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SEC East Preview by Nick Hebenstreit, @NickHebenstreit



Georgia-o/u8.5 (+100o/-130u)

For this team preview I’m starting with the defense. This unit deserves it. They’re an old school

SEC defense if I’ve ever seen one. Let’s talk about Richard LeCounte. This kid is as good as it

gets. The senior chose to forego the NFL draft last year. When you watch the team play,

LeCounte is in on every play, and he’s quite the run stuffer for a safety. It’s actually mind

boggling how much this guy ends up around the football. Blink and you’ll miss him. Any team

that doesn’t draft this kid is going to be hurting. Overall, the defense returns eight starters. Last

year the Bulldogs only allowed seventy two rushing yards per game. That’s 2.6 yards per carry!

They return three out of four linebackers. They lost their second leading tackler Tae Crowder,

who I thought was a leader for the Dogs defense. However, Georgia's linebacker room is so

stacked, somehow I don’t think they’ll miss him. Nakobe Dean was the number one linebacker

coming out of high school. Monty Rice led the team with eighty nine tackles last year, and is

returning for his senior season. Jermaine Johnson is six foot five and 240lbs; he and Azeez

Ojulari are experienced edge rushers. The defensive line is led by nose tackle Jordan Davis. He’s

six foot six and 320lbs. Coaches are going to be scared of this team on film. I think we’re going

to see some 24-17, 14-0, 21-13 games from the Dogs this season. They can go toe to toe with

anybody.


Before I get into the offense I wanted to mention that Kirby Smart let Justin Fields walk, because

he was comfortable with Jake Fromm, the NCAA version of Case Keenum, leading his offense.

This is result-based criticism, but I never really saw the talent that everyone else did in Jake

Fromm. Likewise, I was a huge Justin Fields fan when he was coming out of high school. Nick

Saban benched Jalen Hurts for Tua, and Dabo Swinney benched Kelly Bryant for Trevor

Lawrence.


The Georgia offensive line returns only one starter. They also bring in Ole Miss head coach Matt

Luke. The offensive line was affected by injuries last year. Losing Andrew Thomas hurts, but

their offensive line has been playing without a lot of continuity (same five guys starting in games

consistently) over the last couple seasons. I don’t think we’ll see too much of a decline. They

lose D'Andre Swift, which I think hurts them the most on offense. Georgia won some ugly

games last year where Swift was the only one really producing and scoring on offense. Georgia

has been able to reload especially well at this position. Zamir White will presumably receive the

bulk of carries for this team. He’s a big back at six foot 215lbs. They return their leading receiver

and one of the best in the country in George Pickens. JT Daniels will most likely be the starting

quarterback. He was a very highly touted prospect coming out of football powerhouse Mater Dei.

He struggled his freshman year at USC and missed almost all of his sophomore season with a

knee injury.


Really tough beginning of the schedule for UGA. They play Auburn, Tennessee, at Alabama, at

Kentucky, bye week, then Florida in Jacksonville. Assuming they win their last four and their

first game against Arkansas, Georgia will have to win four out of those five games. It’s a really

tough call for me, but I lean towards the over.


Florida-o/u7.5 (-115o/-115u)

Florida went 11-2 last season with their only losses to LSU and Georgia.

Kyle Trask played well last season after replacing Felipe Franks. Trask had his first start in high

school or college last season. I think Trask is a top three quarterback in the SEC. Emory Jones

adds a nice wrinkle to the offense as a dual threat QB. They lose Van Jefferson but return TE

Kyle Pitts who led the team in receptions. Pitts will most likely be a first round pick, and might

be the best tight end in the country. The Gators offensive line was not great last season -- only

118 rushing yards per game against FBS opponents. They return three starters along the

offensive line and add Miss St grad transfer Stewart Reese. They have the talent to reload, so this

should be an improved unit. I like Dameon Pierce who had 54 carries for 320 yards (5.6ypc) last

year and Lorenzo Lingard who transferred from Miami. The offense overall should be improved

from last season.


