Deke: A look at the SEC, Part 4: Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Georgia
by Deke Bellavia,posted Jul 22 2014 4:45PM
Arkansas Razorbacks: After leading the Wisconsin Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls, Brett Bielema is not used to winning only three games in a season. Arkansas was 3-9 in 2013, but his second year brings better expectations and likely more wins for the Hogs.
The Arkansas offense will once again focus on rushing the football. RB Alex Collins led the Hogs last season with more than one thousand yards rushing, and he should get more attempts in 2014. RB Jonathan Williams returns after making a splash in 2013, averaging six yards per carry - he could become one of the best RB’s in the SEC this year.
At QB, it looks like Brandon Allen can be better than he was a season ago; a better rushing attack can help the junior QB. It’s not how many times Allen throws the football, it's how many completions he makes that counts. As a sophomore Allen completed less than 50% of his passes. That has to upgrade this season, or it could mean trouble.
Defensively, the Hogs can’t be any worse. Arkansas had to be jealous of A&M’s defense last year because the two were in a heated battle to see who was worse. Arkansas finished last, allowing 38 points and 475 yards per game.
Bielema hired former Tampa Bay LB’s Coach Robb Smith as defensive coordinator, and he has some talent to work with this season. The leading tackler from a season ago is back in LB Braylon Mitchell, who was among the elite defenders in the league in 2013, averaging eight stops per game. The Arkansas defensive secondary is better with the return of Alan Turner and Rohan Gaines.
Looking at the schedule, it’s hard to figure out what three games they can win. The first five games could have Arkansas off to a 1-4 start, and then on the back end there are dates with Alabama, UGA, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri. Simply put, if Arkansas is going to be better this season, they'll have to win a lot of games they are not expected to.
Texas A&M Aggies: They've scored a lot of points and have set all kinds of historical SEC records on offense in the last two years, but the A&M defense has given up more yards over that span than the majority of the 125 FBS schools.
The man dubbed "Johnny Football" is gone, and one has to wonder - can the Aggies keep running track during fall afternoons in the SEC? First things first; if Texas A&M is going to be taken seriously, they have to improve on defense.
The Aggies ranked at or near the bottom of the SEC in all major stats last year, allowing 499 yards and 37 points per game. That won't cut it in the SEC. Hell, that won’t cut it anywhere. But look at the bright side - there is nowhere to go but up, right?
The A&M defense has a lot of Louisiana players on their team! Their best defender is DB Deshazor Everett, a former DeRidder star who has become a leader in the Aggies secondary and could be among the elite DB’s in the SEC this season. Fellow Louisiana product Noel Ellis is back and should be in the nickel package rotation. The Aggies did kick SEC All-Freshman standout Darrion Claiborne out for off-field issues, and that hurts.
The Aggies D-line gets a boost with the return of Myles Garrett, and look for De’Vante Harris to have a better season this year.
Over on offense, how can they replace "Johnny Football?" Well, you can’t. Even more bad news is that they can’t replace WR Mike Evans either. This double blow will hurt for quite some time. But Coach Kevin Sumlin is damn good, and he will be efficient on offense, as he always has been. Averaging 38.4 points per game and over 514 yards of offense is not going to happen without Manziel and Evans, but that doesn't mean the Aggies can't be effective this year.
RB Trey Williams returns and the debut of Oregon Transfer Tra Carson should help. Coming out of spring, there was a battle for the QB spot between Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill. Whomever Sumlin goes with will give the Aggies the best shot at being productive.
I don’t have to look at the Aggies schedule. The real question is A&M fall to the bottom of the SEC West? I’d bet yes. But even when he was in Houston with the Cougars, Kevin Sumlin was a big winner. Don’t count out the Aggies, at least as far as being a bowl caliber team in 2014.
Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs were the favorite to get back to Atlanta in the SEC title game for a third straight season, but the Missouri Tigers shocked everyone, and the Bulldogs fell apart after a big win over LSU.
Still, Coach Mark Richt has a good core of players. Folks in Athens are extremely excited about the return of RB Todd Gurley. Many CFB analysts claim that Gruley is the best RB in the nation. He missed three games last season and still had 10 TD's and close to one thousand yards rushing. Gurley is the premiere back in the SEC and he could very well eclipse 1,500 yards this year.
Fellow RB Keith Marshall is quite the compliment to Gurley, and the two of them make will make the best RB tandem in the SEC. Defensive units will sweat preparing for them.
Right now, it looks like Hutson Mason will be the Bulldogs' starting QB. Hutson will have experience back at WR's in the form of Michael Bennett and Chris Conley. The UGA offense may not be as good as last season's unit that averaged 37 points per game, but they will still be very efficient.
The Bulldogs defense left a lot to be desired a year ago. Numbers can sometimes be misleading, and to me, that was the case in a year ago. Georgia was the 5th best defense in the SEC last season allowing on average 389 yards per game - but was was troubling was the 32 points per game the unit surrendered each week.
Mark Richt hired a new coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt's last two seasons coaching saw him win national titles with Alabama as DB's coach in 2012, and last season he was with Florida State. Pruitt is expected to have an immediate impact on the Bulldogs defense. UGA did record 33 sacks last season, and should have another consistent pass rush in 2014.
The Bulldogs have some solid players back on defense including sophomore Leonard Floyd, who had a great freshman season recording 9.5 tackles for a loss to go along with 6.5 sacks. He should be even better in 2014. LB Jordan Jenkins returns after having four sacks last season, and you can expect ILB Ramik Wilson to pick up where he left off with four sacks in 2013. The Bulldogs have a very sound group of LB's on their roster.
In the defensive backfield, look for Josh Harvey-Clemons to be among the elite DB's in the SEC. As a sophomore in 2013, Harvey-Clemons had 50 tackles. The Bulldogs secondary should be able to improve on their interception total from a season ago which ranked last in the SEC with just two picks.
The first seven games of the season are brutal, with a season-opening game against rival and ACC power Clemson followed by an open date, and then an SEC tilt versus South Carolina. Troy, Tennesse, Vandy, Missouri and Arkansas follow with no slouches in that stretch. I expect UGA to be among the contenders in the SEC East this season, and a return trip to Atlanta is not out of the question.