Way too early SEC East predictions for 2014

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It’s never too early to look ahead to the 2014 season and make early projections, right?

Let’s gaze into the crystal ball and see what the way too early projections for the SEC East say:

Related: SEC West predictions for 2014

1. Georgia Bulldogs

Key returnees: RB Todd Gurley, RB Keith Marshall, WR Michael Bennett, WR Chris Conley, C David Andrews, DE Ray Drew, LB Ramik Wilson, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OLB Leonard Floyd, CB Damian Swann, DB Josh Harvey-Clemons

Key losses: QB Aaron Murray, OL Chris Burnette, LT Kenarious Gates, TE Arthur Lynch, DE Garrison Smith

Buzz: Yes, Aaron Murray is gone, but QB Hutson Mason gained some valuable experience playing in three games this year. It’s better to struggle against Nebraska than struggle to start 2014. With 17 of 22 returning starters, Georgia was already set up for a great year. But the addition of DC Jeremy Pruitt really put them over the edge. With 10 of 11 starters returning on defense, this could be the year Georgia puts it all together…but don’t we say that every year? The offense will be loaded, and the defense finally has a coordinator to get bodies in the right position. Georgia has to enter 2014 as the SEC East favorites. To say this is an important offseason for Hutson Mason is an understatement.

Related: Georgia’s No.1 signees over the last decade

2. South Carolina Gamecocks

Key returnees: RB Mike Davis, WR Shaq Roland, QB Dylan Thompson, OL AJ Cann, OL Brandon Shell, OL Corey Robinson, LB Skai Moore, Spur Sharrod Golightly, DB Brison Williams, DB Kadetrix Marcus

Key losses: QB Connor Shaw, WR Bruce Ellington, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Jimmy Legree, CB Vic Hampton

Buzz: You may as well pencil in South Carolina for double-digit wins next season, because they do it every year now. But the loss of Connor Shaw will prove just how good he was for Steve Spurrier’s offense, even though Dylan Thompson has great experience. However, the biggest concern will be replacing the pass rush and production of Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles along the defensive line. The offense will look different and return to a more conventional style under center with Thompson, but if the Gamecocks can find a pass rush, they should be loaded again.

Related: SEC players’ official height and weight at Senior Bowl

3. Missouri Tigers

Key returnees: QB Maty Mauk, RB Russell Hansbrough, WR Dorial Green Beckham, WR Bud Sasser, C Evan Boehm, DL Shane Ray, DL Matt Hoch, OLB/DE Markus Golden, DB Braylon Webb

Key losses: QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, WR L’Damian Washington, WR Marcus Lucas, OL Max Copeland, OL Justin Britt, DE Michael Sam, DE Kony Ealy, LB Andrew Wilson, CB EJ Gaines

Buzz: The offense has a chance to be even better next season, even though Henry Josey is gone, but the defense will be replacing some integral parts. Maty Mauk and DGB highlight the offensive returners, but replacing Kony Ealy and Michael Sam will be difficult. Then, you add in losing MLB Andrew Wilson and star corner EJ Gaines, and it becomes more daunting. While replacing the production of Sam and Ealy are crucial, the secondary may enter as the bigger question mark.

Related: Explosive freshmen duos live in the SEC

4. Florida Gators

Key returnees: QB Jeff Driskel, RB Kelvin Taylor, RB Matt Jones, OT DJ Humphries, OL Max Garcia, DE Dante Fowler, DL Jonathan Bullard, LB Antonio Morrison, LB Michael Taylor, CB Vernon Hargreaves, DB Cody Riggs

Key losses: C Jonotthan Harrison, OG Jon Halapio, DT Dominique Easley, LB Ronald Powell, CB Marcus Roberson, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, DB Jaylen Watkins

Buzz: We know Will Muschamp is going to put together a top-five defense in college football, but what we don’t know is how the offense will respond under new coordinator Kurt Roper. Like Missouri this past year, Florida is hoping to be the Missouri of 2014, posting a huge turnaround after an injury-hammered season. The Gators have a load of talent, but developing or signing an offensive homerun threat is paramount. I’m just not ready to say with the addition of Roper that QB Jeff Driskel’s game will take a major jump. I think he improves in an offense that’s built for him, but the passing game is still a worry.

