Once more into the breach, dear friends. As I’ve done for several seasons now, I’m sticking with this format as follows:
Rather than give you my predicted records, I’ll list the schools in the order they finished in the conference last year, look at areas of potential improvement and decline and assess in what direction I expect each to go by comparison to 2010.
In other words, pure seat of the pants BS.
So starting with last season as the baseline (teams are listed in their 2013 conference order of finish), here goes nothing.
AUBURN (12-2, 7-1)
- Pros: Coaching stability; great offensive system with good personnel; Nick Marshall; excellent recruiting
- Cons: Defense not dominant; reset on special teams; challenging schedule; can the good fortune continue?
- Outlook: Historically, Auburn doesn’t do well when it’s a preseason front-runner, but I don’t foresee a huge drop off from last season. On the other hand, there’s got to be some regression to the mean, luckwise. No worse than two, maybe three conference losses.
ALABAMA (11-2, 7-1)
- Pros: Skill position talent; team depth; Nick Saban; unparalleled program stability; dream schedule
- Cons: Less experience on defense; losses on the offensive line; inexperience at quarterback
- Outlook: Weirdly, I didn’t change a single word in the pros or cons from what I wrote last year, except to note the quarterback situation (and I’m not sure how much that’s gonna matter, to be honest). If anything, Alabama’s schedule is even more favorable in 2014. Let’s say the Tide will slip up and lose a regular season game, but there’s a reason everyone is putting them in Atlanta and the new CFP. If they don’t make it, I’m blaming Junior.
LSU (10-3, 5-3)
- Pros: Solid personnel; coaching stability; Alabama at home
- Cons: Losses on defense; incredibly green at the offensive skill positions
- Outlook: My default position on Les Miles – pencil in two regular season losses – feels right. This is a very talented team, but the Tigers have a lot of experience to replace, especially at the offensive skill spots.
TEXAS A & M (9-4, 4-4)
- Pros: Great recruiting; coaching stability; weak non-conference schedule
- Cons: Huge losses on offense; Auburn and Alabama on the road; shakiest defensive team in the SEC
- Outlook: I guess the question to ask is if TAMU is at the point where it reloads. They’ll likely be okay on offense, but I’m still not thrilled with that defense. I’m seeing a similar number of regular season losses in 2014.
MISSISSIPPI (8-5, 3-5)
- Pros: Rising talent level; lots of returning starters; coaching stability; defense; favorable cross-division games
- Cons: Still lack depth in comparison to top teams in West; special teams
- Outlook: Defense should be excellent; offense, not so much. With that schedule, I think Ole Miss is probably looking at a four-loss regular season.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-6, 3-5)
- Pros: Coaching stability; quarterback stability; one of the most experienced teams in the conference; favorable cross-division schedule; defense
- Cons: Mediocre special teams; Prescott needs to prove himself against top teams
- Outlook: I still think this is the hardest team to handicap in the SEC. I can’t help but be impressed with what MSU brings on the defensive side of the ball, but the offense makes me nervous, mainly because of the quarterback situation. If Mullen can coach Prescott up to the next level, the Bulldogs could be the surprise team of the West. But I’m seeing four losses in the regular season at present.
ARKANSAS (3-9, 0-8)
- Pros: Offensive line; running backs
- Cons: Defense; special teams; schedule
- Outlook: Can it get better in Bielema’s second year? It can’t get worse. But I’m having a hard time figuring out where the Hogs grab that fourth win.
MISSOURI (12-2, 7-1)
- Pros: Coaching stability; offensive line; schedule
- Cons: Losses at receiver and defensive end; questions in the defensive back seven
- Outlook: The schedule shapes up to be Missouri’s biggest friend, with only three preseason ranked opponents. Pinkel knows what he’s doing and Mauk is a promising quarterback. But depth is a concern in several areas. Four regular season losses wouldn’t surprise me, although I think three is a more likely result.
SOUTH CAROLINA (11-2, 6-2)
- Pros: Steve Spurrier; linebacking; offensive line; Mike Davis; Georgia at home
- Cons: Replacing Shaw and Clowney; cornerback; special teams
- Outlook: Hard to see the ‘Cocks doing worse from a win/loss standpoint than they did last season. But will another two-loss regular season be enough to win the division?
GEORGIA (8-5, 5-3)
- Pros: Offense; skill position depth; renewed health; defensive front seven; Marshall Morgan; Todd Gurley
- Cons: Secondary; offensive line; special teams; early season schedule; loss of Aaron Murray
- Outlook: The record will be improved because the Dawgs will be healthier, but the season will come down to competence in the secondary, on special teams and turnover margin improvement. I expect this team to improve over the course of the season, but there will be two or three regular season losses, depending on how they get out of the gate.
VANDERBILT (9-4, 4-4)
- Pros: Respectable defense by SEC standards; improved depth; schedule
- Cons: Offense; loss of Jordan Matthews
- Outlook: People don’t realize it, but Franklin did Mason a big favor by redshirting a ton of kids from a very good recruiting class. That’s going to help, although not as much as the softest schedule in the SEC will. Vandy’s biggest problem is that the offense won’t be very good. I can’t see anything close to another nine-win season, but bowl eligibility is certainly a realistic goal.
FLORIDA (4-8, 3-5)
- Pros: Defense; improved health; soft early season schedule
- Cons: Passing game; third offensive coordinator in four seasons; brutal cross-division schedule
- Outlook: Yes, the Gators will improve from last season’s record. But with six preseason ranked opponents on the schedule, I’m looking at something in the neighborhood of 8-4. And that’s only if Driskel stays on his feet.
TENNESSEE (5-7, 2-6)
- Pros: Receiver; improving talent base
- Cons: Quarterback; complete replacement of offensive and defensive lines; schedule
- Outlook: I’m having a hard time finding a sixth win on this team’s schedule. But they upset South Carolina last year, so who knows?
KENTUCKY (2-10, 0-8)
- Pros: Improving talent base after a solid recruiting class; coaching stability; pass rush; early schedule isn’t too daunting
- Cons: Secondary; overall depth
- Outlook: As the Beatles once sang, I have to admit it’s getting better. But not that quickly. Overall win total can improve a little from 2013’s, but without Arkansas on the schedule, the ‘Cats are going to have to steal a win from the likes of Vandy or Tennessee to get off the conference schneid.