With the college football season just over three months away, CBS Sports is here to take a closer look at the win totals for every team from the Power Five (and AAC) and pick a side ahead of the 2016 campaign.
After picking the SEC West, we turn our attention to the SEC East, where the Tennessee Volunteers are the favorites to come away with their first division title since 2007. The Vols return a ton of talent from a team that went 8-4 in the 2015 regular season and sniffed a division title, only to give away some key games late. Georgia and defending division champion Florida aren't far behind the Vols on the win total sheet, but with quarterback questions at both programs, Tennessee is the clear favorite.
The SEC East has played second fiddle to the West in recent years with the division failing to produce a conference champion since Florida in 2008. That's not expected to change in 2016, but maybe Tennessee or another team can break that streak and win one for the East.
Here are my win total picks for all seven teams in the SEC East for 2016, beginning with the favorite Volunteers. All win total odds provided by South Point casino in Las Vegas, which released win totals for all 128 college football teams.
Tennessee, 9.5 (+105 over, -125 under): If you were to ask for one word to describe the 2015 Volunteers, I would give you "almost." Tennessee was a trendy darkhorse pick in 2015 and almost lived up to that hype. The Vols almost upset Oklahoma at home, they almost beat Florida on the road, and they almost stunned Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
This year, the Vols look to turn those "almosts" into actualities. They have the roster to do it. Josh Dobbs is now a grizzled veteran at quarterback with talented running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara carrying the workload in the backfield. On defense, Derek Barnett, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cameron Sutton and Todd Kelly Jr. are all really good players and that entire unit should be even better this year.
The roster is there and the schedule provides an opportunity for them to be a 10-win team for the first time in the regular season since 2004. Alabama must come to Knoxville this year, as will Florida, and the Vols' toughest out-of-conference game is against a Virginia Tech team in Bristol, Tennessee. Road games at Georgia, Texas A&M and spunky in-state rival Vanderbilt could prove to be stumbling blocks on the Vols road this year, but I'm going to buy in on all that talent in a weak division and say they get it done, keep it to two losses and land a 10-win season in 2016. Pick: OVER (+105)
Georgia, 8.5 (-110, -110): The Bulldogs are one of many teams in the SEC replacing their quarterback in 2016, and they have a new coach for the first time in 15 years to boot. Kirby Smart comes over from Alabama to try and get Georgia over the hump in the SEC East after years of close calls.
The schedule sets up about as well for a new coach and new quarterback as you could hope. The opener is against a North Carolina team that probably overachieved in 2015 but certainly has some talented players, though that's a de facto home game for Georgia in Atlanta. Tennessee comes to Athens this year, and the toughest tests for the Dawgs outside the state trips to Oxford, Mississippi, to face Ole Miss -- a team I'm not particularly high on -- and the annual Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, Florida, against the Gators.
Quarterback is the big question on everyone's mind in Athens entering the season, but I suspect that freshman stud Jacob Eason will take on that starting role at some point this year. Whoever earns the starting job's primary task will be to turn around and hand the rock off to star backs Nick Chubb, who's returning from a knee injury, and Sony Michel. Smart should have the defense ready to go on Day 1, and if the Dawgs will run the dang ball, I like them to eclipse their total this year, partially due to talent but more so due to their schedule. Pick: OVER (-110)
Florida, 7.5 (-120, +100): The defending division champions are not expected to repeat their surprising 2015 run this year. The Gators are in search of a quarterback and -- unlike Georgia -- don't have a stable of experienced running backs to lean on as workhorses. (In fact, they don't have a back on the roster that rushed for over 200 yards last year.)
Defense has been the Gators' calling card for the past five years, and they figure to have another good one this year, but after seeing how badly they struggled without Will Grier on offense, I worry about whether this defense can carry them to wins. I look at four games as losses on the schedule -- at Tennessee, vs. Georgia, vs. LSU and at Florida State -- which would put them at eight wins, but I think there will be one other game that sneaks up and bites them (at Vandy?!) and will take the extra little juice and the under here. I think McElwain will eventually take this offense and team forward, but not until there's a pretty big step back this year. Pick: UNDER (+100)
Missouri, 5.5 (-110, -110): Mizzou has a new coach who inherits a good defensive group and just an abysmal offense. The Tigers were the 127th ranked scoring offense in the nation last year, something even the nation's fifth-best scoring defense couldn't salvage -- the Tigers 9-6 win over UConn was performance art, not football.
