Best- and Worst-Case 2014 Scenarios for Every SEC Football Team

Luke BrietzkeContributor IIIJuly 23, 2014

Best- and Worst-Case 2014 Scenarios for Every SEC Football Team

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    SEC football found a new level of unpredictability last season when Auburn and Missouri topped all realistic expectations with their phenomenal runs.

    Non-fans might have suspected the two sets of Tigers would be improved—maybe even greatly—but no unaffiliated, rational person could have projected their turnarounds.

    Look no further than our own best-case, worst-case predictions from last year.

    We thought Missouri would consider “reaching a bowl game as a success” and that Auburn could “surprise people” by “winning seven or eight games.”

    However, learning from last year would leave this as quite the pointless exercise.

    Yes, Alabama could potentially go 0-12 this year and Kentucky could potentially go 15-0, win the SEC and two playoff games to capture the national championship.

    Neither scenario is even remotely viable. If you have strong feelings about one actually happening, you should consult either an oddsmaker or a psychologist—I’m not sure which.

    Rather than overreacting to last year’s phenomena, we will list the best- and worst-case realistic scenarios.

    In other words, we won’t predict that Arkansas will go 12-2, win the SEC and reach the national championship game any more than we would have predicted Auburn to do so last year.

    We will use our own predictions teamed with the over/under totals provided by 5Dimes (via Adam Kramer’s site, Kegs ‘N Eggs, and Jerry Hinnen over at CBS Sports). We will also attempt to separate the schedule into “likely wins,” “likely losses” and “toss-up games.”

    Enjoy the predictions.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 10.5

    Probable Wins: West Virginia (neutral), Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss, Florida, at Arkansas, Texas A&M, at Tennessee, Mississippi State, Western Carolina

    Probable Losses: None

    Toss-Up Games: at Ole Miss, at LSU, Auburn

    Best-Case Scenario: Florida State transfer quarterback Jacob Coker comes in and shows why Seminole coach Jimbo Fisher said the competition between Coker and Jameis Winston “was extremely close” in 2013, per WNSP-FM (via AL.com).

    Alabama’s stable of tailbacks—led by T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry—proves unstoppable behind a revamped, reloaded offensive line. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s unit is so balanced that opponents can only hope for turnovers.

    Defensively, the Crimson Tide shore up the secondary troubles from last year and remain dominant along the front seven. Alabama stomps through a schedule tailor-made for success and wins the first-ever College Football Playoff championship game at 15-0.

    Worst-Case Scenario: As funny as some might think the idea of Kiffin going to Alabama and the program disintegrating might be, it simply isn’t realistic.

    A more likely scenario for the Crimson Tide struggling likely falls in Coker not having time to adapt to the new offense. He struggles to win the starting spot in camp and fails to meet lofty expectations while also proving to be turnover-prone.

    The Crimson Tide’s offensive line doesn’t come together, and not even fantastic their tailbacks can find room to run. Alabama takes a couple surprise losses, finishes 9-3 and still plays in a respectable bowl game.

Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 4.5

    Probable Wins: Nicholls State, UAB

    Probable Losses: at Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, at Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, at Missouri

    Toss-Up Games: at Texas Tech, Northern Illinois, Texas A&M (neutral)

    Best-Case Scenario: Quarterback Brandon Allen is healthy and—equally importantly—accurate, creating new go-to weapons in the play-action game and giving talented tailbacks Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins room to run wild.

    Coach Bret Bielema installs a hard-nosed defense that doesn’t have to log much time on the field because the run game dominates opponents. Arkansas wins all of its toss-up games, beats one of the Mississippi teams and steals another game somewhere to go 7-5.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Allen is healthy but inaccurate, leading defenses to continue ignoring the passing attack. A one-dimensional offense can’t string together enough drives against SEC defenses to make the team matter.

    The defense, exhausted because its offensive counterpart can’t hold on to the ball for long periods of time, struggles in the bottom half of the league just as it did in 2013. A brutal schedule, ranked the second-toughest in college football by our own Jeff Bell, leaves the Razorbacks frantically searching for wins and finding few.

