2014 SEC Preview and Predictions

In honor of the launch of the SEC Network, I thought I would kick off my blog season today.

Finally, SEC football is back. After last season’s upsets, I don’t really know why I decided to predict the records for all 14 SEC teams. The best answer to that question is “why not”. I’ll either look really smart, or be able to blame the unpredictability of college football, so it’s a win-win.

The SEC lost some big time players from last year, especially at the quarterback position. AJ McCarron (ALA), Aaron Murray (UGA), Zach Mettenberger (LSU), Johnny Manziel (A&M), Connor Shaw (SCAR) and James Franklin (MIZZ) are all gone. It’ll be a little weird to not see these guys at the helm each weekend and their replacements have big shoes to fill.

SEC West
Last season, the SEC West sent a team to the National Championship game (for the 5th year in a row). The Auburn team that fell to Florida State in the final BCS title game had gone 0-8 in SEC play in 2012. Will this season see another surprise turnaround, or will it be more of a predictable season? I think it will be somewhere in between. Here are my predictions for the SEC West:

1. Alabama (8-0)
2. Auburn (6-2)
3. LSU (6-2)
4. Mississippi State (5-3)
5. Ole Miss (3-5)
6. Arkansas (2-6)
7. Texas A&M (1-7)

Predicted SEC Record: 8-0
Wins: Florida, at Ole Miss, at Arkansas, Texas A&M, at Tennessee, at LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn
Losses: none
I find it really difficult to pick against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, even though they lost some key playmakers from last season. Coach Saban has shown he is one of the best recruiters in the country, so replacing talent is not my biggest concern for this team. The majority of my concerns for the 2014 Alabama football team are about how they will bounce back from their two losses last year. Last season was the first time Alabama has lost 2 consecutive games since the 2008 season when they lost to Georgia in the SEC Championship and Utah in the Sugar Bowl. That season was followed by a perfect 14-0 record and the National Championship. I don’t see why history can’t repeat. The Tide lost some key defensive players, but I don’t remember the last time their defense didn’t worry me as an Arkansas fan. They might not be as experienced as last year’s, but they should still be very good. I think the biggest challenge Alabama will face is Auburn. This game might very well decide the winner of the SEC West.

Predicted SEC Record: 6-2
Wins: Arkansas, LSU, at Mississippi State, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M, at Georgia
Losses: South Carolina, at Alabama
Auburn surprised everyone last season by winning the SEC and barely losing to Florida State in the National Championship after going 0-8 in SEC play the year before. The Tigers lose Heisman finalist RB Tre Mason but return 8 offensive starters from last year’s prolific offense. QB Nick Marshall and WR Sammie Coates will once again be players to watch on this team. The defense was hit a little harder and only returns 6 starters. This is the reason I have them losing to South Carolina and Alabama. I think Auburn will have another good year, however, without the element of surprise, it will be a challenge to match the success of last year.

Predicted SEC Record: 6-2
Wins: Mississippi State, at Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, at Arkansas, at Texas A&M
Losses: at Auburn, Alabama
I might be overrating LSU’s talent. That being said, this team might have one of the best groups of RBs in college football: freshman Leonard Fournette is supposed to be great along with seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard who were very good last season. There is still a battle going on for the QB position between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. LSU will contend in the SEC West, but I don’t think this team is good enough to win the division.

Mississippi State
Predicted SEC Record: 5-3
Wins: Texas A&M, at Kentucky, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, at Ole Miss
Losses: at LSU, Auburn, at Alabama
Mississippi State might end the season underrated because of their opponents. The Bulldogs have to go to LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss this season. Those would be difficult games at home. I think this team will be a tough opponent every week if QB Dak Prescott stays healthy. I don’t think they are going to blow out any SEC teams or get blown out themselves. They have the possibility to upset any team who underestimates them.

Ole Miss
Predicted SEC Record: 3-5
Wins: at Vanderbilt, at Texas A&M, Tennessee
Losses: Alabama, at LSU, Auburn, at Arkansas, Mississippi State
Some people have Ole Miss doing very well this season. I am not one of those people. This isn’t to say I think they have a bad team or that I’d be surprised if they did well. There are some very good players on this Rebel team. I just don’t think the chips are going to fall their way. Last year they played very well against teams who didn’t have very good defenses, but when there was a challenge, the offense wasn’t able to produce. I think this will be the case this season as well.

