Before I started to put together the first MMQB of the 2014 season, I went back and looked at the preseason version of the 2013 MMQB. Among the interesting notes, I picked Auburn to finish last in the SEC West, Alabama to beat Georgia to win the SEC, Alabama to knock off Ohio State for the national title, and A. J. McCarron to win the Heisman Trophy. How did that work out? Not too good. Ah well, here's to trying again in 2014. Let's get down to business.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
The Good: Mississippi State enters the 2014 season riding a wave of momentum from the close of the 2013 season. Seeing and hearing the high hopes of Bulldog fans coming into this season almost seems unbelievable given the thoughts of many after some of the early games of the 2013 season (Auburn in particular). Personally, I am leery of the "carryover momentum," but in this instance, I think the play of the final few games shows the abilities of this team going forward.
The Bulldogs did not have a "set the world on fire" 2013, but the team overcame a slew of injuries during the course of the season and a quarterback change to end the year on a productive note. Watching a true freshman, Damian Williams, come up big in two late games with bowl eligibility could have been the most exciting story of the end of the season if not for Dak Prescott's heroics against Ole Miss and domination against Rice. What will be the exciting story this year?
The Bad: The offseason talk that started some to start promoting Prescott as a Heisman trophy contender this year went a little over the top. Prescott has great talent, and he will be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC this year, but Heisman talk was way premature.
Also over the top, the over-the-top reactions toward the "hype,"—whatever that word really means—shown to Prescott by national media. Way too many people who should have known better looked as if they were almost going out of their way to find flaws in Prescott to try to counter it.
In the end, much of the talk surrounding Prescott got quite ridiculous, and thankfully, he will soon take the field which will allow that conversation to be settled other ways.
The Ugly: My guess this might describe the sleeping patterns of many SEC fans since the launch of the SEC network. I know I have spent way too many late nights and way too many later nights on the weekend watching replays of old games. Just this past weekend, I got suckered into watch LSU-Florida from 2007.
The SEC Network is just awesome.
LOOKING AHEAD TO WEEK ONE
The SEC knows how to grab national attention early in the season by putting up at least one conference game that should be a headliner along with teams taking on other interesting foes from across the country. Here is what we are looking at in the first week of the season.
#21 Texas A&M at #9 South Carolina (6pm ET): One of these teams will walk away with a tough loss in their hunt to win their division in the SEC. The Gamecocks, along with Georgia, look to be the favorites to win the SEC East, and they should provide a stern test to a Texas A&M team living in the post Johnny Manziel era.
While everyone feels confident that South Carolina will be a good team, many people have doubts about just how good Texas A&M will be. Many of those questions could start to be answered in the first SEC game of the season. Bold Prediction: South Carolina
Boise State vs. #19 Ole Miss (8 pm in Atlanta): The Broncos have played in these type of games before delivering punishing blows to the hopes of teams wanting to prove themselves in week one. A few years ago, Boise State practically ended any hopes of Virginia Tech playing for a national title with a victory over the Hokies at FedEx Field.
However, this is not the same Boise team as those in the past. Many of the gears have changed. Will they be able to keep it going this season? Probably not this time. Bold Prediction: Ole Miss
Temple vs. Vanderbilt (9:15 pm ET): In what will be the third SEC game of Thursday night, the Commodores move into a new era without James Franklin. With the loss of Franklin and players such as Jordan Matthews, many expect Vanderbilt to slide back to the bottom of the SEC. They very well might, but it will not start against the Owls. Bold Prediction: Vanderbilt
UT-Martin vs. Kentucky: Last year, Kentucky allowed the first ever SWAC touchdown in the first quarter in SEC play (I think..looking to confirm this), so nothing is really ever safe for this team. Did you know they were ranked #8 at one point in 2007? Yeah, that feels like a long time ago. Bold Prediction: Kentucky
South Dakota State at #24 Missouri: The Tigers had a great run in 2013, and they will be a team to watch going forward. South Dakota State might can keep it interesting for just a bit, but that will not be enough in this game. Bold Prediction: Missouri
