If the SEC plays their cards right, then they will be the dominate conference in college football and will be producing national champions for years to come. In 2013, a seventh straight title is in pursuit, but which team has the best chance to take it home? All this and more in my College Football SEC Preview (East Division):
1. Georgia Bulldogs
In 2013, Georgia will field the best football team they have shown in years. Senior quarterback Aaron Murray will lead the offense, and could be a frontrunner for the Heisman at season’s end. A two-headed rushing attack is led by sophomores Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, two powerful backs that all-around are some of the best in all the land. Junior receiver Malcolm Mitchell and senior tight end Arthur Lynch will lead a great receiving corps, and overall this offense (returning 9 starters) will be very dangerous. However, like any great SEC team, the heart of the team is in their defensive front seven. Senior defensive Garrison Smith and junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera lead the group, but when clicking the whole unit is ons of the most hard-hitting in college football. Georgia’s expectations should be a division title, and if they win when they need to they will likely obtain one.
2. South Carolina Gamecocks
While it may be impossible to preview the 2013 South Carolina football squad without mentioning Jadaveon Clowney, the offense may be just as effective. Like the Bulldogs, the Gamecocks will start a senior QB in Connor Shaw, a player not many people are talking about because of his injury in 2012. Although, Shaw had an impressive 67.5% comlpetion rating last year, which was third among SEC quarterbacks. The SC QB will have a supporting cast including explosive receivers in Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd, but a first-year starter in sophomore running back Mike Davis. On defense, DE Jadaveon Clowney needs no introduction, but the secondary is led by playmakers in defensive backs Victor Hampton and Brison Williams. The team looks like a tough competitor as a whole, as they will be one of the top in the SEC-East.
3. Florida Gators
Despite their poor showing in the 2012 Sugar Bowl, the Florida Gators, led by their playmaker of a QB in junior Jeff Driskel, will go far in 2013. Driskel will have to deal with some key losses on offense, but one major returning player is junior receiver Quinton Dunbar. The rushing attack will also start fresh with sophomore Matt Jones, but the defense will look very new after returning only four starters from a year ago. D-Tackle Dominique Easley will be the staplepoint of the unit, but the Gators will to underclassmen such as sophomore DE Dante Fowler and freshman corner Vernon Hargreaves for production. A slew of lost talent from 2012 and a brutal November schedule could keep Florida away from the SEC Title Game in 2013.
4. Vanderbilt Commodores
Trying to improve on an impressive 9-win campaign in 2012, Vanderbilt will be led by senior Austyn Carta-Samuels at quarterback. And while he is limited in playing time for a senior, another nine wins (or better) should be the goal for the Commodores this year. Sophomore Brian Kimbrow will lead the running game (another new starter), while the receiving core is led by senior Jordan Matthews and junior Chris Boyd, a pair of physical receivers who fit in well in the SEC. Senior DE Walker May and senior backer Chase Garnham will get the highlight plays on the defense, and overall the unit is flooded with experience. Vandy needs a big year in 2013, as they try to build a solid program in the toughest conference in football.
5. Missouri Tigers
After their recent move to the SEC, Missouri is another program looking to rebuild. In 2013, the passing game returns with senior QB James Franklin, who will have a big target in the 6-6 receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. At tailback, junior Marcus Murphy will start, a back who averaged five-and-a-half yards a carry last year. Six starters return to a defense that is led by seniors Michael Sam and Andrew Wilson up front, two physical playmakers who will put together a nice highlight reel for themselves in 2013. A bowl game will be the expectations for the (Missouri) Tigers this year, but how they play in their conference slate will go a long way in determining how far they go.
6. Tennessee Volunteers
As one of the bigger programs on a downfall, Tennessee will look to go bowling in 2013 after just missing one a year ago. They will not have the luxury of returning their starting QB, but junior Marlin Lane will lead a strong rushing attack. Unfortunately, Lane is also the team’s leading receiver, after the Volunteers have lost their top four pass-catchers from 2012. Overall, Tennessee will be vastly inexperienced on offense, but on defense it is a different story. Eight starters return, including solid lineman in Maurice Couch and Daniel McCullers. For the team to compete with the top dogs of the SEC, they will have to prove many wrong under the reign of new head coach Butch Jones, but crazier things have happened in the conference.
7. Kentucky Wildcats
Residing at the bottom of the SEC, Kentucky has only won four conference games in the past three years, and none last year. Sophomore QB Maxwell Smith, however, is a key factor in the offense, as he was second in the conference in 2012 with a 68.7% pass completion rating as a freshman. Senior Raymond Sanders also returns, as do receivers Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins. And while these four may not have the talent of the skill players of the upper teams in the SEC, the added experience will help. On defense, junior DE Alvin Dupree is a staplepoint of the unit, with linebacker Avery Williamson as an added power. The front seven, however, is the best the defense has to offer as the secondary is under talented and virtually inexperienced. First-year head coach Mark Stoops will need to pull off a miracle in order for Kentucky to be a competitor in the 2013 SEC Standings, but at least they have the best fried chicken.