Power Ranking the Most Dangerous Offenses in SEC Football
A rush of offense in 2013 made headlines in the Southeastern Conference. But with half the league losing its starting quarterbacks to either graduation or the NFL, defense should take the lead once again and give the SEC back its reputation as a defensive-minded league.
This tumultuous overthrow of power will continue one trend in 2014, though: The little guys are here to stay. Texas A&M, Missouri and Auburn will be joined by a couple of Mississippi schools in establishing a new world order in the SEC. Things are not what they have been.
SEC offenses have seen a great deal of change in both personnel and coordinators, and it's now time to review and rank them heading into the 2014 season.
Last-season scoring: (30.1 ppg, 8th SEC)
Key losses: Austyn Carta-Samuels (QB), Wesley Tate (RB), Jordan Matthews (WR)
The troubles in Nashville have been well-documented. Previous head coach James Franklin, after taking Vanderbilt to an unprecedented three straight bowl games, bolted for Penn State, and Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason has taken the reins.
In what a few folks saw as a controversial move, Franklin emptied Vandy's recruiting class. At one point, what was previously one of the nation's largest classes had shrunk to only eight commitments just weeks before signing day.
Though Mason recovered admirably, this team has a long rebuilding road ahead in terms of both experience and talent. The major breakout talents are gone, and the Commodores look to have a tough 2014 ahead of them.
13. Mississippi State
Last-season scoring: (27.7 ppg, 10th SEC)
Key losses: Tyler Russell (QB), LaDarius Perkins (RB), Gabe Jackson (OG)
Mississippi State is a trendy pick as a dark horse in the SEC West, and it's not a bad one. The offense might be rusty to begin the year, though. Losing previous starter Tyler Russell at the quarterback position and multiyear starting running back LaDarius Perkins will hurt from an experience point of view. But the good news is that Russell lost the starting position to dual-threat signal-caller Dak Prescott in 2013, and State's stable of running backs is among its greatest strengths.
Head coach Dan Mullen has a history with dual-threat quarterbacks (Anyone know the name Tim Tebow?), and Prescott is poised for a huge senior season. If the Bulldogs can compensate for the holes in the front seven, offensive-minded Mullen might just be able to make some noise in the 2014 edition of SEC football.
Last-season scoring: (23.8 ppg, 11th SEC)
Key losses: Rajion Neal (RB), Antonio Richardson (OT)
It might not show yet, but head coach Butch Jones has the Vols on an upward trajectory in Knoxville. Though Tennessee managed just five wins a year ago, an overtime loss to No. 6 Georgia and a four-point loss to rival Vanderbilt is all that kept the team from the postseason. With the seventh-ranked recruiting class nationally headed to town, per 247Sports, things are looking orange-bright for UT.
In the short term, the building process continues. The quarterback position has yet to be nailed down, and a three-way battle for the starting spot will have to be resolved by fall. Inexperienced talent will also have to step up at the tailback position, though a solid stable of experienced wide receivers will help ease the burden.
A bowl game should be attainable for the Vols in 2014, and 2015 is looking like a breakout year.
Last-season scoring: (18.8 ppg, 14th SEC)
Key losses: Mack Brown (TB), Solomon Patton (WR), Trenton Brown (OT)
Many folks forget that starting quarterback Jeff Driskel led the Gators to a competitive start on 68.9 percent passing before suffering a broken leg against Tennessee. He wasn't an All-Star, but he was a heck of a lot better than the dumpster fire that followed his exit in Gainesville.
Without reopening old wounds, the Gators' four-win season and SEC-trailing 18.8 points per contest just won't cut it. Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was brought in immediately following the season in hopes of reviving a mutilated Florida offense, and he's got the potential to do just that.
Reports say Driskel has returned from his injury as dynamic as ever and that, despite hyped freshman Will Grier's challenge, the starting job looks to remain in his hands. Rising junior Kelvin Taylor broke out in 2013 and could be a nice complement to a squad looking to live up to its potential.
Last-season scoring: (39.1 ppg, 3rd SEC)
Key losses: James Franklin (QB), Henry Josey (RB)
Not many teams could lose the sheer amount of experience and talent Missouri has lost headed into 2014. Three legitimate Heisman hopefuls are gone to either graduation or the NFL, and replacing that level of competition is not easy for a program such as Missouri, which feeds off a diet of 3-star recruits.
To be fair, building a winning program off unheralded recruits is precisely what head coach Gary Pinkel specializes in. Though the cupboard has been stripped in Columbia, a system this potent likely won't be incompetent on the offensive end.
Last-season scoring: (20.7 ppg, 12th SEC)
Key losses: Javontee Herndon (WR), Kiero Small (RB), David Hurd (OT)
After winning three straight, new head coach Bret Bielema saw his squad lose nine in a row to close out the season. Not exactly the debut season the Razorbacks were hoping for.
The team is still young, though, and no one can question Bielema's coaching chops. The 'Backs put up some numbers a year ago on offense, including a 24-point showing against Ole Miss and 33 against Texas A&M, and the nucleus of that squad returns almost entirely intact.
If the defense can mature—and that's a big if—Arkansas may be able to start turning things around in 2014.
Last-season scoring: (20.5 ppg, 13th SEC)
Key losses: Raymond Sanders (RB)
New head coach Mark Stoops is taking steps to right the ship. A 2014 recruiting class that ranks 22nd nationally, per 247Sports, is a good first step.
The good news is that nearly every player of consequence on both sides of the ball is returning. The Wildcats should be one of the most experienced teams in the conference heading into next season. The bad news is that there isn't much to build on. Stoops knows his football and should be able to keep up with his share of offenses next season, but don't expect miracles.