West Virginia vs. #2 Alabama (in Atlanta): One team once had Rich-Rod, and the other could have had him, but took Nick Saban instead. West Virginia has not done as much on the college football scene since moving to the Big 12. Dana Holgorsen needs something good to happen for his team to keep things calm in Morgantown. This will be a tough win for the 25-point underdogs. In Tuscaloosa, don't think Saban is not still fuming about coming into the season on a two game losing streak. The last time that happened? Alabama won the national title. Bold Prediction: Alabama
Arkansas at #6 Auburn: Last year was an ugly one in Fayetteville and a miraculous one in Auburn. No one expected much from the Tigers, and they nearly won the national championship. This year, no one expects much from Arkansas. Can they go on to win......uh, anyway. The bigger question: What happens to Auburn without Lady Luck riding on the Tigers' shoulder this year. Bold Prediction: Auburn
#16 Clemson at #12 Georgia: This has to be one of the two marquee SEC games of the first Saturday of college football. Both teams are moving forward with new quarterbacks, and both teams need a win to open up the season. The winner will start to slide into more talk of a national semifinal spot, while the loser will have a tough reality knowing that just winning their conference will be difficult and the added out of conference loss might keep them from bigger and better. Bold Prediction: Georgia
Idaho at Florida: Yes, #LOLGEORGIASOUTHERN happened last year, but it is easy to forget that Florida was a banged up team last year. Look for Florida to be much better in 2014, and look for the Gators to try to start showing that in the season opener. Bold Prediction: Florida
Southern Miss at Mississippi State: The Southern Miss Golden Eagles ended one of the worst streaks of futility in their final game of the 2013 season when they played one of their best halves of football in quite some time to knock off UAB. Mississippi State goes into the 2014 season with hopes of one of the best seasons in school history in the air. Anything less than a drubbing of the visitors from Hattiesburg will worry Mississippi State fans. Bold Prediction: Mississippi State
#14 Wisconsin vs. #13 LSU (in Houston): The Tigers found themselves in the awkward position of not really being in the race for the SEC West last year, so Les Miles and crew would like to establish themselves early. Their opponent in this game, Wisconsin, just feels like the Big Ten team that comes into the season a bit overrated. Last year, LSU got by a highly touted TCU team, and this year, Wisconsin provides the same boost to start a season. Bold Prediction: LSU
Utah State at Tennessee: While most SEC fans will be shaking off the excitement of Saturday, Tennessee will be the only SEC attraction on Sunday. The Volunteers are closing in on being 20 years removed from their last national title, something that cannot sit well with the fans in Knoxville. It is going to take baby steps to get there, and that can start with a getting back into a bowl game in 2014. Bold Prediction: Tennessee.
Yes...I just picked the SEC to win ever non-conference game...
AWARDS TIME: A WAY TO EARLY GUESS AT WHO WALKS AWAY WITH HARDWARE
SEC Offensive Player of the Year: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: Fun fact, Gus Malzhan has never entered a season with a returning, starting quarterback. Marshall has had time to grow and develop at this position. He should have a monster year for Auburn. Other names to watch: Todd Gurley, Dak Prescott, and T.J. Yeldon.
SEC Defensive Player of the Year: Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia: The Bulldog senior tallied over 130 tackles last year, but he will will be pushed by many talented players at that position and others in the SEC.
Heisman Trophy Winner: My first instinct is to say no one that anyone is talking about. Most of the leading candidates have the "but, if" attached to them. I like Bryce Petty at Baylor. He has huge numbers that could become bigger, but one has to wonder if Baylor can win enough for him to make a push. I also like a few SEC guys like Marshall, Yeldon and Gurley to be in the hunt.
However, I am going to go slightly off the radar and look at Nebraska and running back Ameer Abdullah. Last year, he put up 1690 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns. He also caught 26 balls for 232 yards and two scores. He got vultured at the goal line a bit, and that will have to stop for him to get his touchdowns up. Also, he could stand to be a bit more of a threat in the passing game. Those could both happen, and Nebraska has posted back to back 10-win seasons, so they should be talked about late into the season.
SEC POWER POLL:
Trying to decide how to rank teams in the SEC before the season begins is foolish at best. Expect quite a lot of shake up early in the season.
3. South Carolina
7. Mississippi State
8. Ole MIss
10. Texas A&M
HOW WILL THE SEC FINISH
EAST: Georgia, South Carolina, Missouri, Florida, Tennesse, Vanderbilt, Kentucky
WEST: Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Arkansas
SEC Championship: Alabama over Georgia
Semifinal One: Alabama vs. Nebraska
Semifinal Two: Florida State vs. Oregon
Final: Alabama vs. Oregon
National Champion: Alabama