Disappointing 2013 By
While every other conference would be thrilled having one team play for a national championship and another in a BCS bowl, the 2013 season had to be considered a disappointment for the SEC as a whole. Alabama was a solid preseason favorite on college football odds to win a third straight national title and fourth in five years. Nick Saban's club would have played for it (assuming a win in the SEC title game, in which it would have been a big favorite) if not for the most crazy, spectacular play in college football history in the Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. The Crimson Tide looked rather disinterested, especially defensively, in then losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma. A two-game losing streak leads to flags flown half staff in Tuscaloosa.
Auburn was expected to finish either sixth or last in the SEC West last season following a disastrous 0-8 SEC mark in 2012, which led to the firing of Gene Chizik. However, Gus Malzahn, Chizik's former offensive coordinator when the Tigers won the national title with Cam Newton, delivered a masterpiece last season. Was Auburn rather lucky in last-second miracle wins over Georgia and Alabama in back-to-back games? There's no doubting that. The Tigers showed how good they were in thumping equally surprising Missouri in the SEC Championship Game and then outplaying unbeaten and heavy favorite Florida State in the BCS title game for three quarters, only to lose 34-31 in the final seconds. That ended the SEC's seven-year run as national champion, something we may never see again.
On one hand, it's hard to argue with Alabama as the SEC favorite again this season. The Tide might have the best backfield in the nation in Heisman candidate T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who might even be better even though he played sparingly in 2013 as a freshman. Then you have all those five-star recruits at every position. On the flip side, the Tide have to replace three-year starter A.J. McCarron at quarterback. Will it be Florida State transfer Jacob Coker or senior Blake Sims? Most believe Coker, Jameis Winston's backup at FSU last year and also once behind McCarron in high school.
The Crimson Tide do appear to have one of the nation's easiest schedules, at least as easy as an SEC team can have. They open Aug. 30 in Atlanta against a no longer dangerous West Virginia program, with Bama a 28.5-point favorite on college football odds. The other three non-conference games are an embarrassment: Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss and Western Carolina. The Tide get Florida (big QB questions), Texas A&M (big QB questions) and Auburn at home. It's all going to come down to the game against LSU on Nov. 8.
Is Field Good Value?
The field is the -190 favorite to win the SEC at sportsbooks. Auburn loses Heisman finalist running back Tre Mason and offensive tackle Greg Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, but QB Nick Marshall is one of eight offensive starters back. The Tigers open as 22-point favorites against Arkansas on Aug. 30. They have a mild non-conference test Sept. 18 at Kansas State. Auburn gets LSU and A&M at home but is at Georgia and Bama.
LSU lost a ton of underclassmen to the draft, but as usual Les Miles is simply re-loading as well. The Tigers still don't know whether Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris will be the starting QB. Expect plenty of freshman tailback Leonard Fournette, the top recruit in the country.
The SEC East looks much weaker again this season and is likely to be won by either Georgia or South Carolina. The Dawgs have to replace the leading passer in SEC history in Aaron Murray but have perhaps the nation's best running back in Todd Gurley. USC lost star defensive end and No. 1 overall NFL pick Jadeveon Clowney, but has eight starters back on offense led by excellent tailback Mike Davis. QB Dylan Thompson technically isn't a returning starter, but he has played plenty.
Both Georgia and South Carolina avoid Alabama and LSU in the regular season but face Auburn (and Clemson out of conference). The East could be decided as early as Sept. 13 when Georgia visits South Carolina, with the winner holding a key tiebreaker.
College football free picks: Alabama 'over' 10 regular-season wins (at -130 on sportsbooks) and indeed the Tide win another SEC title, beating South Carolina. To make the four-team playoff Bama is +110 and that seems nearly a sure thing. Is this team is as good as last year's? No. But that schedule couldn't be more friendly with LSU looking perhaps a bit down in 2014.