After reaching the VIZIO BCS National Championship game in coach Gus Malzahn's first season, the Tigers will have to replace a few key pieces on offense if they're going to repeat their success in 2014. Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason, who ran for 1,816 yards with 23 touchdowns this past season, is leaving a year early for the NFL draft, along with left tackle Greg Robinson, a draft-eligible sophomore. Auburn might still bring back eight starters on offense, including four offensive linemen and quarterback Nick Marshall, who only figures to be better after getting a complete offseason to learn Malzahn's spread offense. Six starters are coming back on defense, but the Tigers will really miss end Dee Ford, cornerback Chris Davis and safety Ryan Smith.
After losing its last two games and finishing 11-2 in 2013, Alabama shook up its coaching staff, promoting former Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to linebackers coach and bringing back Bo Davis as defensive line coach. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will coach the secondary again, after assistant Greg Brown resigned after only one season. The Tide did a pretty good job of concealing problems on their offensive line and in their secondary this past season, until they were exposed in a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Now they'll have to replace two starters on the offensive line (junior left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and senior right guard Anthony Steen are leaving) and five starters on defense, including three juniors who left early for the NFL draft (end Jeoffrey Pagan, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix). Alabama's quarterback battle will be the most talked-about subject in the state this spring, when it tries to replace departing senior AJ McCarron, who guided the Tide to two BCS national titles. Another subject of intrigue will be the offense under new coordinator Lane Kiffin.
The Spartans look like the team to beat in the Big Ten this coming season, after finishing 13-1 and defeating Stanford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. Michigan State didn't lose any underclassmen to the NFL draft and somehow managed to keep defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi for at least one more season. But MSU will have to replace a lot of very productive players from its stingy defense, including All-American cornerback Darqueze Dennard, linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, and tackles Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds. MSU's offense should be much improved with quarterback Connor Cook and tailback Jeremy Langford coming back. Cook threw for 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns this past season, while Langford ran for 1,422 yards with 18 touchdowns.