SEC: Alabama schedule preview 2014

Editor's note: We're taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown
2013 overall record: 10-3
2013 SEC record: 5-3, third in the Western Division
Record all time against Alabama: 25-48-5
Last meeting: Lost 38-17 in 2013

Starters returning
Offense: 5; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
RB Terrence McGee, OT La'el Collins, WR Travin Dural, S Ronald Martin, OL Vadal Alexander, S Jalen Mills, DL Jamauria Rasco

Key losses
QB Zach Mettenberger, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham Jr., OL Trai Turner, S Craig Loston, RB Jeremy Hill, LB Lamin Barrow, DL Anthony Johnson, FB J.C. Copeland, DL Ego Ferguson

2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jeremy Hill (1,401 yards)
Passing: Zach Mettenberger (3,082 yards, 22 TD, 8 INT)
Receiving: Jarvis Landry (1,193 yards)
Tackles: Lamin Barrow (91)
Sacks: Jamauria Rasco* (4)
Interceptions: Jalen Mills*, Craig Loston (3)

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesAnthony Jennings is expected to compete for LSU's starting quarterback job.
What they're saying:
“We're going to let competition play out. We think we'll have a guy — or two — who can compete at a very high level. I think we'll be fine. Anthony Jennings will continue to improve, and Brandon Harris is coming in, and in a position to compete for the job,” said LSU coach Les Miles.

Three things to watch:

1. Another QB battle: The good news for LSU fans is that Les Miles has been through plenty of quarterback competitions before in his nine seasons in Baton Rouge. Another source of comfort is that Miles has a couple of options to choose from. Anthony Jennings, who got his feet wet as a freshman last year against Arkansas before starting against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, should have a good handle on the offense by now. If he falters, Brandon Harris, a true freshman who enrolled in January, could put himself in position to steal the starting job. Harris, the No. 2 ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country, according to ESPN, could bring an added dimension to the offense scrambling and picking up yards with his feet.

2. Early impact expectations: There's no grace period for LSU's 2014 signing class. With so many impact players gone from a season ago, expectations are that a bunch of true freshmen will play right away. The two most obvious rookies likely to get the nod are Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupree. Fournette, the unanimous No. 1 overall recruit in the country, is as talented a running back as we've seen coming out of high school since Adrian Peterson in 2004. If he can grasp the playbook, he could take significant reps from Day 1. The same could be said of Dupree, a five-star prospect and the No. 1 receiver in his class. With Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. both gone, it's a wide open race at the top of the depth chart, one the 6-foot-3, 187-pound rookie could win.

3. A return to form: Last season, LSU's defense ranked 15th in the country in yards per game. But don't let that seemingly solid finish fool you. That wasn't the kind of defense we've become accustomed to under coordinator John Chavis. The defensive line wasn't as dominant and harassing as we've come to expect, and the secondary lacked the playmakers of years past. Some of that was a result of inexperience, and some of that was the result of a league packed with talented, veteran quarterbacks. This year will be different. AJ McCarron & Co. are gone from under center, and LSU has some pieces at cornerback (Tre'Davious White, Rashard Robinson) that have coaches excited. If Jalen Mills can stay on the field, the secondary could be a real strength. Meanwhile, the defensive line looks to be in good shape with Jamauria Rasco anchoring a promising group of pass-rushers that includes Danielle Hunter and Tashawn Bower.
Editor's note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular-season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown
2013 overall record: 4-8
2013 SEC record: 3-5, fifth in the Eastern Division
Record all time against Alabama: 14-23
Last meeting: Lost 38-10 in 2011

Starters returning
Offense: 8; Defense: 9; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Jeff Driskel, CB Vernon Hargreaves III, WR Quinton Dunbar, RB Kelvin Taylor, DE Dante Fowler

Key losses
WR Solomon Patton, TE/H Trey Burton, OL Jon Halapio, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, DL Dominique Easley, LB Ronald Powell, S Cody Riggs, CB Marcus Roberson

2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Mack Brown (543 yards)
Passing: Tyler Murphy (1,216 yards, 6 TD, 5 INT)
Receiving: Soloman Patton (556 yards)
Tackles: Michael Taylor* (62)
Sacks: Ronald Powell (4)
Interceptions: Vernon Hargreaves III* (3)

What they're saying:
“We lost confidence and belief in what we were doing offensively, and it affected our whole football team. That's something we've gotten back,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp.

Three things to watch:

1. Muschamp on the hot seat: Just this week Muschamp conceded again that he’s on the hot seat in Gainesville. “I was 29 years old at LSU calling defenses in the SEC,” he told reporters. “If you want to coach at Florida, it's the championship expectation. Criticism comes with the job.” Hiring former Duke play-caller Kurt Roper to run the offense was a move in the right direction, but it’s going to take more than a new face and a new scheme to turn around last year’s 4-8 disaster. The psyche of the program seemed broken to the point where even the Gators’s stout defense lost its vigor. Getting that edge back won’t be easy, but Muschamp has never been accused of lacking fire. And Florida has never been confused with lacking talent. With so many question marks, though, it’s probably a good thing that UF starts next season with Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky. Getting the Wildcats at home won’t be easy, but the ultimate test of how far Florida’s come will be Sept. 20 at Alabama. If he can steal a win against the likes of Alabama, LSU or Florida State this year, he could cool his position on the hot seat.

[+] EnlargeDriskel
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsFlorida QB Jeff Driskel has the talent, but has been inconsistent and hasn't had many playmakers around him in the past. That could change this fall.
2. Help for Driskel: A pass-catching tight end is a quarterback’s best friend, so count the addition of former Virginia tight end Jake McGee in the win column for Florida. Driskel, who has been up and down throughout his career under center, could use a safety blanket with McGee’s résumé. There have been times where Driskel has flashed pro potential; good mobility, a strong arm, even good accuracy. But there have been times where all that’s come unraveled. To be fair, though, he hasn’t had much help around him. That could change this season with the addition of McGee, who led the Cavs in receptions last season, and the development of receivers Quinton Dunbar, Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood. If the O-line can hold together and a playmaker or two emerges, Driskel could see his production skyrocket.

3. The Roper effect: There are no silver bullets in college football, but Florida fans are pinning their hopes to Roper having the Midas touch. The Gator offense was miserable last season, lacking any semblance of an identity. The passing game never got off the ground, yet an on again, off again relationship with the running game persisted, leading to UF placing dead last in the SEC in scoring. It was hard to watch, especially the 7-point output against rival Florida State to end the season. Roper, in other words, has his hands full. He must restore confidence in his quarterback, establish playmakers and find the right balance between the running and passing game. The good news: there’s nowhere to go but up. After watching him succeed with lesser talent at Duke, there’s reason for optimism. I was in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and saw first-hand his touch as a play-caller. The question for him is how long it will take for Florida’s players to buy in and understand what he’s asking of them. The aforementioned early portion of the schedule will help in that respect, and Alabama shouldn’t expect to see a full playbook from Florida until it travels to Tuscaloosa.

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