Six SEC teams could emerge as national championship contenders in 2014


Take a breath, SEC fans.

The BCS era dominated by the SEC is officially over, and we usher in the College Football Playoff next season, as well as the SEC Network starting in August.

RELATED: 18 SEC underclassmen have already declared early

The landscape around the SEC will undoubtedly change in 2014, as several starting quarterbacks and superb offensive talent will have graduated or declared for the NFL Draft, and I expect the league to resume its defensive moniker we’ve come to know and love.

It’s never too early to start talking about the 2014 season, right? Here are six early contenders to at least make it into the new College Football Playoff:

RELATED: 2014 SEC football schedules

Alabama Crimson Tide

Buzz: Nick Saban loses AJ McCarron and MLB CJ Mosley for sure, two veterans of his team, while he returns tremendous talent at the offensive skill positions. His defense is stacked with talent, but Saban is going to have to find a way to get better at developing corners who have better ball skills. The schedule works in the Tide’s favor again, as they have four true road games and get Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn at home.
Biggest question: Who will replace QB AJ McCarron?

RELATED: Meet 13-member selection committee who will determine the 4 best teams

Auburn Tigers

Buzz: Regardless of what Tre Mason decides to do, Auburn returns one of the few veteran quarterbacks in the SEC in Nick Marshall. The defense will only get better, as there is a ton of young talent with returning experience. Give Gus Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee and Ellis Johnson another offseason, and this team will be even better in 2014. They should enter as the favorites in the SEC. But Auburn’s schedule is tougher next season, with road trips to Kansas State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama.
Biggest question: How much will Nick Marshall’s passing game evolve?

Georgia Bulldogs

Buzz: Georgia returns 17 of 22 starters in 2014, but they lose QB Aaron Murray and three starting offensive linemen. The defense returns 10 starters with another offseason in Todd Grantham’s young but very talented defense. QB Hutson Mason takes over the reigns of the explosive and balanced UGA defense, and Todd Gurley returns as arguably college football’s best running back. The schedule starts out tough again against top 25 teams Clemson and South Carolina, but they trade LSU for Arkansas in the SEC West, and Auburn travels to Athens.
Biggest question: How much will the defense improve under Todd Grantham?

LSU Tigers

Buzz: LSU is a program that’s an annual championship contender because of their stacked talent, and I’ll admit it, they are the biggest stretch of the six. The Tigers have recruited well, but the NFL Draft looks like it will hit the Tigers again. QB Anthony Jennings takes over the reigns from Zach Mettenberger, and offensive production from Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry will have to be replaced. The defense has young talent that needs to be developed, but the Tigers will be a force once again. LSU always plays one of the toughest schedules in the SEC, and next year they travel to Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M, along with playing Wisconsin to open the season.
Biggest question: How/who will LSU replace production from Mettenberger, Landry and Beckham?

Missouri Tigers

Buzz: Don’t look now, but Missouri should be a major contender next season, too. Mizzou isn’t going anywhere, especially with QB Maty Mauk taking over for James Franklin, where the offense could perceivably be more explosive. Dorial Green-Beckham returns, along with very capable running backs not named Henry Josey, and we know Dave Steckel will put together another solid defense, but he’ll have to replace DEs Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, along with MLB Andrew Wilson and CB EJ Gaines. The schedule isn’t too nasty in 2014, playing Texas A&M and Arkansas from the West, and they travel to South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.
Biggest question: Who will replace Kony Ealy and Michael Sam’s production?

South Carolina

Buzz: South Carolina continues to be the quietest 11-win team in college football, and it’s just the way the Gamecocks want to enter 2014 – under the radar. Although they lose Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, Bruce Ellington and Victor Hampton, there’s a strong nucleus of young talent returning, and RB Mike Davis will headline the offense. A strong offensive line returns, along with QB Dylan Thompson, who has serious game experience entering his senior year. If the Gamecocks replace the pass rush, look out. The schedule gets tougher next year by playing Texas A&M and Auburn in the West, but they host Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee.
Biggest question: What’s a bigger concern: replacing Shaw or replacing three defensive linemen, including Clowney and Quarles?

But who saw Auburn and Missouri playing in Atlanta this year? The SEC will keep us living on every Saturday once again in 2014.

