Bold Predictions for Every SEC Football Team's 2014 Season
By this point of the summer, you're already preparing for the season.
You're getting your grill ready, locking down your menu and are making plans with your friends set in stone to watch the action either on campus or within the friendly confines of your cozy man cave.
Before then, though, let's serve up an appetizer in the form of some bold predictions.
What will be some surprising storylines that develop as the 2014 season goes on? One bold prediction for every SEC team is in this slideshow.
Florida Will Play Georgia for the SEC East Crown
Rumors of Florida's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Head coach Will Muschamp swallowed his pride this offseason, abandoning the pro-style offense he vowed to run when he got the job prior to the 2011 season in favor of the hurry-up, no-huddle scheme employed by new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
It will work.
Roper has quarterback Jeff Driskel—a dual-threat quarterback by trade—to help revitalize the Gators offense. Running back Kelvin Taylor headlines a deep and talented running back corps, and there are skillful and versatile wide receivers who have underachieved in Gainesville due in part to the previous scheme.
That will change this season.
The Gators will roll into Jacksonville with only one loss on their record with a chance to beat the Georgia Bulldogs and emerge as the favorite in the division. When all is said and done, it will be the game that decides who represents the division in Atlanta.
An Auburn-like turnaround for Muschamp's Gators? It's possible.
Georgia Will Win the SEC and Make the College Football Playoff
Alabama? Auburn? South Carolina?
Nope, none of these teams will participate in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
The Bulldogs return Heisman contender Todd Gurley at running back and have boatloads of depth behind him. The team has Chris Conley and a talented wide receiving corps and fixed its glaring problem defensively when Todd Grantham left for Louisville and was replaced by former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
New quarterback Hutson Mason looked sharp this spring and has the weapons around him to be a superstar, even if the defense doesn't take a gigantic leap forward. The schedule isn't as tough as some make it out to be, with time to prepare for Clemson, South Carolina and Florida and relatively easy games before Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech.
This is the year for Georgia to finally take the next step, win its first SEC title since 2005 and make the College Football Playoff.
Kentucky's "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith Will Be Most Prolific DEs in the SEC
Kentucky isn't exactly known for its defense. In fact, it really isn't known for its football at all.
In 2014, though, the Wildcats will boast two of the most dangerous defensive ends in the country—seniors Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith.
Combined, the duo will lead the SEC in sacks in 2014.
A big help—quite literally—will be the arrival of 6'7", 375-pound freshman defensive tackle Matt Elam, who at the very least will occupy blocks in the middle of the Kentucky defensive line. That means even more opportunities for Dupree and Smith, who combined for 13 sacks a year ago.
Kentucky won't contend for a division title, but it has two fierce pass-rushers who will shine in 2014.
Maty Mauk Won't Be the Playmaker He's Supposed to Be
One team that landed in the preseason AP Top 25 that won't be there at the end of the season is Missouri.
The defending SEC East champs chimed in at the No. 24 spot in the preseason rankings, based mostly on the fact that they have a division trophy in their trophy case and a quarterback, sophomore Maty Mauk, who tossed 11 touchdowns and only two picks in limited action as a backup last year.
But which Mauk will we see? He was a big-play threat last season but still only completed 51.1 percent of his passes (68-of-133)—and that was with L'Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas lining up outside. All three of those players are gone, including DGB, who was dismissed shortly before the end of spring practice.
Now Missouri has to figure out a new identity, because even if DGB wasn't getting the ball, he was still drawing attention from the opposing defense. Can Mauk succeed without his go-to guys? What will Missouri's offense look like?
There are still some legitimate issues for Missouri's offense to address, and they will lead to some inconsistencies for Mauk and the Tigers.
South Carolina Won't Win the SEC East
Back at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama in July, South Carolina was picked to win the SEC East.
That won't happen.
South Carolina is getting a pass for some of its major problems, including the combination of an inexperienced defensive line and an inexperienced secondary. That's not exactly a recipe for success.
