SEC Football: 3 Sleepers That Will Shock the Conference in 2014
Which Southeastern Conference football team will be the most underrated in 2014 is just one of a wealth of projections we all go through in the offseason. Who will win the SEC, which players should we look out for, which newcomer will provide the biggest impact…Asking all of these questions allows us to wade through the difficult time in which bodies aren't flying across gridirons.
Turnover will play a vital role in the 2014 edition of SEC football. A massive amount of experience and talent is gone from key skill positions for powerhouse programs, leaving a void that will likely be filled by several teams that struggled in 2013.
The traditional threats remain, led by Auburn's stacked depth chart fresh off playing for a national title, but these three squads have the experience and talent to hit a 2014 surge and challenge for SEC supremacy in the fall. And let's not forget what happened a year ago when talented, experienced no-names threw the conference power structure on its head.
2013 Record: 4-8
Recapping Florida's 2013 campaign is almost as tedious as watching one of their games a season ago. After struggling to find their footing but managing a 4-1 start, the Gators lost seven straight games in a streak best exemplified by a 26-20 loss to FCS Georgia Southern. Injuries throughout, including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel's broken leg, coupled with the hapless offensive play-calling tripped Florida into a face plant of epic proportions.
Having won national titles in 2006 and 2008, this program is a storied one that was a victim of both luck and bad decisions. Incoming offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who spent many years studying under offensive guru David Cutcliffe, looks to install an offense that better fits Driskel's pro-style tendencies.
Gainesville isn't without talent, either. A program with this amount of resources and level of history is bound to succeed, and a ninth-ranked recruiting class doesn't hurt, either. That's the third consecutive class ranked in the nation's top 10 by 247sports.com for Florida. With that many stars filling the roster, a breakout year starts to seem inevitable.
A massive amount of experience returns and the Gators get LSU and South Carolina at home. Look for Florida to push for a January bowl, if not more.
2013 Record: 7-6
If there ever was a year that head coach Dan Mullen's Bulldogs were to break through the glass ceiling and start pushing around the SEC's big boys, this is the year.
Last year's Egg Bowl hero in quarterback Dak Prescott returns as a rising junior and dark-horse Heisman choice. He should blow outsiders away with his combination of power-running and decision-making skills.
Interestingly, Prescott may not be the most talented player on the roster. Senior Jameon Lewis, who at times played wide receiver, running back, return man and even quarterback a season ago, is easily the most versatile and dynamic returning player in the league. Putting these two on the field at the same time should make 2014 dynamite for MSU.
The defensive front will be among the best in the conference, led by all-star Chris Jones. Coming in at 6'5" and 300 pounds, Jones has already shown enough talent to demand, and break, double teams. Benardrick McKinney joins Jones with playmaking abilities and combining with a deep secondary unit, State's 18th-ranked total defense in 2013 should only improve.
Another factor here, of course, is scheduling. After a brutal 2013 schedule, the Bulldogs will find 2014 to be a comparative walk in the park. Returning SEC champ Auburn travels to Starkville and MSU will play its next two most difficult opponents in Alabama and LSU on the road. That frees up some other winnable games at home, making 10+ wins a very realistic goal.
2013 Record: 8-5
Head coach Hugh Freeze has worked wonders in Oxford. After a noisy seventh-ranked 2013 recruiting class that grabbed a lot of attention, Freeze has pulled in yet another top 20 class for this fall. Though last year's very young squad showed some growing pains on its way to a pretty successful record, the real potential for explosive improvement comes in 2014.
Assuming quarterback Bo Wallace can stay healthy, the Rebels will have a full roster of nearly all returning players. With that sheer amount of talent on the roster, this many returning players packs that much more punch. Scheduling favors the Rebels as well, as Alabama, Auburn, and surging Tennessee and Mississippi State will all visit Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2014.
Which team do you think will win the SEC in 2014? Let me know on Twitter @SEC_Nerd.