Aug 12

SEC Season Preview

Posted By:Wes Mewbourne - Birmingham, AL  Tags: CFB, SEC, college football

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WEST DIVISION

 

Alabama
2013 Result: 11-2 (7-1), #7
Expectations in 2014: The usual
Ever since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, the expectation level has been
high.  After 6 years, five 10-win seasons, and a 3-0 record in
national championship games the standards haven’t exactly dropped.
Much like 2009, the Tide will be coming off a disappointing end to a
season in which SEC and national title hopes were dashed in the final
game of the season and the bowl game reflected just how long it takes
to recover from that kind of loss.  Also, Bama is looking for a solid
starting quarterback.  Its options seem to be limited to experienced
but unproven Blake Sims or Florida State transfer Jacob Coker.  With a
plethora of offensive weapons (including WR Amari Cooper, RB T.J.
Yeldon, and TE O.J. Howard), either one could do well in Offensive
Coordinator/lightning rod Lane Kiffin’s offense.  Early money is on
Coker, given he will possibly hang around two years and a friendly
schedule that doesn’t have a true road game until October.

Arkansas
2013 Result: 3-9 (0-8), unranked
Expectations in 2014: Win a game
No, really.  After starting on a 3-game winning streak, the Razorbacks
lost a squeaker to Rutgers and then proceeded to lose to everyone in
the SEC.  Starting out at Jordan-Hare will likely extend the streak to
10 games.  But with an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks
(8) and the fewest tackle for loss (45) in the conference, two very
talented backs in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, all the
Razorbacks may need is solid QB play to get them bowl eligible.  But
let’s not get ahead of ourselves; win one game, preferably in the
conference.

Auburn
2013 Result: 12-2 (8-1), #2
Expectations in 2014: Keep the Gus Bus moving
In Gus Malzahn’s relatively short tenure in coaching college football,
he has only had the opportunity to coach one quarterback for more than
one season, and that person is one Nick Marshall.  Even though the
Tigers will have to go without him the first game, Marshall looks to
build on last season’s passing (59% completion, 1,976 yards and 14
touchdowns).  With four starting lineman protecting him and a deep
receiving corps, it’s not a stretch to say Auburn’s offense may be the
best in the conference.  The defense is the concern, however.  But
since the Tigers finished in the bottom half of almost every defensive
statistic, perhaps the turnover isn’t such a bad thing.

LSU
2013 Result: 10-3 (5-3), #14
Expectations in 2014: Don’t pull an LSU
Each of the past two seasons, the (other) Tigers have lost to an
opponent they had no business losing to - Florida in 2012 and Ole Miss
in 2013.  Les Miles has found a way to do less on the field with more
talent than one would’ve thought possible in SEC country.  With 2014
being a transition year, wins will be at a premium.  Opening with a
neutral site game against Wisconsin, traveling to Auburn, and pairing
Alabama and rival Arkansas between bye weeks will mean that LSU must
win the games it’s supposed to in order to reach 10 wins.  If it can
steal a game away from Alabama and/or Auburn, the Tigers could put
themselves in position to win the SEC and a spot in the inaugural
College Football Playoff.

Mississippi State
2013 Result: 7-6 (3-5)
Expectations in 2014: Take the next step
Under Dan Mullen, Mississippi State has yet to beat an SEC West team
other than Arkansas and Ole Miss.  If there is a hot seat in this
division, it’s here.  That starts at the quarterback position.  Mullen
coached Alex Smith at Utah and Tim Tebow at Florida, but has had no
such success in Starkville.  In fact, the Bulldogs have never produced
a 3,000-yard passer.  Ever.  The division is incredibly strong, but
this could be a good year to catch Texas A&M or LSU on an off week.
If QB Dak Prescott can get near the 3,000-yard mark and lead his team to 9
(or 10?) wins, it would be just what the doctor ordered.

Ole Miss
2013 Result: 8-5 (3-5)
Expectations in 2014: Realistically high
Last season was a surprise in Oxford.  The Rebels managed to knock off
LSU, and were two close losses (Texas A&M and Mississippi State) from
double digit wins for the first time since 2003.  Along with a top 20
recruiting class and one of the better quarterbacks in the conference,
coach Hugh Freeze is out to show that this team was not a flash in the
pan.  With an early schedule that includes three home games and a
Vandy team that may take a huge step back, it’s not impossible to see
the Rebels host Alabama with a 4-0 record.  If Freeze is as good a
coach as many believe he is, a 10-win season is not out of the
question.

