the Gators aren’t the presumed favorites to repeat as division champions. That likely comes down to who wins between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Tennessee Volunteers head-to-head. With the UGA/UT rivalry game being played Between the Hedges, the Dawgs again might end up the favorite to win the SEC East in 2016.

Realistically, only four programs have a practical shot at winning the SEC East this upcoming fall: the Florida Gators, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Missouri Tigers, and the Tennessee Volunteers. The Kentucky Wildcats, the South Carolina Gamecocks, and the Vanderbilt Commodores need to sniff bowl eligibility before being considered a serious threat for divisional supremacy in 2016.

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Missouri, like most years, seems like a long shot, but will have two decent quarterbacks in Maty Mauk and Drew Lock to pair alongside what is usually a strong Mizzou defense. Promoting former defensive coordinator Barry Odom as Gary Pinkel’s replacement will help Mizzou stay consistent in 2016.

While Mizzou will finally play a Power 5 team in the non-conference in the Big 12’s West Virginia Mountaineers, the Tigers don’t have what I consider a favorable SEC slate of games in 2016. Their SEC home opener is versus the Georgia Bulldogs. They draw the LSU Tigers out of the SEC West rotation and will have to play LSU, Florida, and Tennessee on the road in 2016.

It’s hard to see Mizzou doing better than 6-2 in SEC play, which is still the threshold required to win the division. They’ll come up a bit short in 2016, but should get back to a bowl game under their new head coach.

The Florida Gators’ slate of games is certainly navigable, as they get the Arkansas Razorbacks out of the West and obviously the Florida State Seminoles in the non-conference. Florida’s toughest road games are in Arkansas, at, Tennessee, in Jacksonville for Georgia/Florida, and at FSU in the final game of the season.

Florida’s schedule of games aren’t brutal, but they could easily drop a game or three to finish 9-3 (6-2) in the 2016 regular season. Essentially, the Gators have to beat both the Georgia Bulldogs and the Tennessee Volunteers head-to-head again in 2016. That isn’t a guarantee, as both UGA and UT will want to enact revenge on the Gators this fall.

The Tennessee Volunteers will play a relatively tough schedule in 2016. They will play the Virginia Tech Hokies in Bristol Motor Speedway in the non-conference and draw Texas A&M out of the SEC West. Trips to Sanford Stadium and Kyle Field aren’t easy road trips for the Vols, but get the rest of their tough games at home in Florida, Alabama, and Missouri.

Tennessee is on the brink under head coach Butch Jones. If they can somehow not lose to both Alabama and Florida again in 2016 in what has become an annual tradition for Rocky Top, then maybe the Volunteers win their first SEC East Division title since 2007.

The Georgia Bulldogs will have to play well early to win the SEC East in 2016. The Dawgs open up the season at the Georgia Dome against the 2015 ACC Coastal Champion North Carolina Tar Heels and will play on the road in Mizzou and in Ole Miss in three of their first four games.

Next: Jacob Eason or Greyson Lambert starts in 2016?

A trip to EverBank Field in Jacksonville near Halloween is the toughest road trip for the Georgia Bulldogs in the last two-thirds of their season. If the UGA defense is still rock solid under the new staff, the quarterback situation is fluid, and the Dawgs can continue to run the football in 2016, then they might win the SEC East for the first time in four years. It isn’t going to come easy, but again it is possible for the presumed favorite.