College football 2016: New SEC East coaches playing catch-up with West

Published 6:00 am Monday, July 18, 2016

Associated Press

HOOVER, Ala. — The SEC East is relying heavily on three former Nick Saban assistants to restore balance to the league.

The division that once reigned with the likes of Steve Spurrier, Phillip Fulmer, Mark Richt and Urban Meyer hasn’t won a Southeastern Conference title in eight years. Saban and Alabama still lead a formidable parade of Western Division teams but there’s an abundance of new blood in that sometimes overlooked East.

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Georgia hired Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, South Carolina turned to ex-Saban defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and Missouri promoted defensive coordinator Barry Odom.

Not that the East is getting defensive about that one-sided recent history. Florida, after all, had already turned a year earlier to former ‘Bama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain.

“I think balance and parity is a key for any conference,” said Smart, a former Georgia player in his first head coaching turn. “I think if you ask the commissioner, he would like to have that balance. That’s why they divided the conference the way they did.

“It certainly hasn’t been that way. It’s our job on the East to do something about that. We’ve got to do a great job on our side to compete, recruit, get the right facilities, put the right programs in place to be successful.”

Missouri won back-to-back East titles before falling to 5-7 in Gary Pinkel’s final season. The Tigers allowed 101 points in a pair of title-game defeats.

An indication of how cyclical these things can be, the East won six of the first seven SEC championship games. And Meyer’s Florida teams contributed a couple of championships during the SEC’s current run of eight national titles in 10 years.

Tim Tebow and the Gators topped Alabama in the 2008 league title game, but the East hasn’t won since. Six of the last seven games haven’t even been decided by double-digit margins, including scores like 42-13 (Alabama-Missouri), 42-10 (LSU-Georgia) and 56-17 (Auburn-South Carolina).