The defense returns nine starters, but loses lead tackler David Reese and defensive back CJ

Henderson, who was a first round selection. Ventrell Miller returns at LB as the second leading

tackler, (Reese was first by a landslide). They also gain UGA transfer Brenton Cox. The

defensive line loses three starters, but the backups have in game experience. They shouldn’t drop

off too much. Secondary should improve. Both safeties are seniors (Brad Stewart and Shawn

Davis). Marco Wilson started all 13 games at corner last season.


I think Florida goes over 7.5 wins. Their schedule isn’t that tough compared to other SEC teams.

I think Florida could honestly go 9-1. But here’s the catch: I think Georgia beats them, and

therefore wins the East. I really like Florida, and I am ready to see them in the national

championship conversation again. I just don’t think they beat Georgia. That defense is just too

good. I think Daniels will be plenty settled in by then too.


Kentucky-o/u5 (-145o/+115u)

Kentucky faced the 68th toughest schedule in the country last season and went 3-5 in conference

play. They beat: Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Tennessee Martin,

Louisville, and Virginia Tech.


Terry Wilson will take over at QB. It will most likely still be a run-based offense, but a little

more balanced. They have a great offensive line with NFL talent, and a combined eighty-four

starts. This team is deep at running back, and will most likely go with a committee approach.

On defense they return five out of their six leading tacklers.


I think Kentucky has four wins right off the bat. They’ll need to beat Tennessee and South

Carolina to get to six though. For -145 odds I don’t see the value. I’ll pass.


Tennessee-o/u5 (-115o/-115u)

This was really a tale of two halves for the Volunteers last season. They started off 2-5. They lost

their first two games to non-conference opponents. They lost to Georgia State as twenty-six point

favorites and BYU as three point favorites.


Last year Tennessee had three quarterbacks play throughout the season. Big loss in Juan

Jennings. Four out of five offensive lineman return, including Trey Smith who was the number

one player in the nation coming out of high school. Jarrett Gurantano will be the starting

quarterback. I think he will be improved, but I still don’t love him. This team will most likely

pound the football. I really love the offensive line, and running backs Eric Gray and Ty

Chandler. They will need the receivers to step up though; they are all upperclassmen.

Tennessee returns its entire defensive line as well as Henry To’o To’o. This team is also

extremely deep in the secondary.


I like the over for this team.


South Carolina-o/u3.5 (-130o/+100u)

The Gamecocks went 4-8 last season in Will Muschamp’s fourth year at South Carolina. South

Carolina faced one of the toughest schedules in the country last year, and also suffered a myriad

of injuries. They were 3-3 after upsetting Georgia as twenty-one point road dogs. After that, they

lost a hard fought battle at home against the Gators. Next, they lost another competitive game at

Tennessee. I don’t want to say that this team gave up, but there’s no doubt that this brutal SEC

schedule started to grind them down. They were 3-5 after the Tennessee game, and had Texas

A&M and Clemson still on the schedule. I don’t know what the feeling was in the locker room,

but I imagine the idea of making a bowl game seemed like a lofty goal.


Colin Hill is the projected starter on offense. South Carolina loses their center but returns the

other four starters along the offensive line. They also return Hank Manos and Dylan Wonnum

from injury. Should be an improved unit. They lose their number one receiver Bryan Edwards

and their tight end Kyle Markway. Seventy-one receptions for Edwards and thirty-one for

Markway. Markway was also an excellent blocking tight end. They return their number two and

four reception leaders. Nick Muse will look to fill the tight end role. Mike Bobo is the new

offensive coordinator. I think the offense will improve their numbers this year.

Defense loses Kinlaw but returns six starters.


