Power Ranking the 5 Teams Most Likely to Win the SEC in 2014
Auburn just won the 2013 SEC Championship. But who will win the title in 2014?
It all boils down to who can have the best talent on the field, some solid continuity on the roster and how well they can adjust from season-to-season. As it sits right now, some teams will lose too much talent to the NFL whether by graduation or early entry to the NFL draft.
But the best teams have a ton of depth and can absorb the losses to earn their way into the SEC title game in 2014. Follow along for who is most likely to win the SEC in 2014.
5. South Carolina
Here's the dark horse.
A Steve Spurrier-led team that has won 10 games each of the last three years. It is a team with a plethora of talent and great coaching. It'll return nine offensive starters and six defensive starters in 2014.
Despite losing starting quarterback Connor Shaw, the Gamecocks have the benefit of an extremely deep group of receivers and a quarterback who has seen a ton of playing time with them as a reserve. Dylan Thompson has been a quarterback-in-waiting for South Carolina since Shaw took over the starting reins.
But the offense that will be led by Thompson and star running back Mike Davis isn't really the question. It's the defense that will be losing three of its four starting linemen including game-changers Kelcy Quarles and Jadeveon Clowney.
Without that pairing, South Carolina will have to find a pass rush. Whether that comes from more blitzes or great recruiting again, the Gamecocks have the ability to compete for the SEC title in 2014 if they can fix that one hole.
Alabama will go as their quarterback goes in 2014. AJ McCarron is a great college quarterback, and his ability to lead the Alabama offense with precision throws is underrated. Unfortunately, he's a senior and will not be able to return to Tuscaloosa in 2014.
So the Crimson Tide will have to become a more run-heavy team with Blake Sims—McCarron's understudy over the past few years—at the helm. They will still have T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Dee Hart to base their running game around.
Even more than that, they will still have the legendary Nick Saban coaching them. That alone makes them a legitimate national title contender every single year. Returning at least seven defensive starters and at least eight offensive starters will bring the continuity they need to make another run at an SEC title.
And the defense should still be dominant because of the schemes that Saban runs. Alabama will always bring in top-level talent with Saban there, and with a great quarterback, could end up as a dominant force in the SEC in 2014.
However, Sims leading the Crimson Tide could lead to a couple of unexpected losses throughout the year. If one of the 2013 freshmen—Alec Morris, Parker McLeod, Luke Del Rio or Cooper Bateman—steps up, the Tide could be in a much better position both in 2014 and the future.
But, Alabama goes as its quarterback does. Let's hope Saban can make the right decision again.
3. Louisiana State
In a very talent-balanced conference like the SEC, winning comes from leadership. And leadership comes from the coaching and the quarterback. Les Miles isn't going anywhere this offseason, but Zach Mettenberger is going to graduate.
So who fills the senior's shoes?
Top recruit Anthony Jennings has played in limited action in 2013 because of Mettenberger's knee injury. However, Jennings will start the bowl game because there's no possible way Mettenberger heals up in time from the torn ACL.
Returning at least six starters on offense will help with the transition from Mettenberger to Jennings. But it's not just the offense that will be good in 2014. The LSU defense is already good this season, and they could return as many as nine starters.
LSU will always have a good defense with Miles at the helm, and that many starters returning will only make it better. However, with Jennings, Miles has arguably the most naturally talented quarterback he has ever had.
If they can bring Jennings along quickly, LSU stands a legitimate chance of winning the SEC in 2014.
While this may look like a dark-horse pick on the surface, Georgia has too much talent to not rebound from what was a down year.
Look at the Bulldogs' losses in 2013. Three of their four losses are to current top-15 teams including the pairing that was in the SEC title game.
The Bulldogs have a more favorable schedule in the 2014 season. They have three tough road games when they visit South Carolina and Missouri as well as the annual game in Jacksonville against Florida. But outside of those three games, every other tough team they play will be at home.
On top of that, they will be returning 10 of their 11 starters on defense. While the defense wasn't great in 2013, the errors were from inexperience, not a lack of talent. Georgia will still have an offense revolving around Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, so the Bulldogs should still be able to score a ton of points.
And it's not like new starting quarterback Hutson Mason is a slouch either. The rising senior has been patiently waiting behind Aaron Murray the way D.J. Shockley waited behind David Greene. It's his chance to lead the Bulldogs to greatness.
Basing their game plans around their strengths of a good defense and a great running game, the Bulldogs should be able to win the SEC East. And with better health in 2014 than they had in 2013, the Bulldogs are the second-best team in the conference behind the 2013 champion, Auburn.
"To be the man, you have to beat the man. WHOOO!"—Ric Flair
And right now, Auburn is the man.
With how dominant the Auburn offense is, it's tough to believe the Tigers don't at least repeat as the West Division champions in 2014. Their offense averages over 300 yards on the ground and 500 total yards each game. They also score over 40 points a game.
Keep in mind, this is just the first year that all of these players are running this offense together. Give that offense another year together, and the fireworks will only get brighter.
With Nick Marshall out there looking like Cam Newton and Tre Mason looking like a Heisman contender, the Tigers stand a legitimate chance at repeating as champions.
The real issue is on defense. Auburn's 2013 defense is in the bottom half of the FBS in terms of yards allowed. The Tigers will have to tighten that up for 2014 if they want to repeat.
But, as long as Gus Malzahn is coaching the Tigers, it's going to be tough to beat them. Bad defense or not. And because of that, they have earned the right to be No. 1.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.