Photo Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports



You must be logged in to post a comment. Please sign in or register

  • Gotta disagree on the biggest stretch… have to say it’s South Carolina. Not that they won’t be good, I’d wager they will be. But they’d have been a stretch going into this year and they’re losing their two best players… not just the two best players on this team but perhaps the two best players to ever play at Carolina save for maybe Rogers and Sharpe. But these two (Shaw and Baby Jesus) played together on the same team on opposite sides of the ball. Their losses will not be overcome easily.

    • You make some good points as they have a lot of talent to replace but I have to disagree with you. USC will return 8/11 and 19/22 on offense, and 6/11 and 14/22 on defense. Lots of talent coming back plus some JUCOs and talented recruits who will come in ready to play. Dylan Thompson is a 5th year senior who has won big games as a starter on the road (Clemson 2012) and has been around and knows Spurrier’s offense and will be able to step in, especially with an experienced offensive line and Mike Davis to hand off to (which will help with the passing game). No easy task, but with 14 returnng starters and a lot of experience for those jumping into the lineup, they will be good and will compete. They do play at Auburn, but get UGA, Mizzou and Tenn at home which is a huge advantage,

      Just as many questions for USC as most of the other teams on this list as there are some pretty big talent losses that the other teams also face. With the playoff coming and the high likelihood for the SEC to put two teams in the playoff, they will have a chance to make it in even with a loss.

      Can’t wait for next season to start, I am already bored. It will be a good one, lots of interesting storylines that will be taking place.

    • And to compare the losses for other teams – and this is not knocking any of them:

      UGA – Loses their QB and 3 OL which are extremely important. Protection for a new QB is huge and USC will have an advantage with the OL coming back. Gurley is a stud but even the best RB needs a good line. Their defense is young, but did it improve like it should’ve throughout the season?

      Mizzou – Loses their QB, best RB, 2 WRs, 2 DEs, LB, and CB. They have good players to step in as well, keep an eye on the attention DGB gets next year without Washington to draw some attention, I thought he was very good for them and will be missed. DGB may see a safety over the top every play. Mauk is good, but he is also the go for broke type of QB and completed about 50% of his passes this year, a QB like that can struggle if the big play isn’t happening.

      LSU – Loses their QB and 2 WRs, They are always losing talent to the NFL.

      USC is in the same boat as all of them, I don’t think any better/worse situation. I expect all of them to be good, we are all losing some great players and will have new ones stepping up. Auburn with their style of offense and Nick Marshall coming back, may be the preseason favorite and is hard to argue against.

      • Agreed, all the teams have strengths, weaknesses and questions. My only point to USC’s being a stretch is although they will almost certainly be good… I don’t think they’re Natinal Championship material. Don’t even think they’ll be in consideration for the playoffs come November. And as you said, that’s not a knock. Only 4 teams will be. Could they get a Nick Marshall type season form someone? Sure, but it’s a stretch. There is only one team on the list that is a National Title contender, Auburn. Not my Dawgs and not your Cocks. The reason I commented was because of the label “biggest stretch”. The Cocks are the biggest to me because they lose two elite players and a slew of others. Ellington will be tough to replace for you guys… he was a hoss that stepped up in big moments. UGA loses one that most outside the program said was a liability not an asset (I never did understand the lask of respect for Murray but that’s another story), has a maturing defense that yes believe it or not did get better. Didn’t get as much publicity as the offensive injuries but the defense had a ton of them too. All totaled, UGA’s started missed 45 games… insane. Bama loses a ton, so they’re on this list just because of reputation and momentum. Missouri, magical season but mainly only because UGA, UF, UT, & USC struggled at the same time. That won’t happen again next year, MO loses 4 maybe 5 games, all in conference. So yes we’re all a stretch except for the team that played for it this year that returns most every player of significance… I’m just convinced USC is the ‘biggest’ stretch. Like you though, I can’t wait to find out.

