SEC spring expectations compared to 2014
The spring practice season is upon us, officially turning the page from 2014 to 2015 on the SEC calendar.
The work teams put in this spring could make all the difference come the fall, and although the SEC has now gone two years without a national title, expectations are as high as ever after the conference boasted 12 bowl eligible teams a year ago.
How have expectations changed since this time last year? We asked that question and gave an answer from the perspective of every team in the SEC:
Alabama — Same: As has been the case for most of the Nick Saban era, Alabama’s expectations remain “title or bust,” and that rarely ever changes year to year. Like last year, Alabama likely has the most talented roster top to bottom in the conference, and like last year the Tide will have to settle on a new starting quarterback before the season kicks off this fall.
Arkansas — Higher: Since last spring Arkansas has snapped its bowl drought and its 17-game SEC losing skid, posting seven wins and a convincing Texas Bowl victory last fall. The expectation is Arkansas will build from those results, especially with the return of two 1,000-yard rushers and the SEC’s most veteran quarterback in Brandon Allen.
Auburn — Lower: Last spring Auburn was aiming to defend its 2013 SEC championship. This spring it is recovering from a five-loss season and the loss of quarterback Nick Marshall, wideout Sammie Coates and the SEC’s leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne. Nevertheless, Auburn is also fully stocked with talent and it won’t be given a pass for another five-loss season this fall. But it’s not nearly as heavy a favorite to win the West as it was this time last year.
Florida — Higher/Lower: In one sense, Florida faces higher expectations than last season with new head coach Jim McElwain in charge. McElwain was brought in to cure the Gators of their losing ways the last two years, and fair or not some fans will expect to see results right away. However, last spring many fans expected Florida to return to some sense of prominence in a weakened SEC East, and this season fans know to expect a rebuilding year. The team’s expectations all depend on one’s take on the coaching change.
Georgia — Same: Just like last year, Georgia returns a talented roster expected to contend for Mark Richt’s seventh career SEC East crown. The Dawgs lost tailback Todd Gurley but return phenom Nick Chubb to carry the load. Georgia will once again need to settle on a new starting quarterback, but with plenty of NFL-capable upperclassmen returning to school expectations remain high between the hedges.
Kentucky — Higher: Kentucky had only won four games in 2012-13 combined, only to win five last year alone. Suddenly expectations in the Bluegrass are rising, and after failing six straight times to clinch bowl eligibility in 2014 fans will expect postseason play from the Cats in 2015.
LSU — Higher: The Tigers won at least eight games for the 15th year in a row, but they also boasted the SEC’s worst passing attack in failing to ever truly contend for the SEC West crown. Fans in Baton Rouge expect titles from Les Miles’ program on a yearly basis, and the expectations are as high as ever entering 2015 with a young, emerging team that suffered some setbacks last season.
Mississippi State — Higher: At this time last year, Mississippi State, normally not a contender in the West, had only a little buzz surrounding the program due to the team’s returning senior class. Still, no one could have expected Mississippi State would open the year 9-0 and spend five weeks at No. 1 in the national polls. Now MSU isn’t catching anyone by surprise, which could make repeating the feat in 2015 more difficult.
Missouri — Same: The Tigers have now won the SEC East twice in a row, and the division’s newcomers are no longer catching their opponents by surprise. Fans in Columbia now expect Mizzou to contend for conference titles on a yearly basis, meaning the expectations in 2015 are the same as they were last spring: contend for the East or bust. For a team preparing for just its fourth year in the conference, those are some pretty lofty expectations, but they’re justified.
Ole Miss — Higher: Ole Miss may not settle on a new starting quarterback until this summer, but after a nine-win campaign in 2014, including a 7-0 start to the season, the Rebels are now entrenched among the West’s regular contenders. Hugh Freeze has raised Ole Miss’ win total in each of his four seasons coaching the Rebels, and his legendary 2013 class will enter its third collective season this fall. Those superstars from the 2013 class will be expected to post elite seasons, and even without a star quarterback Ole Miss will be expected to make noise against some traditionally dominant foes.
South Carolina — Lower: The Gamecocks began last season ranked in the top 10 in the country despite not boasting a single preseason All-SEC honoree, and six losses later the season was seen as one of college football’s biggest disappointments. Now the Gamecocks have question marks at quarterback and on defense, and a slew of decommitments during the past recruiting cycle didn’t create much positive buzz around the program either.
Tennessee — Higher: Tennessee reached its first bowl game since the 2010 season last fall and won its first bowl game since the 2007 season. Since then UT hauled in a top 5 recruiting class nationally, and it returns talent at nearly every position, including star quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Butch Jones is one of the nation’s hottest coaches, and fans in Knoxville are expecting their Vols to vie for an SEC East title once again in 2015.
Texas A&M — Higher: Many figured last season would be a rebuilding season for Texas A&M after losing so much talent from the 2013 squad, including three first-round NFL Draft picks. However, the Aggies return quarterback Kyle Allen and a number of explosive wideouts in 2015, and they’ve since added John Chavis to run what was a dismal defense in 2014. The Aggies may not win the West this fall, but they’ll be expected to improve from last season’s 8-5 mark.
Vanderbilt — Lower: Derek Mason took over a Vandy program coming off back to back nine-win seasons, and while fans didn’t expect Mason to lead the Commodores to nine wins they expected him to lead them to more than three. Mason has since fired both his coordinators from last season, and expectations have fallen back to Earth for Vanderbilt. However, perhaps a low bar to clear will do Mason and his program some good, as any perceived success on the field can benefit a program long term.