    Arkansas sputters to a 2-10 season that leaves the program scrambling for answers.

Auburn Tigers

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 9.5

    Probable Wins: Arkansas, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Samford

    Probable Losses: None

    Toss-Up Games: at Kansas State, LSU, at Mississippi State, South Carolina, at Ole Miss, at Georgia, at Alabama

    Best-Case Scenario: The defense, led by young talent like junior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and sophomore defensive tackle Montravius Adams, continues to show the strides it took after the midway point of last year.

    Quarterback Nick Marshall shows he just needed a little more time in coach Gus Malzahn’s system to develop as a passer, becoming just as sharp with his arm as he is with his legs—and he has two dynamic weapons in Sammie Coates and D’haquille Williams.

    Auburn’s tailback-by-committee approach yields another superstar, and the offensive line remains among the best in the SEC. The Tigers run a brutal schedule—ranked the fourth-toughest in the sport by Jeff Bell—and finish 11-1, reaching the SEC Championship Game and qualifying for the College Football Playoff.

    Worst-Case Scenario: All the magic Auburn found in 2013 eludes the program this season. The Tigers don’t progress on defense, especially in a secondary that teams like Kansas State, South Carolina and Georgia expose.

    Marshall’s progress as a passer was greatly exaggerated, leaving Auburn as a one-dimensional offense again. Auburn can’t overcome the schedule, losing a few winnable games on its way to an 8-4 season.

Florida Gators

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    USA TODAY Sports

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 7.5

    Probable Wins: Idaho, Eastern Michigan, at Tennessee, Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky

    Probable Losses: at Alabama, at Florida State

    Toss-Up Games: LSU, Missouri, Georgia (neutral), at Vanderbilt, South Carolina

    Best-Case Scenario: Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper proves himself as a true quarterback whisperer, drawing the best out of QB Jeff Driskel, and the offensive line makes significant strides. The Gators, thus, gain offensive balance on their way to substantial improvement.

    Head coach Will Muschamp’s trademark defense dominates as it was expected to do before Dominique Easley suffered a season-ending injury midway through last season. Florida handles business on the road against Tennessee and Vanderbilt and finds ways to win two home games between LSU, Missouri and South Carolina.

    A surprise win over rival Georgia allows the Gators to finish 9-3 in a nice bounce-back season.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Muschamp can’t keep himself from tampering with Roper’s offense, still preferring a ground-and-pound attack with designs on shortening the game. Driskel doesn’t develop as much as originally hoped, meaning the Gators remain one-dimensional.

    A turnover-prone offense leaves what should be a formidable defense in bad spots, resulting in multiple narrow defeats. One of the road trips to Tennessee—either against the Volunteers or Vanderbilt—results in a loss. The three toss-up games at home go the wrong way and Florida finishes 5-7—and in search of a new head coach.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 9.5

    Probable Wins: Troy, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, at Arkansas, at Kentucky, Charleston Southern, Georgia Tech

    Probable Losses: None

    Toss-Up Games: Clemson, at South Carolina, at Missouri, Florida (neutral), Auburn

    Best-Case Scenario: Tailback tandem Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall perform at the elite level expected of both when healthy. QB Hutson Mason immediately makes a name for himself by leading wins over Clemson and South Carolina to open a magical season. Mason follows in the footsteps of D.J. Shockley, leading Georgia to the SEC East crown.

    Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s unit quickly finds answers at safety and becomes one of the SEC’s most athletic units. The schedule is probably a bit too difficult for the Bulldogs to realistically run the table, but they escape the regular season with an 11-1 record and a chance to win their first SEC championship since 2005.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Georgia simply can’t find answers at safety, leaving a glaring hole along the back line of defense. First-year coordinator Pruitt needs time to get his defense performing well, dropping games to Clemson and South Carolina to start the season.

