SEC West's Most Indispensable Players for 2014 College Football Season
We hit on the SEC East division's most indispensable players on Tuesday. Now, it's time to head west.
Six SEC West teams have played in the BCS National Championship Game over the last five seasons, and a big reason for that is the ability for the upper-echelon teams within the division to reload, not rebuild.
There will be a lot of reloading this season.
Star quarterbacks at Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M are all gone, and all three programs are working this spring to fill important roster holes at other positions.
But there are still stars, several of which are crucial to their teams' success in 2014. Who are the most indispensable players in the SEC West? Our picks are in this slideshow.
Alabama Crimson Tide: S Landon Collins
With Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon at running back and Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White lining up outside, Alabama's offense will be loaded for whoever wins the starting quarterback job.
The defense, however, is a different story.
Alabama is in full-on reload mode on that side of the ball, and nowhere is it more pressing than in the secondary. The Crimson Tide finished with the SEC's second-best pass defense last season (180.3 yards per game), but it wasn't the second-best pass defense in the SEC.
The only true returning starter from last year's secondary is safety Landon Collins, who started at free safety and strong safety last season. It will be up to him to make sure that the rest of the secondary is on the same page from Day 1. Without him, consistency in the secondary would be more myth than realistic possibility.
Arkansas Razorbacks: DE Trey Flowers
When the subject of Arkansas' defense is brought up, it's usually followed by laughter, laughter and then even more laughter.
But defensive end Trey Flowers isn't the reason.
The 6'4", 267-pound rising senior notched 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks a year ago, which came on the heels of an 2012 season in which he had 13 tackles for loss and six sacks. He's so good that, according to Robbie Neiswanger of the Arkansas News Bureau, he earned a pass from head coach Bret Bielema during this spring's scrimmages.
He's a known commodity who's a tremendous pass-rusher and stout against the run. He is the one player on Arkansas' defense whom opposing coaches have to pay special attention to, and had it not been for the team's struggles over the last two seasons, he would be much more of a household name than he is right now.
Auburn Tigers: DE Carl Lawson
Carl Lawson played in the rather large shadow of former Tigers defensive end Dee Ford last season but still managed to post a tremendous season as a true freshman. The Milton, Ga. native had four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, including a critical stop of Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon on fourth down in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl.
The best is yet to come.
He has impressed his teammates enough this spring to earn comparisons to Ford, according to AL.com's Joel A. Erickson.
"Carl’s a physical beast," defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "Carl is definitely showing some traits on that left side, looking almost as good or better than Dee."
That's lofty praise for sure, but it's even more important considering Auburn's sudden lack of depth at defensive end. Wright and fellow tackle Montravius Adams have worked at defensive end this spring in certain packages. Auburn needs a pure pass-rusher off the edge, and Lawson should be the guy on the Plains.
LSU Tigers: QB Brandon Harris
No, a player embroiled in a position battle can't be indispensable. But that's just it: I don't believe that this is much of a battle anymore.
True freshman early enrollee Brandon Harris became the buzz of Baton Rouge during spring practice, which culminated in a four-touchdown performance (three passing, one rushing) in the Tigers' spring game. As a true freshman, his biggest test was grasping the offense.
He passed with flying colors.
Meanwhile, his primary competitor in the spring game—sophomore Anthony Jennings—did more to lose the battle this spring. He looked hesitant in the pocket, was off on timing routes and took four sacks in the spring game, allowing Harris to not only have a shot but become the front-runner.
Harris proved that he has upside, and LSU will need that thanks to tremendous roster turnover at the skill positions on offense. He's going to be the guy for head coach Les Miles.
Perhaps more importantly, he needs to be the guy.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: QB Dak Prescott
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott put the Bulldogs on his back at the end of the Egg Bowl and led them to a 17-10 overtime win and a bowl game, which was a sign of even bigger things to come.
The 6'2", 230-pounder showed toughness, rushing for 829 yards and 13 touchdowns in addition to the 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns he added through the air. That was as a replacement for Tyler Russell, who was knocked out of the season opener and was in and out of the lineup once he returned.
Now head coach Dan Mullen has the entire offseason to develop a quarterback who allows him to run the offense he was hired in Starkville to run. You know, the one made famous by former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow?
Prescott isn't Tebow, but he can look like him at times. More importantly, Mississippi State needs him to if it wants to keep moving forward in the SEC West.
Ole Miss Rebels: WR Laquon Treadwell
As a true freshman in 2013, Laquon Treadwell was used primarily as a possession receiver. He had 72 catches for 608 yards and five touchdowns playing alongside recently departed receiver Donte Moncrief.
Now, it's his show.
Head coach Hugh Freeze will rely on the 6'2", 224-pound Treadwell to be more of a deep threat in 2013, in addition to his duties over the middle. That makes him valuable to this Ole Miss offense.
Whether he's catching passes over the middle, stretching the field deep or simply drawing attention away from other underneath options like tight end Evan Engram, he's the one player on the offense who has to be accounted for on every play.
He was impressive as a freshman, but the best is yet to come. He's "the guy" in Oxford now and a big piece of the Rebels' 2014 offensive puzzle.
Texas A&M Aggies: OT Cedric Ogbuehi
Luke Joeckel...Jake Matthews...Cedric Ogbuehi.
All three are top-tier left tackles. All three are playing or will play in the NFL and have been important pieces of Texas A&M's offensive puzzle during the Kevin Sumlin era in College Station.
Ogbuehi's role in 2014 will be to follow in the footsteps of Matthews and Joeckel at left tackle, as he makes the switch from the right side.
How will he handle it? The 6'5", 300-pound senior did just fine last year at right tackle and is accomplished both as a run-blocker and a pass-blocker.
Whether it's Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill, things will be different under center this year in College Station. Getting consistent play from the offensive line will go a long way toward stabilizing the offense, and Ogbuehi is the leader of that offensive line.