        • Missouri did not JUST have their magical season because UGA, UF, UT, and USC struggled. If you remember, we lost to USCar. We beat UGA in Athens, and despite their offensive injuries, they didn’t have any injuries on defense. UF may have been injured, but they had one of the worst offenses in the league, are you blaming that on injuries too? Missouri got NO respect the first season because we lacked depth and weren’t ready to play with the big boys. Our team comes back, works hard and has a stellar season and it’s called “magical” as if it was a fluke. Look at Missouri’s history, even in the Big 12 — Gary Pinkel takes 2 and 3 star recruits and builds them into great players. Henry Josey is a perfect example — no one wanted him because he was too small. Now, declaring for the draft he’s had two 1,000 yard seasons. Missouri will be back next year with just as much determination as this year, if not more. We will be just fine with Maty Mauk, Markus Golden, DGB, and Marcus Murphy stepping up. Replacing Gaines, Andrew Wilson, Ealy, and Sam will be hard … but I have faith. MIZ!

        • Agree with Hal. Kristin, Mizzou had a solid team this year. Next year, Matty Mauk will be terrific combined with DGB. That said, the stars aligned in the east this year in a way that won’t always be. One issue that keeps a lot of people from giving Mizzou respect is their schedule. For some reason, Pinkel has a history of booking way too many FCS/cupcake teams on the front half of the schedule. We all play one or two throughout a season, Mizzou plays more. If UGA had played Mizzou in the first three weeks of the season (or plays a heavy cupcake schedule the first few weeks), we beat Mizzou. In football there are injuries, but rarely the likes that UGA and FL saw this year. For UGA, all on one side of the ball and three strings deep. FL’s injuries were far worse. Much like I didn’t walk away from the Dawgs victory over the Gators thinking we had really done something, most of the Tiger fans I know (and I know a lot) thought they lucked out playing on our most injury-riddled week. You have talent, but I don’t agree that you have more talent than UGA. No.

        • Kristin, you’re a fan which is short for fanatical. If you don’t think UGA had injuries on defense you’re wrong there as well. All totaled there were 7 different starting line-ups in the secondary alone during the season. UGA had 49.5 games missed by starters… it was insane. Next year you start with 4 cupcakes (to 4Dawgs point–4!) then you play the entire East between Sep 27 & Nov 22… you will most likely drop 3 of those. If you don’t think injuries played a part on our game with Mizz then explain how you lost to a team at home that we’d beaten by 10+ 4 weeks before. Recall Gurley misses your game. If he plays your offense never sees the ball lol… as it were you were rewarded when a true Fr fumbled twice on the way in to score. Those are the breaks and it takes some luck to win anything but if you’re going to go into a discussion like this you should do your best to be objective. Just like 4Dawgs I wasn’t impressed with our victory at UF although we were both decimated with injuries. I also called our team a big stretch to be in the discussion for the natty. That’s trying to be real, not believe lol… I believe in our team but that wasn’t what this thread was about. Mizz is a good team, and y’all will have a good season I’m sure. But you’re a stretch being on this list just like we are, only you’re just a tad more of a stretch.

        • Didn’t read much of your post, but did notice your use of the transitive property to try to justify that UGA was better than Mizzou. Sorry, Hal, it doesn’t work that way. In 2012 , USC stomps UGA by 4 TDs and loses to Florida by 4 TDs, same team that UGA beat. Using your logic, then was USC better than Florida since they beat UGA (who beat FL)?

        • No Gamecock I did not. Read slower and more completely before you decide to take on a comment… I’m simply rebuffing the idea that UGA didn’t have injuries and that the injuries didn’t play a role. I used the USC game as an indicator that Mizzou played a much different and much more hobbled UGA team than USC saw. The two games you mentioned only cement the notion that there is parity among the top and neither or us can explain what happened to our respective teams those two nights we got whipped so badly by teams we’re so evenly matched with. But that was a different year entirely and we couldn’t say much for injuries. Both UF and UGA were destroyed by injuries this year, look for that to rebound a bit. USC will be very good again and UT impressed me this year and they really impressed you I bet. So, assuming that between UF, UGA, USC, and UT 3 of the 4 are very good… what will Mizzou’s record be at years end? I could see losses to all 4 (UGA is the only home game for them) and to Texas A&M. It’s a simple notion really, they’re a very good program that the stars aligned for this year. If you don’t believe me answer this… when was the last time a team with the 10th defense in the league played for the championship?

