The SEC has to replace some big-time talent and star power during the offseason before the 2014 season starts. But there are talented underclassmen to pick up the slack.
Some replacements are already known, but most are not, and position vacancies will be decided with position battles during spring practice and fall camp.
Here’s an early look at who will replace the SEC East’s 10 biggest names in 2014:
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Replacement(s): Darius English (SO), Dante Sawyer (FR)
Buzz: South Carolina’s coaching staff would love to see rising sophomore Darius English explode into the Gamecocks’ next big-time pass rusher. English made 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and .5 sacks in 2013. Incoming freshman Dante Sawyer should also help replace Clowney. The Georgia native is 6-3, 265 pounds and ready to make an immediate impact.
Related: 5 SEC-ready JUCO transfers
2. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Replacement: Hutson Mason (SR)
Buzz: Mason gained valuable experience replacing Aaron Murray after his season-ending knee injury, and he threw for 808 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in three meaningful games. Mason has all the physical tools to be a good quarterback, but he showed in the bowl game it won’t be as easy as plugging him in. Still, Mason has a lot of weapons returning in 2014.
3. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Replacement: Jordan Cunningham (SO)
Buzz: Vanderbilt’s next great receiver could come from Florida native and rising sophomore Jordan Cunningham. Yes, replacing Matthews completely isn’t a reality, but Cunningham caught 15 passes for 123 yards and one TD as a true freshman. Watch out for Cunningham to be a featured weapon in the Commodores’ offense in 2014.
4. Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina
Replacement: Dylan Thompson (SR)
Buzz: Steve Spurrier feels great about Dylan Thompson as his starter for 2014, and he’s gotten great experience over the last two seasons. Thompson has thrown for 1,810 yards, 14 TDs and five INTs over the last two years, but getting freshman Connor Mitch ready to compete will also be important this spring. However, Thompson will assume the reins of the offense.
Related: 10 SEC-ready freshmen for 2014
5. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
Replacement: Markus Golden (SR)
Buzz: Michael Sam’s replacement is already a proven commodity, and replacing both Sam and Kony Ealy will be important for Mizzou’s success. Markus Golden will step into a full-time role as a rush end and linebacker, and he made 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss…as a role player. Shane Ray will help replace Kony Ealy.
6. Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
Replacement(s): Russell Hansbrough (JR), Marcus Murphy (SR)
Buzz: Henry Josey was the lifeblood of Mizzou’s explosive running game, and he exits as one of the country’s best stories in 2013. Now, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy will get many more touches in 2014. Hansbrough rushed for 685 yards and four TDs, while Murphy rushed for 601 yards and nine TDs. Replacing Josey’s 1,166 yards and 16 TDs will be a team effort, but either player could have a major breakout season.
7. EJ Gaines, CB, Missouri
Replacement(s): Aarion Penton (SO), John Gibson (SO)
Buzz: If replacing EJ Gaines isn’t enough, the Tigers will have to replace fellow corner Randy Ponder and safety Matt White. Gaines, however, is easily the secondary’s toughest replacement. The two replacement corners should be Aarion Penton and John Gibson. Penton played in 14 games, making 16 tackles and one INT, while Gibson played in 12 games, making 14 tackles and one INT last season.
8. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Replacement(s): Jalen Tabor (FR), Brian Poole (JR)
Buzz: Florida loses three defensive backs in Loucheiz Purifoy (NFL), Marcus Roberson (NFL) and Cody Riggs (transfer). However, Purifoy is the biggest name of the three. Early enrollee Jalen Tabor could start game one, and he’s a longer corner at 6-1 that Will Muschamp loves. Nickelback Brian Poole will also compete for the corner opposite Vernon Hargreaves.
9. Rajion Neal, RB, Tennessee
Replacement(s): Marlin Lane (SR), Jalen Hurd (FR)
Buzz: Rajion Neal quietly had a great season for Tennessee, rushing for 1,124 yards and 12 TDs; however, like Neal, the entire offensive line must be replaced, too. Marlin Lane has shown flashes for Tennessee, but he hasn’t put it all together yet. Lane has rushed for 1,472 yards and eight TDs in three seasons, but watch out for early enrollee Jalen Hurd, who could be a monster. Hurd is 6-3, 230 pounds, and he’ll compete for the starting job day one.
10. Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
Replacement(s): Gerald Dixon (JR), Kelsey Griffin (SO), Abu Lamin (JR)
Buzz: Kelcy Quarles developed into a monster in 2013, making 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Look for rising junior Gerald Dixon take his game to the next level. Dixon made 2.5 tackles for loss and .5 sacks last year. Kelsey Griffin is another player who Lorenzo Ward and Steve Spurrier are counting on. The rising sophomore made just 12 tackles and .5 tackles for loss as a freshman. JUCO transfer Abu Lamin will also get his opportunity to impress the staff this spring.
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