NCAA Football Thoughts – 13-14 SEC Conference Season Preview

It’s that time again folks. College football season is right around the corner and just like every summer, I geek out and decide to write some predictions on how I feel every team from my favorite sport will finish the season. I’ve been writing college football predictions since the days of MySpace blogs and fortunately for me, my good pal Jeremy Lambert has given me a good location to share my predictions with the rest of the world right here at the MAN-CAVE! Now, for the record, I’m not a college football expert by any means. If you want a college football expert, you need to travel over to ESPN’s website. I just happen to be a huge fanatic who likes to predict stuff because I love seeing how wrong my predictions are at the end of the year.
This year, instead of just one big old preview, I decided to break it into separate conferences so that way you can skip over any conference you really don’t care about. I just so happened to be kicking things off with the most dominant conference in football, the SEC. The SEC have won seven straight BCS National Championships and if my predictions are right this year, they will make it eight straight. Now, before we get any further, I should point out that I have a lot of teams finishing better than i actually think they will. Teams like Texas A&M I have finishing 11-2 even though I think they’ll likely end up worse than that. It’s because I’m too much of a chicken shit when it comes to predictions and I almost always pick favorites. College football is full of upsets throughout the year, but it’s hard to look at the schedule for every single team and pick out each individual upset. I did pick out a few, but for the most part, I’m went with favorites.
Now, with all that nonsense out of the way, it’s time to get to the good stuff….
Dustin James’ 2012-13 SEC Conference Preview
SEC West:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide – 14-0 (9-0)
Last Year’s Record: 13-1
Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the BCS Championship against Notre Dame
Toughest Games: Virginia Tech (August 31), @ Texas A&M (September 14), LSU (November 9)
Key Players: AJ McCarron (QB), TJ Yeldon (RB), Amari Cooper (WR), Kevin Norwood (WR), Anthony Steen (OL), Cyrus Kouandjio (OL), Ed Stinson (DL), Jeoffrey Pagan (DL) CJ Mosley (LB), Adrian Hubbard (LB), Trey DePriest (LB), Deion Belue (CB), HaHa Clinton-Dix (S), Vinnie Sunseri (S), Cody Mandell (P), Christion Jones (PR)
Conference Championship: vs. Georgia (W)
Bowl Prediction: BCS Championship vs. Ohio State (W)
Team Analysis: I know. It’s odd that I have Alabama winning the National Championship for a third year in a row, but I honestly can’t pick against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Saban is the best coach in college football and he continuously recruits the best players year in and year out. When it comes to college football, I tend to favor two things. A great head coach and a senior quarterback. If your team has both of those things, you are definitely a contender to do some damage in my eyes. Alabama is once again the cream of the crop in the college football world and even though they only return 6 players on offense and 7 on defense, the team re-loads every year with very few bumps in the road. Alabama also has a very friendly schedule this year, which makes them playing for a third straight National Title an extremely real possibility. They kick things off against Virginia Tech in week one, but who in their right mind would pick an ACC team to come into Tuscaloosa and beat Bama? After that game, Bama gets a week off and then they go and try to get revenge in College Station against Johnny Football and Texas A&M. I’m not very high on A&M this year and I think the sting of that loss last year is enough motivation for Bama to come out and stomp a mud hole through the Aggies. After that game, Bama really only has one more test when they play LSU in Tuscaloosa on November 9. If the Crimson Tide can beat the Tigers for the third straight time, there’s no reason Saban and crew shouldn’t be playing for another National Title. It’s Alabama’s world and we are all just living in it.  
2. LSU Tigers – 11-2 (6-2)
Last Year’s Record: 10-3
Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson 
Toughest Games: TCU (August 31), @ Georgia (September 28), Florida (October 12), @ Alabama (November 9), Texas A&M (November 23)
Key Players: Jeremy Hill (RB), Odell Beckham (WR/PR), Jarvis Landry (WR), La’el Collins (OL), Anthony Johnson (DL), Lamin Barrow (LB), Jalen Mills (CB), Craig Loston (S)
Bowl Prediction: Capital One Bowl vs. Wisconsin (W)
Team Analysis: I don’t know what to make of LSU this year. The Tigers are one of those teams that you always have to consider a threat, but I don’t hear a lot of people that are very high on them this year. That could be because the team only returns 4 starters on defense and when you have to play teams like TCU, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Texas A&M…..that’s probably going to hurt you in the long run. On the other hand, LSU has a fantastic head coach in Les Miles and a senior QB in Zach Mettenberger, two things that I previously mentioned tend to make you a contender immediately in my eyes. Those two things should be enough to propel the Tigers to double-digit wins no matter what questions are currently surrounding the defense. LSU is the one team that I consider most likely to be able to upset Alabama in the regular season so if you don’t want to see Alabama win a National Title, I suggest becoming a bandwagon LSU fan this year. There are worse things you could do. 