        • Hal, You don’t know much about Missouri’s depth or you wouldn’t try to make a case against them. Morgan Steward is their biggest strongest running back. He single handedly ran out the clock by getting a dozen first downs against TN, Murphy is a lot like Josey, and Hansborough might turn out to be better than Josey and Murphy. Missouri has a lot of receivers coming back. Neither line is going to drop in quality next year. I’ll through you a bone here for your case. Missouri has never had a GREAT pass defense, but they improved some in 2013

        • Jesus H Christ guys lol… I did NOT make a case against Mizzou. I very simply said the stars aligned nicely for them this year in a way they most like won’t next year. It’s as simple as that. Never said they weren’t good this year, or wouldn’t be next year. I do say they are not “elite”. They weren’t elite this year, they beat several teams that were down on their luck when they played them that are normally elite. The only team Mizzou played that was at full strength was Carolina and Carolina beat them. What I did say was that UGA, UF, UT & USC will almost certainly be better than Mizzou provided the injury bug doesn’t hit this coming year the way it did this past year. Jones has UT believing and they’ll be better. They nearly got UGA, the did get USC who bear Mizzou so UT will be better. If Todd Gurley plays against Mizzou this year in Athens UGA would have won by 10. I’ve never seen a team so destroyed by injuries as Florida was when you played them. So yes, you had a nice season and you are a very good program and YES you will be relevant and you will compete. You will likely beat one or two of the traditional powers and that may well be my dawgs but it also means you’ll probably lose to two of us as well. Look at your schedule, you have a brutal stretch of the east with all but 1 on the road. You’ll compete and have a fine year I’m sure. But you’re still a stretch to even play in Atlanta let alone the conversation for the national championship guys and that’s not an insult… you’re looking up at some damn good programs.

  • Don’t discount MSU quite yet. For the first time in Dan Mullen’s tenure… we won a game that we were trailing to start the fourth quarter. And we did it in back to back weeks. It seems like MSU is finally learning how to not just compete, but win. If they get hot early and come away with a win in LSU week 4… they could contend all the way. I feel like two one-loss SEC teams will be alive at the end to get in the playoff. So, MSU has a very legitimate shot of making it through the gauntlet of the SEC. The kicker is to win that game against LSU.

    • We can beat every team we are playing next year. Will we? I doubt it… but I am excited.

    • 36-28 overall, 16-24 in conference and haven’t won against a ranked opponent since 2010 under Mullen. Only 9 of his 36 wins were against opponents (not including FCS) with a winning record. Keep drinking/smoking whatever it is they’re passing around in Starkghanistan (“swag juice?”)

      • And this team is shaping up to be the best team Mullen has had at MSU. Let’s remember that UM’s only ranked win came against LSU. Other than that, who did they beat?

    • Dude y’all were 5-6 going into the Egg Bowl & needed 5 Ole Miss turnovers to squeak by on your home turf. You’re not going to be in the playoff next year. Just shoot for 7 wins…..

    • Mississippi State had a NASTY schedule this year but they played Oklahoma State, Auburn, Alabama and A&M tough. LSU was their only bad loss IMO. They shut down our offense at South Carolina pretty well but the turnovers got them. LSU on the other hand was in Starkville.

      I don’t know much about the Bulldogs but if they’re no losing much then they may be a big surprise in 2014.

  • South Carolina will need a better quarterback than their back up this year. if they get a good quarterback they’ll be the team to beat

    • OK, you weren’t around for the 2012 season when Dylan Thompson made sure Carolina stayed relevant while Connor Shaw was hurt, so I’ll cut you some slack (especially since most of what you saw in Thompson was likely his worst game ever against Missouri in 2013). He certainly is not the best QB in the SEC, but he is pretty good (he has vied with Connor Shaw for the starting position for the last 2 years). Whether he steps up and becomes great by being the primary QB at Carolina is yet to be seen, but don’t count him out – he’s a real contender. That much being said, I think Auburn, Missouri, and Bama are likely to be the best bets and who knows who will take the reins at QB form Bama?).

      • Oh, wait – you WERE around for 2012 – my bad….

