The One Player Every SEC Team Will Miss Most in 2014
With the 2013 college football season drawing to a close, it’s time for teams to prep for losing some of their biggest stars.
Some teams may have no trouble replacing certain players, while others will take a major blow. Either way, every team has that one player it will miss the most.
The SEC is no exception.
Join B/R as we take a look at all 14 teams in the conference and which player each team will miss the most in 2014.
Alabama: QB AJ McCarron
Quarterback AJ McCarron is arguably the most successful quarterback to ever play for the Crimson Tide.
Through four seasons, the Mobile, Ala., native has thrown for 8,632 yards, 75 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on 66.9 percent passing. Furthermore, he has led Alabama to two BCS titles and has an impressive 36-3 record as the starter.
Not surprisingly, McCarron broke several school records during his time at Tuscaloosa.
Call him a “game manager” as much as you want. But there’s no denying that when the Tide needed McCarron to step up, he more times than not did.
With McCarron set to graduate, Alabama will have to look for a new quarterback for the first time in three seasons.
Although running backs T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake should do a good job at helping ease the pain on offense, the run game can only carry the team for so long.
Sooner or later, the Tide will need a big drive from their quarterback.
That's where McCarron's absence will be felt the most.
Arkansas: DE Chris Smith
In what was an overall disappointing season, one of the Razorbacks' few bright spots was the play of defensive end Chris Smith.
Through 12 games, the Mount Ulla, N.C., native recorded 36 tackles (11.5 for loss) and 8.5 sacks. In four seasons with Arkansas, he has tallied 122 tackles (30.5 for loss), 21.5 sacks and has forced a fumble.
Smith’s athleticism and quickness will be sorely missed for Arkansas. Especially if the team’s second-leading pass rusher, Trey Flowers, goes forward with declaring for the NFL, via NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread.
Without Smith, the team will have to seek leadership on the defensive line from freshmen Darius Philon and Deatrich Wise Jr.
But for a Razorbacks squad coming off a 3-9 season, they could use all the senior leadership they can find.
Auburn: DE Dee Ford
For a Tigers defense that is already struggling to slow down opponents, losing defensive end Dee Ford is certainly going to hurt.
Through 11 games this season, the Odenville, Ala., native has recorded 26 tackles (12.5 for loss), 8.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles. In five years at Auburn, he has tallied 90 career tackles (25.5 for loss), 18.5 sacks and forced three fumbles.
When the Tigers needed him most, Ford stepped up to the occasion. He compiled 7.5 of his sacks during games against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Missouri.
Freshman Carl Lawson will be expected to step up in his place.
But although Lawson is very talented, he can’t make up for the loss of Ford’s leadership and knack for the big play.
Florida: WR Solomon Patton
In a season that featured little to no offense, wide receiver Solomon Patton emerged for the Gators.
Through 12 games, the Mobile, Ala., native caught 44 passes for 556 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned 22 kickoffs for 642 yards and a touchdown—his 29.2 yards per returned ranks No. 7 in the nation.
Time after time, Patton has been able to inject a little bit of life into a Florida offense that has been largely inconsistent.
Specifically, the senior came up big in games against Miami (6 REC, 119 YDS, 1 TD), Arkansas (6 REC, 124 YDS, 2 TD) and Georgia Southern (4 REC, 69 YDS, 2 TD).
With several players graduating, transferring or declaring for the NFL early, the Gators will be in a bit of a jam in 2014.
However, no one’s loss will hurt the team as much as losing Patton will.
Georgia: QB Aaron Murray
Quarterback Aaron Murray has accomplished a lot during his time with the Bulldogs.
In four seasons, the Tampa, Fla., native has thrown for 13,166 yards, 121 touchdowns and 41 interceptions on 62.3 percent passing. He’s thrown for at least 24 touchdowns in each season and added another 16 scores on the ground.
Although backup Hutson Mason has the potential to be a very solid quarterback in Athens, he doesn’t look to have the same poise and leadership that Murray had. The characteristics that helped him make Georgia a BCS title contender year in and year out.
Running back Todd Gurley should guarantee that the Bulldogs have success in 2014.
However, sooner or later, the team will need to have an arm it can count on.
Kentucky: LB Avery Williamson
Although the Wildcats defense was overall disappointing, linebacker Avery Williamson was not.
Through 12 games, the Milan, Tenn., native recorded a team-high 102 tackles (4.0 for loss) and 1.0 sack. In four years at Lexington, he tallied 286 total tackles (10.0 for loss), 5.5 sacks, two interceptions and forced three fumbles.
Williamson’s ability to cover the entire field was a huge asset for Kentucky in 2013. And one that will be sorely missed going forward.
After Williamson, the team’s next leading tackler only had 61 tackles.
Overall, the Wildcats look to be a team on the rise. However, the loss of Williamson’s experience and leadership will certainly help.
LSU: QB Zach Mettenberger
The Tigers have got to be wondering just how good quarterback Zach Mettenberger could have been had they brought in first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron just a year earlier.
Under Cameron’s guidance, Mettenberger put together a career year in 2013, throwing for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 64.9 percent passing for a passer rating of 171.4. In comparison, the Watkinsville, Ga., native only threw for 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 58.8 percent passing for a passer rating of 128.3 in 2012.
