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Projecting the SEC West

By Southern Pigskin Staff
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Projecting the standings in the SEC West for the 2014 season.

No. 1 – Alabama

Returning Starters: 12

Crossover Games: Florida; at Tennessee

Under the careful watch of Nick Saban, Alabama has become more of a football factory than it has a football program. The Crimson Tide simply reload with elite talent every offseason, and that will certainly be the case once again in 2014. Though Alabama will lose veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron, it welcomes in Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, who will be the favorite to win the starting job. The running game should get back to its dominant ways of the past, while the defense is always strong under Kirby Smart.

No. 2 – Auburn

Returning Starters: 14

Crossover Games: South Carolina; at Georgia

Despite the loss of Heisman finalist Tre Mason, Auburn’s rushing attack very well could be even more potent in 2014 with the return of quarterback Nick Marshall and four starters along the offensive front, in addition to the presence of five-star prospect Racean Thomas in the backfield. The defense will continue to have its fair share of concerns, while a difficult crossover schedule could make it tough for the Tigers to repeat as SEC champions. If there is one thing we do know, however, it is that Gus Malzahn is more than capable of putting together some unexpected magic.

No. 3 – LSU

Returning Starters: 12

Crossover Games: at Florida; Kentucky

The Tigers were, for a second consecutive offseason, decimated by early departures for the NFL Draft. That certainly does not mean that there will be a dearth of talent or athleticism in Baton Rouge this fall, though. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron helped invigorate life into a fledgling LSU offense in 2013, and he will be called upon to make a smooth transition with a large batch of young starters. Meanwhile, the defense should be a major strength for the Tigers, per usual, as the unit returns eight starters.

No. 4 – Ole Miss

Returning Starters: 15

Crossover Games: at Vanderbilt; Tennessee

Ole Miss is one of the few teams in the conference to return its starting quarterback in 2014, but Bo Wallace must prove that he can take care of the football with better consistency. The Rebels will continue to see the dividends from some exceptional recruiting classes hauled in by Hugh Freeze, and the defense has a chance to be one of the conference’s best units with nine returning starters. The schedule is about as manageable as you could hope for playing in the SEC West, but it has been quite some time since the Rebels had to deal with this amount of preseason hype.

No. 5 – Texas A&M

Returning Starters: 15

Crossover Games: at South Carolina; Missouri

Make no mistake about it - the Aggies are still an extremely talented collection of players. The main concern for Kevin Sumlin, naturally, is how he will replace the production of Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans. Though there is great potential on offense, the overall experience will be lacking. The good news is that the defense has nowhere to go but up after last year’s dismal performance. Conversely, the bad news is that the conference schedule includes games against South Carolina and Missouri out of the East.

No. 6 – Mississippi State

Returning Starters: 16

Crossover Games: at Kentucky; Vanderbilt

The Bulldogs have the luxury of returning more starters than any other team in the SEC West, including Dak Prescott under center. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs simply have not recruited well enough across the board to keep up with the elite teams in the conference. The conference slate is manageable enough to where they should be able to win multiple SEC games, but the Bulldogs are simply not talented enough to contend in the division. With a sixth-place finish, Dan Mullen’s job will be in serious jeopardy.

No. 7 – Arkansas

Returning Starters: 15

Crossover Games: Georgia; at Missouri

Arkansas’ reward for finishing winless in conference play is a 2014 slate which should prove to be just as difficult. The Razorbacks are still lacking multiple game-changing players on the roster, and Bret Bielema is also still in the midst of attempting to change the philosophical approach and scheme of the program in general. The Razorbacks might finally give Bielema his first conference win, but there is a significant gap between the Razorbacks and the top teams in the West.