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College Football Conference Preview: SEC

There’s nothing quite like college football in the South!



No quarterback competition here; Jeff Driskell is the starter. He’s mobile, but needs to using better judgment about when to take off and when to check down or dump the ball off. The receiver corps is a bit depleted compared to last year, but there are incoming freshmen who could contribute, and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will see the field as a wideout as well. Running back Matt Jones has been dealing with an illness and will be replaced at least to start the season by Mack Brown (presumably not the Texas coach). The line has been badly hit by injuries, as guard Jon Halapio is dealing with a torn pectoral muscle and will me at least a few games, and tackle Chaz Green is out for the year with a torn labrum. That leaves just one returning starter on the line.

Special teams took a hit when dynamic kick returner Andre Debose tore his ACL in camp.

Prediction: The ground game and defense should be above-average as usual, especially if Matt Jones can get healthy. I still don’t think this team has the passing game to compete with Georgia and South Carolina. 8-4.


Aaron Murray returns at quarterback for the Bulldogs needing to play more consistently. Tight end Arthur Lynch is the only returning starter at that position or at receiver, although junior Malcolm Mitchell had 572 yards and 4 TDs as a reserve. The running back position is in excellent shape, with sophomores Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall coming back after combing for 2,144 yards and 26 TDs in 2012. Defenses will be scheming to stop them, though, putting more pressure on Murray and the passing game. Maybe the best news for the offense is that the entire starting line from last season is back.

Georgia is replacing a lot of very good players on the defense, and just three starters are returning. The linebacking unit looks to be in decent shape; Amarlo Herrera returns and Jordan Jenkins started at times last season. The rest the defense could have an unusual number of underclassmen playing.

The Bulldogs need more consistency from their kicker, who made two field goals from beyond the fifty, but also had issues on multiple PAT attempts.

Prediction: The Bulldogs have a pretty favorable schedule, with LSU and South Carolina at home and Florida at a neutral site (Jacksonville). 9-3.


New head coach Mark Stoops won’t name a starting quarterback yet, but he seems to be leaning toward Jalen Whitlow over Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles. Smith got off to a good start in 2012, but went down with an ankle injury in mid-September and was replaced by Whitlow. Towles, too, has started at times but been up-and-down. Junior Demarco Robinson will be surrounded by freshmen and sophomores in the receiving corps. Fortunately for the Wildcats, they have good depth at running back. Three starting offensive linemen return.

New defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot has decided to go from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. Six foot four, 254-pound Bud Dupree will move from linebacker back to his natural position as an end. Juco transfer Za’Darius Smith will take the other end spot. Smith missed two weeks of fall camp with an ankle sprain, but he’s expected to be able to start in the opener. There are a lot of questions in the secondary, where junior Ashely Lowery is the only returning starter and is surrounded by freshmen and sophomores.

The Wildcats have a good kickoff man, but are looking for a PAT and field-goal guy.

Prediction: Mark Stoops has said and done all the right things, but it’s going to take at least a few years for him to even have a chance at competing with the SEC’s mid-tier teams. 4-8.



Senior James Franklin is finally healthy and will start at quarterback. His main targets look to be seniors Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington, as well as sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, a top recruit out of high school. In the backfield, Henry Josey returns after tearing his ACL, MCL, and patellar tendon in November 2011. Behind him is Russell Hansbrough, who played in several games last year as a  freshman. Four starters return on the offensive line.

Mizzou ranked at or near the bottom of the SEC in most stats last season, and they lost tackle Sheldon Richardson to the NFL. No returning player had more than 79 tackles, 4.5 sacks, or one interception last season.

Junior running back Marcus Murphy returned three punts and a kickoff for TDs last year.

Prediction: I see 6-6 as the best-case scenario for the Tigers. There are just too many question marks on the defense.


