Here’s a look at each team in the SEC Eastern Division. This story originally appeared in the USA Today Sports 2013 college football preview — now available on newsstands.
Star watch – DE Dominique Easley, LB Antonio Morrison and CB Loucheiz Purifoy will lead a loaded defense. QB Jeff Driskel returns with experience and more responsibility. Matt Jones emerged as the No. 1 RB during spring practice. Purifoy will likely see time on offense, too.
Top newcomer – RB Kelvin Taylor. He showed flashes of a bright future during spring practice.
Big question – Will the defense carry Florida again? The Gators ranked 12th in the SEC in total offense (334 yards per game) in 2012.
What to expect – Florida has high expectations after an 11-1 finish in the regular season in 2012. Florida’s defense should be strong despite the loss of several key starters. The biggest concern is the same as last year – Florida needs a player (or two) to emerge at wide receiver.
Star watch – QB Aaron Murray will lead the way. RBs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and WR Malcolm Mitchell will make offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s job fun. LB Jordan Jenkins will take on the Jarvis Jones role. OT John Theus could break out as a sophomore.
Top newcomer – S Tray Matthews. The freshman should relieve depth concerns in the secondary.
Big question – How will Georgia replace seven starters on defense? The Bulldogs will be explosive on offense, but they’ll need help on the other side of the ball.
What to expect – Georgia expects to not only return to the SEC championship game but to win it this time. It’s been eight years since the Bulldogs won a conference championship, a streak Georgia fans are anxious to end. Murray knows it will be championship or bust in his final season in Athens.
Star watch – Leading tackler Avery Williamson returns at LB. The defensive line will be solid with tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. Newcomer Za’Darius Smith should benefit from their presence at defensive end. Leading rushers Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George are back.
Top newcomer – DE Za’Darius Smith. A junior college transfer, he was signed to provide an immediate pass rush.
Big question – Who will win the starting quarterback position? Jalen Whitlow made a great case for himself during the spring against Max Smith and Patrick Towles.
What to expect – Kentucky’s offense will be fun to watch if it finds the right quarterback. New coach Mark Stoops has pieces to work with on defense. But the Wildcats will face a talent disadvantage in most games. Division matchups with Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will have a major influence on the season’s outcome.
Star watch – Dorial Green-Beckham has the talent to become one of the league’s best wide receivers. QB James Franklin needs to return to his 2011 form. RB Henry Josey is back after missing last season with a knee injury. E.J. Gaines is one of the SEC’s most experienced cornerbacks.
Top newcomer – Freshman Chase Abbington. Gary Pinkel’s offense needs plenty of athletes.
Big question – Who will start at quarterback? James Franklin has the experience, but sophomore Corbin Berkstresser and freshman Maty Mauk are challenging him.
What to expect – First, get the ball to Green-Beckham, who’s shown a greater level of maturity in the offseason. A healthier backfield should help the Tigers return to some normalcy on offense. Missouri needs to take advantage of a favorable schedule, which possesses no real threat out of conference.
Star watch – It starts with Jadeveon Clowney. He’ll get help from defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will both see time at quarterback. Mike Davis finished the spring as the top running back. Receiver Bruce Ellington and TE Rory Anderson will be weapons.
Top newcomer – RB David Williams. Williams, a freshman, should provide relief for Davis.
Big question – Will the Gamecocks have receivers step up to take pressure off Shaw and Thompson? Their young receivers are talented but unproven.
What to expect – South Carolina won’t be the favorite to win the East, which is no problem to the perennial underdog Gamecocks. South Carolina has experience at quarterback, elite talent on the defensive line and confidence from its head coach. The Gamecocks will know more about their season after their Sept. 7 game at Georgia.
Star watch – Linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt will be asked to lead a revamped defense. DT Daniel McCullers needs to be a force. Offensive tackles Ja’Wuan James and Antonio Richardson are All-SEC candidates. Rajion Neal brings experience to a thin offensive backfield.
Top newcomer – WR MarQuez North. The freshman was signed to play right away.
Big question – Will Tennessee find replacements for departed receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson? The Vols will rely on multiple freshmen at wide receiver. They also need to replace QB Tyler Bray, who threw for 3,612 yards and 34 TDs, despite a losing record.
What to expect – Tennessee is trying to avoid its fourth consecutive losing season and fifth in six years. Returning to a bowl game for the first time since 2010 should be the goal. Butch Jones needs positive results on the field to sell to future recruits.
Star watch – Receiver Jordan Matthews could have left early for the NFL. Chris Boyd is an experienced No. 2 receiver. Austyn Carta-Samuels appears to be the favorite at quarterback. Vanderbilt’s three leading tacklers (Kenny Ladler, Chase Garnham and Javon Marshall) all return.
Top newcomer – WR Jordan Cunningham. The freshman will add depth behind Boyd and Matthews.
Big question – Will Vanderbilt be able to replace its backfield? Zac Stacy had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and Jordan Rodgers proved solid at quarterback.
What to expect – Expecting Vanderbilt to win nine games again would be unfair. But reaching a bowl game for a third consecutive year appears realistic. Franklin will demand a lot out of his quarterback, whether that’s Carta-Samuels or Patton Robinette. The Commodores won’t sneak up on anyone. Franklin has people paying attention.