Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview 2014-2015: Previewing the SEC

Maty Mauk
The SEC 2013 Review: Nobody could have predicted that Auburn, who went 3-9 and 0-8 inside the SEC in 2012, and Missouri (5-7, 2-6 SEC) were the two teams that would meet for the SEC Championship, the most prestigious conference in college football. Despite losing to LSU earlier in the year, Auburn rode their explosive running attack to a victory over Alabama, earning them a berth in the Championship game. Once more, they rode their ground game to a W, giving them a spot in the national championship, a game they of course, lost. Missouri recovered from a dreadful first season in the conference to a 12-2 overall mark, while losing just one SEC game, a thriller in overtime to South Carolina. Imagine something; if the Tigers' kicker Andrew Baggett had hit a relative easy field goal, the team would have been undefeated entering the SEC Championship. Meanwhile, Florida fell apart, as their season was ruined by injuries. They limped to a 4-8 mark, that included a loss to FCS opponent Georgia Southern, at home, no less. Georgia's season was also ruined by injuries, but they still managed to climb back to a solid 8-5 mark, with wins over South Carolina and LSU.

Ranking the SEC: Click on Top 25 teams for complete in-depth previews.


1. Georgia Bulldogs (8-5 in 2013) National Rank: 10
Big things were expected of Georgia in Aaron Murray's final season with the Bulldogs. Unfortunately, injuries ruined the year early and often, as nearly every offensive skill position starter had an injury at one point last season. While Murray is gone at QB, Georgia has an experienced player ready to step in, in the form of Hutson Mason, a fifth-year senior. Mason won't be asked to do too much, the Bulldogs will rely heavily on their ground game, which returns Heisman candidate Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, a dangerous combination. Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley lead a fantastic receiving corps, while the offensive line is great and experienced. On defense, Georgia will rely heavily on their linebackers, with the return of sophomore pass rusher Leonard Floyd, tackling machine Ramik Wilson and the disruptive junior Jordan Jenkins. The big question for the team as a whole is the secondary, which was bad a year ago before losing Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons to transfer. While many people like South Carolina in the East, the Bulldogs are my favorite. They could be scary offensively if they stay healthy, and running against this team will be extremely tough.

2. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2 in 2013) National Rank: 12
Steve Spurrier has done a great job at South Carolina, but he has struggled to take the program to an elite status. With 16 starters back and a dangerous offense, he hopes this could be the team that can win a conference championship and make the College Football Playoff. They have a veteran quarterback in senior Dylan Thompson, who should take over for Connor Shaw without too many issues. Running back Mike Davis is a real playmaker, a versatile runner who can beat defenders with his speed but is also so strong and tough. They also have a number of options for Thompson, including junior speedster Shaq Roland, senior Damiere Byrd and senior tight end Rory Anderson. Add to that a veteran offensive line that includes A.J. Cann and depth and this offense could be very scary. The questions are on defense this year, where the Gamecocks lose their superstar, Jadeveon Clowney, the best player to ever step on South Carolina's campus. The front seven could be exposed without Clowney, but it does have some talent, including defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and sophomore Darius English. Rising sophomore Skai Moore is a real playmaker at linebacker and Brison Williams returns to head an experienced secondary. While the Gamecocks are once more talented, they may not be as strong to overtake Georgia and win the East, and improve on those 11 wins (which they have recorded the past three years).

3. Florida Gators (4-8 in 2013) National Rank: 25
Few programs can go 4-8 one year and then be expected to be a national title threat the next, but this Florida and expectations are always high. Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy after missing most of 2013 with a broken leg. Remember, the Gators went 11-2 under Driskel in 2012. Joining him will be sophomore Kelvin Taylor, who will lead a deep running back position, along with senior receiver Quinton Dunbar, who hasn't quite met expectations in his time in Gainesville. The Gators got a nice surprise when Virginia transfer Jake McGee decided to join the team. The tight end will give Driskel a real help in the intermediate passing game. As usual, the Gators' defense should be stout. It was ranked as the eighth best unit in the nation a year ago, despite injuries also appearing on it. Junior defensive end Dante Fowler has the chance to be dominant, while junior Antonio Morrison is inconsistent but extremely talented. The secondary is a very interesting unit, it does have an All-American talent in Vernon Hargreaves III, but it is also very inexperienced. True freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor has the chance to be great with the Gators, and could start right away. Good news on special teams, punter Kyle Christy is back for a senior season after losing his starting job in 2013 (he was a Ray Guy award finalist in 2012, given to the nation's best punter). While the Gators should improve, the offense has to take huge step under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper for the team to win the East.