3. Texas A&M Aggies – 11-2 (6-2)
Last Year’s Record: 11-2
Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma
Toughest Games: Alabama (September 14), @LSU (November 23)
Key Players: Johnny Manziel (QB), Brandon Williams (RB), Mike Evans (WR), Jake Matthews (OL), Jarvis Harrison (OL)
Bowl Prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl vs. Virginia Tech (W)
Team Analysis: I don’t know what to make of Texas A&M. Part of me isn’t really high on them and thinks that they will be one of those teams that goes from a BCS bowl one year to a 6-7 team the next. After all, they did lose a lot of talent in the NFL Draft and their top player (Johnny “Football” Manziel) happens to like to party and act like a douchebag in the off-season. However, if Manziel can come out and do what he did last year, it’s really hard to bet against the Aggies. They actually play a pretty favorable schedule by drawing Alabama at home. As a matter of fact, outside of away games against LSU and Ole Miss, I can’t see a lot of potential losses on the Aggies schedule which is what leads me to believe that Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Football will once again have the Aggies in contention for not only the SEC crown, but the National Championship as well. Of course, I could also see Johnny Football doing something extremely stupid to get himself injured or suspended from the team which causes the Aggies to lose games they shouldn’t have. Ahhhh screw it. I don’t know what to do with these guys, but I know it’s going to be an interesting season in College Station. 
4. Ole Miss Rebels – 8-5 (5-3)
Last Year’s Record: 7-6
Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh
Toughest Games: @ Texas (September 14), @ Alabama (September 28), Texas A&M (October 12), LSU (October 19)
Key Players: Jeff Scott (RB), Donte Moncrief (WR), Aaron Morris (OL), Robert Nkemdiche (DL), CJ Johnson (DL), Denzel Nkemdiche (LB), Mike Marry (LB), Charles Sawyer (CB), Jaylen Walton (KR)
Bowl Prediction: Outback Bowl vs. Nebraska (L)
Team Analysis: Ole Miss is a team that is quietly on the rise in the ranks of college football. They ended up scoring one of the schools best recruiting classes in school history led by #1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche. The recruiting results should soon show up on the field and that’s not good for the other SEC teams. Hugh Freeze and company were able to get the Rebels to the Compass Bowl last year where they stomped Pittsburgh and I expect the team to be even better this year. They do play a pretty rough schedule that includes away games against Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama, and Auburn and they draw Texas A&M and LSU at home. If they can somehow find a way to pull an upset in 2-3 of those games, the Rebels could find themselves near the top of the SEC West much faster than anyone thought it would take them. 
5. Arkansas Razorbacks – 7-6 (2-6)
Last Year’s Record: 4-8
Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game
Toughest Games: Texas A&M (September 28), @ Florida (October 5), South Carolina (October 12), @ Alabama (October 19), @ Ole Miss (November 9), @ LSU (November 30)
Key Players: Travis Swanson (C), Chris Smith (DL), Byran Jones (DL), Zach Hocker (K)
Bowl Prediction: Music City Bowl vs. Wake Forest (W)
Team Analysis: I don’t really know what to make of Arkansas. Last year was a mess following the whole Bobby Petrino scandal, but the school made a decent hire in the offseason by luring Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin. Bielema is a good enough coach that he should be able to get this group to a bowl game in his first season. They open up with 4 winnable games and have a great shot at being 4-0 heading into their week 5 match-up against Texas A&M. That’s when things get a little hairy though as the Razorbacks will have to face A&M, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama all in back-to-back weeks. Arkansas is only returning 4 starters on offense and likely won’t score a lot of points, but their defense should be good enough to keep them in a lot of ball games. Anything’s better than last year though, right Hog fans? 
