In & around SEC football

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By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent

East Division Preview
Florida
Head coach: Jim McElwain, second season (10-4 at Florida, 32-20 overall)
2015 finish: first in East (10-4, 7-1)
Key losses: defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III, running back Kelvin Taylor, defensive lineman Jon Bullard
Key returning players: LB Jarrad Davis, DB Jalen Tabor, DB Marcus Maye
2016 outlook
McElwain led the Gators to the SEC Championship Game in his first season despite having very limited offensive production. Florida should once again be great defensively despite the departure of Hargreaves, Bullard and Keanu Neal, and the offense should see at least some improvement over last year. The schedule is difficult thanks to annual meetings with LSU and Florida State, but Florida has the talent and coaching to win the East for the second consecutive season.
Georgia
Head coach: Kirby Smart, first season
2015 record: third in East (10-3, 5-3)
Key losses: receiver Malcolm Mitchell, linebacker Jake Ganus, linebacker Leonard Floyd
Key returning players: running back Nick Chubb, running back Sony Michel, offensive lineman Greg Pyke
2016 outlook
Kirby Smart inherited a 10-win team with plenty of leftover talent to win a division title. Lack of success wasn’t Mark Richt’s problem in Athens, as Richt averaged nearly 10 wins per season. The problem with Richt’s tenure was the lack of championships. A 10-3 season would provide job security at most places, but at Georgia, Smart will be expected to contend for titles immediately. The Bulldogs can win the division in 2016, though they are likely at least a year away from contending for a national title.
Kentucky
Head coach: Mark Stoops, fourth season (12-24)
2015 record: fifth in East (5-7, 2-6)
Key losses: linebacker Josh Forrest, defensive back A.J. Stamps, defensive lineman Cory Johnson
Key returning players: running back Boom Will-iams, defensive back Chris Westry, center Jon Toth
2016 outlook
This is a pivotal season for Mark Stoops in Lexington. No progress has been made during the last two seasons, and Stoops finds himself on the hot seat entering his fourth year at the helm. The bottom half of the East is weakened, and Kentucky has the potential to reach a bowl game for the first time under Stoops. If not, the Wildcats might be searching for a new head coach during the offseason.
Missouri
Head coach: Barry Odom, first season
2015 record: sixth in East (5-7, 1-7)
Key losses: running back Russell Hansbrough, center Evan Boehm, offensive lineman Conner Mc-Govern
Key returning players: defensive lineman Charles Harris, defensive back Aa-rion Penton, linebacker Michael Scherer
2016 outlook
After winning the East in back-to-back years, Missouri failed to reach a bowl game in 2015. It was also Gary Pinkel’s last season as head coach. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom was promoted to fill his position after the season. The Tigers should be solid again on defensive but will struggle on the offensive side of the ball. Reaching a bowl game would be a great accomplishment for Odom in his first season.
South Carolina
Head coach: Will Muschamp, first season (28-21)
2015 record: seventh in East (3-9, 1-7)
Key losses: receiver Pharoh Cooper, linebacker Skai Moore, tight end Jerell Adams
Key returning players: linebacker T.J. Holloman, kicker Elliot Fry, punter Sean Kelly
2016 outlook
Will Muschamp is taking over a program in need of a complete rebuild. Steve Spurrier abruptly retired midseason in 2015 and the Gamecocks stumbled to the bottom of the SEC East. South Carolina has less talent returning this year than any other team in the league, and it will be a challenge for Muschamp to get this group to a bowl game.
Tennessee
Head coach: Butch Jones, fourth season (21-17 at Tennessee, 71-44 overall)
2015 record: second in East (9-4, 5-3)
Key losses: defensive lineman Curt Maggitt, offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson, center Mack Crowder
Key returning players: quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Jalen Hurd, defensive lineman Derek Barnett
2016 outlook
Since his arrival in Knoxville, Butch Jones has increased talent, wins and expectations for the Tennessee football program. In his fourth season, Jones is expected to take the Vols to the SEC title game for the first time since 2007. The biggest question mark for UT is its ability to win close games. Tennessee finished 9-4 last season but lost all four games by a touchdown or less. Jones has the most ta-lented team in the division, and the pressure will be on throughout the entire year.
Vanderbilt
Head coach: Derek Mason, third season (7-17)
2015 record: fourth in East (4-8, 2-6)
Key losses: offensive lineman Spencer Pulley, linebacker Stephen Weatherly, defensive back Andrew Williamson
Key returning players: linebacker Zach Cunningham, running back Ralph Webb, defensive back Torren McGaster
2016 outlook
Vanderbilt failed to reach a bowl game in 2015, but the Commodores did improve over the course of the season. Mason could have one of the better defensive units in the conference, led by linebacker Zach Cunningham. Offensively, Vandy struggled often a season ago, but there is reason for optimism thanks to star running back Ralph Webb. If the Commodores can beat South Carolina in the opening game, it would drastically improve their chances of making a bowl game.

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