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SEC Preview: Expert Predictions

By Eye on College Football staff

More conference previews: ACC | Group of Five, Independents

Dennis Dodd

Offensive player of the year: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn. Without the awesome ground strength of last season, Marshall will have to become a better passer after a 1,000-yard rushing season. Count on it.

Defensive player of the year: Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia. Jeremy Pruitt was brought in from FSU as defensive coordinator to whip the unit into shape. Pruitt will have no problems with Wilson (133 tackles). The all-SEC performer is a relentless pursuer.

Top newcomer: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Teammate La'el Collins says it's like Fournette has been around three years. Les Miles used his name in the same sentence as Michael Jordan. Arguably the nation's No. 1 recruit is that good.

Coach of the year: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina. Expect a fourth consecutive 11-win season. Expect the Gamecocks to win the East. Expect Spurrier to be at the top of his game at age 69. Next step? Winning SEC.

Most underrated team: Ole Miss. Bo Wallace is this year's Johnny Football. Robert Nkenmdiche's potential will be realized. Hugh Freeze's recruiting classes will mature. A third-place finish in the West isn't out of the question.

Most overrated team: Texas A&M. The defense can't be any more brutal can it? Kevin Sumlin won 20 games the past two seasons because Manziel and the offense outscored people. Unless there is similar talent offensively this year, the Aggies are going to finish fifth - or worse - in the West.

Most intriguing conference game: Alabama at LSU, Nov. 8. The last four years Alabama has 26 SEC wins, LSU has 25. The last four years Alabama has 46 total wins, LSU has 45. Both are the 1-2 totals in the league. The last four years each has an SEC title. (Yes, and Bama has three out of the last five national titles.)

Most intriguing non-conference game: Auburn at Kansas State, Sept. 18. Two masterminds (Bill Snyder-Gus Malzahn) meet on a Thursday night. Bold conference prediction: The SEC will have four teams (out of 12) in the first New Year's Six group of playoff bowls.

Bold conference prediction: The SEC will have four teams (out of 12) in the first New Year's Six group of selection committee bowls.

Jeremy Fowler

Offensive player of the year: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. Might be the best SEC player at any position. A 1,500-yard season is plausible if healthy. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will feed Gurley early and often while a young quarterback transitions. South Carolina's Mike Davis will post sizable numbers too.

Defensive player of the year: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida. This league is still won at the line. Chris Jones and Robert Nkemdiche get more pub but Fowler will have the most disruptive year -- if barely. When has a Will Muschamp defense been bad? He needs an anchor.

Top newcomer: Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M. LSU running back Leonard Fournette will be a presence in the West but LSU will likely disperse carries until a top player emerges midseason. By then, Noil will already have 35 catches as an ideal weapon in A&M's spread. Kevin Sumlin can use Noil 86 different ways, and he will.

Most overrated team: Alabama. Not sure why Bama is magically a playoff lock after losing several defensive starters (including three really good defensive backs), good offensive lineman, one of the best quarterbacks in the program's history and a good offensive coordinator. The skill players will carry the offense early -- and make no mistake, this team's potential is absurdly rich -- but it's not blasphemous to say there could be at least a few losses on this schedule.

Most underrated team: Ole Miss. Last year's hyped freshmen are worthy -- all of them. Bo Wallace is finally healthy. LSU and Texas A&M could be in transition. Finishing second or third in the West is not far-fetched. Time to win at least one game you shouldn't.

Most intriguing conference game: Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29. This one's too easy. The next 3-to-5 years of Malzahn vs. Saban will live in Yellowhammer State folklore. Any way this tops last year's game? Maybe if a playoff spot is at stake.

Most intriguing nonconference game: LSU vs. Wisconsin, Aug. 30 (Houston). Features two power-run teams we don't yet know everything about. Will Wisconsin's front seven be as vicious? Can LSU's secondary reach the standard in Baton Rouge? Both teams have quarterback questions. Melvin Gordon the only proven star in this game, but there could be 11 more by the end of Saturday night.

Bold conference prediction: South Carolina snaps the five-year streak of SEC West champions and takes the league crown. Spurrier throws shade on loop for the next five years from the golf course.

Jon Solomon

Offensive player of the year: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. When he's healthy, Gurley looks like the closest thing to Adrian Peterson college football has seen. Gurley is a special, special player.

