SEC spring football review: Time for nine league games?

04/25/2014 9:15 PM

04/25/2014 9:15 PM

Catching up

What’s better than Southeastern Conference football? More Southeastern Conference football.

But hold on, it’s not that easy.

Should the most powerful conference play eight league games or nine? That question figures to be answered before the SEC meetings in Florida next month, and two sets of scheduling formats, beginning with the 2016 season, are on the table.

• Eight games with permanent crossover opponents, or eight games with rotating crossover opponents.

• Nine games, same thing.

Most coaches want eight, and that’s understandable. Fewer land mines, and the school controls one more nonconference opponent. Hey, everybody wants to go 4-0 in the noncon. That’s two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility before running through the SEC.

Plus, there’s if-it-ain’t-broke argument. The league has had a team in each of the last eight national championship games, winning seven.

On the flip side, with the advent of the College Football Playoff, with semifinal teams selected by a 13-member committee, the pressure to be 13-0 won’t be as great. Stronger schedules will be encouraged by the committee, and nothing will make an SEC schedule stronger than another SEC opponent.

Also, ESPN, is launching the SEC Network in August and wants quality TV inventory, like more conference games.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 play nine conference games. The Big Ten will play nine starting in 2016 and the Atlantic Coast Conference is talking about it. Time for everybody to sync up.

Top Heisman candidate

Georgia coach Mark Richt said there won’t be a campaign for running back Todd Gurley because he won’t need it. Gurley missed extended playing time last season because of a leg injury and still rushed for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 2012, Gurley went for 1,385 and 17 touchdowns as a freshman. The SEC again is loaded with excellent running backs. But Gurley could top them all.

Upwardly mobile

Gurley’s injury was one of many that helped turn last season’s SEC East favorite into an 8-5 team. Ten defensive starters return and will be guided by new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who has been a part of three of the last five national championship teams, two at Alabama last season at Florida State as the Seminoles defensive coordinator. Georgia is facing the same question as many in the SEC: Can a new quarterback be effective? Hutson Mason takes over for Aaron Murray.

Step back

Missouri was one of the nation’s top surprises last season, battling all the way to the top of the division in its second year in the SEC. Amazing. The Tigers have the makings of another successful season, but a division repeat may be asking too much. They lose several defensive studs such as linemen Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, and cornerback E.J. Gaines. Quarterback James Franklin is gone, but Maty Mauk played well in his four starts, subbing for an injured Franklin. But he won’t have the team’s top target, Dorial Green-Beckham, who was kicked off the team.

Quarterback notes

The league may not soon see another collection of quarterbacks like last year. Texas A’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Auburn’s Nick Marshall had terrific seasons. Of the group, only Marshall returns.

Of the newcomers, Missouri’s Maty Mauk may be the best. He already has starting experience, and helped Mizzou to three victories in four starts last season. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott also could be primed for a big year after coming off the bench and leading the Bulldogs to a victory over Mississippi in the Egg Bowl.

A guess at this season’s starters:

• 

Alabama:

Jacob Coker

• 

Arkansas:

Brandon Allen

• 

Auburn:

Nick Marshall

• 

Florida:

Jeff Driskel

• 

Georgia:

Hutson Mason

• 

Kentucky:

Drew Barker

• 

LSU:

Brandon Harris

• 

Mississippi:

Bo Wallace

• 

Mississippi State:

Dak Prescott

• 

Missouri:

Maty Mauk

• 

South Carolina:

Dylan Thompson

• 

Tennessee:

Justin Worley

• 

Texas A

Kyle Allen

• 

Vanderbilt:

Stephen Rivers

Too early 2014 prediction

EAST

1. South Carolina

2. Georgia

3. Missouri

4. Florida

5. Tennessee

6. Vanderbilt

7. Kentucky

WEST

1. Auburn

2. Alabama

3. LSU

4. Mississippi

5. Texas A

6. Mississippi State

7. Arkansas

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