      • Good points GA. Dylan definitely needs to improve, but with what USC coming back he doesn’t have to be the best QB in the SEC. He will have a very good offense around him. he has more experience than any of those who will QB the six teams above except for Nick Marshall.

      • Mizzou has a definite need at LB, DE (2’s), and OL. I think we will contend but not win the east

        • I think the east is SC’ s to lose. and will Georgia bounce back that well? come on now. I know Mizzou did but really we had better talent this yr with more exp and a much better leadership I’m on players. it wasn’t just the injuries.

    • Better based on what? He’s 3-0 as a starter and bailed Shaw out post-injury in a 2012 game. If you’re basing your assessment based on the fact that he didn’t score in the Zou you were paying attention to all the wrong things. Despite it being thus far his only conference game start, he completed 15 passes for 222 yards in less than 3 quarters of work, a brilliant effort given it was his only start of the season. Three straight drives ending in turnovers (two by Mike Davis, not him) are the only reason Mizzou was able to open up such a large lead in that game.

      • Mauk wet the bed in the 2nd half of the USC vs Mizzou game far worse than Thompson did in the first three quarters.

        • Point of the last post was not to knock on Mauk, I think both he and Thomspn will be good QB for their team next year and play well. Point was that basing an opinion of a QB from a single game is not reflective of the QBs that either of them will be next year.

    • Shaw and Thompson have a different touch on their throws which is party why I think our receivers were dropping passed in the Missouri game. Maybe is was a momentum thing but either way Thompson has looked exception other times when we needed him. IE Clemson 2012 and Michigan 2012.

      My concern is how he will perform against the elite defenses like LSU and Florida. He’s not afraid to sling it into coverage which looks great sometimes but it the type of thing that loses close games in the forth quarter.

      The ole ball coach had to work with Shaw because he could be too conservative at times. Maybe he’ll have to work with Thompson being too quick to throw into coverage. A team like Vandy will sneak up and beat us otherwise.

  • Playoffs? You wanna talk about playoffs?

  • Your first 29 games vs teams ranked that year, you win 16.
    Your next 29 games vs teams ranked that year, you win 7.

    Which coach lost 13 of his first 29 games vs teams ranked that year,
    and since in his current 29 games vs teams ranked that year, lost 22 ?

    29 games his 1st seven years as coach
    29 games since, now this up-coming season also 7 years, the 2nd half his career.

    So bad 2008 through now six seasons :

    2-13 vs year ranked Top 10

    7-22 vs year ranked Top 25

    26-1 vs non-Bowl teams(Colorado), but only 28-25 vs Bowl teams

    12-19 vs game ranked

    We beat the non-bowl teams all but Colorado 3 years’ ago, otherwise we suck. If you think this is not sucking, you’re a homer and therefore you’re the reason why we’re no good because you do not spur your team on to greatness by telling them they are, when I assure you crying on the sidelines they know they’re not.

    Given the # 2 best average and Rival recruiting rankings all 13 seasons as verified by # 2 NFL Draft Picks actually tied at # 1 with Southern California both having 79 each, this is especially poor coaching.

    Let me say that again :

    ESPECIALLY POOR COACHING 6 years now of 54-26

    Made up of 26-1 non-bowl teams, 2-13 top 10, 7-22 top 25, 3 not top 25 years of last 5 now.

    What the hell happened to us ? telling us how great we are ?

    I mean what happened to us ?

    Once .8077, now we’re .6750 beating non-bowl teams.

    Once 16-13 vs ranked teams that year 2001-2007

    Only 07-22 vs ranked teams that year 2008-2013

    Let me spell this out for you.

    Mark Richt 1st half career here 29 games ranked teams that year : 16 wins
    Mark Richt 2nd half career here 29 games ranked teams that year : 07 wins

    55 % Won of 29 games ranked teams that year 2001-2007
    24 % Won of 29 games ranked teams that year 2008-2013

    What happened to Mark Richt 2nd half of his career here ?

    What happened ?

    You want the URL Link ?

    Losses :

    # 25 Nebraska
    # 23 Vanderbilt
    # 7 Clemson
    # 5 Missouri
    # 2 Auburn

    Wins :
    # 14 LSU
    # 4 South Carolina

    My team had a 5-Loss unranked season, our 3rd unranked season in 5 years now – far from my 12-2 at 8-5, so far as to be totally wrong. I will not make the same mistake with 2014 at 9-4.