    A Georgia team lacking confidence also loses two of three among the Missouri, Florida and Auburn games. Mason simply doesn’t deliver on his potential, leaving the Bulldogs to finish 8-4 despite Gurley again showing why he’s one of the best in the nation.

Kentucky Wildcats

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 3.5

    Probable Wins: UT Martin, Ohio, UL Monroe

    Probable Losses: at Florida, South Carolina, at LSU, Mississippi State, at Missouri, Georgia, at Louisville

    Toss-Up Games: Vanderbilt, at Tennessee

    Best-Case Scenario: Finding a way for Kentucky to reach a bowl game requires the expectation of at least one upset victory. Of course, upsets happen every week in college football, but the Wildcats would have to show some kind of attack for that to be realistic.

    Finding a quarterback would be a first step. Right now, the starter remains unclear. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown would be wise to find one quickly. Kentucky’s young defense, led by ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, improves. The Wildcats barely sneak into a bowl game at 6-6.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Remember 2013? Just watch the highlight reel. Kentucky can’t settle on a quarterback or find an offensive pulse. The defense, though talented, can’t stop the run and can’t come together to win even a single conference game. The Wildcats finish 3-9.

LSU Tigers

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 8.5

    Probable Wins: Sam Houston State, UL Monroe, New Mexico State, Kentucky, at Arkansas

    Probable Losses: None

    Toss-Up Games: Wisconsin (neutral), Mississippi State, at Auburn, at Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, at Texas A&M

    Best-Case Scenario: This might be the most difficult team to figure out for a number of reasons.

    First, the SEC West is loaded—especially if one believes Ole Miss and Mississippi State are prepared to take steps forward in talent, if not wins and losses. Second, LSU returns a supremely talented offensive line but features numerous questions at the skill positions—especially at quarterback.

    Still, head coach Les Miles’ program has proven it will be competitive even when the team needs to mature. A best-case scenario would see one of the quarterbacks playing mistake-free football while making enough plays to keep defenses honest, and true freshman Leonard Fournette meeting enormous immediate expectations.

    LSU’s defense, behind some blossoming young talent, emerges among the best in the nation. The Tigers topple a game Wisconsin team in the opener, defend their home turf against the Mississippi schools, and split with Auburn and Alabama, finishing 11-1.

    LSU wins the SEC West and makes the College Football Playoff.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Youthful mistakes on offense leave LSU depending far too heavily on a defense that simply isn’t ready to dominate at the SEC level. Neither Anthony Jennings nor Brandon Harris stakes a strong claim on the quarterback position, which proves a constant issue.

    No passing game means opposing defenses can zero in completely on what could have otherwise been a highly effective run game. Wisconsin tests the Tigers’ confidence by beating them on national television. One of the Mississippi schools goes into Baton Rouge and leaves with a win, as does Alabama. Auburn and another road opponent take down LSU, leaving Miles’ team at 7-5 by season’s end.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 7.5

    Probable Wins: Southern Miss, UAB, at South Alabama, at Kentucky, Arkansas, UT Martin, Vanderbilt

    Probable Losses: at Alabama

    Toss-Up Games: at LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn, at Ole Miss

    Best-Case Scenario: QB Dak Prescott shows why some have considered him to be a Heisman Trophy dark horse, taking off as a passer and continuing to run at an elite level. More importantly, he gets help and doesn’t have to be a one-man show, preferably from tailback Josh Robinson and, again, from receiver Jameon Lewis.

    Defensive tackle Chris Jones becomes the most dominant defensive tackle in the SEC, making life easier for all-SEC linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Mississippi State beats Auburn at home and wins two of three road games against LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss, finishing at 10-2.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Defensive struggles that emerged in some key games—such as the 59-26 loss to LSU, the 51-41 loss to Texas A&M and the 34-16 loss to South Carolina—continue at inopportune times. As a result, the Bulldogs continue their total lack of recent success against SEC West foes Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M.

