2014 Scout SEC Football Preview

Auburn QB Nick Marshall

A snapshot preview of the SEC, where the conference is eying multiple teams in the CFB Playoff...

After coming up just short of its eighth straight national title in 2013, the SEC is hitting the restart button this fall just in time for the College Football Playoff. Defenses figure to reclaim center stage in the conference, given the quarterback turnover at Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M. Reigning SEC champion Auburn lost a few key players offensively, but the War Eagles will still be formidable behind dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall. And as Missouri and Auburn proved last season, it is possible to leap to the front of the line in this league in fairly short order. That means there’s hope in outposts across the conference as summer begins to fade into autumn and college football is back in the air.

OFFENSIVE MVP
RB Todd Gurley, Georgia –
Injuries were the only thing that kept Gurley from competing for this title in 2013, his sophomore season in Athens. Now that mainstay quarterback Aaron Murray has moved on, look for Mark Richt and the Bulldogs to lean heavily on their bell cow in the backfield.

DEFENSIVE MVP
S Landon Collins, Alabama – The Crimson Tide’s junior safety is a natural playmaker in the secondary, and he’ll take over as the man in the back with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri having moved on to the NFL. Collins has a nose for the football and covers a ton of ground.

BREAKOUT PLAYER
DE Danielle Hunter, LSU – SEC offensive coordinators are already familiar with Hunter, who started 10 of 13 games a season ago, but they’ll soon be game-planning around the junior on a weekly basis. Hunter had a huge spring in Baton Rouge and is primed to take over the mantle as lead pass-rusher for the Tigers.

COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
Will Muschamp, Florida – To be honest, it was fairly surprising that Muschamp survived last year’s 4-8 campaign, one that included home losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern. The former Texas coach-in-waiting is now on even thinner ice and must find a semblance of offense in Gainesville this season to turn things around.

SLEEPER TEAM
Ole Miss – For the first time since Eli Manning left Oxford, the talent is on hand at Ole Miss to make a run in the SEC West. Third-year coach Hugh Freeze led the Rebels to eight wins in 2012 followed by a nine-win season a year ago. Hotty Toddy is looking to take another step forward in a division that’s breaking in several new quarterbacks.

MUST-SEE CONFERENCE GAME
Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29 – C’mon, you don’t want to see how Nick Saban will attempt to exact revenge after last season’s bitter last-second defeat on the Plains? ‘Bama will welcome rival Auburn to Tuscaloosa two days after Thanksgiving for a game that always means plenty. But there will be a little extra juice this go-round.

MUST-SEE NON-CONFERENCE GAME

South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29 – Played on the same day as Alabama vs. Auburn, the battle for the Palmetto State will again be a high-stakes affair. With Florida struggling, Tennessee rebuilding and Georgia breaking in a new quarterback, prospects for South Carolina are strong in 2014. This regular-season finale will be a must win for national prestige.

IMPACT RECRUIT
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU – The nation’s No. 1 overall player in the 2014 class, Fournette possesses a rare combination of size (6-1, 224), strength and speed. Considering LSU has only four scholarship tailbacks on its roster, the New Orleans native is in line to soak up a lot of Jeremy Hill’s carries from a season ago.

BEST TAILGATING
The Grove (Ole Miss) – Of all the debates in the world of SEC football, this is probably the most difficult one to solve. From the Vol Navy in Knoxville to bayou cooking galore in Baton Rouge, there are a lot of correct answers here. But you can’t go wrong with the Grove, an entertaining hodgepodge of tents, food, music and beautiful women.

BOLD PREDICTION
Only one SEC team will make the College Football Playoff. It’s been assumed by many in SEC country that the conference will get two member teams into the four-team playoff in more years than not. But the league may not be top-heavy enough to accomplish that in 2014. Sure, the conference champ will get in, but will the third-place team be strong enough this fall? I’m voting no.

