The number of days until Tennessee football begins has dwindled into single digits, meaning it is time to take a look at the competition the Vols will face inside the SEC's Eastern Division.
Florida (11-2, 7-1 SEC) – Face UT Sept. 27
As has been the case since Will Muschamp took over the Gators in 2011, Florida will rely heavily on its relentless defense to win games in 2013. Led by senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley and linebackers Dante Fowler Jr. and Ronald Powell, the Gator D will aim to finish in the top 10 in total defense for the sixth consecutive season. The offense, however, could get dicey in a hurry as Florida tries to manage without last year's leading rusher Mike Gillislee and top receiver Jordan Reed – both currently on NFL rosters. Junior Jeff Driskel continues to man the quarterback position, coming off of a 2,000 all-purpose yard season, while sophomore Matt Jones plans to take over as starting running back following a solid freshman campaign. Like the Volunteers, Florida has a brutal schedule, facing Miami (FL), LSU and Florida State as well as the normal SEC East slate.
Georgia (12-2, 7-1 SEC) – Face UT Oct. 5
Picked by most as the SEC East favorite, Mark Richt's squad will be a dynamic and explosive bunch all season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who was voted by the coaches as the All-SEC preseason first team quarterback, looks to lead his team back to the SEC Championship in Atlanta for a second consecutive season. This fall also marks the return of the two-headed monster formed by sophomore tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, a deadly combo that produced over 2,100 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns a season ago. The Bulldog defense, however, may be the deciding factor in whether Georgia is a BCS title contender or just simply a 10-win squad. The NFL draft scooped up the likes of Jarvis Jones, Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree, so fresh faces will be abundant in the starting lineup all year. Look for linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Jordan Jenkins as well as safety Tray Matthews to try and fill those holes.
South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC) – Face UT Oct. 19
Clowney. Clowney. And once more, Clowney. While it may not seem like it at times, there is actually more to Steve Spurrier's squad than the 6-7 260-pound behemoth who runs an alleged 4.6 40-yard dash. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw appears ready to build on his 17-3 record as a starter, all while showing the reason he's considered a prototypical dual-threat quarterback. Two-sport athlete Bruce Ellington returns as Shaw's top target, and sophomore running back Mike Davis will have the first crack at replacing departed starter Marcus Lattimore. But eventually, all things do come back to Jadaveon Clowney, and rightfully so. The 2013 Heisman candidate can single-handedly change the outcome of a game at any moment, and will be a force against opposing offensive line from the first snap of the season opener.
Missouri (5-7, 2-6 SEC) – Face UT Nov. 2
While the Tigers' SEC debut in 2012 was hardly impressive, their 2013 campaign has the potential to be much more successful and possibly save head coach Gary Pinkel's job. A healthy James Franklin returns for his final season under center and has a decent group of receivers surrounding him, including seniors Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington as well as former top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham, who is entering his sophomore season. Junior running back Henry Josey is back from an extensive knee injury and is poised to return to 2011 form when he lead the Tigers in rushing. Question marks do exist on defense as the Tigers replace defensive end and 2013 first-round draft pick Sheldon Richardson.
Vanderbilt (9-4, 5-3 SEC) – Face UT Nov. 23
No longer buried in the basement of the SEC standings, Vanderbilt will seek a third straight bowl appearance for the first time in school history as third-year head coach James Franklin continues to build excitement around this previously overlooked program. Redshirt senior Austyn Carta-Samuels, a Wyoming transfer, is prepared to take over duties under center while top receiver Jordan Matthews is set to prove why he is viewed as one of the most talented wideouts in the SEC. Running backs Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow are locked in to replace former Commodore and current St. Louis Ram Zac Stacy. Another nine-win season seems unlikely with a much tougher schedule that includes road games versus South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida, but a postseason berth is within reach.
Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC) – Face UT Nov. 30
First-year Wildcat head coach Mark Stoops has undoubtedly brought promise and enthusiasm to the Kentucky program since his hiring in late November 2012, reeling in a bevy of noteworthy recruits that has the 2014 class currently ranked No. 7 by Rivals.com. However, the 2013 campaign will, in all likelihood, be another ugly one for Big Blue. Some stability exists at running back as seniors Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George return for their final year, but inconsistencies at quarterback and receiver will create an abundance of offensive struggles throughout the season. Bright spots defensively include linebacker Avery Williamson and defensive end Alvin Dupree.