Texas A&M
2013 Result: 9-4 (4-4), #18
Expectations in 2014: Finish strong
The Aggies had a bit of a sophomore slump in their new league, and
with the departure of the most entertaining QB-WR combo in recent
memory (Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans) many are overlooking A&M in
season number three.  While that is understandable, it may be
premature.  Coach Kevin Sumlin was keen on developing under the radar
talent at Houston and well, everyone was under the radar with Manziel
on campus.  The focus is naturally on the defense, as Sumlin made
clear a couple weeks ago at SEC media days.  Opening the season at
South Carolina (on the seemingly annual Gamecock Thursday Kickoff)
will set the bar.  A win will keep them in the top 15 or so until a
season closing slate that will include three teams that bested the
Aggies last season - at Auburn, Missouri, and LSU on Thanksgiving.

 

 

EAST DIVISION



Florida
2013 Result: 4-8 (3-5)
Expectations in 2014: Offensive identity or new coach
The hottest seat in the SEC is in The Swamp.  In the past two seasons,
coach Will Muschamp has shown just how much (and how little) he can
accomplish with no discernable offense.  Continuing struggles on the
offensive side of the ball could make for an ugly season, with
division games against Georgia and South Carolina, cross division
games against Alabama and LSU, and a season finale at reigning champ
and rival Florida State.  Even reaching a bowl game might not be
enough to save Muschamp’s job.  He will have to show some sort of
progress and identity on offense, and do so with success.

Georgia
2013 Result: 8-5 (5-3)
Expectations in 2014: Playoff or bust
It seems once every few years, the Bulldog faithful seem to go into
the season thinking they are world-beaters, only to limp to a lower
tier bowl.  With so many suspensions keeping players out of their
first two games, Clemson and South Carolina, it’s hard to imagine how
reality will match this year’s expectations.  If they can split these
games, as they did last year, then maybe they can remain in the
playoff picture toward season’s end.  But that assumes they will
survive at Missouri and Auburn.  If they drop their first two games,
expect the calls for coach Mark Richt’s replacing to get louder.  If
they somehow win both, the rest of the SEC better watch out.

Kentucky
2013 Result: 2-10 (0-8)
Expectations in 2014: Transform recruiting success into wins
Few teams won the February perception battle known as recruiting quite
like Mark Stoops.  I mean really, how many coaches get a top 20
recruiting class following a season where they lost five times as many
games as they won?  But the difficult part is converting that success
to the field.  Doubling up the win total should be a realistic
expectation, but if the Wildcats somehow steal enough wins to go
bowling we could be seeing a Rich Brooks-esque resurgence in
Lexington.

Missouri
2013 Result: 12-2 (7-2), #5
Expectations in 2014: Don’t look back
While their fellow Big Twelve transfer Aggies struggled in their
second season, the (other other) Tigers used experience to snag a
division crown. With key pieces on both sides of the ball gone,
Missouri is hoping to reload and capture a second straight East title.
Maty Mauk, the new starter at QB, performed admirably in stepping in
for injured James Franklin last season (including a win at Georgia),
but the search continues for a main target since the top three
receivers from 2013 are gone.  On defense, Michael Sam’s departure
opens the door for Markus Golden to take the leadership role on the
D-line.

South Carolina
2013 Result: 11-2 (6-2), #4
Expectations in 2014: Continue making history
It’s a testament to Spurrier’s success in Columbia that there are
actually serious conversations debating which coaching performance is
better, this one at South Carolina or in the 90’s when he and Florida
owned the SEC and won a national title.  South Carolina is in the
midst of school history.  The Gamecocks have a defense that is solid,
a quarterback that might finally have the full support of his coach
(Dylan Thompson), and a schedule that spreads out nicely. If they can
stay focused and avoid the injury bug, an SEC title and a birth in the
inaugural College Football Playoff is not only possible but likely.

Tennessee
2013 Result: 5-7 (2-6)
Expectations in 2014: Play a 13th game
The first year coaching in the SEC wasn’t easy for Butch Jones.  It’s
never easy to come into a bad situation and fix everything all at
once.  The good news in Big Orange country is there’s hope for the
future. A top 10 recruiting class and a manageable schedule should
give the Vols an opportunity to reach six wins and return to the
postseason with an eye on the future.  The main issue will be
regaining focus after likely back-to-back losses at Oklahoma then at
Georgia, then another twofer of Alabama and South Carolina.  If any of
those end in the Vols favor, or at least if they can rebound with a
win against Florida on October 4th, then the future looks brighter
than their end zones.

Vanderbilt
2013 Result: 9-4 (4-4), #24
Expectations in 2014: Don’t fall off
Churning out back-to-back 9-win seasons, not to mention a two-game
winning streak against rival Tennessee, is no small task in Nashville.
But that’s exactly what happened, then reality hit and the Commodores
were reminded that theirs is a stepping stone job.  Enter Derek Mason,
former associate head coach and defensive coach at Stanford.  All he
has to do is replace the production of his quarterback, top three
receivers, and improve Vanderbilt’s middle-of-the-conference defense.
Piece of cake, right?  At this point, a fourth straight bowl trip –
even if it is with a 6-6 record – would be a success.



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