The schedule doesn't set up all that well for the Tigers, who open the season at West Virginia in a very random out of conference matchup and also have trips to LSU, Florida and Tennessee -- three extremely difficult road environments -- on the schedule.
If we take those four games, plus the home game against Georgia as losses, we've maxed out at 7 wins. Eastern Michigan, Delaware State and Middle Tennessee State should all be wins -- the Blue Raiders can be spunky at home, but in Columbia that's a Mizzou win -- leaving four SEC games against other mediocre teams up in the air. I'll say they split those four and post another 5-7 record this season. Pick: UNDER (-110)
Kentucky, 5 (-110, -110): Kentucky almost squeaked out a bowl bid in 2015, falling just short thanks to one-possession losses to Florida, Auburn and Vanderbilt. The Wildcats will once again spend 2016 scrapping to reach bowl eligibility with Boom Williams back at running back. He's a talented back, but will he be enough to power the 'Cats (and a mediocre at best defense) to six wins?
The schedule isn't the easiest. Southern Miss in the opener is a tough Group of Five team and then Kentucky closes the season with a really tough one at rival Louisville. In the middle, they have to go to Florida, Alabama and Tennessee and also face Georgia. A 1-5 record in those six games feels borderline optimistic, but I'll go with that, meaning they can only lose one other game to hit the over. Five of the other six are at home against poor competition, though, with the exception of a road trip to Missouri. I think a push is the most likely scenario here, but to be positive I'll take the over. Pick: OVER (-110)
South Carolina, 5 (-110, -110): The Gamecocks had quite the 2015. They opened with a victory over North Carolina -- the Tar Heels' only regular season loss of the year -- and then fell apart and saw Steve Spurrier resign midseason. The defense struggled. The offense struggled. There was little to enjoy in Columbia outside of Pharoh Cooper, who is now gone.
Will Muschamp comes in as the new coach and should inject much needed energy and intensity into the program, but I'm not sure it'll make up for the roster. Skai Moore's being out for the season is a huge blow to a defense already short on playmakers, and even Muschamp's magic doesn't seem like enough to turn that around in his first year.
It is not a tough schedule this year for South Carolina, but I'm not sure that can salvage a bowl bid for them this year. You can't ask for a better draw out of the West than Texas A&M and Mississippi State, and they get Georgia and Tennessee at home. I still don't see them doing better than 1-3 in those games, and that's optimistic. Trips to Vanderbilt and Kentucky will be dog fights, and I'll chalk up the trips to Clemson and Florida as losses. I think five is the ceiling for the first year under Muschamp, as he's got to rebuild the depth of that roster. Pick: UNDER (-110)
Vanderbilt, 5 (-110, -110): I know I've been a bit of a bummer here, but it's time for some good old-fashioned optimism! I'm here for the Vanderbilt experience in 2016. The defense was a monster in 2015, led by Zach Cunningham at linebacker, and the Commodores finished 21st nationally in scoring defense. The offense was really bad -- 124th in the nation bad -- but Ralph Webb is a really talented running back and they get back their best offensive linemen in Andrew Jelks who missed the 2015 season with a knee injury.
Do they have a quarterback? I can't answer that. Maybe Kyle Shurmur can take a positive step, maybe not. I don't care. Anchor Down, let's get weird. The biggest problem with the Vandy schedule is that the games against the worse teams are on the road. That means trips to Auburn, Western Kentucky, Missouri, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. If all those games were at home, I'm thinking 3-2 has a good chance. On the road, 2-3 would be pretty good.
That means I need four more wins. South Carolina, Middle Tennessee and Tennessee State are all winnable home games, which puts Vandy at a push. I'll call for chaos and say they snag one pretty big upset at home (Florida and Ole Miss seem like the most likely candidates, but the Vols can't look past them in the last week) and get to a rare bowl game. Pick: OVER (-110)