Which SEC Team That Didn't Make a Bowl Could Be 2014's 'Auburn'?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 20, 2013

Florida head coach Will Muschamp
Florida head coach Will MuschampStacy Revere/Getty Images

In August, if you picked Auburn to be playing for the BCS National Championship following the 2013 season, you were probably laughed out of the room.

Yet here the Tigers are, one year removed from a 3-9 campaign and the first 0-8 SEC record in program history, playing for the crystal football against No. 1 Florida State on Jan. 6.

Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas missed out on bowl games this season, but all they have to do is look to the Plains to have hope of an immediate turnaround.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp
Florida head coach Will MuschampRob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

So which SEC team is most likely to be 2014's "Auburn"?

It's a stretch to think any of the four could make that kind of leap, in terms of playing for it all. However, if you're looking for a team that can jump back into division title contention in a hurry, look no further than Gainesville.

Yes, the same Florida Gators team that got beat at home by Georgia Southern, run by intra-state rival Florida State and finished the season 4-8 with no sign of an offensive identity.

That team could have an immediate turnaround with a new offensive coordinator and a clean bill of health.

After all, Auburn's fortunes were in virtually the same place 12 months ago.

According to CBS Sports's Bruce Feldman, Florida could be narrowing down its search for Brent Pease's replacement.

Names I'm hearing getting a lot consideration for #UF O-staff: #Texas OC Major Applewhite & #USC OC Clay Helton.

— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) December 20, 2013

Both would be suitable replacements.

Helton helped Matt Barkley finish in the top three in the Pac-12 in passing from 2010 to 2012, and was an integral part of USC's offensive turnaround after former head coach Lane Kiffin was fired this season.

The Trojans threw for more than 200 yards in seven of their final eight games, after only eclipsing that mark twice in the first five—including once in Kiffin's swan song versus Arizona State.

Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite
Texas co-offensive coordinator Major ApplewhiteBrendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Applewhite would bring a little more flexibility to Florida's offense, which is something it desperately needs. He was Alabama head coach Nick Saban's first offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007, before moving back to his alma mater the following season.

Whoever Muschamp settles on, it's clear that he is willing to make at least a partial philosophical change on offense, which should bring more spread elements and tempo to the attack.

That bodes well for quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is a dual-threat quarterback, accurate in the intermediate routes and able to keep plays alive with his feet.

Plus, he has weapons.

True freshman running back Kelvin Taylor emerged as a threat down the stretch, rushing for 96 yards against South Carolina and 92 against Georgia Southern. Add in Matt Jones—who should return healthy after missing the final six-and-a-half games with a knee injury—and Driskel has a safety net behind him.

Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves IIIKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Gators have to develop wide receivers, which has been a constant nuisance. However, a new system means a clean slate, and youngster Ahmad Fulwood and rising senior Quinton Dunbar have talent. 

Sound familiar? It's the same thing we were saying about Auburn this time last season.

Defensively, Florida will be fine. Vernon Hargreaves III is a stud at cornerback, defensive lineman Leon Orr is a monster up front and BUCK Dante Fowler Jr. is already a superstar. 

The schedule is the one hurdle that's going to be tough to clear.

A trip to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama on Sept. 20 will be a challenge, as will a cross-division rivalry game with LSU on Oct. 11 in "The Swamp."

The schedule is daunting, but aside from the Alabama game, it's just a typical Florida schedule. 

The Gators have to play Florida State to close the season, get a bye week before the trip to Tennessee on Oct. 4 and another before playing Georgia in Jacksonville on Nov. 1.

It isn't a talent problem at Florida. The problem is the inability to develop that talent.

Don't be surprised if the Gators are in the mix for the SEC East title next season.




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