SEC East Preview

WHAT SURPRISES AWAIT IN THIS YEAR’S WIDE OPEN SEC “EAST” DIVISION RACE
SEC WEST REALLY COULD GET WILD IN 2014 WITH NEW QB’S UNDER THE GUN

The SEC East used to be so easy to understand. Florida was going to enter every season as the favorite. Georgia was going to be knocking on the door. South Carolina was going to be a capable spoiler that didn’t quite have the depth to be a true college superpower. Maybe Tennessee was going to be a threat…maybe not. And, then you had Kentucky and Vanderbilt as annual patsies.

Now…Florida’s program has COLLAPSED under disappointing head coach Will Muschamp. Georgia keeps “just missing” its destiny, and must now rebuild with a new quarterback. South Carolina is still an annual spoiler, but now better positioned because of Florida’s collapse and Georgia’s missteps. And, out of the blue, MISSOURI from the Big 12 is suddenly a force to be reckoned with.

Missouri was supposed to get crushed in its transition…as a finesse team from a league of soft defenses to a power league of teams with physical defenses. Instead, it was the Tigers shocking the world in 2013 with an East Division Crown…and it’s the Tigers who are being picked by many pundits to repeat in 2014!

The SEC West has been such a dramatic part of the National Championship picture in recent seasons. A representative didn’t win last season…but Auburn came oh-so-close against Florida State…on the heels of Alabama’s multiple titles.

The best of the division will once again be in the national title discussion. But, things could really get WILD in league play long before that even becomes an issue:

*Auburn is in a letdown spot after a huge surprise season
*Alabama will have a new starting quarterback
*LSU will have a new starting quarterback
*Texas A&M will have a new starting quarterback
*Ole Miss and Mississippi State both return effective starting quarterbacks, which could launch them up into the mix in dramatic fashion.

That’s the most volatile mix from any division in 2014. Let’s dig a little deeper in our GRAND FINALE preview from our summer series of college football conference discussions.

Let’s see what the numbers have to say. Remember that returning starter data comes from the respected Athlon publication.

SEC East

Missouri
2013 Record: 12-2
2013 Rankings: 16 on offense, 81 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Gary Pinkel
Notebook: You can see that graduation took its toll on the Tigers. Sophomore quarterback Matty Mauk saw plenty of action last year, and looks poised to unleash the full force of his potential at the helm in 2014. Can he make up for all of the lost personnel? A soft early schedule only provides a road game at Toledo as a true test (though it’s possible Central Florida or Indiana could make things interesting in Columbia). The newcomers have a chance to gel before the SEC opener at South Carolina on September 27. Will the de facto Eastern Championship game be played in September?! JIM HURLEY is concerned about the defense given last year’s poor ranking and this year’s new starters.

South Carolina
2013 Record: 11-2
2013 Rankings: 36 on offense, 19 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier
Notebook: Quarterback Dylan Thompson has never been “the man” during his Gamecock career, but he has a lot of experience because Spurrier’s quarterbacks tend to get injured! That will probably happen to Thompson too at some point. You can’t keep asking you signal callers to take so many hits. Carolina has the most offensive experience returning, and the program has been solid on defense ever since Spurrier returned from the NFL. They’d better be ready to start fast with Texas A&M, Georgia, and Missouri coming to visit before October! An unlucky schedule draw sends them to Auburn in late October.

Georgia
2013 Record: 8-5
2013 Rankings: 17 on offense, 45 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 10 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Notebook: Aaron Murray is gone. Senior Hutson Mason didn’t really impress in the Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska. That’s why so many pundits are skeptical about the Bulldogs even though 10 starters return on defense. The first two games against Clemson at South Carolina will set the tone for the season. Great to have a conference with so many big early games to talk about! Like South Carolina, Georgia has to face defending SEC champs Auburn in cross-divisional play. We will pick our spots with this team, particularly if Mason holds his own early.

Vanderbilt
2013 Record: 9-4
2013 Rankings: 93 on offense, 23 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Derek Mason
Notebook: There’s a perception that former head coach James Franklin was the single most important key to the program’s recent turnaround. He’s now the head coach at Penn State. That fact, plus the extremely low numbers of returning starters may be setting up a return to doormat status for the Commodores. A home game against Ole Miss on September 6 will tell us a lot. For now, we’re skeptical about this team coming anywhere near last year’s 9-4 success story.

Florida
2013 Record: 4-8
2013 Rankings: 113 on offense, 8 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Will Muschamp
Notebook: It’s a minor miracle that Muschamp kept his job after going 4-8 last year and losing a November home game to Georgia Southern. It’s certainly now or never. The defense will still be great. Can the offense improve with so little experience back? Jeff Driskel is a decent threat at quarterback when healthy. JIM HURLEY’S in-house Power Ratings have Florida ahead of Vandy even though Athlon doesn’t. Three tune-ups lead into an October 20 game at Alabama. Bad luck to also draw LSU in cross-divisional play.

Tennessee
2013 Record: 5-7
2013 Rankings: 102 on offense, 83 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Butch Jones
Notebook: Last year’s schedule was brutal. Highlights included an upset of South Carolina, and taking Georgia to overtime in a tough loss. But, also on the slate were Oregon, Auburn, Alabama, and the best from this division. You have to stay skeptical until the new starters show something. They’ll get a chance to do that with Utah State, Oklahoma, and Georgia on the schedule before October.

