Who will win the SEC West 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 Alabama to be the Western division champion, as well as the SEC Champion, and if predictions are right, the Tide would play South Carolina in Atlanta. The West will feature more parity than previous years, and all of it could run through the Iron Bowl…again.
Here’s how things stand looking ahead to the month of August:
Alabama Crimson Tide
Let me just get it out of the way: I see Auburn as the best overall team in the SEC for 2014, but Alabama has the more favorable schedule. The Iron Bowl could once again decide who represents the SEC West in Atlanta. Alabama’s loaded roster overshadows some specific liabilities on the offensive line and defensive secondary. Obviously, most of it hinges on unproven quarterback Jacob Coker, but the offensive line may be the bigger concern. The Tide also lost both cornerbacks, along with safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, and while the new-look secondary will be talented, it will lack experience. The aforementioned schedule is the best thing Alabama has going for them. Auburn has the best offensive weapon in the conference – and maybe the country: Gus Malzahn. His personnel, stemming from Nick Marshall, a loaded offensive line and backfield to two of the most elite receivers in the country in Sammie Coates and Duke Williams, will combine with a more seasoned defense that played bend-but-don’t-break last season. With Auburn’s ability to exploit defenses and play even better defense, it could be the perfect combination for another championship. Truly, the West should run through the Iron Bowl again.
Enough talent to win the West
LSU’s problem won’t be talent; it more lies on offense with the lack of experience. Just picture game one against Wisconsin: the Tigers could start a true freshman at quarterback and running back and two at wide receiver. The offensive line will be a strength, and the defense returns some serious playmakers and a deep defensive line and secondary. The Tigers probably boast the best corner duo in Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson. Les Miles knows he has as much or more talent than anyone in college football, and Cam Cameron and John Chavis will have their units ready to play. Make no mistake: LSU has the talent to win the SEC West, but bigger questions remain, namely the experience factor.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Ole Miss Rebels
Two dark-horse teams exist in the West: Mississippi State and Ole Miss. MSU has the more favorable schedule of the two, and it may have the best offensive weapon in the state in QB Dak Prescott. Led by an underrated and stacked defense, MSU finished strong, with three straight wins last year, and should ride the wave of momentum this year. Without any Big Five conference team on the schedule, it sets up as the perfect scenario. MSU’s in-state rival Ole Miss also looks to ruin somebody’s season. The Rebels have one of college football’s best overall rosters. With a veteran quarterback, talented skill players and a loaded defense, Ole Miss is a real player in the West. I still think all title hopes rest on Bo Wallace’s decision making, because the pieces are in place to compete right now. Ole Miss fans have had this year circled for two years.
Too many questions
Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M may qualify as a dark-horse candidate, but there are more questions surrounding the Aggies than every other West team not named Arkansas. The Aggies do return a loaded offensive line and an experienced but questionable defense. Speaking of the SEC’s worst statistical defense in 2013, it lost two of its three best players to off-season attrition in linebacker Darian Claiborne and Gavin Stansbury. I love the offensive skill players, but there’s no difference maker on defense. There’s no Damontre Moore who makes coordinators uncomfortable and lives in opponents’ backfields. Despite losing Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, the offense should be fine; Kevin Sumlin’s offenses always post crooked numbers, but I just can’t foresee the defense making major strides with so many unknowns.
Looking for first SEC win
Arkansas has way too many questions to even think about a championship this season. The Hogs must first think about getting to a bowl game and managing to find six wins in one of college football’s toughest schedules. The Hogs lost nine games to close out last season, and for the first time in history, Arkansas lost every conference game. Rebuilding? I’d say. The backfield is very deep, and the offensive line should be a strength. How much will Brandon Allen improve? Much of that will depend on how well his receivers can get open. The defensive line should be fine, and the linebackers and secondary should improve. The linebackers have been undersized, and the secondary struggled to cover anyone last season. The Hogs will improve, but will it be enough to get to a bowl game?