    Prescott, while still dynamic, makes critical mistakes in key moments, and no Bulldogs tailback proves capable of taking pressure off him in the run game. Mississippi State drops all the aforementioned games and Ole Miss avenges last year’s defeat in the Egg Bowl, leaving the Bulldogs at 7-5.

Missouri Tigers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 8.5

    Probable Wins: South Dakota State, at Toledo, UCF, Indiana, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, at Tennessee, Arkansas

    Probable Losses: None

    Toss-Up Games: at South Carolina, Georgia, at Florida, at Texas A&M

    Best-Case Scenario: For a second consecutive season, Missouri reloads along the defensive line. Defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray produce one of the SEC’s top pass-rushing units.

    Linebacker Kentrell Brothers becomes the Tigers’ breakout star, stabilizing a linebacker corps in need of a reliable presence. Quarterback Maty Mauk shows the same form he displayed while filling in for James Franklin in 2013. The Tigers finish 10-2 and win tiebreakers to capture a second consecutive SEC East crown.

    Worst-Case Scenario: It’s not so much the defensive line replacements that are cause for concern for Missouri, but rather the linebackers and secondary. The Tigers’ five new starters at those positions commit critical mistakes at key moments of games.

    Mauk’s inaccuracy resurfaces—especially without leading receivers Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington. Missouri drops all three critical divisional games and road games to Tennessee and Texas A&M to fall from 11-1 to 7-5.

Ole Miss Rebels

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    USA TODAY Sports

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 7.5

    Probable Wins: Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis, Tennessee, Presbyterian, at Arkansas

    Probable Losses: Alabama

    Toss-Up Games: Boise State (neutral), at Vanderbilt, at Texas A&M, at LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State

    Best-Case Scenario: Someone—it doesn’t matter who—emerges as the tough-yardage running presence Ole Miss has so desperately lacked during coach Hugh Freeze’s first two years in Oxford.

    The strength in QB Bo Wallace’s throwing shoulder returns. The senior also continues to limit the mistakes that plagued his 2012 season.

    Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche becomes entirely unblockable, making life easier for linebacker Serderius Bryant. Ball-hawking safety Cody Prewitt turns in another All-America season by leading the SEC in interceptions again.

    Ole Miss handles its early-season schedule, jumping out to a 4-0 start before the Alabama game. It then proceeds to beat either Texas A&M or LSU on the road and capture home victories over Auburn and Mississippi State to finish 10-2.

    Worst-Case Scenario: No matter what Freeze tries, he simply can’t find the short-yardage answer he has sought on offense. Wallace regresses back to his turnover-prone form, leaving a talented defense in tough spots with regularity. The Rebels drop the season-opening neutral-field game to Boise State and chase it with a loss at Vanderbilt, setting the stage for a tremendously disappointing 6-6 campaign.

South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 9.5

    Probable Wins: Texas A&M, East Carolina, at Vanderbilt, at Kentucky, Furman, Tennessee, South Alabama

    Probable Losses: None

    Toss-Up Games: Georgia, Missouri, at Auburn, at Florida, at Clemson

    Best-Case Scenario: Mike Davis again establishes himself as an elite SEC tailback, staying healthy throughout the entire season this time. Quarterback Dylan Thompson’s dropback passer style translates well into coach Steve Spurrier’s attack, allowing the Gamecocks to capitalize on talented, playmaking weapons such as Shaq Roland, Damiere Byrd and Pharoh Cooper.

    South Carolina’s experienced offensive line, anchored by A.J. Cann, leads the way to an SEC East crown. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward quickly finds answers along the line in part because his linebackers developed so much last season.

    Cornerback concerns don’t prove fatal because of the team’s experience at safety. The Gamecocks score key divisional wins at home over Georgia and Missouri before September ends, then win two of three road games against Auburn, Florida and Clemson. South Carolina finishes 11-1 and returns to Atlanta, giving Spurrier a chance to win his first SEC title with the program.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Ward simply lost too much talent along the defensive line, leaving offensive lines to pound his front seven. When opponents do throw, they take advantage of untested cornerbacks.