5. Tennessee Volunteers

Key returnees: QB Josh Dobbs, RB Marlin Lane, WR Marquez North, WR Pig Howard, LB AJ Johnson, LB Curt Maggitt, DB Brian Randolph, CB Cam Sutton

Key losses: RB Rajion Neal, OT Ja’Wuan James, OT Tiny Richardson, OG James Stone, OG Zach Fulton, DT Daniel McCullers, DE Jacques Smith

Buzz: This will be the first year we see Tennessee take a step forward. But how much will that reflect in the record of one of the toughest schedules in the country…again? The Vols have some returning talent, but they replace all five of their offensive linemen, which is just brutal. The Vols’ major problem will be finding a quarterback for good pass catchers like Marquez North, and maybe redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson will be the answer at QB. The defense should improve, but again, it’s all about the offense and the QB scoring points in the current landscape, and that will be tough against an overall brutal schedule.

6. Vanderbilt Commodores

Key returnees: QB Patton Robinette, RB Brian Kimbrow, RB Jerron Seymour, C Joe Townsend, DE Caleb Azubike, LB Darreon Herring, LB Jake Sealand, DE Kyle Woestmann

Key losses: QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Jonathan Krause, OT Wesley Johnson, DE Walker May, MLB Chase Garnham, LB Karl Butler, CB Andre Hal, SS Javon Marshall, FS Kenny Ladler, K Carey Spear

Buzz: Vanderbilt may take a slight step back next year, not so much because of the coaching change either. There’s just so much talent leaving in Jordan Matthews, Wesley Johnson and Walker May, and the trio of CB Andre Hal, SS Javon Marshall and FS Kenny Ladler is going to be so difficult to replace. The backbone of the Commodores’ success has been the defense, and replacing those key players will be tough. Some nice players are returning, but to say they’ll finish higher right now is probably stretching it slightly. 2014 will be interesting for Vanderbilt.

Related: Kentucky will wear new all grey uniforms in 2014

7. Kentucky Wildcats

Key returnees: QB Max Smith, QB Jalen Whitlow, RB Jojo Kemp, WR Ryan Timmons, WR Javess Blue, OG Zach West, OL Darrian Miller, DE Alvin Dupree, DE Za’Darius Smith, DB Blake McClain, DB Ashley Lowery, DB Eric Dixon

Key losses: RB Raymond Sanders, DT Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble, MLB Avery Williamson

Buzz: Mark Stoops’ rebuilding job is daunting. He returns a nice nucleus of players, and he will get an added influx of talent from freshmen. QBs Max Smith or Jalen Whitlow likely won’t be starting opening week, and building out a receiving corps will be paramount for the pass-heavy offense. The defense will improve, as several guys return in 2014, and the offense has several nice young playmakers. It all comes back to the QB as to whether or not Kentucky will surprise. The Cats will improve, but how high is next season’s ceiling?

Photo Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTS

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  • And now we get to sit back and watch the SC & Mizzou fans complain about Georgia’s finish in 2013 and how this list isn’t accurate and such, while ignoring the “way to early” part of the title.

  • In 2013 three teams stayed in the hunt till late. I would say that next year 4 teams are most likely to make a run, Tennessee being one of them, because of their qb. I think South Carolina will be hard to score on again but ‘show me’ their new attack first. Georgia has to come up with both an ace qb and receiving corp, really what we saw last year more than anything was the limitations of an attack based on their brand of rushing. Then there is Missouri and they will be better than last year. They have two great quarterbacks ready. Can there pass defense get any worse? Murphy could be as good as Josey and I expect them to introduce a bruiser like James Wilder, the Sikeston, Missouri train. Will it be Steward?

    • Largely agree with your reply, I’m not sure how Hutson Mason will shape out which is a scary thought. It’s strange having uncertainty surrounding the QB position after nothing of the sort for the last 4 years. I disagree with you about the receiving corp though. Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett, Chris Conley are all back and have plenty of experience.

