SEC Football: 2013 End of the Season Accountability
The 2013-14 season is in the books, and the holiday season is upon us. As is the case every year, it's time to reach under the tree and hand out gifts in the form of some end of the season accountability.
Florida wasn't really going to struggle this year, right? Is Dan Mullen really on the hot seat at Mississippi State? Zach Mettenberger as a Heisman candidate? Say what?
Did you think that something that was written or said in the offseason was crazy and demanded answers when the season was over? Well, this slide show is for you.
Here's a look back at some good, bad and ugly predictions from the 2013-14 SEC football season.
The Good: Florida's Struggles
Florida was one win away from playing for the SEC Championship a year ago and was on the periphery of the BCS National Championship discussion heading into the 2013-14 season.
That wasn't realistic. Florida's offense failed to evolve in the offseason, and it had already dropped a game on the road at Miami before a wave of injuries set in and the Gators sputtered to a 4-8 record, complete with a loss to Georgia Southern on their resume.
Did the injuries play a part? Sure. But there was nothing to suggest that this was a title contender. In fact, Florida's inability to develop a downfield passing threat was a primary reason that this team was destined for a 7-5 record even if it had stayed relatively healthy.
Just as I predicted in August.
The Bad: Georgia's National Title Hopes
Georgia was five yards away from beating Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship Game and moving on to Miami to take on Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game. What did 2013 have in store?
I picked the Bulldogs to get "those extra five yards," finish the 2013-14 season with one loss, an SEC title and beat Ohio State for the BCS National Championship.
Yeah, about that...
Injuries to running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and wide receivers Justin Scott-Wesley, Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Chris Conley, created havoc on Georgia's offense which prevented the Bulldogs from seriously contending.
But let's be real, the defense was a problem—and while injuries played a part, coaching really hampered the 2013 Bulldogs. A young and inexperienced defense struggled with even the most basic things, like lining up properly and simple pass coverage.
Defense doesn't win championships anymore, "just enough" defense does. Georgia didn't have anywhere close to enough defense in 2013.
The Ugly: Mississippi State Missing out on a Bowl
For the majority of the season, it looked as if my 4-8 prediction for Mississippi State in 2013 was spot on. The Bulldogs entered the final two weeks of the season at 4-6, with quarterback injury issues and not much hope down the stretch.
Then it happened.
The Bulldogs toppled Arkansas on the road in Little Rock in overtime. They followed it up with an Egg Bowl for the ages, as quarterback Dak Prescott—stinger and all—came off the bench to score the game-winning touchdown in a 17-10 overtime win over Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night.
I wrote prior to that Egg Bowl that head coach Dan Mullen should have been coaching for his job in that game. Not that he was but that he should be.
As it turns out, it didn't matter.
Mullen pushed the right buttons down the stretch, made a bowl game for the fourth straight season and has some momentum going into the offseason with a small village of starters returning.
Talk about closing strong.
The Good: Zach Mettenberger's Turnaround
Remember when LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was viewed more like a punch line than a power?
That changed in his senior season, when the Watkinsville, Ga. native completed 64.9 percent of his passes (192-of-296) for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight picks, leading the charge as first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron completely changed the perception of LSU's offense.
That sound you hear is me patting myself on the back.
Sure, having Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry at his disposal certainly helped. But the Cameron/Mettenberger marriage worked wonders for the LSU offense, as Mettenberger finally lived up to the hype that followed him to Baton Rouge.
The Bad: Clowney for Heisman
I'll admit it, I bought into the hype.
I was firmly on the Jadeveon Clowney for Heisman bandwagon this summer, after the junior defensive end for South Carolina dominated headlines this offseason after "the hit" on Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.
It was a long shot but one worth taking.
Defensive players Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu and Manti Te'o had paved the way for a defensive player to break through that glass ceiling, and who better than Clowney to break through it?
Injuries, illness and an incredible amount of attention paid to him by opposing offensive coordinators limited his impact this season, and he was out of the Heisman chase by late September.
Oh well, live and learn.
The Ugly: Missouri Struggling
Missouri came out of nowhere to win the SEC East, and I wasn't alone in picking the Tigers to struggle a bit in 2013.
But while the offensive success wasn't too surprising—after all, head coach Gary Pinkel had NBA power forwards playing wide receiver—the defensive success came out of nowhere.
I wrote that Missouri would struggle up front, and it most certainly did not.
Defensive end Michael Sam led the SEC in sacks with 10.5, tackles for loss with 18 and earned defensive player of the year honors from the Associated Press. Missouri's front four was stout against the run up until the SEC Championship Game, was able to get pressure without blitzing and stayed fresh for four quarters by rotating eight players throughout games.
It was a magical year for the Tigers, and the defense led the charge.
The Good: National Title Dominoes Falling
The final week of the regular season was a glorious time for our sport.
The BCS—while heavily criticized by some (not me)—created wonderful hypothetical debates during the season, which kept people engaged in the sport all season long.
Its final week of existence provided one final debate: "Should a one-loss SEC champ jump undefeated Ohio State?"
I said in our weekly headlines video—which can be viewed above—that it was a meaningless discussion and that Michigan State would spring the upset on the Buckeyes and allow the winner of the SEC Championship Game to play for the crystal football.
It shouldn't have been much of a shock. Ohio State was a paper tiger this season, its defense struggled at times and Michigan State's offense improved throughout the season.
As is the case in most seasons, the BCS worked itself out one final time before heading to the retirement home.
The Bad: Auburn Dancing Around .500
Much like Missouri, nobody expected Auburn to be this good.
Coming off a 3-9 campaign and with first-year head coach Gus Malzahn roaming the sidelines, I expected the Tigers to be competitive but for there to be some speed bumps along the way.
They suffered speed bumps—the defense bent but rarely broke, the offense was one-dimensional and Auburn lost on the road at LSU.
But that was the only one.
A punishing rushing attack, a defensive line that stayed strong for a full four quarters, a magical play to Ricardo Louis against Georgia and being prepared for the final second of the Iron Bowl vaulted Auburn to college football's biggest stage—a BCS National Championship berth.
Not many people saw that coming in August.
The Ugly: Ole Miss Surprising the Doubters
I bought into the Ole Miss hype, and the Rebels let me down.
With a veteran roster and a talent injection coming from the 2013 recruiting class, I had the Rebels pegged for a major step forward this season—including an upset over Texas A&M. That upset didn't happen, and although one over LSU did, the Rebels still struggled to get their groove offensively, were riddled with early-season injuries and sputtered down the stretch.
Head coach Hugh Freeze lost faith in quarterback Bo Wallace down the stretch, as Wallace tossed four picks, threw zero touchdowns and lost a fumble on the final play of the Egg Bowl to fall to the Bulldogs and allow state power to shift back to Starkville.
Ole Miss still made progress in 2013, but it wasn't a major leap forward like I expected.
Maybe next year.