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2013 Conference Previews: SEC

Best. Conference. Ever.


The SEC will be going for like the league's 14th national title in a row, they have the top pre-season team in the country, as well as 5 teams ranked in the AP top 10. You'd better bow down when this conference comes to your town.

East Division


Record: 11-1 (7-1)

Returning Starters: 12

It might seem reckless to have a team win the SEC East and win 11 games after losing 8 starters on defense plus their top 4 tacklers. I believe the Bulldogs can manage to play at a high level on defense with elite recruiting filling holes in combination with the conference's best (and most balanced) offense outside of Tuscaloosa. Aaron Murray is back at quarterback, as are two of the country's two best young running backs (Gurley & Marshall combined for 2,144 yards as true freshmen) and the entire offensive line. They do play at Clemson to start the year and host Georgia Tech to end the year but they have a good draw in conference. No Alabama, Texas A&M, or Ole Miss from the West, South Carolina is at home, and they only have 3 relatively easy (Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Auburn) road games in conference.


Record: 10-2 (6-2)

Returning Starters: 12

The Gamecocks are bringing back Jadaveon Clowney but what's got lost in their defensive ends superstar status is having to replace 6 starters on defense, including 5 members from the front seven. They still should be solid but I don't trust this offense replacing it's top two rushers plus the dynamic Ace Sanders. South Carolina has to travel to Athens in week two and they'll have to hope Georgia gets beat up against Clemson while they take care of business versus North Carolina. The middle portion of the schedule is quite easy except for 3 straight road games (Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri) which could offer a little bit of a challenge. South Carolina should enter mid-November with perhaps one loss before finishing with home games against Florida and Clemson in two of their last three.


Record: 9-3 (6-2)

Returning Starters: 10

Florida's defense was legit last season (11.8 points per game surrendered in conference) but they do have to replace 7 starters from 2012. Offensively things aren't looking that positive either with inconsistent QB play and replacing Mike Gillislee at running back in addition to 3 out of their 4 top receivers. The recruiting is in place to take a jump higher than 9 wins but a small step back with one of the country's toughest schedules. There is no Alabama on the slate (just like Georgia & South Carolina) but they have a road game at Miami and a home game versus Florida State in addition to traveling to South Carolina and LSU in conference play.


Record: 7-5 (3-5)

Returning Starters: 13

Vanderbilt went 9-4 last year but things might be a little more difficult for them in 2013. Their out of conference slate is a joke (Austin Peay, UMass, UAB, and Wake Forest) but Auburn drops off the schedule in favor of a game at College Station. In addition to Texas A&M they'll have road games at South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee plus hosting Georgia and Ole Miss. James Franklin has been doing well in Nashville but there's only so much you can do against this schedule. The season opener against Ole Miss may be crucial---win that and 8+ wins could be a real possibility. Lose to the Rebels and a step back might be inevitable.


Record: 7-5 (3-5)

Returning Starters: 14

Welcome to the SEC, Tigers! Last year Missouri finished with their fewest wins since 2004 and won just 2 games in conference (Kentucky & Tennessee). They should be improved this season and the schedule is quite friendly. They miss both Alabama and LSU plus Florida, South Carolina, and A&M are at home. The OOC schedule is very manageable (although Indiana and Arkansas State won't be pushovers). I think they can win all 4 non-league games and take 3 wins from a group of Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi, but it's certainly not a given they do that well. Honestly, they should get used to 7 wins being a good season because that might be their ceiling while in the SEC.


Record: 5-7 (2-6)

Returning Starters: 13

I've seen the Volunteers as high as fourth in the division but never as low as sixth. Consider me skeptical of Butch Jones improving this team in his first year even though he's off to a hot start in recruiting. The defense should be very solid but what about the offense? Tyler Bray and Tennessee's top four receivers are gone. That's scary for a team that will need to move the ball with consistency in league play. The schedule is also extremely top heavy with 3 road games against top teams (Oregon, Florida, Alabama) plus they face South Carolina and Georgia at home. The Vols probably aren't winning any of those games. They'll win their other non-league games and whether they get to a bowl game will come down to how they finish the season against Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. I don't see Tennessee doing better than .500 against that lineup.


