We have learned to expect the unexpected in college football, but no one could have seen this coming. At the midpoint of the college football season, the two schools from Mississippi are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 nationally, and Dak Prescott from Mississippi State is the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. Simply amazing.
Midseason Reviews and Second-Half Predictions
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2014 SEC Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Coaches of the Year: Hugh Freeze; Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
It’s almost impossible to differentiate between Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the national polls — who’s No. 1? — and it’s equally difficult to determine which team’s coach is more deserving, at this point, of Coach of the Year honors. Mullen might get the nod by some because expectations weren’t quite as high at Mississippi State this season, but Freeze must be commended for keeping his team so focused after the epic win over Alabama last weekend.
Newcomer of the Year: D’haquille Williams, Auburn
Considered by most to be the best incoming junior college recruit at his position, Williams has been the top threat on an improved Auburn passing attack. The La Place, La., native leads Auburn with 31 receptions and 493 yards and has topped the 100-yard mark three times — 154 vs. Arkansas and 110 vs. Kansas State and 108 vs. Mississippi State.
Offensive Player of the Year: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
In his first season as a full-time starter, Prescott has emerged as the best player at his position in the country. In three games against SEC opponents — and against three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game — Prescott is averaging 260.7 yards passing and 101.0 yards rushing. None of the three recent SEC quarterbacks who won the Heisman Trophy — Tim Tebow (2007), Cam Newton (2010) and Johnny Manziel (2012) — matched that type of dual-threat productivity against league opponents during their respective Heisman season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bernardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
A former quarterback in high school, McKinney has been a force at middle linebacker for the surprising Bulldogs. The junior from Tunica, Miss., leads Mississippi State with 41 tackles and also has six tackles for a loss (with three sacks), two fumble recoveries and two pass break-ups.
Midseason Disappointment: Vanderbilt
After winning a combined 18 games the past two seasons, Vanderbilt was expected to take a step back in the first year of the Derek Mason era. This has been far more than a step. The Commodores are 2–5 overall and 0–4 in the SEC with the only wins coming at home over UMass by three points and Charleston Southern by one point. Vanderbilt ranks last in the SEC in total offense (269.7 ypg) and has scored a total of nine offensive touchdowns in six games.
Midseason Surprise: Mississippi State
This one, like the Coach of the Year, is a two-horse race between the two Mississippi schools. We will go with the boys from Starkville, who have knocked off LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn in consecutive games. Neither LSU nor A&M were worthy of the top-10 rankings they held at the time of the game, but Mississippi State still deserves credit for beating both teams in convincing fashion.
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Three Things to Watch in the Second Half:
• Who will win the Wild, Wild West? Right now, both Mississippi State and Ole Miss are 3–0, and each has a quality win over another league contender. But there is still a long way to go. Alabama has struggled on offense of late, but this is still an extremely talented team that likely will be favored in each of its final six games. And Auburn will still be a major factor despite a brutal schedule over the final two months.
• Can the Wildcats get to six? Kentucky has been a nice surprise in Mark Stoops’ second season in Lexington. But even with a 5–1 record, the Wildcats will still have to scratch and claw to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010. Four of Kentucky’s final six games are on the road, and the two home games are against Mississippi State and Georgia. On paper, UK’s “easiest” game is the Nov. 15 trip to Tennessee.
• Will Arkansas break through? The Razorbacks are clearly improved in 2014, but they are still 0–3 in the SEC and have not won a league game since October 2012. At some point, Bret Bielema’s team must make the right play at the right time and win one of these close games.
Top Five games in Second Half
1. Mississippi State at Ole Miss, Nov. 29
The 2014 edition of the Egg Bowl has the potential to be one of the most hyped games in the history of college football — if both teams cooperate and remain undefeated.
2. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29
The Iron Bowl might be the undercard on this late-November Saturday, but there will still be plenty at stake for both teams. Even if the SEC West is not on the line, it’s always a big deal when these two teams tangle.
3. Auburn at Ole Miss, Nov. 1
The schedule breaks favorably for Ole Miss this year, as the three other top teams in the West each visit Oxford.
4. Auburn at Georgia, Nov. 15
All the focus has been on the SEC West, but we can’t forget about Georgia. The Bulldogs, who have only one league loss, are the class of the SEC East and figure to be a worthy challenger for the champ of the West in the title game in Atlanta.
5. Kentucky at Tennessee, Nov. 15
This won’t register nationally, but it could be a huge game for two programs desperate to reach the six-win mark under their respective second-year head coaches. The loser of this game might end the season stuck on the five-win mark.
Predicting the Final 2014 SEC Standings