SEC Preview Week: Can a team from the East win the conference?

connor-shawMissouri enters the SEC with the best newcomer — Dorial Green-Beckham — but will anyone really notice?

See, when it comes to SEC football these days, the only division that matters is the West. The Tigers are joining the East where almost everyone assumes the winner of the division will be easily dispatched by Alabama, LSU, Arkansas or Auburn in the championship game in December.

So here’s our case for why the SEC East champ can and will win the conference championship.

South Carolina

The Gamecocks have the tougher schedule, but if Steve Spurrier’s boys can win the East then South Carolina presents the biggest challenge to the West champ.

USC faces both LSU and Arkansas from the West, so Carolina can’t lose to any team in the division. It will likely be necessary to lose no more than one game outside of the East.

But you have to like the team Spurrier has assembled. It may not be as talented as Alabama or LSU, but the Gamecocks can compete with anyone in the EC.

South Carolina is a legitimate contender because of its formidable defense. The secondary must be rebuilt following the loss of Stephon Gilmore, but the line and linebackers are going to be coming from every angle at the quarterback.

Even the best in the West will struggle to hold back Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor.

The Gamecocks’ offense is counting heavily on the healthy return of running back Marcus Lattimore, and a much-more experienced Connor Shaw at quarterback. If South Carolina can find a go-to receiver like Alshon Jeffery then it should put up some points.

Odds of winning the SEC: 12-to-1


The Bulldogs are the preseason favorite to win the East and it’s easy to see why.

With Aaron Murray at quarterback and a much easier schedule out of the division, Georgia has an easy road to the SEC Championship Game.

Murray may be the face of the team and is a legitimate Heisman candidate, but the Bulldogs will go as far as their defense carries them.

Linebacker Jarvis Jones is a beast and he could have easily been a first-round draft pick had he left early. But Georgia also returns almost every player who contributed to this unit last year, including All-American safety Bacarri Rambo.

The loss of Isaiah Crowell at running back is a big deal, and hurts Georgia’s chances of controlling the ball offensively against an LSU or Bama. But don’t overlook five-star recruit Keith Marshall and what he might bring to the running game.

The Bulldogs get an early test with new SEC member Missouri on Sept. 8. Get by that game and South Carolina on Oct. 6 and Georgia may cruise into the SEC title game. Of course there is the annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party thing that is never an easy win.

Odds of winning the SEC: 25-to-1


The Tigers may be in for a shock as one of the newest members of the SEC, but Missouri is joining the league at the right time.

Led by quarterback James Franklin, the Tigers best playmaker. He’s not Cam Newton, but he has some similar characteristics. He also has his favorite target T.J. Moe back, but how long will it take for freshman Dorial Green-Beckham to have an impact.

Missouri was always tested by the Big 12 offenses, which play a more wide-open game. Now the Tigers will have to adjust to more powerful attacks in the SEC. It’s going to make for a tough transition.

If a few breaks fall Missouri’s way, the Tigers could be a big surprise in the SEC.

Odds of winning the SEC: 75-to-1


It’s another preseason and expectations at Florida are way higher than the Gators can truly live up to.

Ranked in many preseason Top 25 polls, it seems we have forgotten that Florida was 7-6 last year and had one of the worst offenses in the nation.

There is some talent in Gainesville, especially on defense, but this program is far from returning to greatness.

You can win in the SEC if you have the best defense and Florida should be in the mix, but it’s hard to imagine this team is ready to seriously compete with the Alabama’s, LSU’s and Arkansas’.

It’s unlikely the Gators can compete with South Carolina and Georgia.

Odds of winning the SEC: 90-to-1


There is almost universal agreement that if Tyler Bray remains healthy then Tennessee could be a darkhorse in the East.

Derek Dooley is also on the hot seat, and that motivation could be just what the Volunteers need to become relevant again.

Bray should get his yards and will still be the focus of the offense, but Dooley really needs to develop a stronger running game if Tennessee wants to be a serious contender in the East.

It does help the offensive line is back, so now UT needs Marlin Lane Jr., Rajion Neal and/or Devrin Young to step up.

Dooley is also serious about toughening up his defense and he went out and hired Sal Sunseri away from Alabama.

Odds of winning the SEC: 150-to-1


Can Vanderbilt win the close game in James Franklin’s second season? If so, then the Volunteers could be in a bowl game this year.

Offensively, Vandy has some major components to be successful in the SEC. Running back Zac Stacy is one of the league’s best runners and quarterback Jordan Rodgers should be more consistent this year.

The Commodores have a few holes on defense, but not up front where defensive tackle Rob Lohr is back to anchor Vandy’s 4-3 alignment. It won’t be easy to replace linebacker Chris Marve, who seemed to be in on every tackle.

Odds of winning the SEC: 250-to-1


The Wildcats are still in rebuilding mode after going 5-7 last season, and the predictions for 2012 are not much better.

The defense was a strength last year (and may be again this season), but Joker Phillips lost his best tacklers in Danny Trevathon and Winston Guy.

Kentucky is once again going with a new face at quarterback as the job appears to be Maxwell Smith’s. He has a strong arm and could be a key cog in reviving the Wildcats.

La’Rod King is a solid target at receiver and the Wildcats have the potential to turn loose a formidable running attack.

Odds of winning the SEC: 500-to-1