Last-season scoring: (39.5 ppg, 2nd SEC)
Key losses: Tre Mason (RB), Greg Robinson (OT)
Going from three wins to playing for a national championship in a coach's first season at the helm is not exactly common. In fact, the 2013 Auburn Tigers will go down in SEC history as one of the greatest stories of the conference.
Don't expect a repeat.
Falling just short of the 2013 Heisman Trophy, All-Star running back Tre Mason is gone to the NFL draft, as is his most athletic blocker, Greg Robinson.
If, however, you count out a Gus Malzahn offense with quarterback Nick Marshall returning, you deserve the punishment you receive.
Last-season scoring: (35.8 ppg, 6th SEC)
Key losses: Zach Mettenberger (QB), Jeremy Hill (RB), Odell Beckham (WR)
If there's any team, perhaps nationally, that can rival Mizzou in the talent-lost department, it's LSU. For what seems to be the 100th consecutive year, the Tigers lead the SEC in players lost to the NFL draft, headlined by wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham and running back Jeremy Hill. Couple that with the loss of suddenly capable quarterback Zach Mettenberger, and 2014 begins to look like a reloading year in Baton Rouge.
New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was eclipsed by perhaps only Auburn's Gus Malzahn in terms of an immediate coaching impact in 2013. He masterminded a monumental offensive renovation a year ago and, despite the lack of experience, will always have plenty of talent to play with at LSU.
A step back doesn't mean inept, and Cameron will make sure it stays that way.
Last-season scoring: (38.2 ppg, 4th SEC)
Key losses: AJ McCarron (QB), Cyrus Kouandjio (OT), Kevin Norwood (WR)
The SEC is addicted to Lane Kiffin. Following a one-year stint as head coach of Tennessee, Kiffin unwisely took the head coach position at USC. Let's just say his experience wasn't a pleasant one, and now he's back. Head coach Nick Saban hired Kiffin after former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier jumped to Michigan.
Kiffin has had tremendous success at this position in the past. Don't expect that to change anytime soon. The quarterback position will have to be figured out after record-breaking signal-caller AJ McCarron's departure, but the cupboard in Tuscaloosa will always be full.
4. South Carolina
Last-season scoring: (34.1 ppg, 7th SEC)
Key losses: Connor Shaw (QB), Bruce Ellington (WR)
One game kept the Steve Spurrier-led Gamecocks from claiming yet another SEC Eastern Division title in 2013, and there's no reason to believe next season won't bring a repeat performance.
Record-breaking quarterback Connor Shaw has graduated, and his favorite target, Bruce Ellington, is gone to the NFL. But the talent and experience remaining make up for those losses.
Case in point: The front line features no fewer than five upperclassmen on the two-deep, and replacement quarterback Dylan Thompson had some great moments when protected. The protection should be there in 2014.
If Thompson improves his field vision, 2014 could be a big season in Columbia.
Last-season scoring: (36.7 ppg, 5th SEC)
Key losses: Aaron Murray (QB), Kenarious Gates (OT), Arthur Lynch (TE)
The predominant concern for the Bulldogs is at the quarterback spot. Backup Hutson Mason showed promise last season despite some struggles with his decision-making skills, but the inexperience will force head coach Mark Richt to rely on his running game.
Truthfully, that's not too bad of a thing.
The stable—which stars premier running back Todd Gurley, who returns from injury—is among the best in the country. Fellow rising junior Keith Marshall broke out after replacing Gurley and then also fell victim to the injury curse in Athens.
Assuming the squad can stay healthy, a strong and experienced front line will pave the way for some All-Star running backs and equate to some big offensive numbers in 2014 for Georgia.
2. Ole Miss
Last-season scoring: (30.0 ppg, 9th SEC)
Key losses: Donte Moncrief (WR), A.J. Hawkins (OG), Ferbia Allen (TE)
The story in Oxford isn't about talent, despite last year's splash of a recruiting class. Nor is it about head coach Hugh Freeze and his revamping of a typically middling Ole Miss program.
The story is the sheer amount of experience that returns.
The only loss of true consequence comes from wide receiver Donte Moncrief's jump to the NFL, turning what was one of the nation's youngest programs into one of the most battle-tested. Returning are all but one of the front line's two-deep, every receiver and every tailback. This will be a mature team that makes good decisions.
If the Rebels live up to their potential, many will regret not placing their bets on Ole Miss as the SEC's dark horse in 2014.
1. Texas A&M
Last-season scoring: (44.2 ppg, 1st SEC)
Key losses: Johnny Manziel (QB), Mike Evans (WR), Ben Malena (RB)
Whenever a Heisman winner leaves your program, it's news. When a second candidate leaves in the same year, expectations tend to plummet. That, however, wouldn't be doing head coach Kevin Sumlin justice.
Johnny Manziel was perhaps one of the most dynamic and purely talented quarterbacks the college game has ever seen. And he was an unheralded 3-star recruit out of high school, per Yahoo! Sports. Kyle Allen, the top-ranked quarterback out of high school and the seventh overall recruit, per Yahoo! Sports, could see the starting role from kickoff.
Despite these big-name losses, the talent base has been tremendously upgraded in College Station as a result of the Aggies' past couple of seasons in the SEC and a weakened rival in Austin. A&M isn't going anywhere, and Kevin Sumlin will once again prove why he is one of the greatest offensive minds in the game in 2014.
Let me know who you'd have on top by following me on Twitter @SEC_Nerd.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!