Many experts believe Leonard Fournette will be the next Adrian Peterson. (247Sports)
Many experts believe Leonard Fournette will be the next Adrian Peterson. (247Sports)

Defensive player of the year: Landon Collins, S, Alabama. It's rare for a safety to be named the SEC's best defensive player. Collins has that potential, especially if he helps shore up Alabama's porous secondary from 2013.

Top newcomer: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Speaking of AP, LSU's freshman has been called the best running back prospect in a decade. How will he handle the hype?

Coach of the year: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss. The Rebels have collected talent and now it could pay off. Two of their four road games are against Vanderbilt and Arkansas, meaning third place or better in the SEC West isn't that far-fetched.

Most overrated team: LSU. The Tigers are ranked 13th in the preseason coaches poll. They're probably a year away from seriously competing for championships again. On paper, they look more like a lower top-25 team.

Most underrated team: Missouri. What's a team got to do for some consistent respect? It's unlikely Missouri wins the SEC East again in 2014. But no preseason top-25 love? The name "Missouri" still doesn't resonate with the public. It should.

Most intriguing conference game: Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29. For starters, there are raw emotions still there from last year's stunning Auburn win. Then there's this: The Iron Bowl has had national championship implications for six straight years.

Most intriguing nonconference game: Clemson at Georgia, Aug. 30. Forget those made-for-TV, neutral-site games in NFL stadiums. Give me bitter rivals on campus one year after Clemson's entertaining 38-35 win over Georgia.

Bold conference prediction: Georgia, healthy after being decimated by injuries in 2013, will knock off Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and represent the SEC in the first College Football Playoff.

Jerry Palm

Offensive player of the year: T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama. If the Crimson Tide has the kind of season many expect, it'll be because Yeldon has a monster year. He's the top running back in among preseason Heisman contenders.

Defensive player of the year: Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia. Wilson averaged more than 10 tackles a game for the Bulldogs last year. He leads a defense that is going to have to step up if the Bulldogs are going to compete in the East.

Ramik Wilson and Georgia play Marcus Murphy and Missouri on Oct. 11. (USATSI)
Ramik Wilson and Georgia play Marcus Murphy and Missouri on Oct. 11. (USATSI)

Top newcomer: Jacob Coker, QB, Alabama. The Florida State transfer, who narrowly lost out on the Noles starting job to Heisman winner Jameis Winston, will get a chance to match Winston's national title while leading the Tide.

Coach of the year: Nick Saban, Alabama. Saban hasn't navigated Alabama to an undefeated season since 2009. If he can do it this year, there will be no denying him this honor.

Most overrated team: South Carolina. The Gamecocks have a lot to replace on defense, especially up front with the losses of Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles. With road games against Auburn, Florida and Clemson, they'll need that unit to be in top form to compete for the league title.

Most underrated team: LSU. The Tigers have questions at quarterback, which is a tradition. If they can get some quality play at that position, the talent is good enough everywhere else to make a run at the SEC title.

Most intriguing conference game: Alabama at LSU, Nov. 8. LSU is good enough to win the division, or at least have a say in who does. If the Tigers are going to surprise, this is the week to do it.

Most intriguing nonconference game: Auburn at Kansas State, Sept. 20. This is a rare trip out of the South for an SEC team to play a competitive opponent. The Wildcats are going to be near the top of the Big 12, and this is a potential statement game for them.

Bold conference prediction: Despite all the talk about the league's dominance and the assumption that the SEC will get at least two teams in the playoff every year, only the champion will make it this year.

Tom Fornelli

Offensive player of the year: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn. For the first time in his career Gus Malzahn enters a season with a returning starter at quarterback. We've seen what he's done with quarterbacks in his career, and we saw what Nick Marshall did in his first season in the system. This is an offense built around its QB, and Marshall is a perfect fit for it.

Can Landon Collins lead the Alabama defense to the SEC Championship? (USATSI)
Can Landon Collins lead the Alabama defense to the SEC Championship? (USATSI)

Defensive player of the year: Landon Collins, S, Alabama. The SEC is a conference built in the trenches, but Collins, a safety, might be the most talented player in the entire conference. I expect big things from the junior in 2014.

Top newcomer: Malchi Dupre, WR, LSU. Both Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are gone, leaving the opportunity for Dupre to come to Baton Rouge and have an impact right away. He certainly has the ability to do so.

Coach of the year: Butch Jones, Tennessee. Tennessee has a young team in 2014, but I think the Vols are going to surprise some people this year, and they'll get back to a bowl game. With the rest of the conference basically going to plan, that should be enough to get Jones the honor.

