We continue on our slowly expanding, and not totally inclusive, trips to various outposts in the SBN universe with a visit from our friends at Team Speed Kills. Now before anyone goes directly into the comments and talks trash about the SEC, read up on Year2's pretty legit answers and get excited for a non-con showdown that should be fun for everyone. Today we go over the B1G-SEC matchups, the next year in SEC football, the autonomy stuff, new players, and the SECN. Huge thanks to David Wunderlich, known as Year2, and TSK for participating. Go ahead and give them a follow. They're doing great stuff over there.
I've pretty much started all of these off with a pretty general question, and this will be the same. Let's talk a little bit about the SEC in general. The crazy National Championship streak was broken last year, but there are a lot of arguments that the SEC is as strong as ever. With schools like Alabama reloading at every turn, and schools like Kentucky (KENTUCKY!) starting to join the arms race, it feels like the SEC continues to get better. That said, the bowl season ending wasn't exactly what you would have hoped for if you were a SEC fan. Auburn, Bama, and Georgia lost, and while the rest of the conference more or less took care of business, it leaves as many questions as answers this year. So, tell me where you see 2014 heading for the SEC. What major storylines should we know about?
Year2: The SEC is going through a bit of a transitional year with most of the power programs having lost their quarterbacks. With most of those same programs all having big time running backs, this is going to be a throwback year with defense and the running game being the focus.
Because there is so much transition going around, the league feels more wide open than normal. Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt are rebuilding this year, but all of the rest would tell you in a moment of candor they think they have a shot of winning their division. The crazy thing is, I feel like I could make a convincing case for any of them to do so. And even new Vandy head coach Derek Mason has said his team has more pure talent than any of the Stanford teams he coached had.
There are plenty of story lines to go around. Alabama still has Nick Saban and the most talent, so as Steve Spurrier would tell you, that means its an upset if they lose. Gus Malzahn is good but also lucky; will his luck endure? How will Texas A&M do without Johnny Manziel? Can Spurrier finally win the SEC title he so desperately wants to complete his legacy? Is Jeremy Pruitt the missing piece needed to put Georgia over the top? Will Florida finally find an offense or is this the end for Will Muschamp? Can LSU's freshman RB Leonard Fournette possibly live up to the hype that has people comparing him to Adrian Peterson? Is this the year Ole Miss cashes in its recruiting prizes for elite success? How will Missouri follow up its surprise division win? Can Mississippi State ride its absurd returning experience into a dream season?
People outside the SEC keep waiting for a year like 2005 where the league beats itself up enough that the eventual winner isn't a zero or one-loss team. More so than any recent seasons, this one has the potential to turn out that way.
You'd like to think the B1G and the SEC would face each other more often in the non-con, but then schools run the risk of early losses with interesting dynamics AND WHY WOULD WE WANT THAT! Anyhow, let's talk about the games. The huge one is Wisconsin-LSU, as that will kind of really be the start of big time football. I see both schools being similar this year. LSU has a little more history which is why I think many people are picking them. However, I think anyone on earth should be terrified of Melvin Gordon. What should us B1G fans know about LSU this year and how do you see this game playing out?
Year2: It would be nice to see more SEC vs. Big Ten in the regular season, but both sides tend not to do it because all of the bowl tie-ins. No one wants postseason rematches.
LSU is revamping its offense this year, having lost a really good core of Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry, and Odell Beckham, Jr. It has a few holes to fill on defense, but the program always finds a way to plug them there. It will be just fine at stopping most teams.
Wisconsin is an interesting matchup because the teams LSU has been losing to lately are not the ones with exotic spread offenses. LSU is the one SEC West team that Johnny Football never beat, after all, and it gave Auburn its sole regular season loss last year. No, it's mostly schools with pro-style offenses like Alabama, Florida in 2012, and Georgia in 2013 that LSU has fallen to. Wisconsin will probably try to follow the template the Gators used in 2012 of playing good defense, controlling the clock, and wearing down the LSU defense with the run game.
The catch is that UW is replacing its entire front seven, while the Tigers return almost the entire offensive line. Les Miles is a Bo-era Michigan Man down deep, and he would love nothing more than to use his big uglies and endless supply of running backs to maul the Badgers into submission. It's going to be the sort of game that makes you sore just watching it. I give the edge to LSU with its O-line experience and quality being the determining factor, but if Gordon can keep the chains moving on third down, Wisconsin will have a real chance to pull it out late.
