Oh, my goodness. If you thought the bottom rung of the SEC was bad last year, wait until you see what Arkansas, Vandy, Kentucky and Tennessee have in store this season (dookie; the answer is dookie). Unfortunately, we have to discuss a few bowl teams before we get to the putrescence of those squads.
- 8. Mississippi State: Good lines on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense -where the Bulldogs are very deep. The defense has incrementally improved, generates turnovers, and the secondary should be better. Dak may be the best returning QB in the West (which tells you the sad state of QBing entering the Fall), and has tons of upside as a physical rusher and passer. Losing Perkins at RB hurts, and I'm still not sold on the WRs who are just guys. The schedule also has CLANGA at LSU and Alabama. A solid 8-win season is likely, 9 with an upset or two - problem is you just can't see where those upsets may lie within the division.
- 9. Ole Miss (here you go, Rebel stalkers): Good news: Defensively, the LB/DE corps are seriously good, deep, and veteran. The secondary features a nice mix of veterans and skilled youth. Bo Wallace will again have to carry the offensive load, and is good enough to get the Rebels bowl eligible. The schedule is forgiving. Bad news: The offensive line is not good, the running game is undersized and unsteady, and Moncrief was a huge loss. For all their talent, the Rebels don't really force turnovers, and gack it up far too often. Finally, my feelings on Freeze are well-known. This is a 7- to 9-win team thanks to an Alabama-soft OOC schedule, and depending on how good the Aggies and/or CLANGA turn out to be.
- 10. Texas A&M Aggies: If you think Alabama or LSU had uncertainty on offense, try to replace your LT, your best WR, and a generational talent (the latter with a Fr.) The running game should be the linchpin of a balanced attack, the returning WRs are lethal, and the interior OL is going to be physical. Defensively, there is no reason to have faith in the front seven -inexperience alone doesn't account for how soft they played. The secondary is a veteran group, but, like the linebackers, are largely an unregarded, underperforming unit. The 2014 Aggies will be the dividing line between the conference's respectable class and its dregs - and will look like both, often in the same game. Too many freshman at too many critical places to see the Aggies getting above 7 (very high-scoring) wins. 2015 though? This team will be terrifying again.
Yup, another one of those years.
- 11. Tennessee: What to get the team that has gone 5-7 the past three years? How about a completely rebuilt offensive line, QBs that may change depending on Jones' mood, losing the starting RB, playing with a retooled LB corps, and a completely inexperienced DL. Add to that an OOC schedule where only UT-Chatt is a sure win - Arkansas State, Utah State and at Oklahoma are the others. Tennessee may turn out to be much improved in play, but it won't be reflected on the scoreboard. Forget those agonizingly close 5-7 seasons; 3 or 4 wins seems closer to the truth. With so few starters returning, and the massive rebuild in place, if the Vols are bowl-eligible give Butch COY honors (that made me physically ill typing that, BTW.)
- 12. Kentucky: I mean, I guess? Seen the guys below the Wildcats? Finally seem to have a QB for the offense, and have inherited a RB from Nebraska -both of those are nice things. The problem is that it's a passing offense, and the QB is a rFR throwing to WRs who drop a whole lotta balls. On defense, the Cats were abysmal, so enter all the JUCOS this year to shore up a side of the ball that had no bright spots last year, as well as some incoming freshmen who may see immediate PT (think Elam). The OOC features two very losable games with UL-M and Louisville; UK also draw Miss. St. and LSU from the West. Long-term, who knows what Stoops will do once the talent is in place (see also, Arkansas); this year, however, you can see a 3-9 season.
- 13. Arkansas: I go back and forth between who is the worst team in the conference. Arkansas dodges the bullet by virtue of having very nice players at TE, RB, and along the defensive line. The offensive line is a steady group, but just not there yet. The LBs are serviceable but lack playmakers. The secondary is a liability 90% of the time. Despite those negatives, QB play is the worst unit on the team, hovering somewhere between "rotten potato salad" and "not safe for work." I don't see any of these improving just yet. The schedule is also not fun: at Texas Tech and v. NIU; oh, and the Hogs draw UGA and Mizzou out of the East. It's going to hurt in Fayetteville as a 2-10 year, and another winless SEC season, looms.
- 14. Vanderbilt: The Commodores are returning a decent offensive line, and the OOC on paper is very forgiving. That's it. That's all I can say positive about Vandy. The secondary is completely decimated, and every skill position is likewise wiped out. The LBs are average. What could have been a bright spot, the defensive line, is moving to a new scheme so that'll be a hard transition. And Franklin has completely poached the recruiting class. Aside from Charleston Southern, you can't point to a single win on the schedule, so I won't; 1-11/2-10 as Vandy remembers they are Vandy.
As a serious aside. We have no way of evaluating Bielema, Stoops, Mason and Jones for at least another 2-3 seasons. All of those clubs are in the midst of program-defining changes. Tennessee, the team with the least recent success of them all, was oddly left in the best situation. I tend to think that it will take the full four-five years, but Bielema can have success building a power running team in Fayetteville again -- that has always been Arkansas' M.O. Mason at Vandy, though. Woof. I have no idea what he was thinking: become a HC just to become one? The 'Dores are in very bad shape, with very little hope on the horizon. That job has always been a career-killer. Finally, Kentucky is trying to serve two masters: on the one hand, be a dominating defense; and, on the other, play to their uptempo, pass-friendly recent history. I'm not certain those are compatible.
As always, I welcome your unfounded criticism of these #hot #takes