South Carolina

It’s possible Steve Spurrier will play two quarterbacks this year. Connor Shaw will start, but Dylan Thompson, who played well at times when Shaw was injured last season, could see time too. Whoever starts will most likely miss receiver Ace Sanders, who left a year early for the NFL. Bruce Ellington will step into the number one role. Top running back Marcus Lattimore also left for the NFL after a gruesome knee injury last season; he’ll be replaced by sophomore Mike Davis. Redshirt freshman Cody Waldrop takes over at center, but the rest of the offensive line returns.

Two words on defense, people: Jadeveon. Clowney. If you were living under a rock last winter and haven’t seen his hit on Michigan’s Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl, go Youtube it. Now. Anyway, the linebacker position is the only one with any real uncertainty for the Gamecocks. Sophomore Cedrick Cooper and junior Sharrod Golightly will likely start on the outside, with sophomore Kaiwan Lewis inside. In the secondary, Victor Hampton is a guy to keep an eye on- and if you’re an opposing quarterback, to throw away from. Two other starters return in the backfield in senior Jimmy Legree and junior Brison Williams.

Someone, most likely Victor Hampton, will have to emerge as a punt returner with the departure of Sanders.

Prediction: That defense will have NFL scouts salivating. 10-2.



Let’s go over the offensive positions at which Tennessee lost starters. Quarterback. Tight end. Left guard. All three wide receiver spots. Don’t be surprised to see some freshmen starting on Saturday. Junior Justin Worley was named the starting quarterback, and his receiving corps consists of two freshmen, two sophomores, and two juniors, none of whom have ever started regularly. Fortunately, running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane have some experience, and only one starting lineman needs to be replaced.

Last year’s defense ranked 13th or 14th in the SEC in most stats, and most of those starters- seven of them, to be exact- are back. New coordinator John Jancek is switching to a 4-3, hoping it better suits his personnel. Jancek has individual players with potential, such as 360-pound tackle Daniel McCullers, and A.J. Jackson, a linebacker who led the SEC in tackles in 2012. The secondary, which had a penchant for giving up big plays last season, remains the biggest concern.

Senior Michael Palardy could handle kickoffs, field goals, extra points, and punting duties.

Prediction: This is a very young offense, and a defense where the ability varies. 5-7.



The Commodores have lost five players accused of playing roles in a dormitory sexual assault in June. Four, including junior tight end Brandon Banks, have been dismissed from the team; a fifth, junior wide receiver Chris Boyd, is accused of advising his teammates on how to cover up the assault and has been suspended from the team while his case works its way through the courts. Throwing the ball to the depleted but deep receiving corps is senior Austyn Carta-Samuels. His top target will likely be Jordan Matthews, who had 1,323 yards and 8 TDs last season. The run game will likely be by committee at least to start, with carries going to senior Wesley Tate and sophomores Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow. Three starters return on the offensive line, and how’s this for a random stat- according to Athlon Sports, senior left tackle Wesley Johnson has started every game for the past three years and not been called for holding.

Vandy has six returning starters on defense. Middle linebacker Chase Garnham leads them all in sacks with seven. The secondary should be strong, with three returning starters, but depth could be an issue- two projected backups were among those dismissed in conjunction with the rape case. Seniors Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler has two picks each last year.

Senior kicker Carey Spear hit 20 of 24 field goals last season.

Prediction: No reason this team can’t match last year’s 8-4 record.



A.J. McCarron will be at the helm this fall as Nick Saban’s Tide sets their sights on a third straight BCS title. Sophomore Amari Cooper and senior Kevin Norwood return at receiver, along with Christion Jones and Kenny Bell- that’s four players who had at least 300 yards and 3 TDs a year ago. Sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 TDs playing behind the departed Eddie Lacy. The only question marks are on the offensive line, where there will be three new starters.

Eight starters return on defense for the Tide. Just one starter remains on the line, but it’s hard to believe Nick Saban won’t have underclassmen ready to step up. Four starting linebackers return, among them senior inside ‘backer C.J. Mosley, who had 107 tackles and was named team MVP last year. Cornerback Deion Belue is the only senior in the secondary, but junior safeties Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri have a fair amount of experience.