The other game is a slightly less marquee matchup, and I'm going to go ahead and assume everyone is picking the SEC to stomp a B1G opponent. That said, Indiana-Missouri has potential to be pretty fun. Kevin Wilson has the Hoosiers on the cusp of bowling, and his offenses are not something to be trifled with. Do you think Indiana has a chance against what was a great Mizzou team last year? Or, are we pretty much going to see what everyone expects on paper?
Year2: I don't think this will be a blowout. Missouri does play defense while Indiana doesn't, but MU is replacing a lot on that side of the ball. It strength will be along the line, particularly in its pass rushers of Markus Golden and Shane Ray. However, the Hoosiers line returns intact after not giving up a lot of sacks a year ago.
If Missouri had more in the way of established playmakers at receiver, then I'd feel a lot more comfortable in a Tigers win. Only three guys with any experience are back and they are all seniors, but none has shown himself to be a difference maker yet. Expect to see Missouri lean on its run game, which was one of the best in the SEC a year ago. It has a nice platoon of capable backs, and QB Maty Mauk can move around himself. Stopping the run isn't exactly Indiana's forte, so it's a solid plan.
Missouri is the better team, so it should win. It will probably have to grind out a win, wearing the Hoosiers out with the run game while trying not to give up too many big plays. MU isn't so far ahead that this is a foregone conclusion, but it will be an upset to some degree if it loses.
Let's take one short diversion. Autonomy is now a thing, and it looks like the Power 5 are about to step up and start throwing around their muscle. The SEC, like the B1G, seems to more or less be made of money in their athletic departments. How have your schools/fans taken to the new rules? Do you see any drawbacks initially to what is happening? Are you also looking forward to more Slive and Delaney showdowns over rules?
Year2: Fans don't seem to care all that much. NCAA legislation doesn't tend to get people worked up unless it involves game rules or recruiting. The same small number that follow the NCAA closely do care, but if you ask the average fan who just watches football and might not even buy a preseason magazine, they probably wouldn't even know what autonomy means in this context.
There will be some drawbacks for the non-Power 5 conference members who can't afford to keep up; the non-P5 leagues can pick and choose which P5 rules to adopt and which to pass on. However, it's only a continuation of a long trend of the rich getting richer.
I really don't expect many fireworks over the coming rule changes from this. The Power 5 conferences are all on the same page when it comes to the issues that autonomy addresses. The point of autonomy is to allow them to write rules that permit themselves to spend more money on athletes in every way except paying salaries. There might be some minor quibbles over implementation details, but everyone has the same goal in mind.
Finally, run me down the next line of players we will hear ESPN talking about. Oh, and while we're at it, how's the SEC Network coming along? Feeling good about the distribution? You'll love those checks.
Year2: The names you'll hear most out of the SEC are probably going to be the running backs: Todd Gurley, Alabama's trio, Mike Davis, Fournette, Alex Collins, and Kelvin Taylor. Auburn's Nick Marshall is the most accomplished quarterback, while Ole Miss's Bo Wallace has been around the longest. If Florida's offensive overhaul works, you'll hear a lot about QB Jeff Driskel, and if Mississippi State can pull off the dream season it wants, QB Dak Prescott will be a notable name. By the end of the season, Mauk will get plenty of attention as well. Among pass catchers, Alabama's WR Amari Cooper and TE O.J. Howard, Auburn's Sammie Coates, Ole Miss's WR Laquon Treadwell, Georgia's WR Chris Conley, and Tennessee's WR Marquez North are the biggest names. It's hard to say now who will be the token lineman to get attention. Texas A&M LT Cedric Ogbuehi might be it thanks to his high NFL Draft grade, though don't discount Auburn C Reese Dismukes if the Tigers' run game is dynamite again.
This being a big year for defense, you'll hear a lot about those guys too. MSU's Chris Jones, Ole Miss's Robert Nkemdiche, and UF's Dante Fowler, Jr. plus Missouri's two ends are the glamor linemen this year. Among the linebackers, MSU's Bernardrick McKinney, Bama's Trey DePriest, and Tennessee's A.J. Johnson will get a lot of attention. UF CB Vernon Hargreaves III will probably end the year as the consensus best cover corner in the country, while S Landon Collins will be the star of Alabama's defense (and therefore a household name).
Everyone seems pretty happy with the SEC Network thanks to nearly every provider signing on for the launch. No one is thrilled about several hours of Finebaum every day except his callers, but other than that, it's full steam ahead. ESPN is doing a good job with it so far, and if it showers the schools with money as much as people seem to think it will, then it'll be a win all around.