10 biggest storylines for SEC football 2014
SEC football starts in just three short days. Can you believe we all just endured a massive off-season filled little to no storylines about college football?
Here are the 10 biggest storylines of the 2014 season we’re watching:
1. Will the SEC return to glory in the College Football Playoff?
It’s a different year entering 2014, because nobody in the SEC hoisted the national championship trophy to end the 2013 season. Auburn came up 13 seconds short against Florida State, and the SEC’s run of seven straight championships was snapped. Most assume the SEC will at least get a bid in the new playoff, and some really aggressive southerners say the SEC will get two teams in the race. Former Auburn center Cole Cubelic warns the SEC may get left out entirely. The conference carries enough clout, though, to warrant at least the SEC Champion to be in the mix, but nobody knows how the 13-member selection committee will react and choose the best four teams.
2. Which team will escape the SEC East’s parity clash?
The SEC East’s division will be one of the most thrilling storylines this season. Why? Because four teams could legitimately get to Atlanta, and there may be more parity in the East than ever before. Most figure Georgia and South Carolina to be the two main frontrunners, while Florida and Missouri are on the outside looking in. Many discount Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky from the race altogether. The media picked South Carolina, most of ESPN’s talking heads love Georgia, and Florida seems to be the legitimate dark-horse pick that features a new up-tempo spread offense. The SEC East is a four-team race, and the only returning starting quarterback of the four — with perhaps the league’s best defense — lives in Gainesville.
3. Which teams will surprise in 2014?
Nobody saw Auburn or Missouri accomplishing what they did in 2013. Nobody. And if they did, they’re lying to you. Missouri’s thrilling season took a backseat to only Auburn, and the two biggest turnarounds happened in the same conference. In 2014, there may be three surprise teams: Florida, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. MSU and Ole Miss could play a significant part of the SEC West race, and the Egg Bowl may be for more than bowl games or bragging rights this season, as both are looking to ruin somebody’s season. Florida now has the offense they need, paired with an elite defense and defensive mind in Will Muschamp. If I had to pick three teams that could surprise — and one from both divisions — it would be the Gators, Bulldogs or Rebels.
4. New quarterback landscape
Much has been made about the quarterback turnover, and perhaps the biggest reason defense has taken a backseat was the veteran quarterback talent who played at elite levels. Now, really, just Nick Marshall and Bo Wallace return as the conference’s everyday starters at the position from last season. We’ve seen enough to get excited about Dak Prescott, Maty Mauk, Hutson Mason and Dylan Thompson, and others like Jeff Driskel, Brandon Allen and Justin Worley are still trying to prove themselves. New starters Kenny Hill, Patrick Towles and either Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings (LSU) and Patton Robinette all have their work cut out for them. The quarterback position will be an interesting dynamic to watch during this season.
5. Will offenses continue to dominate?
The last couple of years, the SEC has scored at near historical highs. Texas A&M continues putting up silly numbers, while Auburn, Ole Miss and Missouri all buck the trend as a pro-style conference. More and more teams are adapting up-tempo, spread attacks to help offset defenses. Really, the SEC is about two or three years behind the rest of the country, which adapted the spread-’em-out style of play over the last several years. I really think the elite veteran quarterbacks had the most to do with the explosive offenses, and defenses should make a rebound this year with the loss of so many signal callers, although wide open attacks from Auburn, Ole Miss and Texas A&M beg to differ.
6. Is the SEC even the best conference in 2014?
If you watched College GameDay’s preview show over the weekend, you can tell they were pumping the Pac-12 as the next conference to make a big run through the College Football Playoff. Now that the SEC’s championship reign is over, many are quick to say the conference is losing its firm grip as college football’s juggernaut. Perhaps the Pac-12 is closing the gap, but more sample size is needed in order to make an educated guess. You can make strong arguments for both the SEC and the Pac-12, and while the Pac-12 can boast high-flying offenses with veteran quarterbacks, better coaches, talent and defenses still remain in the SEC.
7. Year of the running back
While the SEC lacks known commodities at quarterback, one position that isn’t lacking is running back. Todd Gurley is the best back in the country when healthy, and TJ Yeldon isn’t that far behind him…and neither is Mike Davis. Any of the big three could easily win the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year Award, but every team in the conference is virtually loaded three-deep at the position. Georgia and Alabama lead the way, but as you look around at every single team, their backfields are loaded.
8. Take a step back
Which of the SEC powerhouses could take a step back this year? Last year, it was Florida. The year before that it was Auburn. The last several years it’s been Tennessee. So, which of the bigger programs could struggle this year? Two that are in the bullseye are Alabama and LSU. Alabama has several question marks entering the season at quarterback, offensive line and the defensive secondary. Yes, the Crimson Tide are loaded with talent, but developing that talent will be interesting to watch. Yahoo!’s Pat Forde predicted a bad year for the Tide. The other program is LSU, who replaces a 3,000-yard passer, 1,400-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers. The running game should be great, and the defense should be fine. But eight wins for either program isn’t out of the question, and it tilts more towards LSU, the SEC’s biggest wildcard.
9. Breakout stars
Which unknown players will become household names this season? Last year, Nick Marshall emerged to lead Auburn to the national championship, and Mike Davis for South Carolina became one of the most exciting players to watch. Michael Sam took the SEC by storm by winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award and came out of nowhere. So, which players should we keep an eye on this season? Let’s start with Alabama’s Derrick Henry, who’s a tank to bring down and could be the biggest offensive weapon. The Tide’s quarterback Jacob Coker is another to watch. Auburn JUCO WR transfer Duke Williams is the real deal, and he could be an instant-impact talent like Cordarrelle Patterson was at Tennessee. Mizzou’s Markus Golden could blow into the SEC’s premier end, and he backed up both Sam and Kony Ealy last season. What about Hutson Mason at Georgia? With so much talent around him, it’s easy to see him having a big-time season. Could this be the season we finally see Florida’s Jeff Driskel become the player we thought he’d be? Driskel finally has the system that fits his strengths.
10. SEC Network
All eyes are on the SEC Network, literally. With seemingly every major cable and satellite provider, the network becomes one of the most successful network launches in history. Really. Consumers get 24/7 access to the conference they love, and the payouts could be huge in the future. Specifically, we’ll be able to check out SEC Nation on Saturdays, as well as in-depth breakdown during the week. It can only be a positive for the conference as a whole, and let’s see how this thing evolves over the longevity of the season.