Record: 4-8 (1-7)

Returning Starters: 14

The Wildcats have a lot of good pieces returning from a team that went win-less in the SEC last season. That's good news as is hiring Mark Stoops who should inject life into their program. The bad news is that they're still the least talented team in the whole league and they have a brutal stretch early in the season against Louisville, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama. The rest of the schedule post-Alabama really isn't that bad though with Georgia being the only real tough opponent. If they can do better than 2-4 down the stretch it will be a successful year for Kentucky.

West Division


Record: 12-0 (8-0)

Returning Starters: 13

7 out of their top 10 tacklers are back. Quarterback A.J. McCarron is back along with his top 4 receiving targets. They lose Eddie Lacy but T.J. Yeldon might be the best back in recent history plus the country's top 2013 running back Derrick Henry was just signed. The schedule is laughably easy for a program that is this strong. Maybe they have some issues on the offensive line but I doubt it. They open in Atlanta against Virginia Tech as near 3 touchdown favorites and get a bye before facing Texas A&M in College Station. The second toughest contest from games 3 through 12 will probably be Ole Miss, and the Tide may see just one ranked team (LSU) the rest of the way while not facing any of my top 5 teams from the East Division. I don't see them losing if they beat the Aggies.


Record: 10-2 (6-2)

Returning Starters: 11

If Manziel plays near the level he did last year this A&M team isn't losing to anyone on the schedule except Alabama. For sure they suffered some losses---6 out of their top 10 tacklers, 3 out of their top 4 receivers, and a 1st-team All-American at left tackle. Still, there's plenty of talent to work with plus back-to-back large and elite recruiting classes adding depth. The OOC schedule is a complete joke (Rice, Sam Houston, SMU, UTEP) and like Alabama they don't have to face Georgia, South Carolina, or Florida from the East. Road games at Ole Miss and LSU should challenge A&M but they'll be heavy favorites in 9 games this season.


Record: 8-4 (5-3)

Returning Starters: 19

You have to go back to 2008 for the last time Ole Miss finished ahead of LSU in the division and just two years ago the Tigers finished perfect in the SEC while the Rebels were winless. Nonetheless, Hugh Freeze returns just about his entire team from a year ago plus perhaps the school's best recruiting class ever. The first two-thirds of the schedule is tricky with road games at Vanderbilt and Texas in September and Alabama, Auburn, A&M, and LSU four weeks in a row starting in late September, but the last 5 games of the season should all be double-digit spreads.


Record: 8-4 (4-4)

Returning Starters: 12

If Mettenberger improves and the offensive line can stay healthy the LSU offense should take a big step forward. We'll see how much the hiring of Cam Cameron helps in this regard. The loss of 7 defensive starters---including 5 in their front 7---is a lot to replace even with the great recruits ready to step up. What's more, the schedule is brutal in relation to the other top teams in the division. They open the season against TCU, face Alabama on the road, plus they have Georgia and Florida on the schedule. There's a good chance LSU stays under 10 wins but is still a really, really good team.


Record: 6-6 (2-6)

Returning Starters: 15

I'm a believer in Guz Malzahn being able to quickly improve Auburn's offense from last year's putrid effort. We'll see how his overall coaching transfers over to the defense but there are 8 starters returning on that side of the ball. This team was bad last year but a 3-game improvement really shouldn't be a big deal with the talent on hand and an easy OOC schedule. Their conference schedule is pretty brutal though so it won't be easy to win just 2 games.


Record: 5-7 (1-7)

Returning Starters: 12

I don't believe Bielema will flourish in the competitive SEC West and certainly not in his first season. The Arkansas defense should be pretty solid but with an offensive overhaul and breaking in so many new starters on offense I don't see how this team moves the ball on a consistent basis. They'll likely start the conference 0-4 (A&M, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama) and 2 out of their last 4 games are road tilts at Ole Miss and LSU. Good luck with that, Hogs.


Record: 4-8 (1-7)

Returning Starters: 12

Dan Mullen has never had a record this bad in league play so it wouldn't surprise me if the Bulldogs get an extra win or two in 2013. The conference schedule isn't too bad as they miss Georgia and Florida, although they do have to play South Carolina on the road. Both LSU and Alabama are home games too. Oklahoma State welcomes them to start the season plus perhaps the MAC's best team in Bowling Green. Their top 4 receivers are gone and some pieces have left on defense, still this should be a solid team that is just buried by the competition in conference.