SEC Football Predictions
The SEC has owned college football over the last decade. The only real question is which conference is in second place? The SEC has won seven straight national titles as Alabama became just the second team since World War II to to win three championships in four years. The Crimson Tide throttled Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS Championship.
The Southeastern Conference set a record with 63 players getting drafted in the offseason, including 12 first-round picks. Alabama has the best record in the SEC over the last five years by six games over second place. It has also outgained its SEC opponents by an average of 134 yards per game over this span, which is miles ahead of second-place Georgia (+69 yards/game). Let’s take a look at how the 2013 season will play out.
SEC West Predictions
1. Alabama – The Crimson Tide have won three national titles over the past four years. They look to become the first team in NCAA history to win their 4th in 5 years in 2013. They have an excellent chance of doing so considering their 13 returning starters are their second-most since 2007. That includes QB AJ McCarron and RB TJ Yeldon. Alabama avoids the big three from the East in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. It also gets a bye week before Texas A&M. The Tide are once again the team to beat in the West in 2013.
2. Texas A&M – While nothing went right for Texas A&M in 2011, almost everything went right for it in Kevin Sumlin’s first year on the job in 2012. The Aggies finished 11-2 and ranked #5 in the country at season’s end, handing Alabama its only loss of the season along the way. However, it could have been even better as they lost to LSU and Florida by a combined 8 points in games they easily could have won. With Heisman Trophy Johnny Manziel and 11 starters returning, the Aggies are the biggest threat to Alabama in the SEC West.
3. Mississippi – The Rebels are the biggest sleeper team in the West in 2013. Hugh Freeze led Ole Miss to a bowl win in his first season on the job, and he has done tremendous work in landing some of the top recruits in the country. Now, 19 starters and 59 lettermen return, making this the most experienced team in the entire SEC. The Rebels get both LSU and Texas A&M at home after nearly beating each last year. They also avoid the top three from the East and draw Missouri and Vanderbilt from that division. Don’t sleep on this team in 2013.
4. LSU – It’s tough to pick the Tigers this low given the fact that they have won at least 10 games in six of Les Miles’ eight years on the job. However, they have just 12 returning starters, including four on defense while losing a ton of talent to the NFL. The offense should be improved, but QB Zach Mettenberger has yet to prove he can carry the load. Plus, LSU draws two of the top three teams in the East in Georgia and Florida, and it must face Alabama on the road. That schedule won’t allow the Tigers to compete for an SEC West title this year.
5. Auburn – The Tigers have a great chance to be one of the most improved teams in the SEC after going 0-8 in conference action a year ago. Gus Malzahn returns after helping lead Auburn to a national title in 2010 as the team’s offensive coordinator. The cupboard clearly isn’t bare as 15 starters return, and most of the players on offense were recruited for Malzahn’s system. Auburn gets Mississippi State at home, and I look for it to go on the road and beat Arkansas to finish ahead of both of those teams in the final standings.
6. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs got off to a 7-0 start last year and were ranked as high as #13 in the country heading into their showdown with Alabama. From there, the schedule got miles more difficult, and it resulted in a 1-5 finish. Their only win during that stretch came at home against a deflated Arkansas team, while all five losses came by 14 points or more. With just 12 starters back and an SEC-high 24 lettermen lost, Dan Mullen has his work cut out for him. With Alabama, Mississippi and LSU all scheduled to visit Starkville, that means most of Mississippi State’s winnable games are on the road, which is not good.
7. Arkansas – There’s no question that Bret Bielema is one of the most underrated coaches in the country after leading Wisconsin to at least a share of the Big Ten title each of the last three years. He’ll be charged with trying to resurrect this Arkansas program after a disastrous 4-8 campaign last season. Unfortunately, the talent just isn’t there to be competitive in 2013. The offense returns just four starters and loses its best player in QB Tyler Wilson. The defense should be improved with eight starters back. However, Arkansas draws two of the top three teams from the East in Florida and South Carolina, which is a big reason why I have it finishing last in the West.
