- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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The 2014 football season is old news, but that doesn't mean a few things that happened last season won't have ramifications for the 2015 season.
We take a look at five such moments in the SEC:
1. Block that kick: Florida had not one but two kicks blocked in the final minutes of regulation, leading to a nauseating 23-20 home loss to South Carolina in overtime. The last one was a blocked punt with 39 seconds to play, setting up the Gamecocks' tying touchdown when Mike Davis recovered his own fumble in the end zone. They then won it in overtime on Dylan Thompson's 4-yard touchdown run. Consider, for a moment, the impact of that blocked punt by South Carolina's Carlton Heard. For starters, it sealed the fate of Florida coach Will Muschamp, who was fired the next day. Muschamp finished out the regular season as the Gators' head coach, and it didn't take him long to find work. Auburn hired him as its defensive coordinator (for $1.6 million per year) after giving up an average of 39.2 points in its last five SEC games. Meanwhile, the Gators turned to a former offensive coordinator in the league, Jim McElwain, who was a part of two national championship teams at Alabama before turning around Colorado State's program in three seasons as the Rams' head coach. Finally, had Heard not blocked that punt, South Carolina would have been relegated to its first losing season under Steve Spurrier and no bowl game. Those close to the Head Ball Coach think that would have been enough for him to hang up his visor and go to the beach.
2. Gurley's suspension: The most explosive returning offensive player in the SEC is Georgia running back Nick Chubb, who romped for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns last season as a true freshman. But if not for Todd Gurley's four-game suspension during the middle of the season for accepting $3,000 to autograph memorabilia, Chubb would have played a more complementary role to Gurley. Granted, he would have been an immensely talented complement, but there's no way he would have blossomed the way he did as Gurley's understudy. Even more importantly as it relates to this coming season, he wouldn't have gained the kind of valuable experience he did as Gurley's backup. Chubb reeled off eight straight 100-yard rushing games once he moved into the starting lineup, and with the Dawgs' quarterback situation unsettled for 2015, they know unequivocally that they can lean as heavily as they want to on No. 27.
3. Dobbs to the rescue: Tennessee senior quarterback Justin Worley took a wicked beating last season behind the Vols' inexperienced offensive line and was eventually lost for the season with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. It was a tough blow for the gritty Worley, but it also forced Tennessee's hand to pull Josh Dobbs' planned redshirt. He played well against Alabama in the second half and got better from there. His ability to run and extend the play gave Tennessee a different dimension offensively. He was brilliant in the come-from-behind win at South Carolina, and now enters the 2015 season as the Vols' unquestioned starter at quarterback and a player who's receiving serious offseason hype. His name has even popped up in a few early Heisman Trophy polls.
4. Arkansas' defensive awakening: One of the best coaching jobs anywhere in college football last season was the gem turned in by Arkansas first-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith. The Razorbacks transformed defensively, which, coupled with the gains they've made on offense, is a big reason the Hogs could make noise in the West race this season. Arkansas finished 10th nationally in scoring defense (after finishing 89th the year before) and held six of its last eight opponents to 17 or fewer points. That's old-school football at its finest, which is exactly the way Bret Bielema likes it. The Hogs had already established that they could run the football on just about anybody. Now, they have the defensive mindset to go with it in what should be a wild ride in the West.
5. Magnolia uprising: Speaking of the West, the success last season of Mississippi State and Ole Miss helped drive up the price of doing business in that division. Mississippi State won 10 games in the regular season for the first time. Ole Miss won nine, including wins over Alabama and Mississippi State. Both teams were ranked in the top three nationally at one point with Mississippi State ascending to the No. 1 spot. What's all this have to do with the 2015 season? Here's what: All seven coaches in the West are now making at least $4 million per year. Talk about pressure. That means somebody in that division is going to be hovering around .500 this season with a pretty good football team and a fan base screaming, "We're paying $4 million for this?"
241dSam Khan Jr.