4. Missouri Tigers (12-2 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
The Tigers will almost certainly take a giant step back in 2013, because they lose just so much. Gone is quarterback James Franklin, running back Henry Josey, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and defensive linemen Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. Sophomore Maty Mauk is back after starting four games last season when Franklin went down with an injury. He played very well, but he had more weapons around him last season than he will have in 2014. Junior Russell Hansbrough is going to take over at RB, while senior receiver Bud Sasser is the No. 1 option in the passing game, after Green-Beckham was dismissed. The strength of this team should be their offensive lune, which returns experienced Evan Boehm at center and both of their tackles. While Sam and Ealy leaves big holes on the D-Line, it could still be a formidable unit. Senior Markus Golden will take over as the next big pass rusher in Columbia, while senior DT Lucas Vincent will clog lanes up the middle. Junior linebacker Kentrell Brothers and senior safety Braylon Webb are the other returning starters on the defense, both will have to step up big time. Special teams should be real strength, with kicker Andrew Baggett back along with punter Christian Brinser and return specialist Marcus Murphy, who will also see time at running back.

5. Tennessee Volunteers (5-7 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Butch Jones did a great job in his first year in Knoxville, nearly reaching a bowl game, but more important, bringing in a Top 10 recruiting class, so key for the future. Senior Justin Worley won the team's quarterback competition; he was inconsistent but played pretty well throughout 2013. He will have some weapons to throw to, including sophomore receiver Marquez North and sophomore tight end Jason Croom. Add to that JUCO transfer Von Pearson and the offense will make major strides, although so much is gone on the line. The defense will also be respectable, with senior linebacker A.J. Johnson leading the way, after he has picked up 100 plus tackles in both of the last two years. Junior Curt Maggitt, who missed all of 2013 after tearing in ACL late in 2012, will be a big-time playmaker. He will spend time at both linebacker and defensive end, and Jones called him the "heart and soul" of the defense this spring. This Vols team is improving in big ways, and they should be much improved in Jones' second season in Knoxville. Unfortunately, a brutal schedule could hold them back from taking the next step and reaching a bowl game.

6. Vanderbilt Commodores (9-4 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
James Franklin decided to take his dream job at Penn State, leaving Vandy after going 24-15 in three years. Not only is he gone, the Commodores also lose their star wide receiver Jordan Matthews and have no proven quarterback. Freshman Johnny McCrary is competing with sophomore Patton Robinette and LSU transfer Stpehen Rivers for the job, but neither will have too much success without Matthews. Junior Jerron Seymour will hope to lead the ground game, which was very bad in 2013 without Zac Stacy. The offensive line does return four starters, but the unit will definitely miss All-SEC Wesley Johnson. The Vanderbilt defense was quietly the No. 23 total defense in the nation a year ago, and now has a defensive-minded head coach in Derek Mason, the former defensive coordinator for Stanford. Linebacker will be a real strength as three starters return in the group, as the Commodores will move to a 3-4 look under Mason this year. The Commodores aren't the complete joke they before Franklin arrived, but Mason will certainly have a tough time keeping up the momentum in Nashville without Matthews or any star defenders.

7. Kentucky Wildcats (2-10 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
The Wildcats were a great story on the recruiting trail, bringing in a Top 25 unit, joining Tennessee as the other program to bring in a Top 25 class, despite not having a winning record last year. The class will have to bring help immediately, as Kentucky was a pretty big joke in 2013, winning just two games, without one victory in the SEC. Sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles will be the leader of offensive coordinator Neal Brown's air raid attack. He will have a lot of help offensively, with five of the 'Cats' top six receivers back, including senior Javess Blue. The running back position is also in good hands, with Jojo Kemp returning (ran for 482 yards) along with Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard joining the party. The defense was pretty bad in 2013, but was pretty average against the run. Senior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree is going to have a big year after putting up impressive numbers last year. He will join another senior, Za'Darius Smith who will start at the other end spot; the two combined for 13 sacks a year ago. The secondary will improve, with two starters back and the addition of JUCO stud A.J. Stamps, an athlete who brings important versatility. While the Wildcats brought in a great class, Mark Stoops' program still has to wait a few years before they start making big noise inside the conference.


1. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-2 in 2013) National Rank: 2
Alabama and head coach Nick Saban will just try to forget about the end of 2013, two games in which 'Bama lost a stunner to Auburn and then was dominated by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. While they will lose three-year starting QB A.J. McCarron and their defensive leader, C.J. Mosley, the Tide have the talent to win the SEC this season. Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is expected to take over at quarterback; he is surrounded by stars. Junior wide receiver Amari Cooper will put up huge numbers after an injury-riddled 2013 campaign, while T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake lead a fantastic running back situation. The offensive line does lose some talent and experience, but three starters are back and the Tide brought in a real stud in Cameron Robinson, who will likely start at left tackle. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will have one of the nation's most talented defenses, one that includes a number of All-American candidates. Those candidates include junior safety Landon Collins, senior linebacker Trey DePriest and sophomore defensive end A'Shawn Robinson. This pass rush could be dominant, as nose guard Brandon Ivory and two JUCO transfers, Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway, will help out Robinson. Special teams could be a real issue, as the Tide don't have a proven kicker or punter they can rely on.

2. Auburn Tigers (12-2 in 2013) National Rank: 6
The Tigers weren't just a magical team in 2013, they also were extremely talented. Well they may lose a star in running back Tre Mason, this team once more will be very dangerous, with the return of quarterback Nick Marshall and a number of others. Marshall, who was a great runner a year ago, will hope to take the next step as a passer, something he was average at last year. Even without Mason, the backfield is strong and deep, with senior Cameron Artis-Payne back, along with Corey Grant and the addition of Roc Thomas. Junior receiver Sammie Coates will be Marshall's top option in the passing game, while senior tight end C.J. Uzomah will grow into more than just a red zone threat this season. Even with Greg Robinson gone, the O-Line is a strength, with the return of All-American center Reese Dismukes. The defense loses some leadership, but loads of talent is back, including sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson and tackle Gabe Wright. Junior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is a real playmaker, while the secondary will lean heavily on cornerback Jonathan Mincy, with Chris Davis gone. Well it will be very difficult to have another magical year quite like 2013, Auburn might not have to, if Marshall can continue to develop and if they can replace Mason.

3. LSU Tigers (10-3 in 2013) National Rank: 14
Once more, LSU will lose their fair share of talent, on both sides of the ball. Gone is quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill, receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and a long list of defensive standouts. It isn't clear who will take over at QB for Mettenberger, as true freshman and early enrollee Brandon Harris is competing with sophomore Anthony Jennings for the starting gig. Both were impressive in the spring, a good problem for Les Miles to have. Senior Terrence Magee will start the year as the starter at back, but expect the nation's No. 1 recruit, Leonard Fournette, to see serious action. Without Beckham and Landry, the Tigers don't have any proven receivers, meaning sophomore Travin Dural will have to step up in a big way. The offensive line is a notable strength, with tackle La'El Collins returning. On defense, Les Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis will rely heavily on defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. With junior Quentin Thomas taking over in the middle, LSU's opponents will not have anywhere to hide. The linebacker corps are in good hands, with the return of senior D.J. Welter and junior Kwon Alexander, meaning the rush defense will be very stingy. While the Tigers lose a lot, it is Miles and it is LSU, they should be expected to still be in the national title mix, especially if Fournette takes off like expected.

4. Ole Miss Rebels (8-5 in 2013) National Rank: 17
The Rebels were a trendy dark horse pick last year, but they didn't have the experience nor the schedule to get things done, although 8-5 should be considered a success. Senior quarterback Bo Wallace is now the conference's most experienced quarterback and he should lead an offense that will once more be explosive. Wallace's top option will be quickly improving sophomore Laquon Treadwell, who was very impressive in his freshman year, and will put up huge numbers this season. Also returning is tight end Evan Engram, senior receiver Vince Sanders and sophomore tackle Laremy Tunsil, who will lead the offensive line. Running back is the only question, as the Rebels had to say goodbye to the speedy Jeff Scott. On the defensive side of the ball, the Rebels will lean on senior safety Cody Prewitt, an interception machine, and a veteran secondary. Also back in the defensive backfield is rising sophomore Tony Conner, a versatile defender that can do it all. Sophomore Robert Nkemdiche will do great things at defensive tackle, while his brother, Denzel, will anchor a strong linebacker corps. That linebacker corps also includes playmaking senior Serderius Bryant, a little bit undersized, but a superb tackler. While many expected 2013 to be Ole Miss' breakthrough season, this will most likely be the year. They have a veteran quarterback and secondary and playmakers all over the place. As long as they can get past a tough Boise State team on August 30th, double-digit wins are possible, even in the brutal SEC West.

5. Texas A&M Aggies (9-4 in 2013) National Rank: 23
Life after "Johnny Football" begins in College Station. But, he isn't the only great Aggie gone, as Texas A&M also said goodbye to wide receiver Mike Evans, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and two dismissed players, Isaiah Golden and Darian Claiborne on defense. Kevin Sumlin decided that sophomore Kenny Hill will start Week 1 against South Carolina, meaning that the young quarterback will have to attempt to fill the shoes of the infamous Manziel. He will have some talent to work with around him, as the Aggies return some weapons. Those weapons include senior Malcome Kennedy, redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones and true freshman Speedy Noil, all receivers. The running back position will be held between junior Tra Carson, Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams and explosive Trey Williams. Even without Matthews, the O-Line is a strength, with senior Cedric Ogbuehi returning at left tackle. The Aggies' defense was a joke last season, but it has to improve if they are to contend at all in the West. Golden and Claiborne were going to play a major role on the unit and their losses hurt. Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett will lead a secondary that could be pretty solid, as nearly everyone returns. The defensive line will lean heavily on the pass rushing abilities of senior Gavin Stansbury and true freshman Myles Garrett. Garrett may be pushed into a starting role from the get-go, as he has the frame and motor to compete on the college level from the start. Punter Drew Kaser is among the nation's best, and he should compete for Ray Guy Award honors. While many will be quick to push Texas A&M out of contention without Manziel, Evans and Matthews, Sumlin is a great coach and recruiter, and some playmakers will step up. If the defense can take some significant steps, anything is possible for the Aggies.

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-6 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Junior quarterback Dak Prescott is a hero around Starkville for what he did at the end of 2013 for the Bulldogs. He led them to an Egg Bowl victory over Ole Miss in a thriller and then would throw five touchdowns in a victory over Rice in the Liberty Bowl. He returns as a popular dark horse Heisman candidate, but he isn't the only weapon offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy will have at their disposal. Senior receiver Jameon Lewis is the SEC's leading returning receiver after picking up 923 yards in 2013. He will be joined by experienced tight end Malcolm Johnson and running back Josh Robinson, who will take over at the position with the departure of LaDarius Perkins. On defense, the Bulldogs will have a dominant front seven, with the return of senior end Preston Smith, rising sophomore Chris Jones and senior P.J. Jones. Both of the Jones will dominate up the middle, while Smith is an underrated talent. Junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney is a tackling machine who will put together a strong season. The Mississippi State defense didn't get much credit last season, but it was very strong, ranking 18th in the nation in total defense. With Prescott, the Bulldogs are dangerous and the whole SEC should be on watch. While it will be tough to breakthrough in the West, the Bulldogs can do it. In any other division in any other conference, this is a major conference championship threat. Even in the SEC West, Mississippi State is definitely a team that could make a run similar to Auburn's 2013.

Alex Collins
7. Arkansas Razorbacks (3-9 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Nearly every part of Bret Bielema's debut season in Fayetteville was a disaster. The Razorbacks couldn't get anything going throw the air and the defense was just average. When you combine that with a brutal schedule, a 3-9 mark makes sense. The good news is the ground attack will once more be strong, with the return of two great running backs in junior Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Junior QB Brandon Allen is also back after a decent 2013. He struggled to make throws down the field, but he could really be a weapon in play action. Sophomore tight end Hunter Henry is a real receiving threat, and he should be Allen's top option through the air. Defensively, Bielema and defensive coordinator Robb Smith need a big year from senior defensive end Trey Flowers. Flowers and Chris Smith (now graduated) were really the only bright spots of the defense, as they were constantly pressuring the quarterback. His return gives the Razorbacks a star, while senior linebacker Braylon Mitchell is a playmaker who should help against the run. While the Razorbacks are still recovering from the Bobby Petrino scandal that rocked the program in the spring of 2012, Bielema should get the team to be more competitive after 4-8 and 3-9 marks since Petrino was fired. This team will do what Bielema-led teams do; run the ball right at the defense, behind a strong, experienced offensive line, while they control the clock. They should improve, but the schedule is so tough, much improvement on their 3 wins is pretty unlikely.

Offensive Player of the Year: Todd Gurley, Georgia
Defensive Player of the Year: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Newcomer of the Year: Leonard Fournette, LSU
Coach of the Year: Nick Saban, Alabama
Coach on the Hottest Seat: Will Muschamp, Florida
Breakout Player of the Year: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

All-SEC Team
QB Nick Marshall, Auburn
RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB Mike Davis, South Carolina
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
OL Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
OL La'El Collins, LSU
OL Chaz Green, Florida
OL Reese Dismukes, Auburn
DE Dante Fowler, Florida
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB Trey DePriest, Alabama
CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
CB Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M
S Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
S Landon Collins, Alabama
K Andrew Baggett, Missouri
P Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
Returner Christion Jones, Alabama

SEC Championship: Alabama over Georgia

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.