The SEC has been one of the doormat divisions in college football for quite some time. It is not just that the SEC West is better - it's that the SEC East was just bad compared to most any division around the country. Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Vanderbilt? Georgia was good, Missouri had their moments before Gary Pinkel retired, and Florida has been wildly inconsistent. However, the coaching in the SEC East is rising to the top of the charts across the country, and as a result, the future of the division is bright. Here are the primary reasons why that's the case right now.
Mark Stoops has done a fantastic job rebuilding the Kentucky program. The school has had very little success as a whole on the gridiron since Bear Bryant left for Alabama. Nor did not seem to mind either, as their premier sport is basketball, where they are blue blood. Kentucky had not had a 10-win season since 1977. Bear Bryant had the only 11-win campaign in 1950, when the Wildcats upset the National Champion Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl. In the last four seasons, however, Mark Stoops has notched two 10-win seasons of his own, matching the two total in Kentucky history before his arrival. They have had plenty of success sending defensive standouts to the next level, and has a hold of a QB that has a chance to be a first-round pick in Will Levis. Levis is the first true QB of the Stoops era, as the Wildcats have mainly employed run-first guys behind center who were liabilities in the passing game. Kentucky tailed off a bit towards the end of the 2021 season but had a chance to shoot up the rankings had they been able to knock off Georgia in a duel of two unbeaten SEC teams.
Tennessee has been a mess for a while, aside from a short reprieve during a few Butch Jones seasons. The Vols have a rich and illustrious history, just not much after 2007. Josh Heupel and AD Danny White came from UCF to add adults back into the room. Phil Fulmer was a laughing stock as an AD and set up the previous AD to be fired. In what seems only possible in a cartoon, the Vols were living proof that anything was possible. From the fans boycotting the hire of Greg Schiano to yanking an offer to Mike Leach. To put the cherry on top, Jeremy Pruitt landed the job, then was caught giving cash to recruits via McDonald's bags. Yes, Tennessee volunteers these circumstances as jokes for the rest of us. But in just one season, Josh Heupel has given their fans reason to sing Rocky Top again. The Vols improved dramatically last year despite being down to 30 scholarship players in the aftermath of the scandal. Hendon Hooker is one of the best QBs in the nation, and a winning culture appears to be put in place. The commitment of 5-star QB Nico Iamaleava is another indicator that things are going well.
Beamer was one of the hottest names in coaching before he took the job at South Carolina. Had he still been on the Oklahoma staff when Lincoln Riley bolted for USC, there are indicators that he would be the Sooners' headman. The guy can coach and is relatable to his players. Being the son of legend Frank Beamer certainly doesn't hurt his cause either. The Gamecocks have stunk recently, and it's been bad. But without a QB at all, South Carolina managed to win six ball games last year. With the addition of the Heisman front runner from the previous offseason Spencer Rattler joining his former game-planning coach alongside other playmakers, there are some expectations again in Columbia. While ten victories may seem ambitious, a solid nine-win campaign could do wonders for Rattler and the Gamecock nation hungry for some positivity. Beamer was in Columbia when Steve Spurrier served under Kirby Smart and Lincoln Riley. He knows what good culture and winning look like. He also loves the area and won't be leaving any time soon.
It's about damn time!
The SEC east has upgraded its coaching and quarterback play tremendously, which are two of the most critical factors for winning football games at the collegiate level. This is early in the process for these coaches as well. You can also look at Billy Napier, the job he did at Florida, and the potential of QB Anthony Richardson. Though I believe it is too early to tell how things will turn out in Gainesville. Vanderbilt stinks; they will probably stink forever, but each of these other programs has reasons for optimism. Georgia finally got the monkey off their back, winning their first national title since 1980.