Kicker Jeremy Shelley is gone, meaning the Tide may turn (no pun intended) to Cade Foster, who has handled kickoffs and long field goals.

Prediction: Alabama gets their game at Texas A&M out of the way on September 14. Should the Tide win- and I think they will- the only team I can see maybe giving them trouble is LSU. Ultimately, I think Bama finishes 12-0.



Welcome to the SEC, Bret Bielema. You have three returning starters on offense, the only thing that offense was good at last year was passing, and your quarterback and top receiver are gone. Enjoy! Among the few bright spots for Bielema: his center and left tackle return, and there are several upperclassmen on the two-deep at receiver.

The defense projects to be in somewhat better shape. All four defensive linemen have started at times, and the same is true in the secondary. End Chris Smith leads returning players in sacks with 9.5, and  sophomore Rohan Gaines in tackles with 75. Injuries could become an issue, with several freshmen and sophomores listed on the two-deep.

Kicker Zach Hocker made just 11 of his 18 field goal attempts last season.

Prediction: This team has a long way to go. Bret Bielema is a good coach, but he’ll need more than one year to rebuild. It’s hard to see the Hogs improving on their 4-8 record a year ago when they’ve lost so much on offense. 4-8.


Five starters return from an offense that finished in the SEC basement in most stats a year ago. Head coach Gus Malzahn surprised many when he named juco transfer Nick Marshall the starting quarterback. Marshall has very little experience to rely on at receiver, with three sophomores and three juniors, none of them with regular experience starting, on the two-deep. The run game is in better shape; Tre Martin rushed for 1,000 yards last season despite not being a starter, and transfer Cameron Artis-Payne had a lot of success in junior college. Four starters return on the offensive line, but that line allowed a whopping 37 sacks last year.

Unfortunately for the Tigers’ faithful, the defense doesn’t look much more promising than the offense. They, too, finished in the SEC basement in most stats last season, and nine of those starters have returned. Four of them are on the defensive line, one at linebacker, and four in the secondary. (Note that Auburn’s base defense is a 4-2-5). One scary stat about the secondary- they had one interception all last season. It goes without saying that that needs to change.

Senior Cody Parkey returns to kick.

Prediction: The Tigers luck out in that their non-conference schedule is very soft. 5-7.



Zach Mettenberger returns at quarterback with a new mentor in new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. If Cameron can help Mettenberger to become more consistent, this offense could be better than it has in a few years. Starting wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Kadron Boone return, along with Jarvis Landry, who has a seen a fair amount of time over the last two seasons. James Wright and juco transfer Quantavius Leslie round out the field. Leading rusher Jeremy Hill returns as well, although his status is up in the air after an arrest in the spring. Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard are both capable backups. In short yardage, 6’1″, 272-pound fullback J.C. Copeland should see carries as well. The offensive line took a hit when 6’7″, 334-pound senior guard Josh Williford suffered a concussion (not his first) in early August; he’s not expected to play again but may be on the sidelines. He’ll most likely be replaced by Vadal Alexander, who has started in the past.

Only three starters return from what was one of the SEC’s best defenses a year ago. All four starting linemen are new, but three of them are juniors with some experience, and sophomore Danielle (nope, not a typo) Hunter  has been getting rave reviews this fall. Senior linebacker Lamin Barrow (or should it be Barreaux?) returns to anchor that unit, flanked by sophomore Kwon Alexander and freshman Kendell Beckwith, one of the top high school recruits in Louisiana. In the secondary, the Jalens- sophomores Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills- got experience playing some last year as true freshmen. Senior Craig Loston and junior Ronald Martin round out the defensive backfield.

Colby Delahoussaye will be the field goal and extra point guy. Senior James Hairston will continue to kick off. Punter Brad Wing has been replaced with another Aussie in Jamie Keehn.