HEISMAN CANDIDATES
1. RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
2. QB Nick Marshall, Auburn
3. RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
4. QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
5. RB Alex Collins, Arkansas

TOP QUARTERBACKS
1. Nick Marshall, Auburn
2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
3. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
4. Maty Mauk, Missouri
5. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina

TOP SKILL-POSITION PLAYERS
1. RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
2. WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
3. RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
4. WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
5. RB Mike Davis, South Carolina

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYERS
1. S Landon Collins, Alabama
2. CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
3. S Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
4. DL Chris Jones, Mississippi State
5. LB Kwon Alexander, LSU

BIGGEST SHOES TO FILL
1. QB Jacob Coker, Alabama
(for AJ McCarron)
2. QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
(for Johnny Manziel)
3. QB Hutson Mason, Georgia
(for Aaron Murray)
4. QB Brandon Harris, LSU
(for Zach Mettenberger)
5. RB Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn
(for Tre Mason)

BREAKOUT PLAYERS
1. DE Danielle Hunter, LSU
2. RB Derrick Henry, Alabama
3. RB Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn
4. DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
5. WR Marquez North, Tennessee

BEST HEAD COACH
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
4. Les Miles, LSU
5. Mark Richt, Georgia

TOP CONFERENCE GAMES
1. Auburn at Alabama
2. Georgia at South Carolina
3. Alabama at LSU
4. Auburn at Ole Miss
5. Mississippi State at Ole Miss

TOP NON-CONFERENCE GAMES
1. South Carolina @ Clemson
2. Ole Miss vs. Boise State (Atlanta)
3. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Houston)
4. Clemson at Georgia
5. Auburn at Kansas State

2014 RECRUITING CLASS RANKINGS
1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Tennessee
4. Texas A&M
5. Auburn

W1. Auburn
By Mark Murphy, Auburn.scout.com
Offensive MVP: Nick Marshall
Defensive MVP: LB Cassanova McKinzy
Top NFL Prospect: WR Sammie Coates
Breakout Player: LB Kenny Flowers
Fan Favorite: OT Shon Coleman
Top 2014 Signee: WR D’haquille Williams
Impact Freshman: RB Roc Thomas
Must Win Game: LSU
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Alabama
Best Road Trip: @Kansas State
Best Local College Sports Bar: Mama Goldberg’s
Best Tailgating Spot: Eastside of Jordan-Hare
Outlook: Auburn should feature one of the nation's top offenses and is expected to be improved defensively as it defends its SEC Championship.
Outlook: 12-1, Playoff

W2. Alabama
By Kirk McNair, BamaMag.com
Offensive MVP: TB T.J. Yeldon
Defensive MVP: S Landon Collins
Top NFL Prospect: WR Amari Cooper
Breakout Player: DE A’Shawn Robinson
Fan Favorite: TB Derrick Henry
Top 2014 Signee: QB Jacob Coker
Impact Freshman: LT Cam Robinson
Must Win Game: LSU
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Auburn
Best Road Trip: @Tennessee
Best Local College Sports Bar: Houndstooth
Best Tailgating Spot: Quad
Outlook: Although Alabama stumbled late last year, having Nick Saban and having won three national championships in the past five years has Bama in the conversation, even with a new quarterback.
Outlook: 12-0, College Football Playoff

W3. Louisiana State
By Hunter Paniagua, TigerSportsDigest.com
Offensive MVP: RB Leonard Fournette
Defensive MVP: LB Kwon Alexander
Top NFL Prospect: LT La’El Collins
Breakout Player: WR Travin Dural
Fan Favorite: RB Terrence Magee
Top 2014 Signee: RB Leonard Fournette
Impact Freshman: RB Leonard Fournette
Must Win Game: Ole Miss
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Alabama
Best Road Trip: @Auburn
Best Local College Sports Bar: Walk-On’s
Best Tailgating Spot: Parade Grounds
Outlook: This season will ultimately hinge on how LSU replaces all the offensive production lost from last season, and how much improvement the defense shows.
Outlook: 9-3, Capital One Bowl

W4. Ole Miss
By Chuck Rounsaville, OMSpirit.com
Offensive MVP: QB Bo Wallace
Defensive MVP: DE C.J. Johnson
Top NFL Prospect: FS Cody Prewitt
Breakout Player: WR Quincy Adeboyejo
Fan Favorite: WR Laquon Treadwell
Top 2014 Signee: CB Tee Sheperd
Impact Freshman: WR Markell Pack
Must Win Game: Mississippi State
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Alabama
Best Road Trip: @LSU
Best Local College Sports Bar: The Library
Best Tailgating Spot: The Grove
Outlook: If the offensive line gels, the Rebels, with better defensive depth and a healthy Bo Wallace, could be very good.
Outlook: 8-4, Gator Bowl