Most overrated team: Alabama. Now hang with me here, I'm not saying Alabama is bad. It's not. It's great. It's just recent history has the world automatically expecting this team to be a national title favorite every year, and with the significant losses this team has on both sides of the ball, I think asking for another national title this season may be a bit much.

Most underrated team: Florida. The Gators were terrible last year, there is no doubt about that. But last year's Florida team was also completely annihilated by injuries. Should this team stay healthy in 2014 it'll rebound in a big way.

Most intriguing conference game: Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29. Once again it'll likely decide the SEC West champion, and if recent history is an indication, the SEC champion as well.

Most intriguing nonconference game: Clemson at Georgia, Aug. 30. LSU/Wisconsin will be the popular choice, but I've seen SEC teams crush Big Ten teams at neutral sites enough to give that game a wait and see approach. Georgia/Clemson, though, features two teams with some major changes, but still carrying high expectations. We should get a good feel of Georgia's chances at winning the SEC East in this game.

Bold conference prediction: The conference's leading rusher won't be Yeldon, Gurley or Mike Davis. It will be Arkansas' Alex Collins.

Jerry Hinnen

Offensive player of the year: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn. Tailbacks Todd Gurley and Mike Davis are tempting choices, but why take them over a player that might rack up 70 percent of their rushing yards and win the league's passing efficiency title as a bonus?

SEC All-Conference
PosPlayerYrSchool
QBNick MarshallSr.Auburn
RBTodd GurleyJr.Georgia
RBMike DavisJr.South Carolina
WRAmari CooperJr.Alabama
WRMalcome KennedySr.Texas A&M
TEO.J. HowardSoph.Alabama
OTCedric OgbuehiSr.Texas A&M
OTBrandon ShellJr.South Carolina
OGA.J. CannSr.South Carolina
OGVadal AlexanderJr.LSU
CReese DismukesSr.Auburn
DEDante FowlerJr.Florida
DEAlvin DupreeSr.Kentucky
DTA'Shawn RobinsonSoph.Alabama
DTChris JonesSoph.Mississippi State
LBRamik WilsonSr.Georgia
LBTrey DePriestSr.Alabama
LBJordan JenkinsJr.Georgia
CBVernon Hargeaves IIISoph.Florida
CBDeshazor EverettSr.Texas A&M
SLandon CollinsJr.Alabama
STony ConnerSoph.Ole Miss
KMarshall MorganJr.Georgia
PDrew KaserJr.Texas A&M
KRChristion JonesSr.Alabama
PRMarcus MurphySr.Missouri
All-PurposeTrey WilliamsJr.Texas A&M

Defensive player of the year: Vernon Hargeaves III, CB, Florida. Assuming he can avoid any further practice-ruckus-related injuries, Hargreaves should be even better than he was as a freshman... and that was already good enough to push for All-American honors. Almost hands-down the SEC's most purely talented defender.

Top newcomer: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Usually it's a wise move to tap the breaks on the hype for a five-star freshmen, but that rule doesn't always apply to running backs -- see Marcus Lattimore, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Clarett, etc. -- and the willingness of Les Miles to fuel that hype rather than tamp it down speaks volumes to the staggering talent Fournette already represents.

Coach of the year: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina. It doesn't seem possible for a legend of the game like the OBC to actually go underappreciated, but what Spurrier has accomplished in Columbia -- three consecutive 11-2 seasons, if you haven't noticed, with damn good odds of a fourth in 2014 -- is nothing short of remarkable, given the Gamecocks' historical struggles. An SEC East title would only add to Spurrier's already-deserved reputation as the greatest coach in program history.

Most underrated team: Arkansas. Since my personal SEC projections track the preseason consensus almost perfectly (sigh), it's tough to answer this question -- but even if the Razorbacks finish seventh in the West again, they won't be the total pushovers many seem to expect. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins are an outstanding tailback tandem, Trey Flowers should lead a much-improved defense, and if Brandon Allen gives them anything at quarterback Bielema's bunch is going to upset someone they shouldn't.

Most overrated team: Mississippi State. Even in Starkville, Dan Mullen has never quite gotten the credit he deserves for turning the smoldering wreck he inherited from Sly Croom into a consistent bowl team (in the toughest division in the FBS, no less). But forget this talk about the Bulldogs as West dark horses; no team with State's talent deficits, or one that beats Kentucky, Bowling green and Arkansas by a combined seven points in regulation the year before is ready for that kind of run.

