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 (West Division):
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Despite their reign of dominance the past 4 years, the Crimson Tide have a hilariously easy 2013 schedule, and very well could ride it all the way to Pasadena. Senior quarterback A.J. McCarron, the only starting quarterback in college football with a championship ring on his finger, is seeking his third, and he’s got himself a supporting cast full of elite players. Eddie Lacy may be gone, but sophomore tailback T.J. Yeldon proved numerous times last year that he is ready to take the starting job in Tuscaloosa. A physical wide receiver in Amari Cooper will fit in perfectly in Alabama, and fellow target Kevin Norwood will compliment him well. The Tide may have lost a lot of talent in their secondary (Dee Milliner, Robert Lester), but junior d-back Ha Ha Clinton Dix and company will fill in their shoes nicely. As for the defensive front seven, it will be even better than ’12. Linebackers Adrian Hubbard, C.J. Mosley, and Trey DePriest are all more experienced, and could all be all-SEC selections. The expectations for the Crimson Tide in 2013 will be another title, and it could already be rolling their way.
2. LSU Tigers
Also with an elite senior QB in Zach Mettenberger, the LSU Tigers could be even better than Crimson Tide on offense. Sophomore tailback Jeremy Hill, and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry could matchup with just about any d-back in the land. Eight starters return to a Louisiana State offense that could be the best in the conference. The defense only welcomes back four, however, and unfortunately Tharold Simon and D.J. Reid were two that will have to be replaced. Young cornerbacks in Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills will have to overachieve in order for the Tigers to take the West in 2013, but a November 9th matchup in Tuscaloosa will be the wildcard game of the year.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
With 19 returning starters and a nasty SEC defense, Ole Miss will surprise a lot of people this year. Junior Bo Wallace had a solid 142.7 QB rating as a sophomore, and a pair of sure-handed receiving targets in Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan. Jeff Scott will lead the running game as the starting senior tailback, but it is on the defensive side of the ball that this team gets really good. Freshman Robert Nkemdiche will be an instant starter, and his brother Denzel has already proved himself as an elite player on the line. In the secondary, senior Charles Sawyer leads an impressive d-back tandem that will be one of the strengths of the team. Whether or not the Rebels shock the nation and win the division, look for them to be vastly improved following a 7-6 campaign in ’12.
4. Texas A&M Aggies
Sophomore Johnny Manziel may have been the most exciting player to watch during his unprecedented Heisman campaign in 2012, but this Aggies could very well disappoint. Whether or not Manziel is cleared to play in 2013, the fellow sophomore Mike Evans is the only proven player in the receiving core. Tailback Brandon Williams is also unproven at Texas A&M, after transferring from Oklahoma. The defense only returns 5 starters, but luckily two of those are senior nose guard Kirby Ennis and linebacker Steven Jenkins. The Aggies have the talent to keep them out of the bottom tier of the SEC, but will be a huge letdown considering their 11-2 surprise in 2012.
5. Mississipi State Bulldogs
After an impressive 8-5 year, the Mississippi State Bulldogs have a tough 2013 slate and will have to rely on their offense, which is returning seven starters. Quarterback Tyler Russell will need to improve after an average ’12 season, but a thousand-yard back in LaDarius Perkins could be one of the best in the conference with all five offensive lineman returning. Like Texas A&M, the Bulldogs’ young defense will need to step up, but it is also mandatory that proven starters in d-tackle Denico Autry and safety Nickoe Whitley make highlight plays for the team. If Mississippi State shines in conference play in 2013 they could be towards the top, but they may not have the talent to take the conference title.
6. Arkansas Razorbacks
Coming off a 4-8 year, the Razorbacks will look to get back on track with new head coach Bret Bielema. Quarterback Brandon Allen and tailback Jonathan Williams are also new starters, but based on the way Williams is looking he could blossom into one of the better rushers in the conference. The receiving core is also relatively inexperienced, while tight end Austin Tate will be a big target for Allen in the passing game. A monstrous defensive line highlighted by Byran Jones and Chris Smith is the highlight of the team, while the secondary will need some work. Arkansas could be in for a long year if they do not get things right on offense, but they will likely improve with a talented HC in Bielema.
7. Auburn Tigers
As the other major disappointment of 2012 in the SEC, Auburn also brings in a new head coach in Gus Malzahn. The Tigers also failed to win a game in conference last year, but this year the team will need to find a passing game after a horrendous attempt in ’12. The rushing game is led by the thousand-yard back Tre Mason, which will be the strength of the team. That being said, Auburn does have an elite pass-rusher in Dee Ford, and a solid linebacker in senior Jake Holland. Like many other teams in the division, however, the secondary will need to drastically improve from last year. Like always, a conference title is what a strong program like Auburn will be seeking in 2013, but overall improvement on both sides of the ball is badly needed.