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 West’s 10 biggest names in 2014:
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Replacement(s): Kenny Hill (SO), Kyle Allen (FR), Matt Joeckel (SR)
Buzz: No one player can replace Johnny Manziel’s production, but Texas A&M will look to find his successor. The three who will compete for the job are Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen and veteran Matt Joeckel. Many largely predict Hill will win the battle, but Kevin Sumlin has depth if needed. The best scenario for the Aggies is that Hill wins the job, and Joeckel will be his backup, letting Allen redshirt.
2. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Replacement(s): Cameron Artis-Payne (SR), Corey Grant (SR), Roc Thomas (FR)
Buzz: The SEC’s hottest player down the stretch is heading to the NFL, and three players stand out when talking about Tre Mason’s replacements. Returners Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will get the first shot this spring, while incoming freshman Roc Thomas will hit campus this summer. Artis-Payne rushed for 610 yards and six TDs, while Grant rushed for 647 yards and six TDs.
3. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
Replacement(s): Jacob Coker (JR), Blake Sims (SR), Cooper Bateman (FR), Alec Morris (FR), Parker McLeod (FR)
Buzz: Jacob Coker doesn’t hit campus until after his spring graduation at FSU, and Blake Sims (AJ McCarron’s backup), Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris and Parker McLeod will get the first opportunity to impress Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban. Coker should win the job in fall camp.
4. CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama
Replacement: Trey DePriest (SR)
Buzz: CJ Mosley was the defense’s quarterback and leader. Rising senior Trey DePriest knows the defense like Mosley, and he’ll likely make all the calls as the Tide’s every-down middle linebacker. DePriest racked up 65 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, along with two forced fumbles in 2013.
Related: SEC Spring Football Schedule
5. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Replacement(s): Ricky Seals-Jones (FR), Speedy Noil (FR), JaQuay Williams (SO)
Buzz: Three candidates stand out when replacing All-SEC 6-5 receiver Mike Evans. Rising redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones could be that big-time player and receiver on the outside. RSJ suffered a knee injury in 2013. Returner JaQuay Williams could also be that player, and he caught just four passes for 71 yards with one TD in 2013. But watch out for incoming freshman Speedy Noil, who’s one of the most explosive players in the country.
6. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Replacement: Leonard Fournette (FR)
Buzz: We’ve learned in recent history that LSU will feature three to four running backs throughout any one game, and Kenny Hilliard and Terrance Magee will get carries in 2014. However, Leonard Fournette will replace Jeremy Hill in the running back rotation. Is he really the next Adrian Peterson? If so, he’ll get the most touches this coming season.
7. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Replacement: Carl Lawson (SO)
Buzz: Former three-star Dee Ford was a big-time player and leader in 2013, and he was the best player on the Tigers’ defense. But Carl Lawson should be a monster, and he recorded 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, along with seven QB hurries and two forced fumbles as a freshman. He plays violently and aggressively, and you’ll love watching him compete.
8. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Replacement: Anthony Jennings (SO)
Buzz: It was unfortunate that Zach Mettenberger’s career ended the way it did with a torn ACL, but Anthony Jennings received valuable playing time against Arkansas and Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Jennings is a great athlete, and the offense could look totally different under Jennings than Mett. He threw for 181 yards and rushed for two TDs in two games played, but his 44.8 completion percentage won’t cut it. But with an added offseason and spring under Cam Cameron, Jennings should be fine.
9. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
Replacement(s): Justin Malone (JR), Jamaal Clayborn (FR), Ben Beckwith (SR)
Buzz: Gabe Jackson leaves behind a gaping hole at offensive guard, but the three of Justin Malone, who’s returning from a season-ending foot injury, former walk-on Ben Beckwith and Jamaal Clayborn will compete to replace Jackson.
10. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Replacement(s): Cedric Ogbuehi (SR), Jermaine Eluemunor (JR), Avery Gennesy (JR)
Buzz: Jake Matthews moved from right tackle to left for 2013, and it’s just assumed that Cedric Ogbuehi will do the same thing. JUCO transfers Jermaine Eluemunor and Avery Gennesy will both compete at tackle this spring, too. The good thing is Kevin Sumlin has depth and options.
Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports