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2014 SEC Preseason Rankings Preview

Category: NCAAF Tags: NCAAF Preseason Rankings SEC Preview Comments: 0
2014 SEC Preseason Rankings Preview - 7/19/2014 Free NCAAF Analysis

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East Division

1. Florida

2013: 4-8 (3-5)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 114th Defense: 15th
Returning Starters: Offense: 7 Defense: 7

Florida is coming off an embarrassing season where they lost their final 7 games including a loss at home against an FCS opponent. Coach Muschamp is clearly on the hot seat, but there are a number of reasons why he can completely turn the program around this season. With Jeff Driskel back healthy the team has a dangerous dual threat QB which will work great in new OC Kurt Roper's shotgun, no-huddle system. Offense was clearly the problem in Gainesville last season and it's great that Muschamp is adapting to the types of players he has on his roster. RB Kevin Taylor came on the scene in the second half of last season and he'll be an emerging star in the SEC in 2014. Despite the offensive issues, the defense was still one of the best units in the SEC and they will continue to be stout with 7 returning starters. The defense is more experienced than they were in 2013 and they expect to help along what should be a vastly improved offense. If Jeff Driskel stays healthy, watch out for Florida in the SEC East.

2. Georgia

2013: 8-5 (5-3)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 22nd Defense: 79th
Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 10

The Bulldogs fell way short of expectations in 2013, but there are reasons to believe the team will improve even with QB Aaron Murray moving on. QB Hutson Mason played in 2.5 games to close last season and that experience will pay dividends for the Bulldogs early on this season. Mason is also helped by the fact that Georgia is loaded at the other skill positions. Heisman candidate RB Todd Gurley returns and he leads an extremely talented group of backs. WR is also a deep position for Georgia with Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Justin Scott-Wesley, and Reggie Davis all vying for playing time. The O-line must replace 3 starters, but there are experienced players ready to step up. The 2013 Georgia defense was young and inexperienced and the defense was a major reason why the Bulldogs fell short of expectations. Georgia's front was the strength of the defense a season ago and they return nearly everyone to this unit. The secondary was the problem, but with 4 returning starters and a new DC who specializes in coaching the secondary, there is hope for significant improvement.

3. South Carolina

2013: 11-2 (6-2)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 33rd Defense: 12th
Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 6

The Gamecocks were solid on both sides of the ball a season ago, but they have a number of important pieces to replace if they are going to challenge for the SEC East title in 2014. First off the defense is in rebuild mode on the D-line which lost All-Americans Kelcy Quarles and Jadeveon Clowney. LB was a position of weakness last season, but they will be looked to as a strength with three starters returning including top tackler Skai Moore. The secondary is thin at CB and this could force some safeties into corner roles. The offense loses dual threat QB Connor Shaw and his replacement will be Dylan Thompson who didn't show a whole lot of success in his time on the field in relief of Shaw last season. Emerging RB Mike Davis returns after a wildly successful season where he logged 1,183 yards out of the backfield. The O-line returns 4 starters to what might be the best group Spurrier has had at South Carolina.

4. Tennessee

2013: 5-7 (2-6)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 96th Defense: 79th
Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 5

The Vols missed out on a bowl game last year, but they performed about as well as they were projected last season. There are reasons to believe Tennessee will improve under head coach Butch Jones, despite only 10 starters returning. The offense is loaded at receiver, but there are still question marks along the line and under center. The O-line must replace all 5 starters and this unit will be a work in progress at least through the early part of the season. Starting QB Justin Worley is the safe choice to return as starter, but Joshua Dobbs will also compete for the job. Tennessee's defense was torched by teams with high end speed last year and that has fueled the rebuild of this unit. There isn't much depth on the D-line, but Tennessee should be solid at LB with AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt. The returning players in the secondary will be challenged for playing time by some up and comers.

5. Missouri

2013: 12-2 (7-1)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 14th Defense: 34th
Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 4

The Missouri Tigers were the surprise story of the SEC East last season, but it will be tough to repeat that type of success as the Tigers have fewer returning starters than anyone else in the conference. Missouri appears to be set at QB for the foreseeable future with Maty Mauk who was very impressive as a true freshman in relief of the injured James Franklin. Even though RB Henry Josey has moved on the position remains a strength with Hansbrough and Murphy returning. The O-line was better than expected last season and this unit returns 3 starters. The receiving corps was hurt the most with Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington graduating, and Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed from the team. The D-line losses pass rushers Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, but the front is expected to be the strength of the defense again this season. There are unproven players at both LB and CB, and it remains to be seen how the defense will adapt after losing 7 starters.

