2014 CFN Preview: The SEC

2014 SEC Preview - The conference is getting everything is wants. What's next?


Preview 2014

SEC Preview

 
By Pete Fiutak

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2014 CFN SEC PREVIEW

- 2014 SEC Preview
- CFN SEC East Schedules & Picks
- CFN SEC Wast Schedules & Picks
- CFN All-SEC Team & Top 30 Players
- SEC East Team Looks & Predicted Finish   
- SEC West Team Looks & Predicted Finish   
 
Unit Rankings QB | RB | WR | OL
DL | LB | DB | ST | Coaches

EAST
- 2014 Florida Preview 
- 2014 Georgia Preview 
- 2014 Kentucky Preview
- 2014 Missouri Preview 
- 2014 South Carolina Preview 
- 2014 Tennessee Preview
- 2014 Vanderbilt Preview
 
WEST
- 2014 Alabama Preview
- 2014 Arkansas Preview   
- 2014 Auburn Preview 
- 2014 LSU Preview
- 2014 Ole Miss Preview
- 2014 Miss State Preview 
- 2014 Texas A&M Preview 
So where, exactly, does the SEC go from here?

It took an epic touchdown drive from Jameis Winston to stop the SEC from continuing its run of national championships, and even then, it took a team like Florida State – who’s basically an SEC team playing in the ACC – to get it done. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the SEC didn’t win the national title - it’s not like that’s going to stop the momentum as the by-a-ten-mile-wide margin best conference in college football.

It has earned the respect as the best league. It’s getting its own network. It’s getting autonomy from the NCAA – or as close to it as it can reasonably get – so it’s going to be a whole lot richer in the near future. It’s going to be able to function and act like a professional league – at least out in the open – and it’ll be able to soon cut through the recruiting hypocrisy and be able to feed the beast by feeding the players and prospects more than just unlimited snacks at the training table – again, at least out in the open.

But there’s only so big the league can get, and in a lot of ways, the conference has to be careful to understand exactly what its place in the world is.

Until there’s college fantasy football on a grand scale, college football is still among the most provincial of all sports. While an NFL fan in Miami is going to tune in Seattle Seahawk games to watch Russell Wilson, outside of the really big games, Joe Pac-12 isn’t going to watch the average SEC game. Big Ten and Big 12 fans, in general, don’t really care about other leagues, and, of course, the rest of the world doesn’t exist to SEC fans. And yes, there’s a large segment of the SEC world that doesn’t give a flying hoot if anyone else cares about their league, but from a business standpoint, and from a PR side, the SEC has to make sure it’s still a part of the greater world of college football, and not just turn more and more into a self-contained entity.

The SEC powers-that-be get this. They know that there’s a backlash out there against the league – and ESPN - and they know that to be bigger, stronger, and richer, they have to appeal nationally. To college football fans, of course the SEC is a must-watch every Saturday, but the league and the new network needs and wants eyeballs of the casual sports fan in Utah, North Dakota and Maine, too.

That’s partly why the mandate came down that every SEC team must schedule at least one non-conference game against another BCS conference. That’s why there’s LSU playing Wisconsin in Dallas, and Ole Miss is taking on Boise State, and Alabama will play West Virginia. It’s to do two things, 1) appeal to a national audience and 2) flex a little muscle, because the league is only going to get better.

As if 2013 wasn’t fun enough with Missouri and Auburn coming out of the blue in what turned out to be a war of attrition, this year the West looks even nastier with Arkansas improving, Mississippi State loaded with experience, the young talent of Ole Miss starting to mature, and with Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M reloading.

The East will be better because there’s no possible way the top teams can be that injured again. Florida’s defense will be a killer, Georgia returns with one of Mark Richt’s best teams, South Carolina is outstanding, Missouri is still dangerous, and Tennessee and Kentucky are improving fast. If Vanderbilt can keep on winning after losing James Franklin, yeah, all 14 teams will interesting and worth paying attention to.

And now the SEC has a network to showcase it all, and now it has just about everything it could possibly ask for.

Where does the SEC go from here? Who cares? The league is right where it wants to be.

Bold Predictions
- Kansas State is better than you think. Auburn’s trip to Manhattan on September 18th is going to be one of those weird, quirky, it-doesn’t-quite-feel-right Thursday night games.

- With the way those two teams run the ball, the game will take around 67 minutes to play.

- Auburn isn’t going to come up with another play like the Chris Davis Kick-Six or the Ricardo Louis miracle, but every Tiger game is going to be must-see TV.

- The world is going to overgush over the Alabama defense, but the test won’t come until if faces Dak Prescott and Mississippi State on November 15th. Before that, Texas A&M – assuming Kyle Allen isn’t another Manziel – and LSU play into the hands of the Tide D.

- Around the midway point of the season, someone will write about how well Florida is playing and about the turnaround from last year’s disaster.

- And that will be followed up by someone’s correct statement, “it was the injuries, stupid.”

- For what he’ll need to do, Jeff Driskel will be better than you think.

