SEC's 5 biggest disappointments
Steve Spurrier had a quiet confidence about his ninth-ranked South Carolina football team at SEC Media Days this summer.
Perhaps next season we won’t be fooled if he takes a similar approach.
The Gamecocks were one of several disappointment in the SEC this fall, a team coming off three consecutive 11-win seasons that folded during SEC play in crunch time on three different occasions.
Here’s how we would rank this season’s biggest disappointments:
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SEC’s BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS
5. Auburn — The Tigers didn’t live up to the preseason buzz as the SEC’s defending champs, finishing with four losses in a tie for fourth in a crowded Western Division. Inside the Top 10 in August, the loss of end Carl Lawson to injury proved detrimental up front on a pass rush-less defense and quarterback Nick Marshall’s Heisman campaign briefly lasted six weeks. Struggling with inconsistency throughout, Sammie Coates, one of the league’s top receivers coming into his junior campaign, didn’t catch fire until last week’s Iron Bowl and has just 30 catches on the season. The Tigers did show fight late against Alabama, but a 55-44 loss dropped Auburn to 3-3 against ranked teams.
4. Derek Mason — Vanderbilt’s first-year coach learned quickly he would need an offense to compete in the SEC and his Stanford-style defensive philosophy would only get him so far. Mason inherited a once dormant program during its ‘wonder years’ coming off consecutive nine-win seasons under James Franklin. The resulting disaster featuring a four-man rotation at quarterback resembled the Vanderbilt of old, a team struggling to keep up in the nation’s toughest league. The Commodores’ lack of offensive production (last in several SEC categories including turnovers) ultimately led to play-caller Karl Dorrell’s firing this week and more staff changes are expected.
3. South Carolina — It got so bad, Steve Spurrier may have pondered retirement. The 2014 season didn’t go as planned for the division favorite Gamecocks, a team faced with the task of replacing the program’s all-time winningest quarterback and a No. 1 overall pick along the defensive line. Jadeveon Clowney’s impact was far greater than most expected after South Carolina managed an SEC-low 12 sacks without the skilled pass rusher. The ineffective play up front trickled to the secondary as the Gamecocks’ defense as a whole gave up 6.3 yards per play, most in the Spurrier era and 108th in the country. South Carolina lost six games during the regular season, including three when leading by 13 or more points in the fourth quarter.
2. November — The season’s final month-long stretch was unkind to several College Football Playoff hopefuls including Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Georgia. Mark Richt’s team dropped a game they shouldn’t have to Florida in Jacksonville, the wheels came off for the once-unbeaten Rebels and the Bulldogs fell victim to road challenges twice over the final three weeks. The popular mid-summer fear for the SEC’s strength this season was ‘cannibalize’ and that’s exactly what happened in the ultra-competitive conference.
1. The SEC East — While the Western Division rightfully received much of tht spotlight this fall, the other side of the SEC was disappointing, in fact, laughable at times. East champ Mizzou doesn’t have a single win over a team currently ranked in the Top 25 and the Tigers dropped an early-season heartbreaker to Indiana, a team that finished at the bottom of the Big Ten. South Carolina’s trainwreck is well-documented while Florida was forced to fire its coach after the program became stagnant in the middle of the pack. Georgia, equipped with the nation’s best player in Todd Gurley, lost three games during the regular season and saw its star player miss six games. Only two SEC team failed to reach reach bowl eligibility and both, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, are in the East. An 0-4 record on Rivalry Saturday to wrap things up summed up succinctly one of the worst seasons in recent memory for the division.