Looking Ahead: Two teams could surprise in 2014

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Had you penciled in Auburn or Missouri for the SEC Championship Game in the 2013 preseason, everyone might have called you crazy. Had you penciled in Auburn to have the biggest turnaround in college football, complete with an SEC Championship and national championship bowl berth prior to 2013, you would have been labeled out of your mind.

Related: SEC’s 2014 football schedule

But isn’t that the beauty of college football? With so much parity around the SEC landscape and a season dominated by offenses, it was time the conference had an unexpected season.

So, looking ahead to 2014, which teams have the best chance to be surprise teams? Let’s look at two:

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Florida Gators

2013 record: 4-8
2013 best win: 5-7 Tennessee
Buzz: Florida has a real opportunity to surprise everyone in 2014. All the talk surrounds Will Muschamp’s lack of offense, but what happens if Kurt Roper makes it all click? What happens if the new up-tempo, spread offense lets Jeff Driskel play his best football? Florida’s 2013 season was decimated with injuries, and the Gators should be the biggest turnaround team. 2012’s 11 wins wasn’t luck. You can’t get lucky that many times in the SEC throughout one season. We know Muschamp will put together a top-10 defense. Now, he just needs the offense to scrape together 30 points per game, which would have been tied for ninth in the conference with Ole Miss in 2013.

Florida catches Alabama and LSU next season, but it’s a great time to catch both, as the Tide and Tigers have to replace their starting quarterbacks, as does Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina. If the offense takes a nice step forward – and it doesn’t have to be 40 points per game – the Gators can win 10 games and have the SEC’s biggest turnaround.

2014 schedule

Aug 30: IDAHO
Sep 6: EASTERN MICHIGAN
Sep 13: KENTUCKY
Sep 20: at Alabama
Oct 4: at Tennessee
Oct 11: LSU
Oct 18: MISSOURI
Nov 1: vs Georgia
Nov 8: at Vanderbilt
Nov 15: SOUTH CAROLINA
Nov 22: EASTERN KENTUCKY
Nov 29: at Florida State

Related: SEC schools hit 80 in the decommit column for 2014 recruiting classes

Mississippi State

2013 record: 7-6
2013 best win: 8-5 Ole Miss
Buzz: Mississippi State quietly has a chance to turn heads in 2014. All the talk will be about LSU, Alabama and Auburn, and MSU can sneak up on some teams. There’s a strong nucleus of talent returning headlined by QB Dak Prescott. All total, the Bulldogs return 17 starters, including eight on offense and eight on defense. I love the offense with Prescott, WR Jameon Lewis, RB Josh Robinson and TE Malcolm Johnson, but the defense also will excite with DL Chris Jones, LB Benardrick McKinney, LB Matthew Wells, CB Jamerson Love and CB Justin Cox, among others.

MSU can reach nine or 10 wins in 2014, thanks to a much more manageable schedule. They may have four preseason ranked teams on next year’s schedule in LSU, Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss. On a year where Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M have to replace very key components, MSU returns experience, talent and depth to make them a real contender.

2014 schedule

Aug. 30 – SOUTHERN MISS
Sept. 6 – UAB
Setp. 13 – at South Alabama
Sept. 20 – at LSU
Oct. 4 – TEXAS A&M
Oct. 11 – AUBURN
Oct. 25 – at Kentucky
Nov. 1 – ARKANSAS
Nov. 8 – UT MARTIN
Nov. 15 – at Alabama
Nov. 22 – VANDERBILT
Nov. 29 – at Ole Miss

Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

REFERENCES

COMMENTS

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  • could be, sometimes a program has to just wipe out a playbook to get momentum back. I really think Florida has to totally re-invent an offense for it’s 2014 personnel. It could happen. Every athlete at Miss-State knows they are within reach of contention. That’s all it takes for ideas and commitment to take hold. Good Luck Gators and Bulldogs.

  • Mississippi St. can absoluley turn some heads next year. They’re fortunate to catch Kentucky and Vanderbilt from the east. Having 17 returning starters helps a ton, too. LSU will be a good measuring stick, to see just how good they can be. Florida…… They’ll always have a chance to do well. With name brand alone. At Bama and at Tenn will be the measuring sticks for this team. What identity will they take? It boils down to coaching for the Gators. If, again if, they can steady the ship they will be fine. They’ll be eager to play to say the least. Barring Oct 18th for the Gators, the best to each team.

  • I have to say that if any team deserves a bit of a schedule break it’s the Bulldogs. For a long time they have played arguably one of the toughest schedules going. Though they do play a relatively easy non conference schedule their SEC schedule has always been tenacious and really back end loaded. Next year can be a special year but gotta keep Dak healthy.

  • Florida DID get that lucky in 2012. They were a blocked punt away from losing to Louisiana- Lafayette and only beat Bowling Green by 7 pts. Look at what Louisville did to them in New Orleans. We’ll see how they do this year but adding Bama from the West plus FSU as usual won’t help. Mizzou will have Matty Mauk who is very capable, USCe will have Dylan Thompson a proven winner and all Hutson Mason needs to do at UGA is not do too many dumb things. Gurley will dominate, plus getting Marshall, Mitchel and Justin Scott-Wesley back from injury will only make the previous years record setting Offense even better. The Gator offense IMO is missing too many weapons for now. Although I see Kelvin Taylor having a break out year.

    • You don’t win 11 games by getting lucky. You just don’t. You catch breaks every now and then. Florida has the talent. They just have to find someone to utilize it. And aside from FSU, they practically hung in there with every team. Came close to defeating South Carolina on the road with a third string qb. They don’t have as far to go as most people think. They’re in better shape than AU was heading into this past season

  • I really don’t think that it should shock anyone when Florida inevitably bounces back. Last season was an injury plagued fluke. It showed a serious lack of depth talent and undermined just how good of a coach Muschamp is capable of. I think Grier will come on strong and Florida will be back in the mix in the East next season, after all, their defense isn’t going anywhere, they just needed someone under center who could control the other side of the ball. Mississippi State always has potential, I just don’t know if Dan Mullen is ever going to find a way to turn the potential into anything kinetic. I think Georgia has the potential to be the real surprise this season, as expectations for Mason are not going to be anything in the realm of Aaron Murray’s, but with Gurshall back and healthy, combined with two incoming 5-star RBs getting some touches too, and Mason showing he’s got some talent in the Nebraska game and an offseason to get himself going, Georgia may hit the ground running and never have to look back. Not to mention they are finally rid of Grantham and his inexplicable ability to make truly great talent look like mediocre players (And make a million dollars a year doing it).