Welcome to the THUNDERBLOG’s College Football Preview! With the season starting on Thursday, we’ll be taking you through each conference to let you know what to watch for as you watch this year. Next up, the Southeastern Conference:
(Note: I had written the West Division of this preview yesterday before Thursday Night’s games. I will update below my blurbs on the teams I had already written for but will not change my ranking for them)
1) #2 Alabama Crimson Tide (2013: 11-2, Lost Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma)
Head Coach: Nick Saban (8th Year at Bama, 19th Overall–79-15/170-57-1 record)
Returning Starters: 7 Offensive/5 Defensive
It’s normally tough to replace a three-year starting QB, but this Nick Saban and Alabama we’re talking about. Saban recruits the best and makes them much better. He’s also returning two of the top-five RBs in the SEC, T.Y. Yeldon and Derrick Henry (combined for nearly 1700 yards and 17 TDs), not to forget WRs Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White. The only potential bumps in Alabama’s are trips to Mississippi (October 4th), LSU (November 8th), and, of course, the Iron Bowl on November 29th. ‘Bama will be looking for revenge from the “Kick-Six” on their turf this time.
Team MVP: RB T.Y. Teldon – he rushed for 1279 yards with 14 TDs on his own. This kid’s an absolute beast and could tear up the SEC this year.
2) #2 Auburn Tigers (2013: 12-2, Lost BCS National Championship Game to Florida State)
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn (2nd year at Auburn, 3rd Overall–12-2/21-5 record)
Returning Starters: 8 Offensive/6 Defensive
Even with Nick Marshall not starting on Saturday (August 30th) against Arkansas, this offense is going to be exciting to watch. Sure, you’ll have the doubters who will talk about the luck Auburn had last year and can they do it again. Well they return 8 offensive starters, including the dual threat Marshall and his top receivers, to last year’s 2nd best offense in the SEC. Auburn’s late-season road schedule may be trouble though. While they host LSU on October 4th, Auburn travels to Georgia on November 15th and to Alabama for the Iron Bowl on November 29th; both teams are out to avenge their last-second losses to Auburn from last year.
Team MVP: QB Nick Marshall – He gained over 3,000 yards from scrimmage last year, having only met his teammates at the start of the season. Expect that number to rise this year and Marshall to be in NYC as a Heisman Finalist (his stock rising with the unfortunate injury to Braxton Miller)
3) #13 LSU Tigers (2013: 10-3, Won Outback Bowl vs. Iowa)
Head Coach: Les Miles (10th year at LSU, 14th Overall–95-24/123-45 record)
Returning Starters: 5 Offensive/7 Defensive
Les Miles is an extremely talented coach who always seems to put together fantastic teams at LSU. He’s won 10 games in eight of his ten seasons at the helm in Baton Rouge and could easily do again this season. The Tigers do have to travel to Auburn on October 4th and host Alabama on November 8th but the rest of their schedule looks favorable. They’re in for a great (for us, tough for them) season opener on Saturday against Wisconsin down in Houston and have to travel to Florida (who should have a better season this year) but odds are that Les wins 10 games again, especially considering they’re returning seven starters to the third-best D in the conference in 2013. Look out for freshman RB Leonard Fournette, the top ranked recruit at running back and EXTREMELY HYPED.
Team MVP: FS Jalen Millis – While I’m hoping Fournette will be a stud, Millis is a proven star; he was third in the team in tackles, tied for second in sacks, and tied for the lead in interceptions.
4) #18 Ole Miss Rebels (2013: 8-5, Won Music City Bowl vs. Georgia Tech)
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze (3rd year at Ole Miss, 4th Overall–15-11/25-13 record)
Returning Starters: 6 Offensive/9 Defensive
Returning nine defensive starters to 2013’s #5 Defense in the SEC, oh boy. Not to mention QB Bo Wallace who once again be one of the better QBs in the SEC. Ole Miss’ main problem is that they play in the SEC West. While they return such great players, they constantly are challenged by the conference’s best: Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and, for the last two years, Texas A&M. Hosting both ‘Bama and Auburn bodes better than having to go to either school but they’ll still be tough games. Ole Miss will look to break their down streak against arch-rival Mississippi State, as they’ve dropped four of the last five.
Team MVP: QB Bo Wallace – kid’s got an absolute cannonball arm.
