Football fans have a fever, and the only prescription is more football. It’s coming, I assure you.
In reality, every SEC fan base is passionately awaiting 2014. Last year, Texas A&M was the one fan base everybody knew was looking forward to the season the most. With Johnny Manziel and an electric offense returning, the Aggies were a championship contender, until it was very obvious the defense wasn’t championship-caliber.
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This year, the picture and landscape look different. It’s still the same great fans, but some fan bases are more optimistic than others. Here are the five that are looking forward to the season the most:
1. Auburn Tigers
What a difference a year makes. The Tigers went from goat to king in an electrifying 3-9 to 12-2 turnaround falling just short of a national championship. You better believe the Auburn nation is looking forward to 2014 the most. As evidenced by Saturday’s spring game, fandom is at a fever pitch over an explosive offense and optimism surrounding a talented defense that should improve. Auburn’s schedule is tough, however, with road games against Kansas State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. Along with Georgia, Auburn also plays an SEC East favorite South Carolina, but a tough schedule can’t hold this fan base down, and Auburn has college football’s hottest coach.
2. Mississippi State Bulldogs
The optimism surrounding this Mississippi State football team is boiling. I can hear the cowbells from here. Dak Prescott has gone from backup quarterback to Heisman contender in a hurry, and he’s like a caged animal waiting to be officially released. Dan Mullen has many key components returning this season on offense and defense, including a deep backfield, a talented receiving corps and one of the most underrated defenses. And finally, MSU has the schedule to win as many as 10 games, playing both Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the East. Obviously, the western division slate is brutal, and the Egg Bowl could decide a nine- or 10-game winner.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
2014 is the year Ole Miss fans had circled as ‘the year’ for legitimate SEC contention. With an experienced quarterback in Bo Wallace and maybe the SEC’s top receiver in Laquon Treadwell, the offense returns explosive components with plenty of depth. The Rebels’ defensive line could contend for tops in the SEC, and the linebackers and secondary are loaded. A brutal five-game stretch against Alabama, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn may stand in the way of a nine- or 10-game winning team. For me, it all comes back to efficient quarterback play, but there’s plenty of optimism surrounding plenty of talent in Oxford.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide
2013 still leaves a bad taste in Alabama fans’ mouths. Entering the foregone favorite to three-peat, the Tide lost to Auburn and Oklahoma to end the season. Alabama is loaded with the most talented roster in all of college football, but fans understand that having loads of talent doesn’t just make you a winner. It has to develop, and players have to be hungry. There’s optimism surrounding FSU transfer Jacob Coker, a loaded backfield and elite wide receivers, and we know the defense will be elite, assuming Nick Saban finds key defensive back replacements. Then, there’s the schedule, which is very manageable, and key games against Florida, Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn will decide the Tide’s fate. Alabama is looking to erase the memory of last season and get back to playing hungry, championship football.
5. Missouri Tigers
On the heels of an epic turnaround only second to Auburn’s, Missouri enters the 2014 seasons very optimistic. Last year, the Tigers earned a sense of respect they had been seeking after a forgettable 5-7 2012 season. The Tigers lit up SEC defenses, and Missouri emerged as the SEC’s best defensive line in a conference known for elite players and front fours. 2014’s team does look different than last year’s, but Gary Pinkel has shown he’ll develop players you’ve never heard of into difference makers. Maty Mauk could emerge as a star player, and current recruiting is on fire, as the Tigers are working towards one of their best classes ever. Another thing going for Missouri is they play rebuilding Texas A&M and Arkansas out of the West.
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