The Gamecocks get Georgia at home but have to play at Auburn and at Florida. Even if the Gamecocks get past the Bulldogs, those two tough road trips will trip up head coach Steve Spurrier's crew and prevent the team from making it to Atlanta.
That's not to say the Gamecocks won't be competitive. They will be. Spurrier and his staff have not only raised the ceiling of the program but also the floor—to a point where an 8-4 season is considered a down year. That's quite a compliment from where the program was when he took over, but it still won't sit well with Gamecocks fans if things don't go their way in 2014.
Marquez North Will Have 1,100 or More Receiving Yards
The skill positions on Rocky Top have been the subject of a lot of offseason speculation, as newcomers Josh Malone and Von Pearson joined a talented and deep receiving corps and running back Jalen Hurd arrived on campus to bolster the depth at running back.
One of the incumbents, though, will be the star of the show in 2014—wide receiver Marquez North.
North had 38 catches for 496 yards and one touchdown last year in his true freshman campaign in Knoxville. That was in an offense that played musical chairs at quarterback, which prevented the Vols from getting into rhythm. That will change in 2014.
Sure, the offensive line is new, and it's difficult for quarterback Justin Worley to complete passes while lying on his back. But head coach Butch Jones knows that going in, decided on a quarterback early and has new weapons to take some pressure off North in the passing game.
He'll have more one-on-one matchups, exploit them and routinely put crooked numbers in the stat sheet.
Jerron Seymour Will Break the 1,000-Yard Rushing Mark
Who's the best running back you've never heard of? Vanderbilt's Jerron Seymour.
The 5'7", 196-pound junior rushed for 716 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago, serving as the leader of the talented Commodores running back corps that included Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow.
With Tate gone, a new system in place and a new quarterback taking the snaps, Vandy needs stability, and Seymour brings it. Kimbrow will be the 1B, and Ralph Webb will provide some depth, but Seymour proved last year that he can be the feature back and will do it again in this critical year for the 'Dores.
Will that make him a star in the SEC?
With other running backs like Todd Gurley, Mike Davis, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and others in the conference, it's going to take a lot for Seymour to overtake the big boys at running back.
He'll give it his best shot, though.
Derrick Henry Will Lead Alabama in Rushing Yards
All of the focus in Tuscaloosa this year has been on the ongoing quarterback battle between senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, but whoever wins that job will have a solid insurance policy to fall back on in the form of a deep, talented and versatile running back corps.
Junior T.J. Yeldon is fresh off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Sophomore Derrick Henry broke out in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma with 161 total yards and two touchdowns. And speedster Kenyan Drake, as Bleacher Report Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence notes, is a burner who can take it to the house from anywhere on the field.
Henry will be the leader of the pack.
Nothing against Yeldon or Drake, but Henry brings back power football—the same power football that Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy used to bring for the Crimson Tide as they closed the BCS era with three national titles in the last five seasons of existence. With Henry carrying the ball, the Alabama offense is more geared toward the power rushing attack rather than the zone-blocking schemes that it favors with Yeldon as the feature back.
Don't get me wrong—all of the running backs will be successful, and if there's any coach in America who knows how to combine thunder and lightning, it's new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. After all, he did that successfully at USC with Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
Henry will evolve into the 1A back in Tuscaloosa this year, with Yeldon and Drake each having solid seasons as well.
Jonathan Williams Will Lead Arkansas in Rushing
To say Alex Collins' debut in Fayetteville was impressive would be a massive understatement. All the 5'11", 215-pounder did in a woefully predictable offense was rush for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns while splitting carries with Jonathan Williams.
Not bad for a freshman. It wouldn't even be bad for a senior.
Williams is back, along with home run threat Korliss Marshall, who gives head coach Bret Bielema a third option on the ground. Williams has great burst and is tough between the tackles. His versatility makes him the most likely running back to get the hot hand and get the greatest number of carries.
He has the right head coach to be successful too.
