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Are the Gators the No. 1 team in the SEC East?
With South Carolina's blowout win over Georgia and Florida's victory over LSU, the Gamecocks and Gators seem to be the top two teams in the SEC East. Georgia may have a chance to get back in the race, but the division title could come down to the Oct. 20 meeting between Florida and South Carolina.
South Carolina or Florida: Who is the best team in the SEC East?
Coach Vince Dooley, former head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I think South Carolina is really good. Their defense is terrific and they were ready to play against Georgia. They shocked them early the other night getting 21 points. I think they can beat LSU at Baton Rouge this coming weekend. But I don't think they can beat Florida the following weekend. Florida is about as disruptive a defensive team as I've seen. It will be too difficult for South Carolina to win those three games in a row away from home. I would say that Florida will be the best team in the SEC East.
David Fox (@DavidFox615):
The nod for me still goes to South Carolina, though Florida has been awfully impressive through the first half of the season. The Gamecocks are just too good at too many things. First, there’s the elite defensive line led by Jadeveon Clowney. Then there’s special teams with two big returns in the first two weeks from Ace Sanders. On offense, Connor Shaw isn’t going to confuse anyone for a Steve Spurrier quarterback of old, but he can win with both his arm and his legs. Meanwhile, South Carolina has been this dominant without a true jaw-dropping dominant game from Marcus Lattimore. South Carolina hasn’t needed it. Florida has proven it can look like an elite team for a half. But this is also a team that can be incapable of protecting quarterback Jeff Driskel at times, and this is a team that is prone to stupid, drive-killing penalties. Against a team as balanced as South Carolina, those kinds of errors could cost Florida.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
Six of one, half a dozen of the other. These two teams are not only evenly matched but virtually identical. They have unreal defensive front sevens stocked with NFL talent. They have hard-nosed running backs who have carried their teams to marquee SEC wins this fall. They have game-manager quarterbacks who are protecting the football and can make things happen with their legs. And they both lack elite offensive play-makers on the outside. The head coaching edge clearly falls on the Gamecocks' side of the ledger, so I will give the slight edge to South Carolina. That said, with a road trip to LSU and having to face the Gators in Gainesville makes Florida the pick to win the East.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
With South Carolina’s win over Georgia, the Gamecocks and Gators appear to be the teams to beat in the SEC East. The Bulldogs might be able to work their way back into the mix but need to catch a couple of breaks. It’s a really a tossup between Florida and South Carolina for the No. 1 spot, but I’ll give a slight edge to the Gamecocks. While Jeff Driskel will only get better with more snaps, South Carolina has an edge at quarterback with Connor Shaw. The Gamecocks also have a few more playmakers at receiver, including Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd. South Carolina’s defensive line is also one of the best in the nation, which helps to compensate for a secondary that had to break in three new starters this season. Florida’s defense isn’t statistically far behind the Gamecocks, but its pass rush hasn’t quite matched South Carolina’s this year. The matchup between the Gamecocks and Florida should be one of the SEC’s best games this year, and my early lean is that South Carolina is the better team.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch):
Great question, and it’s very tough to answer at this point in the season. If I had to pick one — and I will since the question is being asked — I’d go with South Carolina. Florida is probably a little more battle-tested, with road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee and a home win vs. LSU, but South Carolina also has some quality victories. Both teams are outstanding on defense. I’d probably give South Carolina the slight edge on offense (due in large part to Connor Shaw’s experience) and you have to give the Gamecocks the edge in coaching. Will Muschamp has done a great job with his second Florida team, but Steve Spurrier is an all-time great.
Right now, I will give the slightest of edges to South Carolina, based on their impressive win over Georgia. Both teams are similar in that they have stout defenses and rely more on running the ball rather than passing it. Their quarterbacks are also similar in that they can make plays with either their arm or legs, but even here, I would give a slight edge to South Carolina because I think Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw is a little more polished as a passer compared to Florida's Jeff Driskel. Bottom line is I think these are two evenly matched teams and provided both take care of business this week (South Carolina at LSU, Florida at Vanderbilt) we should find out who's better next Saturday in Gainesville.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
Both of these undefeated teams have a stingy defense and power running game, and I would give a slight edge — very slight — to the Gators based on the head-to-head contest being in the Swamp and their ability to succeed late in games. Florida’s defense has not allowed a single point in the fourth quarter this season, and the Gators have only given up a combined six second-half points in their four SEC wins. Quarterback Jeff Driskel still struggles in the passing game and takes too many sacks, but he is a quality athlete who seems to make just enough of the right plays when UF needs it. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease will find creative ways as the season goes on to complement the physical running attack led by Mike Gillislee.
Obviously South Carolina has the same type of resume with top back Marcus Lattimore on offense and a ferocious pass rush led by Jadeveon Clowney on defense. The Gamecocks, however, have brutal back-to-back road trips to LSU and Florida the next two weeks. Both South Carolina and Florida have the roster and mentality to win the East and challenge Alabama for the SEC crown. For now, I’ll take the physical Gators to be in Atlanta this December.
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