T5) #21 Texas A&M Aggies (2013: 9-4, Won Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Duke)
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin (3rd year at A&M, 7th Overall–20-6/55-23 record)
Returning Starters: 5 Offensive/9 Defensive
I couldn’t give the edge to neither A&M nor Mississippi State. A&M lost a lot of talent on offense, not just Johnny Football but WR Mike Evans AND LT Jake Matthews, but return nearly all of their defense and have Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin was almost the tie-breaker but A&M travels to Mississippi State, and the Aggies were 2-2 on the road last year in SEC play. Not to mention the Aggies drew South Carolina (tonight, August 28th) and Missouri (November 15th) as their cross-division opponents. Update: Texas A&M upset #9 South Carolina 52-28 last night on the back of QB Kenny Hill (44/60 511 Yards, 3 TDs). Trey Williams rushed for 78 yards and a TD on 13 carries. A&M could move up higher than my initial ranking.
Team MVP: RB Trey Williams – The team’s kick-returner as well. In the post-Johnny-Football-era, the junior will look to make his mark. He was third in rushing last year with 407 yards and six TDs, those numbers will certainly go up.
T5) Mississippi State Bulldogs (2013: 7-6, Won Liberty Bowl vs. Rice)
Head Coach: Dan Mullen (6th year–all at MSU–36-28 record)
Returning Starters: 8 Offensive/8 Defensive
The SEC West is DEEP. With the conference’s most-experienced QB in Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs look to improve their ranking in the division. However, with every other team in the division also retaining key pieces, it’s tough to see MSU move higher than 5th. They have the ability to upset these teams, it’s just unlikely. They were inconsistent last year and that inconsistency was why I didn’t rank them higher, or had at least given them sole possession of 5th.
Team MVP: QB Dak Prescott – he took over for the injury Tyler Russell last year and was still able to pass for nearly 2,000 yards and lead the team in rushing. If he can improve his 10 TD/7 Int ratio, the Bulldogs will easily return to bowl season.
7) Arkansas Razorbacks (2013: 3-9)
Head Coach: Bret Bielema (2nd year at ARK, 9th Overall–3-9/71-33 record)
Returning Starters: 7 Offensive/7 Defensive
The Razorbacks don’t have much going for them: they only won one game against an FBS team last year and they’re in the toughest division in the SEC and maybe in all of college football. What they do have going for them is that they return both of their RBs: Jonathan Williams (919 yards, 4 TDs) and 2014 SEC Freshman of the Year, Alex Collins (1066 yards, 4 TDs). However, don’t expect Arkansas to improve on their 0-8 SEC record from a year ago as their East Division opponents are Georgia (“hosting” in Little Rock on October 18th) and Missouri (traveling to on November 29th). It’ll be a long season in Fayetteville.
(Note: this is where I continue from Thursday, I swear I had Georgia as my top team before South Carolina’s game last night, I’ll explain below)
1) #12 Georgia Bulldogs (2013: 8-5, Lost Gator Bowl to Nebraska)
Head Coach: Mark Richt (14th year–all with VT–126-45 record)
Returning Starters: 6 Offensive/8 Defensive
The Bulldogs return nearly their entire defense and their key skill-players on offense, except QB Aaron Murray. Taking Murray’s place will be Senior Hutson Mason, who was responsible for Georgia’s come-from-behind win over in-state-rival Georgia Tech last season. Mason will need to improve his 5/3 TD/Int ratio but he has UGA’s top-2 receivers from last year, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, as well as RB Todd Gurley who gained over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and scored 16 total touchdowns. Georgia will open the season against hosting Clemson on Saturday and will travel to South Carolina in two weeks for seemingly the right to represent the East in the SEC Championship Game. They’ll host Auburn on November 15th but their other West opponent is Arkansas.
Team MVP: RB Todd Gurley – in an up-tempo offense that should spread the ball around to a lot of players, he’ll be the brightest of the bunch.
2) #9 South Carolina Game Cocks (2013: 11-2, Won Capital One Bowl vs. Wisconsin)
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (10th year at USC, 25th Overall–77-39/219-79-2 record)
Returning Starters: 8 Offensive/6 Defensive
Like I said in the note above, I had previously thought South Carolina was the second-best team in the East before last night’s loss. Their defense is much better than 680 yards allowed but they forced no turnovers, something they certainly have the ability to do, especially in the air. The Game Cocks’ offense is what will be their key this year as Mike Davis will once again lead this team. While he only had 15 yards last night, USC will look to him as well as Dylan Thompson, who will need to complete more passes (20 for 40). The real reason I have thought USC is the #2 team is their schedule. While they host Georgia on September 13th, they have to travel to Auburn (October 25th) and to Florida (November 15th) although that should be a win for Spurrier and crew.
Team MVP: RB Mike Davis – Even with the down game last night, he’ll be the key to this offense. He could still overcome his total from last season: 1,183 yards.
