SEC: An inside look at Georgia, Ole Miss, Alabama and Kentucky
Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 5:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 3:23 p.m.
Coach: Mark Richt, 14th season (126-45, all at Georgia).
Last year’s record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in the SEC (3rd in the East). Lost to Nebraska 24-19 in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
Fans’ expectations: The Bulldogs will bounce back from a disappointing 8-5 season and win the Eastern Division. Aaron Murray is going to be tough to replace, but the Bulldogs have the best offensive player in the league in tailback Todd Gurley. New starting quarterback Hutson Mason gained experience last season and will fit nicely into Richt’s proven offensive system. The defense will show great improvement under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who is coming off a national championship season at Florida State.
Realistic expectations: The Bulldogs have a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender in Gurley and the ground game should be strong, but the inexperienced Mason could struggle at quarterback early in the season, and that might not be a good thing with the Bulldogs opening up against Clemson and South Carolina. Mason does have talent around him, including elite wide receiver Chris Conley. The defense should be more consistent under Pruitt.
Quotable: “I’m extremely excited about this football team. I think we have a tremendous culture right now for work ethic. I think we have a tremendous culture of guys wanting to lead the right way.” — Mark Richt
Coach: Hugh Freeze, third season (45-18 overall, 15-11 at Ole Miss).
Last year’s record: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in the SEC (T-5th in the West). Defeated Georgia Tech 25-17 in the Music City Bowl.
Fans’ expectations: With 15 starters returning, including quarterback Bo Wallace, the Rebels will be a threat to Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the West. The offense will be one of the most potent in the league. Wallace is a proven producer and there is talent around him, led by wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, a rising star. The defense should be strong, with nine starters returning, including potentially dominant defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
Realistic expectations: The Rebels have a chance to be better in Freeze’s third season, but moving up in the division standings is going to be a tall order. The Rebels have some impressive offensive weapons, but lack a dominant tailback. The defense, with nine starters back, could be very good and could keep the Rebels in every game. The schedule is tough, but the Rebels do get Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn at home, so they have a chance to contend in the division.
Quotable: “This kind of signifies us getting into what we want to do, what we feel like we’re made to do. The expectations have been risen around our program, which we embrace. I can’t wait to get started with our kids.” — Hugh Freeze
Coach: Nick Saban, eighth season (180-74-1 overall, 74-15 at Alabama).
Last year’s record: 11-2, 7-1 in the SEC (T-1st in the West). Lost to Oklahoma 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl.
Fans’ expectations: The Tide will bounce back strong after the disastrous finish to the 2013 season (consecutive losses to arch-rival Auburn and Oklahoma). New starting quarterback Jacob Coker will be successful because of all the talent around him, including wide receiver Amari Cooper and tailback T.J. Yeldon. Saban’s defense will be dominant as usual and the Tide will get their revenge against Auburn at the end of the season to clinch the division title.
Realistic expectations: Like Steve Spurrier said earlier in the week, Alabama has the most talent in the league, but that does not always translate to a championship. A lot of the Tide’s hopes are resting with Coker, the FSU transfer. Coker comes with a great reputation (having battled Jameis Winston for the starting role last summer in Tallahassee), but he has little experience, which brings in the element of the unknown. If Coker turns out to be as good as many are predicting, the Tide could run away with the division on their way to another SEC title and berth in the national playoff.
Quotable: “Having lost our last two games last year, it’s a little bit different mindset with our players. We have to re-establish our identity as a team at Alabama.” — Nick Saban
Coach: Mark Stoops, second season (2-10, all at Kentucky).
Last year’s record: 2-10 overall, 0-8 in the SEC (7th in the East).
Fans’ expectations: The Wildcats will be much better in Stoops’ second season. He’s recruited well, he’s generated excitement in Lexington and the Wildcats have 15 starters returning who are now comfortable in Stoops’ system. Maxwell Smith is an experienced QB who has some quality receivers to throw to (Javess Blue, Demarco Robinson and Ryan Timmons) and an experienced line in front of him. The defense could be one of the best UK has had in a while, led by star defensive end Alvin Dupree.
Realistic expectations: Stoops has some talent to work with, especially on defense, but it’s going to be hard for the Wildcats to climb out of the basement in the division. The ’Cats could be solid in the passing game, but they lack a proven tailback and could end up being one-dimensional, never a good thing in the SEC. The defense has some playmakers and will keep the Wildcats competitive. Stoops will break through and win his first SEC game, but he’s looking at another possible last-place finish in the East.
Quotable: “This team has worked very hard and done everything we’ve asked them to do. The area where we needed to improve the most was leadership. I feel our players have worked hard to be better leaders and be more accountable to their teammates and the program.” — Mark Stoops