W5. Texas A&M
By William Wilkerson, AggieDigest.com
Offensive MVP: OT Cedric Ogbuehi
Defensive MVP: CB Deshazor Everett
Top NFL Prospect: OT Cedric Ogbuehi
Breakout Player: WR Speedy Noil
Fan Favorite: RB Trey Williams
Top 2014 Signee: DE Myles Garrett
Impact Freshman: Noil
Must Win Game: vs. Arkansas (AT&T Stadium) on Sept. 27
Biggest Game of the Year: @ Auburn on Nov. 8
Best Road Trip: @ Alabama
Best Local College Sports Bar: Dixie Chicken
Best Tailgating Spot: Reed Arena or Spence Park
Outlook: Replacing Johnny Manziel might be the biggest question but the most important could be how A&M improves under third-year defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.
Outlook: 7-5 (Gator Bowl)

W6. Mississippi State
By Gene Swindoll, GenesPage.com
Offensive MVP: Dak Prescott
Defensive MVP: Benardrick McKinney
Top NFL Prospect: Chris Jones
Breakout Player: Chris Jones
Fan Favorite: Dak Prescott
Top 2014 Signee: Gerri Green
Impact Freshman: Jamoral Graham
Must Win Game: Auburn
Biggest Game of the Year: Ole Miss
Best Road Trip: LSU
Best Local College Sports Bar: Cowbells Sports Bar and Grill in Starkville, MS
Outlook: Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen has been building for this season. There is great talent, experience, depth and leadership on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Outlook: 10-3

W7. Arkansas
HawgsIllustrated.com
Offensive MVP: TB Alex Collins
Defensive MVP: DE Trey Flowers
Top NFL Prospect: TE Hunter Henry
Breakout Player: QB Brandon Allen
Fan Favorite: TB Alex Collins
Top 2014 Signee: DT Bijhon Jackson
Impact Freshman: OL Brian Wallace
Must Win Game: @ Mississippi State
Biggest Game of the Year: @ Auburn
Best Road Trip: Texas A&M @ Arlington
Best Local College Sports Bar: Farrell’s Lounge
Best Tailgating Spot: The Gardens
Outlook: No one doubts that head coach Bret Bielema will get it done eventually, but it takes a while to repair the train wreck that was Arkansas football. This is his second year and there will be improvement in performance, but there won’t be much of an improvement in the won-lost record. Arkansas won’t win the SEC, but could have a say in who does.
Outlook: 4-8, Wait ‘til next year

E1. Georgia
By Dean Legge, DawgPost.com
Offensive MVP: RB Todd Gurley
Defensive MVP: LB Ramik Wilson
Top NFL Prospect: LB Ramik Wilson
Breakout Player: RB Sony Michel
Fan Favorite: RB Todd Gurley
Top 2014 Signee: RB Sony Michel
Impact Freshman: RB Sony Michel
Must Win Game: Florida
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Florida
Best Road Trip: @Kentucky
Best Local College Sports Bar: N/A
Best Tailgating Spot: Old Campus
Outlook: Georgia should win the SEC East.
Outlook: 10-3, Sugar Bowl or Peach Bowl

E2. South Carolina
By Derek Davis, GameCockPride.com
Offensive MVP: RB Mike Davis
Defensive MVP: LB Sharrod Golightly
Top NFL Prospect: OL Corey Robinson
Breakout Player: QB Dylan Thompson
Fan Favorite: WR Shaq Roland
Top 2014 Signee: LB Bryson Allen-Williams
Impact Freshman: CB Wesley Green
Must Win Game: Auburn
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Clemson
Best Road Trip: @Vanderbilt
Best Local College Sports Bar: Thirsty Fellow
Best Tailgating Spot: The Cockabooses
Outlook: South Carolina will be a point spread favorite in every game except Auburn. Everything sets up nicely for the Gamecocks to not only contend for the SEC Championship, but a National Championship as well.
Outlook: 13-1, Peach Bowl