Predicted SEC Record: 2-6
Wins: Texas A&M, Ole Miss
Losses: at Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, at Mississippi State, LSU, at Missouri
It hurts me to predict this for my team. But I have to be realistic. Arkansas has one of the toughest schedules in the country and starts the season off at Auburn, last year’s SEC champions and national runners up. All 8 of their conference games are against teams who went to bowl games. The biggest issue last year was at the quarterback position. According to Coach Bielema, Brandon Allen has improved immensely from last season, so hopefully we can get some offense going. Last season’s defense was not as bad as the record shows, but the lack of offense meant the defense spent a lot of time on the field. This year’s defense is more experienced and will hopefully be able to take advantage of a better offense. Last season, Arkansas was very close to winning 3 games: at Rutgers (Ark led 24-7 with 8:38 left in the 3rd), Mississippi State (lost in OT), and at LSU (Ark led 27-24 with 3:09 left in 4th and allowed 99yd TD drive). The offense might be improved enough to win the close ones, but not enough to contend in the division.

Texas A&M
Predicted SEC Record: 1-7
Wins: Missouri
Losses: at South Carolina, Arkansas, at Mississippi State, Ole Miss, at Alabama, at Auburn, LSU
There is no doubt that Texas A&M is going to miss QB Johnny Manziel. It’s easier to have a not-so-great defense when your offense is led by someone as explosive as Manziel. The Aggies won’t have that luxury this year and I don’t think they can improve enough to offset the loss of Manziel. They have a tough schedule this season and I don’t think they are going to be able to score the way they have in the past two seasons. I do have them beating Missouri. I don’t really know why, but it’s just a gut feeling.

SEC East
Is it finally South Carolina’s year to win the SEC? Can Florida and Georgia avoid the injury bug? And can Missouri stay competitive after winning the division last year? These are only a few of the questions surrounding the SEC East. Only time will give us the answers, so until then, here are my predictions for the SEC East:

1. South Carolina (8-0)
2. Georgia (6-2)
3. Florida (4-4)
4. Missouri (4-4)
5. Tennessee (2-6)
6. Vanderbilt (1-7)
7. Kentucky (0-8)

South Carolina
Predicted SEC Record: 8-0
Wins: Texas A&M, Georgia, at Vanderbilt, Missouri, at Kentucky, at Auburn, Tennessee, at Florida
Losses: none
I really like this South Carolina team. Even though they are losing QB Connor Shaw and DE Jadaveon Clowney, the Gamecocks have a very good team. This year’s QB will be Dylan Thompson, who has shown how good he is multiple times backing up Shaw. SCAR has the benefit of hosting UGA this season and I think this will be their biggest challenge in the East. I have a lot of faith in this team for some reason. Maybe because they have been close for the past few years but haven’t been able to be at the top of the SEC. I think this might be their year.

Predicted SEC Record: 6-2
Wins: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, at Missouri, at Arkansas, at Florida, at Kentucky
Losses: at South Carolina, Auburn
If Georgia can stay healthy this season they have great potential. The loss of QB Aaron Murray makes me worry though. While Hutson Mason was able to pull off a 2OT win over Georgia Tech, it will be extremely hard to follow Murray’s record-breaking career. The Bulldogs were hit hard by the injury bug last season which makes me wonder how those returning from injury will perform. A healthy Georgia team will be hard to beat, but coming out of Williams-Brice with a win will be difficult. Luckily, we don’t have to wait very long for that game.

Predicted SEC Record: 4-4
Wins: Kentucky, at Tennessee, Missouri, at Vanderbilt
Losses: at Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina
Much like Georgia, Florida had to deal with a lot of injuries last season. I think they will improve from last year, but they drew Alabama and LSU as their two games against the West. Having QB Jeff Driskel back will be a huge upside for the Gators. Their offense was lackluster last season and needs to be much better if they want to improve on last year. The defense was good last year and should be again this year.