      • I’m a Dawg fan, but I expected them to be picked next year with all they have coming back. SC & Mizzou will be though too. I look for the gators next and then Vandy, Tennessee and Kentucky all fighting it out. Tennessee should be tougher in 2015, but they won’t be as good in 2014 as they were in 2013……

      • Thanks Dawg, The concept that a team can have a receiver corp. in only 3 men, might be more legitimate than some Missourians imagine because we’ve come to think of a receiver corp as being more like Washington, Lucas, Beckam, White, Hunt, Sasser, and about 3 more important components. So you might be right about this. But really, when I’m thinking about this, I’m also thinking about matching qbs who can deliver the balls these receivers like, ie. Franklin had more trouble dropping balls into holes from above than Mauk. Other qbs might have trouble with the precise timing a receiver might use as his best tactic.

    • Like DawgMan said, UGA won’t be lacking for receivers next year at all with Mitchell, Conley, Bennett, JSW, T. Terry & J. Rumph! Rome will be a beast at TE next year too. That, of course, is if they don’t have 100 injuries again next year….

      • Thanks Herm., this is really what I was fishing for. I appreciate the fact that GA fans are good at expressing some detailed ideas about their, always a force, Bulldawgs.

    • I really don’t see Missouri being better this season nor do I see Tennessee making a run…south Carolina was pretty easy to score on, at least for UGA…UGA will no doubt be the team to beat…hutson mason will be ready plus uga has all american Bryce Ramsey and Jacob park both top QB’s coming out of highschool

      • Last time you played at Williams Brice you scored 7 points (with what need up being one of your best offenses of all-time), and played so bad your fans egged your QBs house. Now I understand that the past means nothing, so if that is the case, them your point about USC being easy to score against is also void (it is also just dumb). You have yet to make a single objective point and rely on logic to make an argument that comes across at a 3rd grade level. But hey, you’re the same guy who doesn’t understand how to properly use any punctuation other than a string of a few periods grouped together. If UGA dominates (referring to your previous post) anywhere close to the level of your domination of simple reasoning and ability to make a sound argument, then you’re going to be in for a long season.

      • TX, there’s really no need to take shots at intelligence right now… if you can explain why you think someone is wrong then by all means. Point is, the game in Williams Brice happened, but so did the one in Sanford this year…Both these teams will have new faces and honestly I looked at Shaw as the heart and fighting soul of your team. We Georgia fans have reason to be excited– a new and competent defense is to be expected with our talent on that side of the ball.

        • Fair point, intelligence shots are wrong. Yes, both games happened, and yes there will be new faces, so the reasoning behind Harper’s post made no sense as these will be two different teams. I was trying to make a similar point to you in that it is great to have a conversation and that one should make points that actually have some depth and logic. I really enjoy having these types of conversations with fans of other schools. You are right about Shaw being a big part of our team, and he will be missed. I think Murray’s leadership was a very big part of your team too and respect him, he was a great player for UGA. I have tried to make objective points, things like UGA losing OL’s, Mason’s perceived abilities, and what seemed to be a lack of improvement on the defensive side of the ball as the season progressed. What I don’t agree with is the “Mason will be fine” and “USC was easy to score against….at least for UGA” type of talk. That brings nothing to the conversation (similar to intelligence shots that I took). I understand that USC has concerns too that need to be addressed, and am objective and unbiased enough to have a conversation about those concerns. Harper’s responses just seemed to irritate me, they are similar to what I hear from my little brother who went to FSU, and who is so biased and homered that he is unable to have a conversation about their team and any deficiencies they could may have.

      • Ok, but if you think Missouri can’t get better, I’m going to name qb, fb, te, seccondary, as obvious ways they are positioned to.

  • I really think with the addition of Pruitt and the talent we have on D and the hopeful, and i repeat hopeful, greatly improved D, that this will help the offense and put less stress on them. One of the biggest problems Georgia had was the lack of a steady D. with all that talent pretty much wasted, it hurt my soul to see the way Georgia and especially Murray ended up. But it will be an interesting year this coming year for sure! I cant wait for it. Some new players and lots of old players. gonna be fun!

  • I’d just put USC, Mizzou and UGA as 1A, 1B, and 1C. I can see UT get back up there in 2015.

