The king of the college football landscape has been the Southeastern Conference. The SEC has won each of the last seven national championships, spanning four different teams to have won titles over the period. This is led by the Alabama Crimson Tide, who enter into the 2013 college football season as the two-time defending BCS champions, and winners of three of the last four national titles.
But in the SEC it’s not just Alabama that is perceived to be a legitimate national title contender for the 2013 college football season. In fact, you can go down the list and find as many as five or six teams that could get into that BCS Championship game. It will certainly make for an interesting year in the SEC, as we take a look at each of the 14 teams in the conference and their outlook for the upcoming season.
Beginning right at the top with Alabama, they are the preseason No.1 ranked team in the country and the favorites to win yet another national championship. The Crimson Tide lost some talent on both sides of the ball, but more importantly they retain quarterback A.J. McCarron, who was the nation’s most-efficient passer last season. The Crimson Tide have a manageable SEC schedule as well. In the East division, they avoid playing Georiga, Florida, and South Carolina. If they can get by a September trip to College Station against Johnny Manziel, Alabama could be sitting pretty in the SEC Championship game.
The team that lost a heartbreaker to Alabama in the SEC Championship is expected to bounce right back. The Georgia Bulldogs have plenty of talent on offense, as they return 10 of 11 starters led by quarterback Aaron Murray and running back Todd Gurley. What is a concern are the eight new starters to replace on defense. The Bulldogs have a difficult September schedule, opening with Clemson and South Carolina, with LSU in the last week of the month. It’s arguably the most difficult September of any team in the country.
The South Carolina Gamecocks have beaten Georgia three-straight times, but have watched the Bulldogs go to the SEC Championship game the last two years. The Gamecocks have never won a SEC championship, but many are saying that this is the most talented team Steve Spurrier has put on the field during his time in Columbia. The East division will take shape very early, with the Gamecocks visiting the Bulldogs on September 7. South Carolina also avoids Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M from the West.
Texas A&M has certainly had their fare share of offseason issues when it concerns Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. At this point the Aggies are just ready to take the field and trying to survive the off-the-field distractions. Right now it’s not even known if Manziel will be on the field for the opener, with the ongoing NCAA investigation. Should he take the field though, Texas A&M is a big threat to Alabama in the West if they can play how they did a season ago.
The Florida Gators are the third member of the SEC East believed to have a legitimate shot to win the division and reach Atlanta. The Gators were great on defense last season, but lacked some big-time playmakers on offense. That appears to be the same story entering 2013. The Gators lost arguably their biggest playmaker on offense in running back Mike Gillislee.
The LSU Tigers seem to be the forgotten power in the SEC West this offseason. With Alabama winning the national championshp again, and Texas A&M having Johnny Manziel, there hasn’t been much time for Les Miles and his team. That’s probably just fine with them. The Tigers get Texas A&M at home this season but must go on the road to take on Alabama. The LSU and Alabama rivalry might be the best in college football over the last five years or so. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has a year as a starter under his belt now.
Ole Miss starts the trail of teams on the outside of the top-tier in the SEC looking in. Though having said that, there are some good things taking place for the Rebels. It starts with the fact that they had a top-five recruiting class, including locking in the No.1 ranked player in the country in Robert Nkimdeche. Head coach Hugh Freeze has his work cut out for him though, with the three-headed monster in Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M at the top of the West.
Vanderbilt has turned a corner under head coach James Franklin. While the Commodores aren’t perceived to be an SEC power, they have achieved a level of respectability in the conference. This includes trips to postseason bowl games. Having said that though, Vandy doesn’t appear like they will challenge for the East division this season. Though a win over Florida, South Carolina or Georgia would certainly be sweet.
Missouri found out just how difficult the SEC can be. The first-year team to the conference had high hopes, but those were quickly dashed. The good news for Tigers though is that they now know what to expect this season and have their feet under them. Last year was uncharted waters, but head coach Gary Pinkel should be ready. He better be at least, because many are saying that he could be on the hot seat with a failed season.
Tennessee has a new coach in Butch Davis this season. The Volunteers haven’t been a factor in the SEC East in five or six seasons, so they are certainly hoping that Davis can come in a change that. They lose quarterback Tyler Bray, so there won’t be any experience under center for the Volunteers this season. Defensively though, Tennessee returns eight starters.
Arkansas begins the Bret Bielema era. Bielema comes from Wisconsin in which he enjoyed plenty of success during his time there. The Razorbacks are still in a rebuilding phase following the Bobby Petrino fiasco. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is gone so a new era is being ushered in. Arkansas returns five starters on offense and seven on defense. It’s a very difficult stretch beginning on Sept. 28, with Texas A&M, at Florida, South Carolina, and at Alabama in consecutive weeks. That’s four preseason top-10 teams all in a row. Good luck.
Former offensive coordinator for Auburn Gus Malzahn returns to the program, though this time as the head coach. Malzahn was gone for one year to Arkansas State before being offered the position with the Tigers. The offense certainly needs to improve, as they ranked 116th in the nation in passing last season, and 79th in rushing. They also ranked 114th in the country in scoring, averaging only 18.7 points per game. They do return nine starters on defense so there will be experience there.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs return about half of their starters this season. This includes quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins. The stretch beginning in early November with South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama will be the key portion to this schedule for the Bulldogs.
The Kentucky Wildcats begin the new era with head coach Mike Stoops. Stoops comes over from Florida State where he was the defensive coordinator for the Seminoles. He brings in a great recruiting mentality that already seemed to be on display in his limited time he had after accepting the job. The Wildcats aren’t expected to do much this season, but Stoops will be trying to build the future of the program.