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VISITOR HOME Time CT Network (Channel Guide) Thursday, September 24th Cincinnati Memphis 6:30 PM ESPN / WatchESPN Friday, September 25th Boise State Virginia 7:00 PM ESPN / WatchESPN Stanford Oregon State 9:00 PM FS1 Saturday, September 26th Bowling Green Purdue 11:00 AM BTN BYU Michigan 11:00 AM ABC / espn3 Central...
In addition to losing head coach James Franklin to Penn State, the Commodores lose more production from its 2013 team than does any team in the conference. Only nine starters return, the team is changing both offensive and defensive schemes, and head coach Derek Mason has never run a program before. Vanderbilt still has a good nucleus, thanks to Franklin's inspired recruiting, but it would surprise no one if the Commodores missed the postseason.
If win-loss records were determined by bravado and bull hockey, Tennessee's Butch Jones would have a team in the national title game every year. Jones has done a good job selling the illusion of improvement, but the Vols had better hope he can continue to recruit well – because success in the present day isn't coming. Tennessee might have the league's worst offensive and defensive lines simultaneously, certainly a first for this program and maybe the first for any SEC program not named Vanderbilt. Aside from a few bright spots at receiver and an above-average linebacker corps, Tennessee doesn't have much. Hitting .500 this season would be a major accomplishment.
South Carolina has been knocking on the door of national relevance for years, but Steve Spurrier hasn't been quite able to get over the last couple of hurdles. Despite a growing talent base in the state, there has been too much competition for the Gamecocks to effectively lock down their backyard and challenge the SEC's best teams. Time is running out for Spurrier, and this team, despite having plenty of talent, looks again to be just a bit short of matching up to Alabama or LSU.
Missouri was by far the biggest overachiever in the SEC in 2013, when good quarterback play, a solid running game and the emergence of three receivers helped the Tigers win the SEC East and likely save Gary Pinkel's job in the process. But 2014 will bring change – the quarterback, running back and all three of the team's top wide receivers are gone, and Missouri is beginning to deal with talent deficiencies on defense.
Mark Stoops' first year in Lexington did not go smoothly. The decision to force the Wildcats into a no-huddle offense proved to be a bad move, and the defense couldn't dig Stoops out of his miscalculation. Fortunately, Stoops has put the Wildcats on a better track recruiting-wise, but he's still having to populate several positions that went unattended under Joker Phillips' regime.
TideFans.com has picked Georgia to finish with an undefeated regular-season record in 2014, but it only works if the Bulldog defense is for real and not just more smoke and mirrors. Georgia could ruin it all early by losing to Clemson in the opener, but the Tigers have just as many questions or more than do the Bulldogs. Georgia has changed defensive coordinators and is expected to have some of the best skill position talent in the conference, plus strong special teams. But Mark Richt's teams seem to find a way to implode when expectations are at their highest.
Will Muschamp is fighting for his coaching life at Florida. If the Gators aren't significantly more competitive than they've been the last three years, this will be the end of the line for the animated Muschamp. Unfortunately for him, if the Gators finish at the predicted 7-5 with losses to Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State, it probably won't be enough. On top of that, this team is dealing with massive turnover and uncertainty at several key positions.
Now than Johnny Manziel has left for the NFL, the rest of the SEC will finally get a look at how well A&M performs without a freak on the team. The Aggies ran up impressive offensive numbers with Manziel triggering the attack, but didn't stop anyone on defense – a situation that must change, or Texas A&M won't ever be a consistent contender in the SEC, which prioritizes stopping the ball over doing something dynamic with it. Losing six starters and virtually every key playmaker from the 2013 team won't help.
The Bulldogs have been mentioned as potential darkhorse contenders seemingly every year since Dan Mullen took over the team five years ago – but this time, the hype might be for real. The Bulldogs have the SEC's most dynamic young quarterback, a veteran roster and a stout defense. Those factors are usually a good combination for teams looking to break into the upper echelon of an SEC division.