After years of playing second-fiddle to the West in the Southeastern Conference power structure, the SEC East has begun to fight back.
Georgia, Florida and South Carolina stood almost head-to-head with the SEC West power teams last season and Vanderbilt, the perennial doormat of the division, posted nine wins, which included a Music City Bowl victory. After some strong showings by Georgia, Florida and Vanderbilt in the just-concluded recruiting season, the outlook for the SEC East is even brighter.
Florida finished No. 4 in the Rivals.com rankings while Georgia was No. 12, South Carolina was No. 16, Vanderbilt was No. 19 and Tennessee finished with the 20th-best recruiting class. That’s five SEC East teams in the Top 20 in the country. That was quite and impressive showing. Now it is time to see how quickly those recruiting classes will translate into playing time on the field.
Here is a look at which incoming freshmen have the best chance of winning playing time and even starting jobs at each school in the SEC East.
Florida made a strong comeback on the field last season and with its outstanding recruiting class the Gators obviously have plenty of talent arriving in Gainesville. Two of the best might be Kelvin Taylor, a running back out of Belle Glade, Florida, and defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III out of Tampa. Taylor will have a good chance to replace Mike Gillislee in the Gators’ offense but with the loss of Jose Evans and Matt Elam out of the secondary Hargreaves, 5-foot-11, 185, may have the best chance of winning a starting job. Hargreaves logged 110 tackles and five interceptions as a senior at Wharton High School and was the ranked as the second-best defensive back in the nation.
Georgia recruit Tramel Terry, 6-0, 190, is an all-purpose athlete from Goose Creek, South Carolina who had over 1,900 yard receiving and 1,800 yards rushing. Georgia sees Terry as a dual threat in the mold of former Florida star Percy Harvin. With Tavarres King graduated, there is a need for a speedy wide receiver and Terry fits the bill perfectly.
Kentucky has plenty of holes to fill, especially on defense. But the recruit who has a great chance to see plenty of playing time might be wide receiver Jeff Badet, a 5-11, 160-pound wide receiver from Orlando. The Wildcats lost wide receivers La’Rod King and Aaron Boyd, which could clear the way for Badet. As a senior at Freedom High, Badet had 63 catches for 881 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Missouri landed a real jewel in tailback Chase Abbington, a 6-4, 210-pounder from St. Peters, Missouri, and with the loss of Kendial Lawrence, the Tigers are in need of another running back to compliment quarterback James Franklin. Abbington, who runs the 40 in 4.4 seconds, is so versatile the Tigers may use Abbington as a receiver or on defense at safety. As a senior, Abbington rushed for 939 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a receiver he added 10 receptions for 142 yards and another score.
Linebacker Larenz Bryant is expected to make a big push for a starting job when the South Carolina Gamecocks open fall camp. Bryant, a 6-1, 215-pounder from Charlotte, runs a 4.5 40. Bryant recorded 76 tackles in his senior season, including nine sacks, two quarterback hurries, an interception, forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and four pass breakups. Bryant is one of eight four-star players signed in the South Carolina recruiting class.
Tennessee lost two playmaking receivers in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, so a big playmaker was high on Butch Jones’ wish list for the Volunteers. Jones got his man in the versatile Marquez North, a 6-3, 205-pounder from Charlotte, who runs a 4.4 40. In his senior season North had 682 rushing yards on 45 attempts for 18 touchdowns while adding another 322 yards on 20 receptions and seven touchdowns.
Vanderbilt just finished off its most successful season in decades and is reaping the benefits with a Top 20 recruiting class. The player many believe has the best chance of winning a starting job is quarterback Johnathon McCrary, a 6-3, 200-pounder from Decatur, Georgia. He compiled amazing career stats by completing 567 passes in 831 attempts for 9,025 yards and 78 touchdowns. He led his team to three consecutive state playoff berths and as senior he was 203-of-270 passing for 2,927 yards and 25 touchdowns. With Jordan Rodgers graduating, McCrary is expected to challenge returning back-up Austyn Carta-Samuels for the starting job.