    Thompson shows the inaccuracy that plagued him during extended action against Missouri and UCF, forcing the Gamecocks to become one-dimensional on offense. South Carolina loses two of its three key divisional battles and road games to Auburn and Clemson, finishing 8-4.

Tennessee Volunteers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 5.5

    Probable Wins: Utah State, Arkansas State, Chattanooga

    Probable Losses: at Oklahoma, at Georgia, Florida, at Ole Miss, Alabama, at South Carolina, Missouri

    Toss-Up Games: Kentucky, at Vanderbilt

    Best-Case Scenario: Head coach Butch Jones doesn’t have to wait too long into preseason camp before finding his quarterback. That signal-caller jells with an absurdly inexperienced offensive line, which gets key contributions from freshmen and junior college transfers. Marlin Lane becomes one of the SEC’s top tailbacks.

    Defensively, A.J. Johnson proves why he belongs among the elite linebackers in the nation, and the Volunteers show far more speed in the secondary than they did last season. Tennessee finds a sixth game somewhere, qualifying for a bowl game.

    Worst-Case Scenario: The totally revamped offensive and defensive lines struggle, leaving Tennessee few chances to win battles in the trenches. No quarterback separates himself from the pack, resulting in another year of musical chairs at the position.

    The defense shows no real progress, forcing an overmatched offense to attempt to outscore opponents. Tennessee wins one game in conference, finishing 4-8.

Texas A&M Aggies

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 7.5

    Probable Wins: Lamar, Rice, at SMU, UL Monroe

    Probable Losses: at South Carolina, at Alabama, at Auburn

    Toss-Up Games: Arkansas (neutral), at Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU

    Best-Case Scenario: Tra Carson and Trey Williams provide a chain-moving run presence behind arguably the SEC’s best offensive line, allowing Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill to develop as a quarterback.

    Coach Kevin Sumlin picks his spots in the passing game, allowing his starter to gain confidence early and keep defenses off balance.

    A troubled defense in 2013 finds answers and an identity this season, playing just serviceably enough to allow Texas A&M to remain in games late. The Aggies win four of five toss-up games, amazingly finishing with the same regular-season record as they did during Johnny Manziel’s final season.

    Worst-Case Scenario: A defense that looked so bad at times last season fails to show substantial improvement. Even the offensive genius of Sumlin struggles without Manziel’s phenomenal talent. Texas A&M can’t settle on its top quarterback, going back and forth between Allen and Hill.

    The offensive line, while good, struggles against SEC defenses committed to making an inexperienced quarterback beat them.

    A tough schedule leaves the Aggies frantically searching for—and ultimately falling short of—a sixth win to become bowl eligible.

Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    5Dimes Over/Under Win Total: 6.5

    Probable Wins: Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern, Old Dominion

    Probable Losses: South Carolina, at Georgia, at Missouri, at Mississippi State

    Toss-Up Games: Ole Miss, at Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee

    Best-Case Scenario: The head coaching transition from James Franklin to Derek Mason goes smoothly, meaning Vanderbilt continues its streak of bowl appearances.

    One of the Commodores’ competitors in the quarterback derby quickly wins the battle and stabilizes the offense. Tailback Jerron Seymour continues his touchdown rampage, helping Vandy win all four nonconference games and finding victories in toss-up games.

    A talented defense, led by players like linebackers Caleb Azubike and Kyle Woestmann, smoothly moves from the 4-3 model to Mason’s 3-4. Vanderbilt finishes 8-4, making a midlevel bowl game.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Too much turnover on offense teamed with an entirely rebuilt secondary leaves too many problems for the Commodores to overcome. Not only does Vanderbilt struggle to find a quarterback, the offense struggles to replace receiver Jordan Matthews.

    Much of the magic walked out the door when Franklin left, and Mason needs time to get the program he wants in place. Vanderbilt falls back to earth, dropping to 5-7 and missing a bowl game.