Now that spring practice has officially started in the SEC, we figured we would take a page out of the Big Ten blog's book and look at each SEC program to determine the exact state of each by using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching and current and future personnel as indicators. We'll kick things off with a week-long look at the SEC East Division before checking out the West next week.
Up first: Florida Gators
2015 record: 10-4 (7-1 SEC)
Three-year record: 21-17
Coaching situation: Jim McElwain is entering his second season as Florida’s head coach. He enjoyed a successful debut by helping lead Florida to 10 wins and the program’s first SEC East title since 2009. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier had an up-and-down 2015 season with the Gators. The year started with relative promise when the offense was guided by quarterback Will Grier, but after his NCAA ban the offense dipped when Treon Harris took over. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins continued the success of yet another top-10 Gators defense and he’ll get a very nice boost with his revamped secondary thanks to the hiring of former Virginia Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray. During his 10 years at Virginia Tech, Gray coached up five All-Americans and 10 NFL draft picks and the Hokies haven't ranked lower than fifth in the ACC in pass defense over the past eight seasons.
Roster situation: The defense took a few hits with the loss of All-America cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, fellow defensive backs Keanu Neal and Brian Poole, defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard and linebacker Antonio Morrison. However, a young but relatively experienced defense has a chance to be elite in 2016. Potential All-American Jalen Tabor and Marcus Maye make a nice duo in the secondary, and there are plenty of bodies to rotate up front. Florida will have to find consistent pass-rushers and the linebacker position is thin, but the additions of defensive end Antonneous Clayton and three linebackers should help. Offensively, Grier transferred, but if Harris stays at quarterback, Florida will potentially have five quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Florida’s offensive line lost two starters, but David Sharpe, Martez Ivey and Cameron Dillard anchor what should be a more experienced line. No. 1 juco RB Mark Thompson should immediately help sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett. Freshman star Antonio Callaway is back at receiver and while five upperclassmen are back, newcomers Josh Hammond, Dre Massey, Freddie Swain and Tyrie Cleveland could make immediate impacts.
Recruiting situation: Florida fans have had mixed emotions about McElwain’s 2016 class. It fell from sixth to 12th on national signing day after some late misses and a couple of flips. However, the Gators signed 12 early enrollees, including ESPN 300 quarterback Feleipe Franks, ESPN 300 receivers in Hammond and Swain and juco transfers in Massey and Thompson. McElwain also signed the nation’s No. 1 kicker, Eddy Pineiro. Clayton, who almost earned five-star status, should be a key member of Florida’s 2016 defensive line, and ESPN 300 defensive back Chauncey Gardner (early enrollee) could play safety or corner. Overall, the defense could have struck a little more gold in all three phases, but signing three ESPN 300 wide receivers was huge.
Trajectory: Up. Florida went from irrelevant in the SEC to East champ in McElwain’s first year. Yes, the division has been ugly for years, but the Gators took care of business, even without much of an offense to speak of during the second half of the season. With Georgia still loaded with talent and Tennessee likely being better this fall, the road to Atlanta won’t be easy. And if the Gators can’t get better play at quarterback, reaching 10 wins will be nearly impossible. But more pieces are in place on offense, especially under center, and McElwain has instilled a new, more confident mindset in Gainesville. The defense is missing some stars, but still has enough talent to keep that unit near the top of the league.