SEC East Predictions
1. Georgia – The Bulldogs have made it to two straight SEC title games. They were only a few yards away from beating Alabama in the championship game last year, but simply ran out of time on the clock. Amazingly, QB Aaron Murray has decided to return for his senior season after completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 3,893 yards with 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He wants one more run at a national title, and with nine starters back on offense, look for him to carry this team to the SEC Championship for a third straight year. The defense is a question mark with only three starters back, but a favorable schedule that features only three true SEC road games at Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Auburn will allow Mark Richt’s club to overcome it.
2. South Carolina – The Gamecocks were faced with a brutal schedule last year getting Georgia, Florida and LSU in a three-game span. They would lose at Death Valley and in The Swamp, which would be their only two losses all year. This year, South Carolina avoids the the top four teams from the West, so the schedule sets up much nicer. It does only have 12 starters back and some key losses on defense, though DE Jadeveon Clowney (54 tackles, 13.5 sacks) returns. Due to having to face Georgia on the road on September 7, I’ll pick SC to finish behind the Bulldogs on the East.
3. Florida – The Gators were a legitimate national title contender last year, but a 9-17 loss to Georgia in Jacksonville cost them a shot. They committed six turnovers and simply shot themselves in the foot. I believe this 2013 Florida team is much less talented with only 10 starters back. There are some huge losses on defense as the stop unit parts ways with five of its top six tacklers. It also draws LSU from the West on the road, and it must face South Carolina away from home as well. That’s why I have the Gators finishing in 3rd place in the East.
4. Missouri – I look for the Tigers to be one of the most improved teams in the East. Injuries at quarterback and along the offensive line really did them in last year, but they still managed to win two conference games in their inaugural season in the SEC. This year, they return 14 starters and should get much improved health on offense. After drawing both Alabama and Texas A&M from the West last year, they drop the Crimson Tide but must face the Aggies again. A three-game home stretch that includes Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee midseason will determine the team’s fate. I believe they can win two of those three contests which will allow them to finish 3-5 in SEC play and win the tiebreaker with the Volunteers.
5. Tennessee – Derek Dooley simply did not get it done in his three years at Tennessee. Enter Butch Jones, who led Central Michigan and Cincinnati to at least a share of their conference titles in four of the past six years. Jones is already making some noise on the recruiting trail, and he’ll be working with 13 returning starters. Unfortunately, the offense loses all of its top skill players in QB Tyler Bray and its top four receivers from a year ago. The Vols also draw Alabama on the road from the West, and they must face Missouri on the road, which is why I have them finishing behind the Tigers.
6. Vanderbilt – There’s no denying that James Franklin is one of the most underrated head coaches in the country. The Commodores had been to just one bowl game since 1982 before he arrived. Franklin has led them to two straight bowl berths, including a 9-4 campaign last year. The schedule gets much tougher this year as Vanderbilt draws Texas A&M and Ole Miss from the West. The Commodores do get Missouri and Kentucky at home, but aside from those two contests, I expect them to be an underdog in every other conference game despite returning 13 starters. They lose QB Jordan Rodgers and RB Zac Stacy (1,141 yards, 10 TD), who are irreplaceable.
7. Kentucky – Not many people are expecting much from Kentucky in 2013. Mark Stoops was an excellent hire, and I believe there is more talent on this roster than the Wildcats are getting credit for. Sophomore QB Maxwell Smith is one of the most underrated signal callers in the league, and the team returns 14 starters and a whopping 57 lettermen. Stoops is also making some noise along the recruiting trail already. However, the schedule won’t allow the Wildcats to be all that competitive in 2013. They draw Alabama from the West, and will be an underdog in all of their SEC games. I do expect them to pick up at least one conference win against either Missouri or Tennessee at home, which would be one more SEC victory than they had all of last year.
SEC Championship Game: Alabama Defeats Georgia