Missouri-o/u2.5 (-140o/+110u)

The Missouri Tigers decided to part ways with head coach Barry Odom after four seasons with a

combined record of 25-25. I had no problem with the move honestly. Odom was 7-13 on the

road and 3-7 ATS as an away favorite. This is an indication of bad coaching in my opinion. Last

season, Mizzou lost straight up as seventeen point favorites at Wyoming, twenty-one point

favorites at Vanderbilt, and ten point favorites at Kentucky. Mizzou was ranked in the top

twenty-five for the first time since 2015 headed into the Vanderbilt game. Odom made it to two

bowl games in his four years, where Missouri lost to Texas 33-16 in a game where they were

favored by a field goal then lost to Oklahoma State 38-33 as eight point favorites.


During Missouri’s first half of the schedule, (Wyoming, WVU, SEMO, SC, Troy, Ole Miss) they

averaged 38.8 ppg and 474 ypg. When competition stiffened in the second half, (Vandy, KY,

UGA, UF, TN, ARK) they fell to 11.8 ppg and 274 ypg. First year head coach Eli Drinkwitz,

who only held three spring practices, faces a daunting schedule as Missouri drew Alabama and

LSU out of the West. Mizzou will play Alabama followed by at Tenn and at LSU. Missouri will

be 0-3 and desperate for a win when they host Vanderbilt on a Saturday night. After that, they

play UF, KY, UGA, SC, AR, and Mississippi State.


On offense, the QB shouldn’t drop off much. They’ve got thunder and lightning at RB. WRs lose

Albert O but the group wasn’t very productive last season so there’s potential to improve. The

O-line is my biggest concern, with only 58 career starts between the group.

The Tigers’ defense has at least one playmaker at every level.


I think Missouri will need three wins between Vandy, SC, Arkansas, and Miss St if they’re

gonna go over. I don’t like them against SC but I think they’ll be favored against Vanderbilt and

Arkansas. It may come down to the Miss St game in December, between two new coaches who

have gotten settled in with their programs. Could be a good one.


Vanderbilt-o/u1 (+125o/-155u)

Since taking over in 2014, Dereck Mason has a conference record of ten and thirty-eight, and an

overall record of twenty-seven and forty-seven. His record against the spread is 35-39. Besides

James Franklin’s two nine win seasons, Vanderbilt is historically a fairly average to below

average team. The talent gap is extremely wide between Vanderbilt and the top SEC teams. I like

Derek Mason as a coach, and I think the players like him too. I also think coaches jobs are more

secure for the time being due to the coronavirus. Dereck Mason was on the hot seat after a loss at

home against UNLV, a game in which Vanderbilt was favored by fifteen at home. However, the

Commodores rallied around their coach the next week and took down Missouri as twenty-one

point underdogs. The defense turned a huge corner that week. During the first six games of the

season, the Vandy defense allowed 36.8 ppg. The next six games, they allowed 26.7 points per

game. They return all eleven starters for the 2020 season. The defense should continue to make

strides. They return Dimitri Moore, inside linebacker who had 99 tackles last season. Along the

defensive line they add Oklahoma transfer Derek Green and Florida transfer Malik Langham.

Vanderbilt loses Ke’Shawn Vaugh on offense. He had 198 carries last season. Keyon Brooks

was next with only fifty-six; he returns. They also return redshirt senior Jamauri Wakefield, who

suffered a season-ending injury in the home opener against Georgia last season. The

Commodores used four different quarterbacks, who all struggled, last year. They return their

number two and four receivers. They lose their LT, LG, and C, but they still have a good amount

of returning production. Consistent QB play will be the most important factor for Vanderbilt this

year. JUCO transfer Jeremy Moussa Jr. is the projected starter. Moussa threw for 353 ypg and 37

touchdowns in 2019 in JUCO.


I don’t see this team winning more than one game. I think the only two possible wins are at

Missouri or against Ole Miss. Other than that I just don’t see it. I like the trajectory of this team,

but looking at the SEC schedule I just can’t go over. Gotta go under. Just too tough of games.


You can follow Nick on Twitter @NickHebenstreit