Who will win the SEC East in 2014?
College football is just around the corner, and you’re about to start planning everything around Saturday once again.
The SEC media picked South Carolina to emerge from the SEC East last week, as well as Alabama to win the SEC Championship in December. The East is sure to be an electrifying storyline, and it’s essentially ‘wide open’ to start the season, even though favorites do exist among media and in Vegas.
Here’s how things stand looking ahead to the month of August:
South Carolina Gamecocks
Popular opinion says South Carolina and Georgia are the two favorites in the SEC East. South Carolina’s offense returns much, with a veteran offensive line, as experienced a non-starting quarterback as any team has and one of the top running backs in Mike Davis, but questions remain on defense, particularly in the front four and at corner. Georgia is in the same boat as the Gamecocks. The Bulldogs boast a new starting quarterback in Hutson Mason, but he has some experience, thanks to Aaron Murray’s unfortunate knee injury. The skill positions are loaded, headlined by Todd Gurley and Malcolm Mitchell, but the defensive secondary is the most concerning position group on the team. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has his hands full of fixing an ineffective secondary that lost its two most talented players in Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews. Will it be addition by subtraction? JHC, Matthews and corner Shaq Wiggins leave holes.
If you make me choose one dark-horse team for this season, it’s Florida. I truly don’t think the offensive problems are a personnel issue; it’s a schematic issue. Kurt Roper’s new system will fit the personnel much better, and QB Jeff Driskel returns big game experience. Sure, multiple questions lie along the O-line and at receiver, but talent isn’t a problem. The Gators’ defense should be elite, especially with an offense with a pulse that can adequately move the football. Missouri is an interesting team. The Tigers will be fine at QB with Maty Mauk, another non-starter who has big-game experience, but multiple offensive weapons are gone, namely the top three receivers and Henry Josey. The biggest concern I have is the defensive secondary. The defensive line and linebackers will be fine, but the secondary lost three of four starters. Perhaps the biggest thing Missouri has going for them is their schedule, which is very favorable overall. With so much talent lost and virtually no one giving Mizzou a chance, I still think the Tigers are a big player in the East.
Too many question marks
Too many questions exist for Tennessee and Vanderbilt to compete for the East. Tennessee has to replace both lines of scrimmage and has questions at quarterback. The running game will be fine, anchored by Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane, and the Vols could boast the top receiving corps in the conference, headlined by All-SEC candidate Marquez North. The secondary and linebacking corps should be fine, but the defensive line and offensive line are major concerns. Vanderbilt loses experience, but overall, there shouldn’t be too big of a drop off from 2013 to 2014. The Commodores have the easiest schedule in the SEC, and that should pay dividends when Derek Mason is pushing for his first bowl game appearance as a head coach. The offensive line and running backs are strengths; questions remain in the defensive secondary, at receiver and at quarterback.
Looking for first SEC win
The bigger goal for Kentucky is notching their first SEC win. Mark Stoops has his troops improving from a roster standpoint; now, they have to show it on the field. Kentucky just hasn’t had the personnel to throw it around 40 times with offensive coordinator Neal Brown, and either Patrick Towles or Drew Barker could be the one who helps that process and development. Kentucky has questions, though, along the offensive line.