Predicted SEC Record: 4-4
Wins: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, at Tennessee, Arkansas
Losses: at South Carolina, Georgia, at Florida, at Texas A&M
Last year Missouri was able to prove they belong in the SEC by winning the East. I’d be really surprised if they did that again this season. The Tigers are only returning 8 starters from last season. They are losing key players on both sides of the ball, but especially on the offense. QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, and WRs L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham are all gone. It will definitely be a rebuilding year for Mizzou.

Predicted SEC Record: 2-6
Wins: Kentucky, at Vanderbilt
Losses: at Georgia, Florida, at Ole Miss, Alabama, at South Carolina, Missouri
Tennessee might be getting better, but I don’t think they are good enough to contend in the SEC East. The Volunteers only return 10 starters from last season. They have to replace both the offensive and defensive lines this year. It’s hard to be a strong team in the SEC when there isn’t much experience on either line. Even though there is experience at the skill positions, they might have trouble scoring this season. This will be a rebuilding season for Tennessee.

Predicted SEC Record: 1-7
Wins: at Kentucky
Losses: Ole Miss, South Carolina, at Georgia, at Missouri, Florida, at Mississippi State, Tennessee
Vanderbilt is going to have a tough season. They are the only team in the SEC to get a new head coach. Vandy has gone to 3 straight bowl games, but I don’t think they will continue that streak. They lose the majority of their playmakers and only return 4 defensive starters. A win at Kentucky would be an upset, but having watched this team in the past couple years, I really wouldn’t be surprised. I like to root for this team, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Predicted SEC Record: 0-8
Wins: none
Losses: at Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, at LSU, Mississippi State, at Missouri, Georgia, at Tennessee
If I had to pick one SEC team to prove me wrong, it would be Kentucky. They return a good amount of players, but haven’t been very good in the past couple of years. The Wildcats haven’t won an SEC game since 2011. This season might be their best chance to break that streak, but I don’t think they will. Their best chances will be against Vanderbilt and Tennessee, but I don’t see any other possible wins on their SEC schedule.

The season starts in just 2 weeks. With the launch of the SEC Network there will be even more opportunities to see SEC games. The greatest season of the year is finally upon us. College football is almost back.

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CFP Top 25

1. Georgia
2. Michigan
3. Alabama
4. Cincinnati

5. Oklahoma State
6. Notre Dame
7. Ohio State
8. Ole Miss
9. Baylor
10. Oregon
11. Michigan State
12. BYU
13. Iowa
14. Oklahoma
15. Pittsburgh
16. Wake Forest
17. Utah
18. NC State
19. San Diego State
20. Clemson
21. Houston
*23. Kentucky
*24. Louisiana
25. Texas A&M

Dropped Out: 14Wisconsin, 22UTSA

Poll released on Tuesdays

AP Top 25

1. Georgia (12-0,8-0)
2. Michigan (11-1,8-1)
3. Cincinnati (12-0,8-0)
4. Alabama (11-1,7-1)
5. Oklahoma State (11-1,8-1)
6. Notre Dame (11-1)
7. Ohio State (10-2,8-1)
8. Ole Miss (10-2,6-2)
9. Baylor (10-2,7-2)
10. Oregon (10-2,7-2)
11. Michigan State (10-2,7-2)
12. BYU (10-2)
13. Oklahoma (10-2,7-2)
14. Utah (9-3,8-1)
15. Iowa (10-2,7-2)
16. Houston (11-1,8-0)
17. Pittsburgh (10-2,7-1)
18. Wake Forest (10-2,7-1)
19. San Diego State (11-1,7-1)
20. Louisiana (11-1,8-0)
21. NC State (9-3,6-2)
*22. Clemson (9-3,6-2)
23. ARKANSAS (8-4,4-4)
24. Texas A&M (8-4,4-4)
*25. Kentucky (9-3,5-3)

Dropped Out: 15UTSA (11-1,7-1), 19Wisconsin (8-4,6-3)

Bowl Eligible Teams

SEC: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M
Big 10: Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Big 12: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia
ACC: Boston College, Clemson, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Pac12: Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah
Independents: Army, BYU, Liberty, Notre Dame
American: Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulsa, UCF
Mountain West: Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, San Diego State, Utah State, Wyoming
Sun Belt: Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, Louisiana, Western Kentucky
C-USA: Marshall, MTSU, North Texas, Old Dominion, UAB, UTEP, UTSA
MAC: Ball State, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (OH), Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan,

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