- If he can just be a little bit patient, the head coach of your 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide? Lane Kiffin.

- Wisconsin vs. LSU in the opening weekend in Houston will be like offensive line porn.

- SEC fans hate this statement, but LSU and Wisconsin have sort of been the same teams, only LSU has had talent. It’s a fascinating early game.

- Wisconsin has no wide receivers and is replacing almost everyone on the defensive front seven. LSU, make a statement.

- Missouri won’t fall off the map. It won’t win the East, but the pass rush will still be ferocious, and the offense will still come up with a bunch of huge plays. This will still be a very, very dangerous team.

- Maty Mauk will be better than James Franklin.

- The coach, and the former Mizzou starting quarterback.

- Tennessee will be an X factor team. There’s no experience on the lines, no real proven passing game, lots of question marks across the board, but just enough athleticism and young upside to screw someone up.

- Is it possible to lose the No. 1 overall draft pick and a heart-and-soul starting quarterback and be better? Yup.

- South Carolina will go into the game at Auburn on October 25th 7-0 and with the College Football Playoff spot there for the taking. Win that, win at Florida, and then look out.

- Kentucky and Vanderbilt won’t finish with one SEC win between them – coming against each other – but good luck trying to find the conference upset.

- The SEC won’t get two teams into College Football Playoff.

- The SEC will go a second year in a row without winning the national title.

Team That'll Surprise

Arkansas – Florida is a close second if you believe that last year was a better indicator of Will Muschamp than 2012. No, the Hogs won’t be this year’s Auburn/Missouri, but yes, Bret Bielema actually can coach. The running game will be even stronger, the passing game won’t be as miserable, and the defense will come up with a stop now and then enough to flirt with a winning record and get to a bowl game. Watch out for the showdown with LSU in mid-November – the Tigers are coming off the date with Alabama, and the Hogs will get a week off to prepare for the home showdown.

Team That'll Disappoint
Ole Miss – Auburn’s schedule is just tough enough that 8-4 might be possible, but it’s Ole Miss that will likely fail to live up to expectations. The schedule isn't all that bad - especially getting Vanderbilt and Tennessee from the East - but if the Rebels lose to Boise State in the opener in Atlanta, it could be uh-oh time. The expectations are jacked through the roof for a team with so much talent, but is it really possible to beat both Alabama and Auburn at home? Even if Ole Miss splits, it still has to go on the road to deal with Texas A&M, LSU, and Arkansas. If everything works out, 9-3 is the likely ceiling, but 7-5 is possible. Either way, it probably won’t be the dream season many are hoping for.

Game of the Year …
Alabama at LSU, Nov. 8 – With some due respect to several SEC teams, this is the game when we’ll all know whether or not Bama is for real. While everyone’s schedule is tough in the SEC, somehow, Alabama’s isn’t that bad over the first two months of the season. There’s a week off to prepare for the road game at Ole Miss, and Florida and Texas A&M are at home. If all goes according to plan, the Crimson Tide will be 8-0 going into the week off to prepare for the trip to Baton Rouge. LSU will have already played at Auburn and at Florida, but even if it has one loss, everything should still be on the line. With all that said, no argument here if you want to make a case for Georgia at South Carolina on September 13th as the key to the season.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...
1. LB Ramik Wilson, Sr. Georgia
2. OT La'el Collins, Sr. LSU
3. LB Benardrick McKinney, Jr. Mississippi State
4. DE Markus Golden, Sr. Missouri
5. LB Darreon Herring, Jr. Vanderbilt

Coach on the Hot Seat
Will Muschamp, Florida – Considering all the talent returning, Dan Mullen has to win this year at Mississippi State, and the pressure is on Bret Bielema to make a huge step forward in Year Two at Arkansas, or Year Three will be rocky, but it’s win or go home for Muschamp. No one really seems to care about the injury problems of last year, and everyone seems to remember the loss to Georgia Southern. More than that, Florida needs to get the fans jacked up again and needs to fill up The Swamp. This isn’t an exciting team, so if it’s not winning, it’s not capturing the hearts of the fan base. Eight wins probably keeps him around, seven means a regime change.

5 Non-Conference Games the SEC had better take very, very seriously
1. Utah State at Tennessee, Aug. 30
2. Boise State vs. Ole Miss (in Atlanta), Aug. 28
3. Louisiana-Lafayette at Ole Miss, Sept. 13
4. Mississippi State at South Alabama, Sept. 13
5. Missouri at Toledo, Sept. 6

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Sr. Texas A&M
2. RB Todd Gurley, Jr. Georgia
3. DT Robert Nkemdiche, Soph. Ole Miss
4. DE A'Shawn Robinson, Soph. Alabama
5. TE TE O.J. Howard, Soph. Alabama

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. QB Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill for Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2. QB Hutson Mason for Aaron Murray, Georgia
3. OT Shon Coleman for Greg Robinson, Auburn
4. QB Brandon Harris for Zach Mettenberger, LSU
5. WR Jonathan Krause for Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt



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