    We’re a 9-4 team 126-45 over 13 seasons 9 and half wins and 3 and half losses 13 seasons;

    Recently, six (6) seasons’ worth my beloved Top 10 All-Time Bulldogs’ Program is :

    54-26 for current 6 seasons’ to-date : 9 wins exactly MORE than 4 Losses 4 and a Third Losses –

    Thus, 2014 for my one team is 9-4, could be 9-5 – sort of like our SEC Opponent 2002 Championship Game Arkansas 9-5 that season too. We have 2 tough road games for us all of a sudden – I say all of a sudden because in more than 7 years and 2 months, we’ve won 1 away game against team who is ranked for that season. One. We have 9 opponents considered quality for 2014 including Bowl Game and SEC Championship Game we’ve either Lost or not played in since 2005. 9 seasons’ ago we “won” SEC Championship but ended up # 3 SEC team in every single poll 2005, 9 seasons’ ago.

  • Sadly, after watching Mason’s first two games starting, he doesn’t have what it takes to take us to the Nat’l Champ. I know it’s a small sample size and you can blame lack of game experience, poor weather in the Gator Bowl, injured WRs, etc, but he is too indecisive and easily-rattled for a QB who has been in the same system for 4 years. All we need is a game manager who makes sound decisions and doesn’t turn the ball over, and he hasn’t shown me that he is that guy so far. I think he’ll do better than Joe Cox, but he won’t be as successful as DJ Shockley and take us to the SECCG, much less the playoffs. We will rely heavily on our RBs, which can only take us so far. Especially when we have an ape coaching our defense.

  • I need a beer and a cigarette after reading some of the posts. Thomas Brown, you have WAY too mch time on your hands. You can plug and play the same teams for the past 3 years. USC, UGA , ALA, LSU , now AUB, A&M and maybe Mizzou could make some noise. We’ll see if they’re an every now-and-again or every year contenders. It’s all about recruiting. UGA, ALA, LSU, UF and now UT has emerged. That’s what keeps you in contention. Year in , year out outstanding recruiting classes Period !

  • I think the Gamecocks will be fine at QB behind Thompson is Nosovitch a 3 star dual threat and 4 star pro style in Connor Mitch, both will challenge Thompson for the starting job! Running back we still have great depth with hopefully a possible 4 star signing soon. Offensive line will be solid, losing Ellington will hurt but we will have Byrd and Shaq Roland looked a lot better this year and hopefully will continue to improve into next season. We also have 4 star wide receiver Shaq Davidson coming in this recruiting class. Losing Clowney is a big loss that you just can’t replace, but we have the Dixon brothers that have playing experience already and a couple of good defensive lineman coming in this year too! Linebackers are young and got better as the year went on. Our biggest concern in my opinion is going to be our DB’s hopefully we will be able figure that out before next year! I wish people would stop discounting what Mizzou accomplished this year, they were a missed field goal in OT from going undefeated in the SEC! That isn’t easy to do, not one team did it this year, injuries to Georgia or Florida weren’t Mizzou’s fault and they played very well. They also went and beat a good OK ST team in the Cotton Bowl! Nobody gave Mizzou a break their first year when they had injuries, but want to discredit the excellent second season because of other teams injuries! Good job Mizzou and we’re glad to have you in the SEC!

  • It’s far too early to put anyone at the top but any of these 6 teams could make a legitimate run next season.
    Auburn will certainly have the biggest bull’s eye on it’s back and they’ll have to replace Tre Mason. Will they be able to get as many huge breaks in 2014 as they did in 2013?
    Bama will have to replace AJ.
    Mizzou will have to replace Franklin. Mauk has the talent, he’s just needs reps.
    UGA will have to replace Murray. Mason has shoes to fill that can’t be.
    LSU will have to replace Mettenberger and some very good WRs.
    South Carolina will have to replace Shaw, Clowney and Ellington. Perhaps Dylan Thompson will be able step in and start but I have my doubts as a Gamecock fan. I look for Nosovitch to get a strong look with Pharoh Cooper being the darkhorse.

Continue scrolling for more articles.