Kentucky
2013 Record: 2-10
2013 Rankings: 107 on offense, 91 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Stoops
Notebook: The Wildcats were awful last year, with their only wins coming over Alabama State and a horrible Miami of Ohio team. There’s room to improve and still trail the rest of the pack. There may be some value spots early in the season before the undersized athletes run out of gas.

We’re looking at what should at least be an entertaining race…and what could conceivably be a fantastic race if Georgia and Florida can get into the picture.

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SEC West

Alabama
2013 Record: 11-2
2013 Rankings: 33 on offense, 5 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Notebook: This season will provide a true test of whether or not Alabama can just “reload” after losing a lot of talent. Only three starters return to what is typically a fantastic defense. A new quarterback takes over with the departure of AJ McCarron. Last year’s team was 11-0 until losing their season finale in stunning fashion to Auburn, and then no-showing the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma. How far will the Tide fall from possibly “uncrowned” champion to being “the hunted” in a division full of revenge-minded rivals? The schedule looks pretty easy until November for all the new starters on the block.

Auburn
2013 Record: 12-2
2013 Rankings: 11 on offense, 86 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn
Notebook: Auburn is the only team not to have revenge against Alabama, but they’ll be fired up for their rival anyway in the season finale. Between now and then, Auburn will have a very tough September trip to Kansas State, October home games against LSU and South Carolina, and then November challenges at Ole Miss and at Georgia. This team could actually improve a bit from last year but drop as many games because of a tough schedule. Quarterback Nick Marshall returns…and he sure was a handful for opponents from midseason on. Can he continue to outscore what this disappointing defense will allow?

LSU
2013 Record: 10-3
2013 Rankings: 35 on offense, 15 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Les Miles
Notebook: Zack Mettenberger is gone at quarterback. A season opener vs. Wisconsin in Houston will provide a quick early test. September might as well be one long bye month before challenges pick up again. Easy to see this team closing strong if the new quarterback can get his bearings by midseason. The number of returning starters is high enough to assume continuing quality, but low enough to raise at least a few questions.

Texas A&M
2013 Record: 9-4
2013 Rankings: 4 on offense, 109 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin
Notebook: No more Johnny Football! Manziel is now in the NFL, and man-oh-man are Aggies fans worried about how this season is going to go. Last year’s defense was horrific…so returning a lot of starters may not be much of a positive. Can the offense succeed with a new quarterback? Tough opener at South Carolina before a relative vacation until mid-October. A&M will face Alabama, Auburn, and LSU in alternate matchups over the last five games. JIM HURLEY will be watching that season opener very closely. Things could get bleak very quickly if the offense loses a few steps and the defense still can’t tackle anybody.

Mississippi State
2013 Record: 7-6
2013 Rankings: 42 on offense, 18 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Dan Mullen
Notebook: The Dan Mullen era has largely fizzled after some early promise. But, the stage is set for something very positive this year. You’ve just read that many in this division will be breaking in new quarterbacks. Dak Prescott returns for the Bulldogs, who return eight starters on both sides of the ball. An easy first three games leads into a road battle at LSU on September 20. Then A&M and Auburn are on top in October, before Alabama shows up on the schedule in mid-November. That kind of spacing creates a chance to avoid a physical wear-down. This is definitely a team that should be on your “value” radar entering the new campaign.

Mississippi
2013 Record: 8-5
2013 Rankings: 21 on offense, 38 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 9 on defense
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze
Notebook: Ole Miss is another team that can rise up and make headlines thanks to returning quarterback Bo Wallace. You can see that the offense ranked #21 last year while playing in a league with a lot of good defenses. They do lose some experience on that side of the ball, but could have an even better defense this season. They can make a statement in a season opener against Boise State in Atlanta. The home slate includes both Alabama and Auburn in league play. You know Coach Freeze would love a signature home upset of one of those teams. Pay attention to the Mississippi schools this year!

Arkansas
2013 Record: 3-9
2013 Rankings: 99 on offense, 76 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Bret Bielema
Notebook: The Hogs were a huge disappointment in Bielema’s first year after coming over from Wisconsin. They started 3-0 but ended 3-9…and that included some very ugly losses. You can see that graduation hurt. Quarterback play is going to be a big problem, making it hard to chase down the Mississippi schools from behind. Probably another rebuilding year before Bielema can get all of his ducks in a row. They may have the talent to catch a conference foe napping once lookaheads and letdowns come into play later in league action. 

That wraps up our July look at college football. August brings our NFL divisional previews, which kick off Sunday with the NFC East to get you ready for the Hall of Fame game. With regular season football now just a month away, you should be building bankroll with daily baseball. You can purchase BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about baseball or football service, call us at 1-800-323-4453.

Here’s this week’s schedule in the NOTEBOOK…

Friday: MLB Series Preview: Milwaukee at St. Louis
Saturday: MLB Big Game Preview: either Seattle at Baltimore or LAA at Tampa Bay
Sunday: NFC East Preview to get you ready for the NYG vs. Buffalo in the Hall of Fame Game!
Monday: MLB Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels at the Los Angeles Dodgers!
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview: either Detroit at NYY, or SF at Milwaukee

Key handicapping information in the NOTEBOOK, and then BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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