With half the season in the rearview mirror, the SEC East race has become less about success and more about survival.
Each of the division’s four remaining contenders has had to juggle its plans this season because of injuries. Of the quartet, South Carolina has been the most fortunate despite losing a number of players to minor injuries, including two newly disclosed ailments to wide receiver Bruce Ellington (foot) and safety Chaz Elder (concussion).
“It might be who can handle the adversity the best,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of the division race. “Who can find a way to win? Who can fight and scratch and figure out a way? That’s probably what it’s going to come down to.”
Missouri leads the division after a 41-26 win against the Bulldogs but will be without starting quarterback James Franklin (shoulder) for at least three weeks, a stretch that includes critical games against Florida and the Gamecocks.
The Bulldogs appeared the team to beat after a 41-30 win against the Gamecocks on Sept. 7, but their talent base has been whittled since then. Georgia played Missouri without its top two running backs, three of its top four wide receivers and a starting safety. One of the running backs and two of the wide receivers won’t return this season.
“I’m not trying to be hard line here, but it’s part of the game,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said.
If Muschamp can face the rest of the season with a stiff upper lip, the rest of the conference should be able to manage it because no one has been hit harder than the Gators.
Florida has lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel (leg), starting running back Matt Jones (knee), starting defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee) and starting offensive lineman Chaz Green (shoulder) for the season. Two weeks ago, against Arkansas, is the first time the Gators’ projected starting offensive line at the beginning of the season (Green was hurt in preseason camp) has been able to start a game together because of minor injuries to two other starters.
“It is what it is,’’ Muschamp said. “I don’t know. It’s unfortunate. More than anything, I hate it for the young men. They put a lot of time and effort into playing in this game and for that to happen, I’m disappointed for them first of all. That’s what hurts the most, to see guys go through the struggle and having to make that phone call and tell them what’s going on or having to walk them in the training room to tell them what’s happening. That’s very frustrating for a young man with as much time and effort as they put into it.”
For a team, though, it’s just part of the business, he said.
“Man down, man up,” he said. “We’ll get the next guy up.”
Georgia’s injuries are so abundant that two South Carolina players mentioned them during appearances at Tuesday’s media availability.
“Injuries kind of hurt Georgia,” spur Sharrod Golightly said. “It’s a tough conference. Gotta bring your game every week. No mercy.”
SEC EAST BREAKDOWN
What’s ahead for the SEC East contenders, and the injuries that might hold them back:
(6-0 overall, 2-0 SEC)
SEC games: Missouri 51, Vanderbilt 28; Missouri 41, Georgia 26
Remaining SEC schedule: Saturday – vs. Florida; Oct. 26 – vs. USC; Nov. 2 – vs. Tennessee; Nov. 9 – at Kentucky; Nov. 23 – at Ole Miss; Nov. 30 – vs. Texas A&M
Out for season: CB Ernest Payton (knee)
Out this week: QB James Franklin (shoulder, could miss four weeks)
Questionable this week: CB E.J. Gaines (quad)
(5-1 overall, 3-1 SEC)
SEC games: Georgia 41, USC 30; USC 35, Vanderbilt 25; USC 35, Kentucky 28; USC 52, Arkansas 7
Remaining SEC schedule: Saturday – at Tennessee; Oct. 26 – at Missouri; Nov. 2 – vs. Mississippi State; Nov. 16 – vs. Florida
Out for season: OL Mike Matulis (shoulder)
Questionable this week: C Cody Waldrop (ankle), OL Ronald Patrick (ankle), WR Bruce Ellington (foot), safety Chaz Elder, LB Skai Moore (concussion), RB Brandon Wilds (elbow).
(4-2 overall, 3-1 SEC)
SEC games: Florida 31, Tennessee 17; Florida 24, Kentucky 7; Florida 30, Arkansas 10; LSU 17, Florida 6
Remaining SEC schedule: Saturday – at Missouri; Nov. 2 – vs. Georgia (Jacksonville); Nov. 9 – Vanderbilt; Nov. 16 – at USC
Out for the season: QB Jeff Driskel (leg), DT Dominique Easley (knee), RB Matt Jones (knee), OL Chaz Green (shoulder), WR Andre Debose (knee).
Questionable this week: LB/DL Ronald Powell (ankle)
(4-2 overall, 3-1 SEC)
SEC games: Georgia 41, USC 30; Georgia 44, LSU 41; Georgia 34, Tennessee 31; Missouri 41, Georgia 26
Remaining SEC schedule: Saturday – at Vanderbilt; Nov. 2 – vs. Florida (Jacksonville); Nov. 16 – at Auburn; Nov. 23 – vs. Kentucky
Out for season: WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee), WR Justin Scott-Wesely (knee), RB Keith Marshall (knee)
Out this week: WR Michael Bennett (knee)
Questionable this week: RB Todd Gurley (ankle), FS Tray Matthews (hamstring).
Compiled by Josh Kendall