Projecting the SEC standings

Will Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide run through the SEC West this year? Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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With spring practices wrapping up across the country, we are putting the final pieces of data together for our annual Football Outsiders projection model for the 2014 season. Factors including five-year program ratings, returning starters, recruiting success and quarterback reliance -- statistical indicators of teams that may take a step forward or step back next season -- all figure prominently into the projection model.

For this series, we ran projections for team, offensive and defensive efficiency through the lens of our drive-based FEI ratings. We then calculated win likelihoods in each scheduled game, producing a projected overall regular-season record and the likelihood that each team would claim a conference crown. We also included the likelihood that each team would finish the regular season with one loss or fewer, a likely benchmark for teams to position themselves for a berth in the inaugural national championship playoff.

On Wednesday, we are looking at the projections for the SEC. Alabama is the preseason favorite once again, but a handful of teams could make an impact on the national championship picture.

SEC East

1. South Carolina Gamecocks
Projected finish: 10-2 (6-2)
Chance to win SEC: 20 percent
Chance to finish 11-1 or 12-0: 26 percent

Replacing the presumed No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in Jadeveon Clowney is certainly a challenge, but South Carolina has a healthy number of starters back in the fold and Steve Spurrier's track record of success can't be ignored in the projection model. The Gamecocks didn't have much flashy productivity on offense last year, but they were efficient, controlling the ball with the fourth-most methodical offense (23 percent of drives lasted at least 10 plays) and limiting opponent possessions as a result. The backfield led by running back Mike Davis (1,183 yards, 5.8 yards per carry in 2013) is projected to reinforce that ball-control identity this fall. South Carolina draws both Georgia and Missouri at home, games that should put it in the driver's seat for the division title.