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Bowl season gives preview for 2014

Bowl season is all but over, save for the GoDaddy.com Bowl today — in which local RJ. Fleming could get some playing time for Arkansas State — and, of course, the national title game Monday.

The bowl season has seen some highs and lows for the SEC, with the most exciting being Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M’s comeback against Duke. The lowest point so far? Seeing Alabama get absolutely manhandled in a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma.

Sooners coach Bob Stoops didn’t mince words after what was probably his biggest win since the 2000 national championship, elaborating on comments he made in the offseason that the SEC being the best conference was “propaganda.”

While Stoops certainly deserves credit for beating a perennial powerhouse in Alabama, it’s still worth noting that six SEC teams — Auburn, Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas A&M — will finish the season in the top 25. But for numerous injuries to Georgia’s team this year, you have to figure they would have probably done so as well.

While I certainly wouldn’t argue the gap between the SEC and the rest of college football is still as big as it was just a couple of years ago, it’s still out in front for the time being.

For the three SEC teams with the largest fanbases in the Miss-Lou, here are my impressions after the bowl season:

—How about Mississippi State? After a rough finish last year, the Bulldogs won their last three games, including an Egg Bowl victory over Ole Miss and a 44-7 bludgeoning of Rice in the Liberty Bowl.

Mullen has received some criticism in recent years, but this year’s finish seems to have quieted his detractors for the time being. And with the likely departure of Manziel and the graduation of Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Dak Prescott arguably becomes the best returning quarterback in the Western Division.

—Ole Miss finished the season with a respectable 8-5 record, but Rebel fans went into 2013 with perhaps higher expectations following a strong recruiting class last February.

Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze has said it will take several strong recruiting classes to compete for Western Division titles. They did beat LSU in October, which was a big win for Ole Miss. But fans will want even bigger things in year three of the Freeze regime this coming fall.

—Two major stories leading into LSU’s 2014 season revolve around whether the Tigers can find replacements for quarterback Zach Mettenberger and running back Jeremy Hill, whom you have to assume will go pro.

For all the heat Mettenberger took, he had a good season for the Tigers, with 3,082 yards passing, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Is there anyone on the roster now that can, at the very least, duplicate that this fall?

The Hill question was probably answered when top prep running back Leonard Fournette committed to LSU in the Under Armour All-American game Thursday. That’s a lot to expect out of a freshman, but this guy has been called the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. If Fournette’s anything close to that, he should help fill the hole that will likely be left by Hill.