Is the SEC too good for its own good?
No, 13 of the 14 SEC teams we have projected to finish 6-6 or better aren’t going to finish 6-6 or better, but they might, and that 14th team, Kentucky, should improve in a hurry under new head coach Mark Stoops.
There might not be a true layup this year, and that’s a problem.
There will be a few clunkers. Just like no one really thought Florida would be BCS-bowl good, you didn’t see 2012 Auburn coming and it was impossible to think that the drop-off from Bobby Petrino to John L. Smith would make that much of a difference at Arkansas. New coaching staffs – and not the rental kind, like Smith sort of was last season - tend to do good things when taking over talented teams - just ask Texas A&M – meaning the play across the board should rise. Again, that’s an issue.
So if Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky really can make a little bit of a move back up, and if Missouri finds its offensive groove again (it will), and if Vanderbilt can keep the momentum going under James Franklin (his will won’t let it stop), and if Hugh Freeze can harness all the talent he’s amassing at Ole Miss (it might take a year), and if Mississippi State can use its experience to come up with a few upsets (it should), and if Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M can all play like the superstars they were throughout last season, the already phenomenal league might find a way to get to a whole other level.
Again, uh oh.
Here’s the thing, and it could be the biggest debate of the 2013 college football season; is an SEC champion a lock for the BCS championship if it’s not unbeaten?
A one-loss SEC champion, and possibly a two-loss champ and/or a nasty runner-up, will be a mortal lock to make the new Final Four of college football in the playoff format – next year. But for this season, this final season of the BCS, we’re way, way overdue for a major mess.
There was a little bit of hubbub over Alabama playing for the 2011 national title in the 2012 BCS championship over Oklahoma State, but no one really cared too much considering the dominant outcome in the Tide’s 21-0 win over LSU. That last massive BCS debate was after the 2004 season when Auburn was left out in the cold and USC and Oklahoma got in, and after Vince Young and Texas did its thing against USC at the end of the 2005 season, it’s been all SEC all the time with seven straight national titles. So now, it’ll be next to impossible for America to truly buy in that any BCS championship without the SEC champ in it will be legitimate.
But what if preseason No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Oregon each go 13-0, and Alabama finishes 12-1 with an SEC title? It’ll be a Buckeye – Duck BCS champion, and SEC fans will go ballistic considering Ohio State and Oregon would have next to no chance of finishing unscathed if either one played in the SEC West this season.
Remember, if the Ducks didn’t lose in a nail-biter late against Stanford, it would’ve been an Oregon-Notre Dame BCS championship, and Alabama would’ve been off to play Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
Remember, if Quinn Sharp’s kick had gone three inches to the left against Iowa State, Oklahoma State would’ve played LSU and Alabama would’ve been out of the 2012 BCS championship. Also, remember that last year’s dominant Crimson Tide team lost to Texas A&M, should’ve lost to LSU, and came painfully close to losing to Georgia.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and the SEC has been both.
This season, Alabama is fantastic again, but it has a few holes to patch on the offensive line and the secondary. LSU has a few question marks, South Carolina needs to find some firepower at the skill spots, Florida still can’t throw a deep ball, Georgia has to prove it can win the monster game under Mark Richt, and Texas A&M could be a walking disappointment considering all the off-the-field drama. There are flaws across the board among the top teams, even if at least six of the ten best teams in America probably reside in the SEC.
If nothing else, the SEC has solidified itself as the premier conference in college football, and it’s not even close. If you thought the last seven seasons have been tough, no matter what, whoever survives and comes out of Atlanta on December 7th with a trophy probably deserves a shot to play in Pasadena on January 6th to make it eight in a row.
As the last seven seasons have proven, all the SEC needs is the invite to the dance.
Team That'll Surprise
Missouri – Everyone has injury issues, but Missouri’s turned out to be a big problem in a rough 2012. Quarterback James Franklin was never right, top running back Henry Josey was still out with a bad knee injury, and the line was always dinged up. Throw in a defense that was fast, but not tough, and it was a bad mix for the SEC. The Tigers were supposed to do what Texas A&M came up with, and now with most of the key parts back, and with receiver Dorial Green-Beckham about to show what he was the nation’s top recruit in 2012, 5-7 could quickly turn into 8-4.
Team That'll Disappoint
Texas A&M – It’s all relative for a program that spent years playing second and third fiddle – and often worse – to Oklahoma and Texas. Now the Aggies are expected to be just as good, if not better, and Johnny Manziel is supposed to play like Johnny Heisman each and every week. The problem is that 9-3 will be seen as a disappointment no matter how it happens, and with SEC defenses having seen the Aggie fastball the first time through the order, 2013 could be a step back, especially if Alabama comes into College Station on Sept. 14th frothing at the mouth, which means …
Game of the Year
LSU at Alabama, Nov. 9 – There will be lots of different Games of the Year throughout the SEC schedule. Alabama vs. Texas A&M is certainly one, and South Carolina at Georgia on September 7th and Florida vs. Georgia on November 2nd is another, but over the last few years, LSU vs. Alabama has taken on a life of its own as one of college football’s best rivalries. From the heart-stopping comeback by the tide in last year’s 21-17 classic, to the better-than-it-got-credit-for 9-6 LSU win in 2011 – let’s just forget that 2012 BCS championship for a moment – five of the last six regular season meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight
1. LB A.J. Johnson, Jr. Tennessee
2. CB E.J. Gaines, Sr. Missouri
3. DE Alvin “Bud” Dupree, Jr. Kentucky
4. DT Kelcy Quarles, Jr. South Carolina
5. DE C.J. Johnson, Jr. Ole Miss
Coach on the Hot Seat
Gary Pinkel, Missouri – Every coach in the SEC has his own form of a hot seat – Gene Chizik proved that – but Pinkel is the lone conference head man who comes into the season in a true win-or-go-golfing situation. After a disappointing inaugural season in the SEC, Missouri needs to bounce back with a strong 2013 with the offense getting back to its recent Big 12 production and the defense playing stronger against the conference big boys. His team should be better, but a year after getting ragdolled by the mighty teams at the top of the conference rock, he has to show he can be the one who can take the program further in the new era.
5 Games that SEC opponents had better take very, very seriously
1. Missouri at Indiana, Sept. 21
2. Toledo at Florida, Aug. 31
3. Arkansas State at Auburn, Sept. 7
4. South Carolina at UCF, Sept. 28
5. Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky, Aug. 31
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Jr. Alabama
2. DE Jadeveon Clowney, Jr. South Carolina
3. OT Jake Matthews, Sr. Texas A&M
4. CB/WR Loucheiz Purifoy, Jr. Florida
5. LB C.J. Mosley, Sr. Alabama
5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Georgia LB Amerlo Herrera for Jarvis Jones
2. Florida S Cody Riggs for Matt Elam
3. Alabama DT Brandon Ivory for Jesse Williams
4. Alabama C Ryan Kelly for Barrett Jones
5. Texas A&M DE Tyrone Taylor for Damontre Moore