An Early Look At 5 Potential SEC Upsets
By Dan Harralson
Spring football has come and gone. SEC nation will enjoy the latter part of spring and then summertime, at least as much as it can without football, before Labor Day weekend arrives.
Many SEC teams went through meaningful spring practices due to an overload of change at the quarterback position. Quarterbacks will make or break Southeastern Conference teams this fall like no other season before. Make or break outcomes from the signal caller position could result in upsets across the board, which could be good for your team or could make you long for signing day and next spring, when a replacement quarterback may come along.
Here are five games involving SEC teams that could result in a different outcome than one may expect.
August 28, 2014: Texas A&M at South Carolina
Defense, defense, defense. That's the key to this game for Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks.
Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans have moved on to the NFL, but high school phenom Kyle Allen could be a gunslinger from day one. Regardless, coach Kevin Sumlin gets good quarterback play from his signal callers dating back to his Houston days.
It is becoming more obvious Allen could be the guy after Aggies quarterback Matt Joeckel transferred to TCU. Joeckel was fighting for the starting spot with sophomore Kenny Hill and Allen. On the flip-side, Dylan Thompson is the man replacing Connor Shaw, who went 17-0 inside Williams-Brice Stadium. Thompson simply needs to win one inside the friendly confines, but nobody knows how he will handle the pressure when it's his job and he's not just filling in as a backup.
If it is Allen for A&M, all of the lights will be on him as well. Quarterback play, like it is in every game, will be key, but at a different level in this opening weekend contest.
September 20, 2014: Mississippi State at LSU
If you've heard ESPN's Jesse Palmer talk about Mississippi State, you know he is a fan of the 2014 edition of the team, including quarterback Dak Prescott.
"He’s the best running quarterback that Dan Mullen’s ever coached,” Palmer said, via the Clarion Ledger. “Yeah, that includes Alex Smith, who was the No. 1 pick overall. That includes Tim Tebow. The escapabilty, you don’t have to block everybody in order for him to give you the explosive play. He makes this offense better in the red zone a lot like Tim Tebow and Alex Smith."
While calling a game on air, Palmer said Mississippi State can contend for the SEC West championship. If this is the case, the Bulldogs must make a claim for it early when they take on LSU. Mississippi State catches the Tigers early and that could be a good thing given the discrepancy in the two projected starting quarterbacks.
Les Miles saw quarterback Stephen Rivers transfer to Vanderbilt as the Tigers are transitioning into an offense showcasing a dual-threat quarterback. This transition can be fine, but who will run it? Whomever the guy may be, can they make it work early? Anthony Jennings, who filled in last year for an injured Zach Mettenberger, has some experience. True freshman Brandon Harris and Penn State transfer Robert Bolden are also in the mix.
This could be a very entertaining game.
October 4, 2014: Florida at Tennessee
It's been a long time since the Vols defeated Florida, but 2014 could be end of their nine-year losing streak.
Let's face it, as good as Florida's defense has been under fourth-year head coach Will Muschamp, there has not been an offensive identity, and there still isn't. Tyler Murphy's gone after transferring while Jeff Driskel returns after a major injury and is working with a new offensive coordinator. The jury is still out on the signal caller.
Much of Tennessee's young talent enrolled early and went through spring drills, which the Vols hope will make for an easier transition to fall camp. The Florida game has been pushed back to October, which allows UT to get a feel for its offensive identity after meaningful September games. The team should be polished enough to compete against the stout Gators defensive attack.
"Wide Receiver U" is resurfacing on Rocky Top with Jason Croom, Josh Malone, Marquez North, Von Pearson and Josh Smith. It helps to have true freshman Jalen Hurd in the backfield, too. The Vols' young offensive talent could be enough as the Gators may not be able to score enough to beat Tennessee.
October 25, 2014: UAB at Arkansas
You may ask, why UAB against Arkansas? Arkansas, under the Brett Bielema regime, has been poor. After all, the Razorbacks trailed Samford, an FCS team also from Birmingham, in the fourth quarter last year.
Bielema has only been in the SEC for one season, a poor one at that, but there are no signs of life in Fayetteville, Ark., and that begins and ends with Bielema's one-dimensional offense.
UAB has talent returning and now has a head coach rather than a coordinator with no head coaching experience. Garrick McGee, who won five games in two seasons before heading to Louisville to direct Bobby Petrino's offense, has been replaced by Bill Clark on the south side of Birmingham.
Who is Bill Clark, you may ask? Clark could be the next Gus Malzahn or Hugh Freeze as an up-and-coming high school coach transitioning to the college game. Clark won back-to-back state championships at Prattville High School (Prattville, Ala.), finished No. 2 in the nation in USA Today's 2007 national high school poll, and took down the mighty Hoover High team during the height of their MTV reality show, "Two-A-Days."
Clark then went to South Alabama as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator and then to FCS school Jacksonville State last season, taking the Gamecocks to a playoff run their most wins (11) since 1992. Clark has a combined 118-15 record as a head coach, something that the FBS level should take seriously.
The Razorbacks better have more than just a running attack if they want to solidify a victory over UAB.
November 29, 2014: South Carolina at Clemson
Steve Spurrier has owned Dabo Swinney in the last half decade, but this could be the year where Swinney prevails.
In the last five games between the schools, Clemson hasn't posted more than 17 points on the scoreboard. Losing Tajh Boyd obviously hurts, but if Clemson can have a steady quarterback play by the end of the season, they may be able to sustain points against a Gamecocks defense that lost a lot of talent.
Clemson was facing a three-way quarterback race between senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and true freshman Deshaun Watson. Kelly, the nephew of Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly, got kicked off the team due to behavior deemed detrimental.
Scoring more than 17 points is the key, and if Clemson is able to get Stoudt or Watson playing well by season's end, the Tigers have a shot of ending the streak in Death Valley.