E3. Missouri
By J.P. Rock, ShowMeMizzou.com
Offensive MVP: Maty Mauk
Defensive MVP: Markus Golden
Top NFL Prospect: DE Shane Ray
Breakout Player: Morgan Steward
Fan Favorite: Maty Mauk
Top 2014 Signee: Nate Brown/ Tavon Ross
Impact Freshman: Nate Brown
Must Win Game: At Toledo. Tigers need to run the table in their non-con schedule.
Biggest Game of the Year: Georgia
Best Road Trip: At Tennessee. Great game day experience.
Best Local College Sports Bar: Boochies
Best Tailgating: Florida
Outlook: The Tigers return a lot of young talent. The offense will go as QB Maty Mauk does. Mauk had a great spring and looks improved from last season. The run game looks strong, and the defense will be more athletic then last year.
Outlook: 10-2 overall

E4. Florida
By Bob Redman, FightinGators.com
Offensive MVP: QB Jeff Driskel
Defensive MVP: DE Dante Fowler
Top NFL Prospect: DE Dante Fowler
Breakout Player: WR Demarcus Robinson
Fan Favorite: CB Vernon Hargreaves
Top 2014 Signee: DE Gerald Willis
Impact Freshman: CB Jalen Tabor
Must Win Game: UGA
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. UGA
Best Road Trip: @Alabama
Best Local College Sports Bar: The Swamp Restaurant
Best Tailgating Spot: O’Dome Parking Lot
Outlook: The season will hinge a great deal on quarterback Jeff Driskel and offensive line and the way they take to the new offense.
Outlook: 8-4, Outback Bowl

E5. Vanderbilt
By Don Yates, VandyMania.com
Offensive MVP: RB Jerron Seymour
Defensive MVP: DT Adam Butler
Top NFL Prospect: OL Joe Townsend
Breakout Player: RB Ralph Webb
Fan Favorite: OLB Kyle Woestmann
Top 2014 Signee: DL Nifae Lealao
Impact Freshman: DL Nifae Lealao
Must Win Game: Ole Miss
Biggest Game of the Year: Tennessee
Best Road Trip: Missouri
Best Local College Sports Bar: Commodore Bar & Grill
Best Tailgating Spot: On top 25th Ave. Garage
Outlook: First year HC Derek Mason inherits one of most talented and confident teams in Vanderbilt history. Vandy returns a veteran o-line, the top rusher and a QB that was a key in beating Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. Vandy must replace numerous defensive starters but over 20 RS freshmen are ready to fight for playing time.
Outlook: 7-5, Music City Bowl

E6. Tennessee
By Josh Woodward, InsideTennessee.com
Offensive MVP: WR Josh Malone
Defensive MVP: LB A.J. Johnson
Top NFL Prospect: WR Marquez North
Breakout Player: QB Joshua Dobbs
Fan Favorite: CB Cameron Sutton
Top 2014 Signee: RB Jalen Hurd
Impact Freshman: RB Jalen Hurd
Must Win Game: Florida
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Oklahoma
Best Road Trip: @Oklahoma
Best Local College Sports Bar: Junction 33
Best Tailgating Spot: On the banks of the Tennessee River
Outlook: Youth is the name of the game for Tennessee as Butch Jones rebuilds. Tennessee will be fun to watch, but will still lack the depth to be competitive for four quarters.
Outlook: 6-6

E7. Kentucky
By Jeff Drummond, AllWildcats.com
Offensive MVP: OT Jordan Swindell
Defensive MVP: DE Alvin “Bud” Dupree
Top NFL Prospect: DE Alvin “Bud” Dupree
Breakout Player: WR/ATH Ryan Timmons
Fan Favorite: DE Alvin “Bud” Dupree
Top 2014 Signee: DT Matt Elam
Impact Freshman: LB Ryan Flannigan
Must Win Game: Vanderbilt
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Louisville
Best Road Trip: @LSU
Best Local College Sports Bar: Two Keys Tavern
Best Tailgating Spot: Alumni Drive
Outlook: Two strong recruiting classes under Mark Stoops place Kentucky in a position to improve, but the schedule is brutal. Drastic improvement may mean only 2-3 more wins.
Outlook: 5-7

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