  • There are reasonable questions for every team on there. UGA brings Gurley back, but they lose 2 OL and Hutson Mason didn’t look great. Teams may stack the box and make them throw. The defense struggled this year, how will they do with a new DC’s system and a starting DB sitting to start the year. USC is in the same boat with UGA on offense, both have redshirt senior QBs. Thompson has a bit more experience and 4 returning on the OL. We lose both corners and 3 on the DL that will be tough to replace. Missouri has some big losses too, will be interesting to see if they have another WR that will take some attention away from DGB, Washington will be missed for them. Wilson and Gaines will also be tough to replace. Who knows with Fla, hard to think they won’t bounce back. I actually think Tenn will take a step back, they have had good recruiting but they lose their entire OL which is very, very important. Even with talent there will be some growing pains. think it will come down to UGA, USC and Mizzou. UGA and USC get Auburn in the West, but USC gets both UGA and Mizzou at Williams Brice and pulls it out. Of course, my biased opinion. Can’t wait for the season to get here!

    • I take it that the times haven’t been scheduled yet? Pray it isn’t a night game between Georgia and South Carolina… nightmarish memories

      • Your memories of that game are probably pretty similar to my memories of our UF game 2 weeks later. I think the times come out like 10 days before as the networks select their games. Assuming CBS still has the first choice for the 3:30pm game, I imagine this will be in that slot. Looking at the other games that weekend this would seemingly be the best game, especially if UGA and USC can get past Clemson and aTm in their openers.
        http://cdn.fbschedules.com/helmets/2014-sec-helmet-schedule.pdf

    • Hutson mason looked fine…the receivers dropped a lot of passes…especially in the bowl game…they will have him ready….especially since all the receivers will be back and healthy

      • I’ve seen quite a few people, including UGA fans, express concerns about Mason. No doubt that he is familiar with the offense so the execution will be the question. To me it looked like his throwing motion was slow and the ball came out soft, almost looked like he short-arms it. Receivers drop passes, that doesn’t happen exclusively in bowl games, and losing 2 OL can hurt if you don’t have experience to put in their place. Ga Tech and Neb (bowl game) are much different than a SEC road game. Not saying he won’t or can’t get the job done, but he is far from a lock to be a solid QB next season.

  • I pretty much agree with this list. I’d swap Tennessee and Florida, but other than that it’s pretty solid.

  • The Gator’s have Talent, their season depends on Muschamp learning how to be a head coach.

  • it’s really difficult to pick who out of the top 3 is really number one. I like it SC except Tyler has really been inconsistent I thought. but he does have the experience and he does have some success. I expect Georgia to be a ground and pound team and I think how their defense plays will be the key for them. Missouri is still loaded at wide receiver and running back. but we definitely need some good 2s to step up on defense everywhere but DT I think our DB’s are going to be ok especially with singleton playing more and the experience the young guys got this year. I think we got our three linebackers but we need 2s. and we got startingDE’s we definitely need some backups there. so like Georgia I think our defense is going to be key this year on how far we go.

    • You nailed it spot on for Thompson. He has won big games and played great at times, but he has also had some poor outings. You can blame that on sporadic playing time (hard to get in a rythm) but that is no excuse for the level that these guys play at. If USC is going to win the East, he will need to get much more consistent. Hoping the work he puts in over the next 8 months will help with that. All of the teams have some questions, this division is definitely up for grabs and there for the taking.

      • I think if Mike Davis doesn’t fumble on the goal line, DT looks a lot better in the Mizzou game.

        • Agree. I was at the game, I didn’t think he looked terrible at all. A few balls sailed on him but we just couldn’t get it going, lost a ton of momentum on turnovers. Once we got the first TD the defense was jacked up, just needed something positive to happen. I think he will do well, especially with Pharoah Cooper and the wildcat to change the pace a bit.

        • Good point but almost everybody who played Missouri said things like this and it discounts real coach/team strategy and work on forced turnovers. bend-not-break defenses thrrive on multiple opportunities and the predictability that comes in the red zone.

    • Georgia will be a well balanced team on offense like they have been in Yrs pass we have all our great receivers coming back …and Gurley does just as good in the passing game as he does in the run game so does Marshall and both should be one hundred percent… I say GA dominants the east

    • How many games will DGB sit or will he even be on the team? I read a police report and article about him being pulled over in a car that contained 1 lb. of pot. Someone was planning to sell it. His first offense was in 2012–caught smoking by police, but the charge was reduced to 2nd degree trespassing. That seemed strange. What is the word out there about him? Can’t imagine he was clueless that there was pot in the car –the car smelled like pot to the cops. Surely this one doesn’t get swept under the rug.