6. Vanderbilt

2013: 9-4 (4-4)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 57th Defense: 46th
Returning Starters: Offense: 7 Defense: 3

The Commodores are coming off a quietly successful season where they closed winning 5 straight including a convincing bowl win over Houston. Vanderbilt has to replace head coach James Franklin and that is a lot easier said than done. Franklin coached Vanderbilt through some of the best seasons in program history, but he left to take the same position at Penn State. New head coach Derek Mason only has 10 returning starters and more holes to fill than nearly every other team in the SEC. The QB job is up for grabs between Patton Robinette, Johnny McCrary, and Stephen Rivers, and whoever wins the job will not have many great weapons to throw to. 92 percent of the receiving production from last season is gone so expect more emphasis to be put on the TE and RB positions in the pass game. The O-line is the strength of the offense returning 4 starters, but Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow aren't the bruising backs that Mason is looking for. Vanderbilt has some reshuffling to do with the defensive front after switching to the 3-4 and all 4 starters in the secondary need to be replaced. Having younger guys coming into the new defensive scheme might work to Vanderbilt's advantage.

7. Kentucky

2013: 2-10 (0-8)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 109th Defense: 90th
Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 8

The Wildcats were shutout in SEC play last season, but there is momentum building around Kentucky's football program and they could play spoiler to any team that doesn't take them seriously in 2014. Kentucky's QB competition is being fought between 2 former 4 star recruits, Patrick Towles and Drew Baker, along with Reese Phillips. It appears that Towles holds the edge and whoever wins the job should bring improvement. Kentucky returns a veteran O-line along with their top 5 receivers from last season. The Wildcats also have 4 former 4 star recruits who will split time out of the backfield. The defense is also expected to be much better with 8 returning starters along with the addition of talented newcomers in the second year under Mark Stoops' system. Seventh feels too low to peg Kentucky, but they will be challenged in the SEC and they are still yet to win a conference game under Stoops.

West Division

1. Auburn

2013: 12-2 (7-1)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 13th Defense: 48th
Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 6

The Auburn Tigers were the surprise team in the SEC West last season, but they won't be flying under the radar in 2014. The Tigers had the top rushing attack in the country a season ago averaging 328 yards on the ground per contest, but their pass game ranked 109th. There will be a shift more towards the pass this season, especially with RB Tre Mason moving on to the NFL. QB Nick Marshall is more of a threat through the air than people might think. Last season Marshal threw for 1,976 yards for 14 TDs to 6 INTs, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes. 4 starters return to what is one of the top O-lines in the SEC and Auburn is loaded with depth at both WR and RB. Auburn's defensive inefficiencies where mostly covered up by an excellent offense in 2013, but this unit expects to be better in their second season under their current defensive scheme.

2. Alabama

2013: 11-2 (7-1)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 18th Defense: 4th
Returning Starters: Offense: 7 Defense: 5

Alabama is the hot pick to win the SEC, but they have question marks in key areas where Auburn doesn't. Alabama needs to replace their starting QB and key contributors need to be replaced along the O-line. These are two of the most important areas on any team, and even though Alabama has the talent to plug into these positions, it's unproven guys. Florida State transfer QB Jacob Coker is expected to take over for AJ McCarron, but Coker is still unproven at the highest level. Coker's transition will be made easier by a loaded stable of backs who can control the clock and pick up key third downs. The Tide are also loaded at receiver with top talent like Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White who are NFL caliber pass catchers. Alabama has lost key contributors in all areas of the defense, but CB and LB appears the least ready to play at a high level. Replacing LB CJ Mosley is a tall task, but Trey DePriest will look to take on the challenge.