3) Florida Gators (2013: 4-8)
Head Coach: Will Muschamp (4th year–all with Florida–22-16 record)
Returning Starters: 7 Offensive/7 Defensive
Last year, the Gators were ranked 10th in the preseason polls and finished the season unranked and having lost seven-straight. This year, they come as the 2nd-highest “Others Receiving Votes” Team (so 27th for an intents and purposes), and where they’ll finish this year? Better. Florida stole away OC Kurt Roper from Duke which should revitalize QB Jeff Driskel and the Gators’ offense. Driskel, a dual-threat QB, needs to stay healthy and the Gators will thrive. Their rushing attack from last year remains intact and Driskel will only help. The Gators’ have to travel to Alabama (September 20th) and finish the season traveling to in-state rival Florida State on November 29th but the rest of their SEC Schedule should favor them. They’ll host LSU (October 11th), Missouri (October 18th), and South Carolina (November 15th) and will play Georgia in Jacksonville on November 1st for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. (Sidenote: I NEED to go to that at least once in my life).
Team MVP(s): The Running Backs – Mack Brown, Kelvin Taylor, and Matt Jones combined for almost 1,500 yards last year. Given a healthier roster, expect to see those numbers go up.
4) #24 Missouri Tigers (2013: 12-2, Won Little Caesars Pizza Bowl vs. Bowling Green)
Head Coach: Gary Pickel (14th year, 24th overall–102-63/175-100-3 record)
Returning Starters: 4 Offensive/4 Defensive
The Tigers barley return anyone to this year’s squad, 24 lost lettermen on top of the 14 lost starters. Maty Mauk does take over the QB spot however and if you don’t remember him, you should. While James Franklin was injured last year, Mauk tore it up tossing 11 TDs and only 2 picks but with a 51 completion percentage. What will truly hurt Mauk though, is the lack of experience in receiving. Missouri’s schedule doesn’t help either as they travel to South Carolina (September 27th), Florida (October 18th), and Texas A&M (November 15th).
Team MVP: QB Maty Mauk – This dual-threat QB will explode this season, that 51% will go up for sure.
5) Tennessee Volunteers (2013: 5-7)
Head Coach: Butch Jones (2nd year at Tenn, 8th Overall–5-7/55-34 record)
Returning Starters: 5 Offensive/5 Defensive
The Vols return their QB Justin Worley and their entire receiving core including Marquez North, long-time readers may remember his ridiculous catch against South Carolina last year. While that’s all great and everything but the problem for Tennessee is the conference they play in. They can probably win five games again because of their non-conference schedule and the two East Division teams below but that ever-important 6th win will be a tough commodity to acquire. Their road SEC schedule is: Georgia (September 27th), Ole Miss (October 18th), South Carolina (November 1st), and Vanderbilt (November 29th). The Vandy game is the only realistic win possible in that bunch but winning as the road team in the SEC is a very tough feat.
6) Vanderbilt Commodores (2013: 9-4, Won BBVA Compass Bowl vs. Houston)
Head Coach: Derek Mason (1st year HC)
Returning Starters: 6 Offensive/4 Defensive
Vanderbilt lost its head coach, James Franklin, to Penn State and he will certainly be missed in Nashville. The Commodores return most of their offensive line which should favor RB Jerron Seymour (744 yards, 14 TDs), if he can get healthy. In their season opener last night (37-7 loss vs. Temple), redshirt freshman Ralph Webb starting and rushed for 70 yards on 14 carries, although the Commodores fumbled the ball four times, on top of three picks thrown. Inconsistency is what will hurt Vandy this season.
7) Kentucky Wildcats (2013: 2-10)
Head Coach: Mark Stoops (2nd year–2-10 record)
Returning Starters: 7 Offensive/8 Defensive
Kentucky returns 17 starters and 50 lettermen from 2013, and they also have the 17th-best incoming recruiting class after being 23rd in 2013. The 8 Defensive starters will hope to improve on being the worst defense in the SEC while the Wildcats will be starting a sophomore at QB with no experience. Mark Stoops is making serious progress for this basketball school’s football program, but it’ll probably take one or two more recruiting classes to make progress in the conference.
Conference Champion: Alabama over Georgia
There’s no debate on if the SEC Champion will earn a spot in the Inaugural College Football Playoff. Instead, the debate is whether or not a second SEC team should qualify. There are a few ways this can happen: Alabama runs the table but loses in the SEC Championship Game (this is the most likely scenario) or a team’s only loss is to Alabama (provided the Tide goes undefeated) while they’ll have beaten down on their other opponents. Only Georgia and Auburn have the means and ability to complete that scenario but the winner of their meeting on November will have to really roll over the other. If say, Alabama and Auburn both have one loss just as last season, it’ll be tough to say the non-champion deserves a spot in the playoffs.