  • but it feels fantastic to be part of the conversation this year

  • We should be the favorite to win the east. The depth behind TG3 should be stacked with two 5 star studs coming in as freshman. Don’t be suprised if Marshall Redshirts though in order to fully heal. Can we keep Money Mitchell healthy? People have forgotten what kind of weapon this guy is. Can Mason do the job? I look for Bobo to get creative and come up with some spread option packages for Bauta as well. Could be interesting.
    The Pruitt hire has given Dawg Nation some new enthusiasm on defense but how much improvement can we expect in year one? I say a lot considering the amount of talent he’s inherited. Looking at the schedule I’d say if Mason doesn’t blow we’ve got a great shot at a title run this year. Sic Em!

    • your lack of depth killed you last year, are you sure you have any this year?

      • We didn’t have a lack of depth last year. We had a young defense and went through three strings at RB and WR. Very few teams have a top-notch 4th string at those positions.

      • Exactly…depth certainly wasn’t the issue…losing 7 of your top ten offensive weapons for multiple games killed us. And our secondary being lost and confused the entire season didn’t help. Special Teams was a disaster as usual. Hope they get that addressed finally.

        • This idea is one of the best discussions fans could have. What is depth? If teams have 85 scholarhips. That’s potentially a starter in every class. and how much should a coach sub and develop #2,3,4? I’ll say this much, if Missouri should blame 2012 on a lack of depth then Georgia should in 2013, but maybe neither team really had lack of depth as the most limiting factor, I’m ready to be shown the light here?

  • I agree with others in that the top 3 or 4 are interchangeable. Vandy will go back to mediocrity without Franklin. Florida can pretty much put together an Auburn-like run any given year, but with the 3rd OC in like 4 years and losing so many players, I believe they’ll have another below average or average-at-best year. Tennessee is a wild card, but I don’t think they have a quality QB who can put together a good year overall. UK is UK.
    Bottom line, two big IFS for UGA: IF Mason can be just solid and IF the D improves, we’re poised for a good year.

    • we were told you were a next man up League. and we were told that when we suffered all our injuries on the OL the year before.

      • And your point is…?

        • OK, and I think UGA held up a little better than MIZZOU did last year despite ALOT more injuries to KEY players. When 3rd and 4th string running backs are starting games and you are down to receivers number 7,8,9 and still managing to win games, I would say that IS “next man up”. No team in the SEC has the depth to endure the number of key playmaker injuries that our guys had, and still make a run at a title. Not even Bama, the deepest team in the nation. Just wasnt in the cards. Looks like we have a budding little rivalry with MIZZOU though, and that makes me smile. I like that.

        • I actually agree that Georgia had unique players that couldn’t be replaced in their scheme. and this is why some SEC media and fans shortchanged Missouri in 2012, ie. Murphy was good in 2012 but Josey would have been better. Franklin could not be replaced by Berk, because Berk didn’t want to run. And the offensive line was just over-whelmed with serious injuries. So now I think fans of both teams are smarter about what depth really is and what is possible to overcome and what is not.

  • I have to think that we will be light on injuries next year, just out of pure luck. That is, unless there is something BAD wrong in our strength and conditioning coaching. I think this year was just plain bad luck and even worse timing. Alot of people are forgetting that Mason nearly beat out Murray for the starting job two years. He will be fine. People pointed to the fact he looked nervous in the Tech game. OF COURSE he was nervous, it was his first start after waiting 4 whole years….who wouldnt be a bit too amped up. He settled down and had a great game overall. Full offseason knowing he is the starter and giving Bobo time to adjust the offense to the uptempo that suits Mason better? Could be very dangerous. I will be very optimistic until proven wrong. Now for those who point to the bowl game? That was just a beat down, injury riddled team coming off of a severely disappointing season who had no interest in playing in the rain soaked “thanks for coming” bowl. To say that Nebraska is/was a better team is just wrong. I personally have high hopes this year and I hope my fellow Dawg fans do as well.

    • You should have Georgia is a great program, well coached, with a super roster. The power of the whole SEC East is vastly under-rated. It is one of the most skilled and physically well maned divisions in the history of the NCAA. Fans just take this for granted without understanding that their great team can lose multiple games in such an amazing division every year.