Prediction: So much depends on the consistency of Mettenberger. 10-2 wouldn’t surprise me, but I’m going to be conservative and say 9-3.


Ole Miss

In the first season under Hugh Freeze, the Rebels improved from 2-10 to 6-6, and won a bowl game. Year Two of the Freeze regime isn’t likely to produce such a dramatic improvement, but this team does appear to be moving in the right direction. Eight starters return on offense, including quarterback Bo Wallace, who passed for 2,994 yards and threw for 22 TDs a year ago; Wallace also rushed for 390 yards and 8 TDs. Three experienced receivers are back, and Ole Miss landed the nation’s top wide receiver recruit as well in Laquon Treadwell. The Rebels have a stable of reliable running backs as well. Four offensive linemen have returned.

National number one recruit Robert Nkemdiche spurned multiple offers to join his brother Denzel at Ole Miss. Robert, a defensive end, may not start right away as two starting upperclassmen return at his position. He’ll certainly see the field, though. Tackle is a bigger concern.  The linebacker position should be in good shape, with senior Mike Marry and Denzel Nkemdiche, plus D.T. Shackelford returning from injury. Three starters return in the secondary.

Covering kicks was an issue for Ole Miss last season.

Prediction: This team is definitely heading in the right direction. 7-5.


Mississippi State

Six starters return on the offensive side of the ball in Starkville. Quarterback Tyler Russell is a fifth-year senior who played very well at times last season, but he’s going to be throwing to receivers without much experience, including potentially two freshmen and a sophomore. Tight end Malcolm Johnson is a junior who has played a fair amount. The Bulldogs have a 1,000-yard rusher returning in LaDarius Perkins, with some reliable underclassmen behind him. Four starters return up front.

Senior end Denico Autry and junior tackle Kaleb Eulls are standouts in the front four. Senior starter Deontae Skinner and sophomore starter Bernardrick McKinney return to the linebacking corps. Nickoe Whitley is the only returning starter and the only senior on the two-deep in the secondary.

The Bulldogs return both their kicker and punter.

Prediction: Dan Mullen has done an impressive job turning around what was a bottom-feeder in the SEC. I don’t think this will be one of his best seasons, though. The Bulldogs have a tough schedule, starting with a non-conference game against Oklahoma State, visits from LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss, and road trips to Texas A&M and South Carolina. With that slate, I can’t see them finishing above 6-6.


Texas A&M

I’m not going to say much about Johnny Manziel, because quite frankly I’m tired of hearing about him. We all saw him last year, we all know what he can do, we all know having him sit out the first half against Rice won’t affect the Aggies season whatsoever. Manziel will miss having receiver Ryan Swope on the field, but 6’5″ sophomore Mike Evans was impressive last season. Behind Evans, there are some other upperclassmen who have been waiting for time, and newcomers could contribute as well. The running back position should be set with Ben Malena and Trey Williams returning, and there are transfers from Oklahoma and Oregon who could contribute right away as well. Three starters are back on the offensive line.

Five starters return on the defensive side of the ball. Two starters are gone up front, but senior Kirby Ennis and sophomore Julien Obioha return. Senior Steven Jenkins is the only returning starter at linebacker, but there are two in the secondary, including standout Deshazor Everett. The team will be without the services of Everett and safety Floyd Raven for at least part of the opener, however, as the two serve suspensions related to arrests in the spring.

Taylor Bertholet is reliable on short field goals, but needs to be more consistent from beyond 30 yards.

Prediction: If the defense takes a step backwards- and make no mistake, they lost some good players on defense- I could see the Aggies finishing with as many as three losses. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, though, and say they’ll finish 11-1.

Conference Prediction:

SEC East

1. South Carolina

2. Georgia

3. Florida

4. Vanderbilt

5. Missouri

6. Tennessee

7. Kentucky

SEC West

1. Alabama

2. Texas A&M

3. LSU

4. Ole Miss

5. Mississippi State

6. Auburn

7. Arkansas


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