For the second straight year, Tennessee is one of the hot names in the offseason as the Volunteers continue to gather steam. Last season, the Vols were a bit of a disappointment, but didn't have to be. They lost four games by one score or less as things just seemed to go wrong late in games. Florida and Georgia could be nipping at Tennessee's heels for the top spot in the SEC East though with each team representing a different challenge.
For the purposes of this exercise, projected win totals are broken down into three categories — definite wins, definite losses and toss-ups. Most of the conference games will in the toss-up category, especially ones on the road. This preview will offer thoughts on each team and if there’s any value either over or under.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of South Point Casino
(Over 7.5 wins -130...Under 7.5 wins +110)
Record Last Year: 10-4, 7-1
Returning Starters: 11 (5 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: A transfer will be under center with Luke Del Rio vying with Austin Appleby for the QB job. Whoever gets the call will have Antonio Callaway and Brandon Powell out wide. The departure of Kelvin Taylor means youth will be served at RB with Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson.
Defense: The loss of top cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III will be felt although Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are pretty good replacements. Even better for the secondary is the presence of a stiff front four that should get constant pressure on the quarterback.
Schedule: The Gators open up with a pillow start, hosting UMass, Kentucky and North Texas before two straight on the road. They play just four true road games and get LSU at home.
Selection:I agree with the money move to the over. My only hesitation will be quarterback, but there are enough pieces around the starter that the Gators should succeed.
(Over 8.5 wins -115...Under 8.5 wins -105)
Record Last Year: 10-3, 5-3
Returning Starters: 13 ( on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: It all starts and ends with running back Nick Chubb, whose health will be the biggest question entering camp. It becomes an even bigger factor after Sony Michel got hurt this offseason. Brice Ramsey, Jacob Eason and Greyson Lambert make for an intriguing QB competition. We do know that Terry Godwin is the leading returning receiver back and the OL should be good.
Defense: Kirby Smart's influence will probably be felt here and he has a lot of work to do with the front seven. Tackle Trent Thompson needs to continue to grow up front. What we do know is that the secondary is very experienced led by safety Dominick Sanders.
Schedule: The 2016 campaign opens up with North Carolina in Atlanta before three of the next five are on the road. The rest of the non-conference slate consists of Nicholls State, UL Lafayette and Georgia Tech all at home. It's a friendly slate for the first-year head coach.
Selection: Slight lean to the over, but I'm not locking anything in yet with Georgia because of the uncertainty at QB and RB.
(Over 5 wins -110...Under 5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 5-7, 2-6
Returning Starters: 13 (9 on offense, 4 on defense)
Offense: The run game figures to be strong with Stanley “Boom” Williams, Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton in the backfield. Williams has been held out of any contact drills so far this offseason. The offensive line is pretty much intact with Drew Barker under center. He's got three of his top WRs back as well. This group should improve from being the 95th-ranked scoring offense in 2015.
Defense: This is where the problems begin with just four returnees. The player that is back with the most sacks from last year is Chris Westry, and he had one from the cornerback position. The depth chart is littered with youth so it could be a long year.
Schedule: The Wildcats play five of their first seven at home. They get Southern Miss, New Mexico State, Austin Peay and Louisville outside of SEC play. UK has just five true road games although two of those are Florida and Alabama.
Selection: I can see the Wildcats getting to .500 if things break right. The home schedule helps out, especially with Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and South Carolina the teams coming to Lexington. That said, the defense is going to have to improve as the year goes on.
(Over 5.5 wins -110...Under 5.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 5-7, 1-7
Returning Starters: 13 (5 on offense, 8 on defense)
Offense: Mizzou scored 10 points or less six times in 2015 so pretty much any additional production from this unit will be an improvement. New coordinator Josh Heupel will try to breathe life into this unit and help develop sophomore quarterback Drew Lock, who had twice as many interceptions (eight) as touchdown passes (four) last season. The run game figures to struggle with Nate Strong and Ish Witter leading the way. There is just one returnee up front.