Most intriguing conference game: Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29. It won't top the 2013 Iron Bowl -- will anything, ever? -- but it's still the most bitter rivalry in the country, a matchup of preseason top-10 teams, and quite possibly a showdown for the SEC West title and a playoff berth. Add in Nick Saban's and Gus Malzahn's (ahem) decided philosophical differences over up-tempo offenses, and you're looking at the hottest rivalry in the country.

Most intriguing nonconference game: Auburn at Kansas State, Sept. 20. Clemson's battles with South Carolina and Georgia are must-watch TV, as is LSU's date with Wisconsin, but hitting the road to Manhattan for a Thursday-night date with Bill Snyder's underrated Wildcats might be an even bigger challenge. If Nick Marshall and Co. can come back from the Sunflower State with a win, it will be the clearest sign yet their 2013 run was no fluke.

Bold conference prediction: Kentucky won't finish last in the East. The Wildcats haven't even won an SEC game since 2011, but getting a dramatically weakened Vanderbilt squad at home represents a golden opportunity for Mark Stoops to get off the schneid, and could very well give them the tiebreaker edge over the Commodores in the final standings.

Chip Patterson

Offensive player of the year: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn. Marshall should produce some eye-popping total offense numbers with the return of Sammie Coates and addition of junior college wide receiver D'haquille Williams.

Defensive player of the year: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida. Fowler might be one of the best one-on-one pass rushers in the conference. If the Gators defense is back to 2012 form, he'll be a big part of it.

Top newcomer: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. There are a lot of Adrian Peterson comparisons flying around, but this special running back won't need 1,900 yards to meet expectations.

Coach of the year: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina. In a year where it looks like Alabama and Auburn are set to hold court in the SEC West, I'm thinking that Spurrier could end up getting the nod if he gets the Gamecocks back to the SEC title game in Atlanta. It would be the eighth coach of the year honor for the Head Ball Coach and his third since arriving in Columbia.

Most overrated team: Georgia or South Carolina. One of these Top 12 teams will likely end up disappointing its fan base, but I can't figure out which one it will be yet. Best guess? Whoever loses their meeting on Sept. 13.

Most underrated team: Texas A&M. Taking a flyer here on the Aggies since Florida is back on most folks' radar. The defense is a concern, but there is too much NFL-bound talent on offense to think a big regression is coming.

Most intriguing conference game: Auburn at Georgia, Nov. 15. Sure, Alabama at LSU and Auburn at Alabama will take headlines, but this Nov. 15 showdown will set the stage for the Iron Bowl and likely play a role in determining both division title races.

Most intriguing nonconference game: Auburn at Kansas State, Sept. 18. Gus Malzahn vs. Bill Snyder. Play this game 10 times and the wizard will take at least one; will it be on Sept. 18?

Bold conference prediction: SEC cannibalization produces a two-loss conference champion that will make the College Football Playoff and bump a 1-loss or undefeated conference champion.

SEC Predicted Order of Finish
Finish

Dodd

Fowler

Solomon

Palm

Fornelli

Hinnen

Patterson
East
1.South CarolinaSouth Carolina*Georgia*GeorgiaSouth CarolinaSouth CarolinaGeorgia
2.GeorgiaGeorgiaSouth CarolinaSouth CarolinaGeorgiaGeorgiaSouth Carolina
3.MissouriFloridaMissouriFloridaFloridaFloridaFlorida
4.FloridaMissouriFloridaMissouriTennesseeMissouriMissouri
5.VanderbiltTennesseeTennesseeTennesseeMissouriTennesseeTennessee
6.TennesseeVanderbiltVanderbiltKentuckyKentuckyKentuckyKentucky
7.KentuckyKentuckyKentuckyVanderbiltVanderbiltVanderbiltVanderbilt
West
1.Alabama*AuburnAlabamaAlabama*Auburn*Alabama*Alabama*
2.AuburnAlabamaAuburnLSUAlabamaAuburnLSU
3.LSUOle MissLSUAuburnLSULSUAuburn
4.Texas A&MLSUTexas A&MOle MissTexas A&MOle MissOle Miss
5.Miss StateMiss StateOle MissTexas A&MOle MissMiss StateTexas A&M
6.Ole MissTexas A&MMiss StateMiss StateMiss StateTexas A&MMiss State
7.ArkansasArkansasArkansasArkansasArkansasArkansasArkansas

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