The past few years, the SEC East has become the stepchild of the conference. With Alabama, Auburn and LSU winning national championships in four of the past five seasons, the SEC West has replaced the East as the premier division.
It hasnt helped the East that its best team the past two decades, Florida, dropped off after winning national titles in 2006 and 2008. Plus Tennessee, a program that was very good in the 1990s, has hit a speed bump and is now mediocre.
Once again this season, prognosticators say the national champion could be LSU or Alabama. Some also believe, particularly with Tyrann Mathieus suspension at LSU, we could see the first non-SEC national champion since Texas won it in 2005.
But you wont find many who believe an SEC East team will carry on the conferences six-year run and win a national title.
It doesnt mean, however, that the East will not be interesting. In fact, it has a chance to be more entertaining than the West. Sure, Alabama and LSU will be great again. But thats almost getting boring, and it doesnt look like any other team is strong enough to give either powerhouse a run in the West.
The East is up for grabs, and that could create great football. Georgia, with its easy schedule, should be the favorite. The Bulldogs must get past the two big road games, at Missouri and South Carolina, and Georgia might run into a few teams it beat last year that could be tougher tests this season.
Tennessee, Florida and Auburn all should be better. Last year, Georgia barely beat the Vols and Gators, so the Bulldogs will have to be even more careful if those teams are better in 2012.
Georgia at South Carolina on Oct. 6 could be a great game. Remember how great the Tennessee-Florida game used to be for the SEC East? Well, Georgia and South Carolina might have taken over as the premier matchup.
Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier is running his mouth, which means he must believe he has a great team. With a starting quarterback not getting in trouble all the time and the return of his starting running back (Marcus Lattimore), Spurrier might have reason to be cocky.
And remember, South Carolinas total defense was third best in the country last season, behind Alabama and LSU and two spots in front of Georgia. With defensive beast Jadeveon Clowney in his second season, the Gamecocks might be even more dangerous.
The wild card in the East is Florida. Will Muschamps defense was pretty good a year ago, but some believe this group could rival LSU and Alabama. And if the Gators finally have found a running back in Mike Gillislee, the anemic offense might be better, as well.
Tennessee has to be better, or head coach Derek Dooley will be someones offensive coordinator next year. He should have a pretty good offense as long as his quarterback, Tyler Bray, can stop throwing stuff out of windows and scaring people on the lakes in Tennessee. If Bray is an NFL prospect, he has to grow up and realize Dooley is counting on him this season.
Bray arguably will have the top three receivers in the conference as his weapons. DaRick Rogers, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson are great talents, and if Tennessee has any running game, it will be better.
What happens if Vanderbilt upsets South Carolina in two weeks? Well, Vandy head coach James Franklin probably will never shut up, and it will prove the Commodores are better, as well. Its unlikely to happen, but after Vanderbilt showed it was better last season, you have to wonder if the Commodores have a true upset on their schedule in 2012.
We just dont know where Missouri fits in right now. We might know after the Tigers play Georgia in the second week, but its hard to gauge if the newbies are going to fight for the division title or slide into the middle of the division.
Kentucky? Something tells me the Wildcats will be waiting for basketball season pretty early in the football season, and for some reason they might be dumb enough to go after Bobby Petrino after the year.
The SEC West still has the two big boys, but dont underestimate the drama we could see in the East this season.
Listen to The Bill Shanks Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.