Defense: The defense held up it's end of the bargain last year, holding teams to just 16.2 points per game. The front seven is pretty much back led by Charles Harris and Walter Brady as bookend DEs. The secondary could be a question mark although senior Aarion Penton holds down one corner spot.
Schedule: The Tigers have three of their first four at home although they begin with a road matchup against West Virginia. The rest of the non-conference slate is Eastern Michigan, Delaware State and Middle Tennessee. Missouri also plays at LSU and Florida.
Selection: I think Missouri's offense improves and is able to put more points on the scoreboard this year. I don't feel 100 percent confident on that claim, but the defense should be able to replicate what it did in 2015.
(Over 5 wins EVEN...Under 5 wins -120)
Record Last Year: 3-9, 1-7
Returning Starters: 8 (3 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: More questions at QB here with Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain leading the way. There's a lot of rebuilding going around the QB as well with RB and WR groups that are lacking returnees. New coordinator Kurt Roper has his work cut out for him. Someone needs to step up and emerge.
Defense: The loss of leading tackler and anchor Skai Moore to a season-ending neck injury cannot be understated. The All-SEC-caliber linebacker was the heart and soul of this defense, which likely will struggle to stop the run again this season. Special teams should be strong once again so that's one less thing to worry about.
Schedule: The Gamecocks open with two straight and three of their first four on the road. They host East Carolina, UMass, Western Carolina and play at Clemson in the non-conference. They also have a stretch of five straight at home (Oct. 1-Nov. 5).
Selection: I think five wins is a good number. The schedule is doable, but the lack of talent is not. New head coach Will Muschamp has his work cut out for him and there are too many question marks.
(Over 9.5 wins -110...Under 9.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 9-4, 5-3
Returning Starters: 18 (9 on offense, 9 on defense)
Offense: Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara return from a team that scored more than 35 points per game last year. While the ground game was strong the aerial attack lagged behind, averaging 198.6 yards passing per contest in 2015. Josh Smith and Josh Malone are back at WR as well as most of the O-line.
Defense: New coordinator Bob Shoop comes over from Penn State to coach this veteran bunch. There's talent on every level with DL Derek Barnett, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin and CB Cameron Sutton all back. I'm looking forward to seeing what sophomore lineman Kahlil McKenzie can do in the middle.
Schedule: Tennessee plays Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 10 in one of the most intriguing non-conference games of the season. The Volunteers also host Appalachian State, Ohio and Tennessee Tech to make up their non-conference slate. The toughest stretch could be in October when the Vols play at Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina with a home matchup against Alabama mixed in.
Selection: It would be a disappointment if Tennessee didn't go over this total. Of course, Butch Jones’ Volunteers were disappointing last year. There are way too many winnable games at home with the tilts against the Hokies, Crimson Tide, Florida and Georgia representing the only challenges.
(Over 5 wins -110...Under 5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 4-8, 2-6
Returning Starters: 12 (5 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Quarterback continues to be an issue with Kyle Shurmur expected to be the starter this season. He threw for just 583 yards last year, but was given the job during the offseason. Ralph Webb was able to rush for more than 1,000 yards despite the troubles at QB. Caleb Scott and Trent Sherfield are the two leading WRs. The offensive line could be an issue.
Defense: The Commodores were greatly improved on this side of the ball. They allowed just 21 points per game. The front seven will need to replace some big players, but the secondary should be a lot better. Special teams play was a massive issue so a new assistant coach was brought in to fix it.
Schedule: Vanderbilt opens the year with two straight at home before playing four of the next five on the road. The Commodores take on Middle Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Western Kentucky and Tennessee State out of conference.
Selection:I like what head coach Derek Mason has done at the school despite just seven wins in two seasons. The offense has to improve before I can be too optimistic though. I think five is a solid number although if there was value with the under I'd consider that more.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.