In & around SEC football

By Cole FrederickBy Cole Frederick

2014 East Division Preview

Florida 

Head coach: Will Muschamp (fourth season; 22-16)

Key returning starters: quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive end Dante Fowler, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves

The Gators were a disaster in 2013. Fortunately for Muschamp, his athletic director still believes in him, and Florida is talented enough this season to be competitive in the SEC East. The offense will feature a different look under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, and Driskel’s skill set should be utilized more this year. Florida’s success will depend on the defense and whether or not that unit can overcome one of the most difficult schedules in college football. 

Georgia 

Head coach: Mark Richt (14th season; 126-45)

Key returning starters: running back Todd Gurley, receiver Chris Conley, tackle John Theus

Georgia didn’t quite meet expectations in 2013, despite possessing one of the most explosive offenses in college football. While Aaron Murray won’t be back this year, senior quarterback Hutson Mason is more than capable to lead the Bulldogs to a championship. The offense will be dynamic once again but Georgia’s success will depend on the defense under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. If the Bulldogs can start the season 2-0 with wins over Clemson and South Carolina, they very well might make a run to a national title. 

Kentucky

Head coach: Mark Stoops (second season; 2-10) 

Key returning starters: center Jon Toth, tackle Jordan Swindle, tackle Darrian Miller 

Despite winning only two games in his first season as head coach, Stoops was able to pull in one of the best recruiting classes in school history. While those greenhorns won’t have a major impact this season, it at least gives the Wildcats hope for the future. Kentucky likely will endure another difficult season but certainly is capable of a major upset somewhere along the way. 

Missouri

Head coach: Gary Pinkel (14th season; 102-63)

Key returning starters: quarterback Maty Mauk, nose guard Lucas Vincent, defensive tackle Matt Hoch

The Tigers made the SEC title game in their second season in the league, and they might be overlooked yet again. Missouri has talent on both sides of the ball, specifically Mauk, who started a few games last season and should be a valuable dual threat option for Pinkel. The Tigers should be strong yet again on the defensive front, but the defense likely won’t be as good overall as last year’s unit. The absence of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham will be noticeable on offense, and it will be much more difficult for Missouri to win the East in 2014. 

South Carolina 

Head coach: Steve Spu-rrier (10th season; 77-39)

Key returning starters: running back Mike Davis, receiver Shaq Roland, quarterback Dylan Thompson 

Even though the Gamecocks lost quarterback Connor Shaw, Thompson’s experience over the past few seasons should pay off this year. Davis has the potential to be one of the best backs in the league, and the defense should be solid once again. An early season showdown against Georgia should set the tone for the season. If South Carolina can defeat the Bulldogs, the Gamecocks have a great chance of winning the SEC East. 

Tennessee 

Head coach: Butch Jones (second season; 5-7)

Key returning starters: linebacker A.J. Johnson, receiver Pig Howard, receiver Marquez North 

Though the Vols finished 2013 at an unceremonious 5-7, Butch Jones has the Knoxville squad moving in the right direction. Tennessee had an impressive recruiting class, and while they won’t be competing for the East this year, the Volunteers at least have hope for the future. A more realistic goal would be making it back to a bowl game and finishing the season with a winning re-cord, which is something Jones and the Volunteers are capable of accomplishing this season. 

Vanderbilt 

Head coach: Derek Mason (first season)

Key returning starters: linebacker Caleb Azubike, linebacker Jake Sealand, center Joe Townsend 

Vanderbilt is coming off of two of the best seasons in school history under former coach James Franklin. Mason has an incredibly tough task at hand, however, especially since the talent level is much lower this year. Star receiver Jordan Matthews graduated and the Commodores return about 10 starters in all from last year. Vandy is still capable of reaching a bowl game, but Mason’s squad cannot afford too many missteps along the way.

 
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