It all played a large roll in LSU improving to No. 27 in total offense a year after finishing No. 87.
Backup Anthony Jennings certainly has potential, but it’ll be hard to duplicate what Mettenberger accomplished in 2013.
Ole Miss: LB Mike Marry
Linebacker Mike Marry has done a lot for the Rebels this season.
Through 12 games, the Clearwater, Fla., native has recorded 49 tackles (4.0 for loss), 1.0 sack and forced three fumbles. In four seasons with the school, he has totaled 230 tackles (22.5 for loss), 6.5 sacks and forced five fumbles.
Although it wasn’t his most productive season, Marry was still seen as one of the biggest contributors to the Ole Miss defense.
There’s no doubt that the Rebels have the players who can step up, but Marry’s presence will be missed greatly.
Mississippi State: DB Nickoe Whitley
It might come as a surprise, but the Bulldogs were actually pretty solid at defending the pass.
Thus far, the team ranks No. 35 against the pass (215.3 YPG). Mississippi State has given up 18 passing touchdowns but also has 14 interceptions on the year.
Defensive back Nickoe Whitley is a large reason for that success.
Through 11 games, the Jackson, Miss., native has recorded 55 tackles (1.0 for loss), forced two fumbles, blocked a punt and intercepted five passes. He saved his best performances for games against top opposition, recorded all of his interceptions against Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
For a Bulldogs squad that is trying to improve, losing Whitley will certainly be a step in the wrong direction.
Missouri: DL Michael Sam
The Tigers defense wouldn’t be the same without defensive lineman Michael Sam.
Through 13 games, the Hitchcock, Tex., native has recorded 45 tackles (18.0 for loss), 10.5 sacks, forced a fumble and returned his lone fumble return 21 yards for a touchdown. In four seasons with Missouri, he’s tallied 110 tackles (35.0 for loss), 20.0 sacks, forced five fumbles, intercepted a pass and returned both his fumble returns for touchdowns.
Furthermore, Sam currently ranks No. 9 in the nation in sacks and No. 11 in tackles for loss.
The Tigers' pass rush should be in good hands with juniors Markus Golden and Kony Ealy next season.
However, although both present the potential to disturb the opposition’s backfield, losing the explosiveness and leadership of Sam will definitely hurt the defense.
South Carolina: QB Connor Shaw
The poise and calmness in the pocket of quarterback Connor Shaw is hard to match.
Through 12 games, the Flowery Branch, Ga., native has thrown for 2,135 yards, 21 touchdowns and one interception on 61.0 percent passing. He’s also added another 511 yards and five scores on the ground.
Sure, many will wonder why defensive end Jadeveon Clowney isn’t listed here. However, nobody else single-handedly controlled the Gamecocks' success such as Shaw this season.
That became clearly evident in the team’s stunning victory over then-No. 5 Missouri, 27-24, back on Oct. 26.
In that game, Shaw was held out for the first half due to an injury. But after his return, he helped South Carolina overcome a 17-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to force the team to overtime.
Backup Dylan Thompson will certainly have some big shoes to fill in 2014.
Tennessee: DL Corey Miller
Under head coach Butch Jones, the Vols will taste success sooner rather than later.
However, the loss of defensive lineman Corey Miller will certainly not help.
Through 12 games, the Wellford, S.C., native has recorded 36 tackles (7.0 for loss), 6.5 sacks, five quarterback hurries and forced a fumble. In four years at Knoxville, he has totaled 82 tackles (16.0 for loss), 9.5 sacks and forced a fumble.
With fellow senior defensive lineman Marlon Walls also graduating, Tennessee’s next highest total in sacks belongs to junior Jordan Williams with just 1.5. In fact, the team will be losing 72.2 percent of its sacks due to graduation next season.
The Vols will have to do a lot of work to make up for that.
Texas A&M: QB Johnny Manziel
The Aggies go as far as quarterback Johnny Manziel goes.
And although there has been no official announcement that the Kerrville, Tex., native will declare early for the NFL draft, it’s hard to believe he won’t when many consider him to be a top 15 selection. Not to mention, Manziel himself recently said he believes that he’s NFL ready.
His stats certainly back him up.
In just two seasons at College Station, Manziel has thrown for 7,438 yards, 59 touchdowns and 22 interceptions on 68.5 percent passing. He’s also added another 2,096 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground.
Manziel’s versatility and ability to make something out of nothing has scouts raving of his ability. It also won him the Heisman Trophy in 2012.
That will certainly be a hard act to follow for whoever becomes the next Texas A&M quarterback.
Vanderbilt: WR Jordan Matthews
The Commodores will be taking a major hit to their passing attack, as the team will say goodbye to its top-three leaders in receiving.
But the biggest loss will be that of wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Through 12 games, the Madison, Ala., native caught 107 passes for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. In four seasons at the school, he has caught 257 balls for 3,616 yards while finding the end zone 22 times.
Furthermore, Matthews wrapped up the regular season by topping 120 yards of receiving in three consecutive games. He topped the century mark eight times on the season.
With freshman wide receiver Jordan Cunningham (15 REC, 123 YDS) next up and quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels graduating, Vanderbilt will have a long road ahead of it to get back its production in the passing attack.