Bielema has produced nine 1,000-yard running backs in eight seasons as a head coach and knows a thing or two about not only splitting carries but making sure running backs who are typically accustomed to being "the guy" put the team first.
Nick Marshall Will Top 3,000 Yards Through the Air
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was 13 seconds away from leading Auburn to a national title in his first year as the starter, and now he's back for more—which is a departure from the norm for head coach Gus Malzahn.
Marshall is the first quarterback Malzahn has had as a college head coach or assistant coach to come back for a second season in the system. Marshall's specific focus was to progress in the intermediate passing game, and he looked like he took the next step in the spring game, throwing for 236 yards and four touchdowns, according to stats released by the university.
He has veteran receivers Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis and Quan Bray, tight end C.J. Uzomah and junior college transfer D'haquille "Duke" Williams—a 6'2", 216-pound Cordarrelle Patterson clone who presents matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
Malzahn's offense will be more balanced in 2014. Marshall will be the centerpiece and step up with a Heisman-caliber season.
LSU Won't Be the "Leonard Fournette Show"
To say Leonard Fournette is coming into Baton Rouge with a ton of hype would be an understatement. Not only is he carrying the tag of the "next Adrian Peterson," Terrence Magee—a man fighting with him for carries—said at SEC media days that Fournette could be the best to ever wear an LSU uniform.
Magee is wrong, at least for this season, and will have a say in it too.
Fournette is going to be great, but considering the massive roster turnover at the offensive skill positions at LSU, head coach Les Miles is best served to ease Fournette into the role, while Magee and fellow veteran Kenny Hilliard show him the ropes.
There will be times this year when Fournette looks like a star, but there will also be times when Magee and Hilliard do too. The trio will be the foundation of the Tigers offense this year, with Fournette being the star moving into 2015 and beyond.
Mississippi State's Pass D Will Be Top 3 in the SEC
Mississippi State is considered one of the candidates to come out of nowhere to make some noise in the SEC, and if that happens, it'll be on the heels of a deep and experienced defense.
Part of that defense is a secondary that will finish the season as one of the top three pass defenses in the SEC.
Seem crazy? With Florida, Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss all in the conference, maybe.
But Mississippi State returns 19 of 22 players on its defensive two-deep, including corners Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun and safety Kendrick Market. The front four, led by defensive tackle Chris Jones, will get pressure with four, and the talented secondary will pounce on the mistakes created with pressure to build one of the most fearsome pass defenses in the country.
Will that get Mississippi State over the hump? Perhaps. It would definitely be a good start.
Bo Wallace Will Throw More Than 25 TD Passes
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has enjoyed a solid career in Oxford, tossing 40 touchdowns over the last two seasons while leading the Rebels to back-to-back bowl games in 2012 and 2013.
The best is yet to come.
Wallace has struggled with shoulder issues in each of those two seasons. Now that he's a senior in head coach Hugh Freeze's system, he has weapons outside in wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram. The team also has dangerous edge-rushers and—most importantly—some options between the tackles at running back including Mark Dodson and Jordan Wilkins.
As a result, Wallace will light up opposing defenses through the air.
Some of those inside rushing responsibilities fell on Wallace's shoulders over the last two seasons, and that should change in 2014. If it does, he will pick opposing defenses apart, take advantage of wide open passing lanes and finish his Ole Miss career on a high note.
Texas A&M's Defense Won't Take the Next Step
Texas A&M's defense was more punch line than power last year. In fact, it was all punch line.
The Aggies finished last in the SEC and 111th in the nation in total defense last year (475.8 yards per game) and lost several key players due to unexpected departures including linebacker Darian Claiborne, defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and defensive end Gavin Stansbury.
There are some talented pieces coming in, including stud defensive end Myles Garrett who, suddenly, is being counted on to be more than just an edge-rusher in passing situations.
The defense will be a sore spot for the Aggies again in 2014, and while it won't prevent head coach Kevin Sumlin's crew from making a bowl game, it will prevent it from jumping into consideration for the SEC West title.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.