The SEC’s divisional imbalance is jarring
The SEC West lived up to its reputation as the nation’s best division, an unforgiving gauntlet headed by a dynastic juggernaut (Alabama) that offers virtually no easy games against weak opponents. Six of the West’s seven teams qualified for bowl games, five of them ranked in the top 27 nationally in S&P +, the Crimson Tide fell one Hunter Renfrow touchdown pass short of another playoff title and, as mentioned above, the division topped Sagarin’s ratings.
Those achievements stand in stark contrast to what the SEC East produced in 2016. Florida seemingly backed into a division title after Tennessee frittered away a 5–0 start with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt and Georgia also fell to the Commodores. Gators coach Jim McElwain took advantage of weak competition to secure the program’s second consecutive league title game berth, but Florida's trip to Atlanta felt like a hollow reward in the wake of back-to-back losses to the Seminoles and Alabama by a combined score of 85–29.
Kentucky’s on-field progress after entering the season with coach Mark Stoops on the hot seat and Will Muschamp’s encouraging start with a talent-bereft roster at South Carolina are causes for optimism, but it’ll probably be a while before the SEC East catches up to the conference’s other division. No squads from the East made the top 14 of our way-too-early 2017 top 25, compared to three from the West (Alabama, LSU and Auburn).