NFL early entries are set, the coaching carousel has mostly stopped spinning, and transfers have slowed to a trickle. In light of this I have begun to dig into rosters and start to get a feel for what UGA’s competition will look like this September.
Obviously Georgia’s need to find a cohesive secondary heading into 2021 has been well documented. But the Bulldogs are not the only team in the SEC East who enter the season with questions marks.
In fact, the Red and Black pretty clearly are the team in the division with the fewest holes. I think the statistic that captures the spirit of the 2021 SEC East better than any other is this: Georgia and Missouri are the only two teams in the East to return their starting quarterback and head coach from 2020.
Here’s another doozy: Georgia is the only team in their division which returns both it’s offensive and defensive coordinators from 2020.
I’ll be the first to admit that continuity can sometimes be overrated. Retaining people who did not get the job done instead of replacing them with people who might is not necessarily a recipe for success. Josh Heupel will likely be starting redshirt freshman Harrison Bailey in Knoxville, and you could probably convince me that the Vols will be at least a little less dysfunctional this year than last (albeit with a roster that has perhaps turned over more in one season than any I have ever seen).
But Florida will be breaking in a new quarterback (likely Emory Jones) and OC (Garrick McGee, although Dan Mullen will likely still be the play caller). Missouri returns redshirt sophomore signal caller Connor Bazelak, who showed some good things after taking over in 2020.
One could in fact make the argument that the ‘Dawgs, Gators, and Tigers are the only teams in the East one could plausibly pick to finish near .500 if you placed them in the SEC West. Part of that is due to the fluky cycling of program turnover the past couple of seasons. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Arkansas usually hang out reliably around the league basement. But all replaced their head coaches in 2020, and all will be in year two under their new coaches with solid starting experience returning. I’m not picking any of them to make the playoff. But I doubt any of the three will be appreciably worse than last season.
With new head coaches at Vandy, South Carolina, and Tennessee, this is the East’s rebuilding year. For Georgia, that means this regular season could come down to Clemson, Florida, and ten games in which the ‘Dawgs have to maintain focus against an opponent they should be easily favored to beat. That’s not always a simple task, especially if some of them start to put the wheels back on the wagon by the time we get to them.
But as spring practice kicks off across the Southland, Kirby Smart is starting from a much better position than he has in just about any other season. And his six SEC East colleagues would largely trade places with him in a second.