3. Mississippi State

2013: 7-6 (3-5)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 71st Defense: 33rd
Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 8

Dan Mullen and Mississippi State appear ready to make a move up in the highly competitive SEC West this season. Arguably nobody in the SEC has higher expectations than QB Dak Prescott and he will be looked upon to carry the offense with his legs and his arm. Prescott is a bruising dual threat QB, who perfectly fits the mold for Mullen's offense and if Prescott stays healthy he will be one of the top QBs in the conference. The Bulldogs are loaded with talented depth at WR and RB, but the O-line has question marks with no great replacements for Gabe Jackson or Charles Siddoway. Mississippi State returns a plethora of players to a front seven that was one of the best in the SEC at stopping the run in 2013. The Bulldogs are very deep along the D-line and this unit hopes to put more pressure on opposing QBs this season. Mississippi State also has a lot of talent at corner and these guys are expected to put up a fight against some of the better receivers in the SEC. The Bulldogs have the pieces to challenge for the SEC West title, but they need to believe they can be a top team and execute their game plan.

4. Ole Miss

2013: 8-5 (3-5)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 58th Defense: 37th
Returning Starters: Offense: 6 Defense: 9

The Rebels are another team hoping to make a move up in the SEC West this season and that looks like a real possibility with LSU and Texas A&M losing significant pieces from their 2013 rosters. Ole Miss returns the most experienced QB in the conference with Bo Wallace, but the senior needs to cut down on his mistakes. Wallace's 4 turnovers in the Egg Bowl caused Ole Miss to lose to rival Mississippi State and that was a tough way for Bo to end his regular season. WR Donte Moncrief went early to the NFL, but sophomore Laquon Treadwell looks ready to fill the void. The O-line returns just 2 starters and they have to find a replacement for their three year starter at center. The defense returns 9 starters including a healthy CJ Johnson who should help in the pass rush. Ole Miss also boasts experience and depth in the secondary. Expect the defense to be top notch again in 2014.

5. LSU

2013: 10-3 (5-3)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 24th Defense: 21st
Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 7

The Tigers have to replace their QB, top rusher, and top three receivers from last season's squad, so expect the O-line and defense to be called upon to carry the team early on. Pocket passer Zach Mettenberger will be replaced by either Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings who are both better athletes and do their best work on the run. LSU will look to freshman phenom RB Leonard Fournette to replace the bruising back Jeremy Hill and a mixed bag of new wide outs have to replace Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Expect the offense to rely heavily on the run game behind an experienced O-line. It seems like LSU has to replace a number of guys who leave early for the NFL every season on defense, but depth on defense is what the Tigers' program has been built on. LSU is stout up front and the corner position looks to be in good hands with high rated recruits taking over at both spots. Expect LSU's defense to carry the team in the first half of the season.

6. Texas A&M

2013: 9-4 (4-4)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 5th Defense: 96th
Returning Starters: Offense: 6 Defense: 7

The Aggies were all about offense last season, but more will be expected of the defense in 2014 if A&M is going to stay out of the basement in the SEC West. Coach Sumlin has to replace QB Johnny Manziel and that is the unenviable task which has been left to sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. Whoever wins the job is expected to lead what has been a highly successful Aggie offense during Sumlin's rein. A larger focus is likely to be put on backs Trey Williams and Oregon transfer Tra Carson. The receiving corps loses Mike Evans, but Ricky Seals-Jones, Malcome Kennedy, and Speedy Noil lead an intriguing group. Even after losing Luke Joeckel on the O-line this unit still returns talent to what is expected to be a top line in the conference. The defense is young, but there is considerable depth in the front seven. The secondary is led by lock down corner Deshazor Everett, but the other spots remain question marks.

7. Arkansas

2013: 3-9 (0-8)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 107th Defense: 89th
Returning Starters: Offense: 7 Defense: 8

Arkansas was shutout in the SEC last season and if things don't turn around quickly head coach Bret Bielema will start feeling the heat. Bielema was known for his cockiness when leading Wisconsin to tremendous success, but he's finding out that things aren't quite as easy in the best division in college football. Returning QB Brandon Allen had the worst completion rate in the conference last season, but getting his shoulder healthy should help his numbers this season. Arkansas was a run first team last season and that won't change with their top two backs returning. The Hogs have a their fourth new DC in as many seasons and Robb Smith will bring in a higher blitz emphasis with his schemes. Pass rusher Trey Flowers will be looked upon to lead a younger group of DEs. The linebackers struggled last season, but seniors Braylon Mitchell and Martell Spaight are expected to be much better. Arkansas is thin at safety, but the Hogs have considerable depth at corner.

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