6. Auburn Tigers – 5-7 (1-7)
Last Year’s Record: 3-9
Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game
Toughest Games: @ LSU (September 21), @ Texas A&M (October 19), Georgia (November 16), Alabama (November 30)
Key Players: Tre Mason (RB), CJ Uzomah (TE), Reese Dismukes (C), Demetruce McNeal (S), Cody Parkey (K)
Bowl Prediction: No bowl game
Team Analysis: Auburn has been on a down slide since winning the National Championship back in 2010. Last year they ended up going a disappointing 3-9 and firing coach Gene Chizik. For a team to win a National Championship and then turn into one of the worst programs in college football is pretty much unheard of. That just goes to show you how important Cam Newton and Nick Fairley were to that Auburn team’s success. This year, the Tigers have brought back Gus Malzahn (offense coordinator during Auburn’s NC run) as head coach and are hoping to bring back some of that magic the team had 3 years ago. Unfortunately, the roster just isn’t that talented and Malzahn will likely have a rough first-year as a head coach in the SEC. Can he do what Gene Chizik was unable to do and turn the Tigers into a consistent winning program? We definitely won’t find out this year…..
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs – 4-8 (1-7)
Last Year’s Record: 8-5
Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Gator Bowl to Northwestern
Toughest Games: Oklahoma State (August 31), LSU (October 5), @ South Carolina (November 2), @ Texas A&M (November 9), Alabama (November 16)
Key Players: LaDarius Perkins (RB), Gabe Jackson (OL), Denico Autry (DL), Benardrick McKinney (LB), Nickoe Whitley (S), Baker Swendenburg (P), Jameon Lewis (PR)
Bowl Prediction: No bowl game
Team Analysis: Last year, I was pretty high on Mississippi State and rightfully so. They ended up going 8-5 and in the Gator Bowl against Northwestern. That’s not bad for a team with the Bulldog’s history. This year, I’m not nearly as confident in Dan Mullens and crew getting things done. They play a pretty brutal schedule that includes Oklahoma State, Alabama, Texas A&M, South Carolina, LSU, and the rivalry game between Ole Miss. They only return 5 starters on defense and their wide receiving corp is not that good. Who knows though? Maybe the Bulldogs will surprise me. They have made 3 straight bowl games after all and probably deserve a little more respect than I’m giving them this season. 
SEC East:
1. Georgia Bulldogs – 12-2 (8-1)
Last Year’s Record: 12-2
Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Capital One Bowl over Nebraska
Toughest Games: Oklahoma State (August 31), LSU (October 5), @ South Carolina (November 2), @ Texas A&M (November 9), Alabama (November 16)
Key Players: Aaron Murray (QB), Todd Gurley (RB), Keith Marshall (RB), Malcolm Mitchell (WR), Michael Bennett (WR), Arthur Lynch (TE), Chris Burnette (OL), Kenarious Gates (OL), John Theus (OL), Jordan Jenkins (LB), Amarlo Herrera (LB), Damian Swann (CB)
Conference Championship: vs. Alabama (L)
Bowl Prediction: Sugar Bowl vs. Florida State (W)
Team Analysis: Every year the Georgia Bulldogs are considered a pre-season favorite to win the National Title and every year the Georgia Bulldogs end up disappointing their fan base. The same thing will likely happen again this year. Head coach Mark Richt is a good head coach, but the proof is in the history. The Bulldogs return 9 starters on offense but only return 3 starters on defense. That’s not a good thing when you kick things off in week one with a game against Tajh Boyd and the Clemson Tigers. The good news for Georgia fans is that senior QB Aaron Murray is a damn fine player and he should be able to lead an offense that will keep Georgia in all of their games. Georgia lucks out schedule wise by drawing South Carolina, Florida, and LSU all at home. The teams toughest road game is against Clemson in week one and after that all the road games should be a cake walk. I have the Bulldogs playing Alabama for the SEC Championship and if Georgia can dethrone the Crimson Tide from the top of the college football world, Mark Richt and crew will finally give their fan base something to howl about. 
2. South Carolina Gamecocks – 12-1 (7-1)
Last Year’s Record: 11-2
Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Outback Bowl against Michigan
Toughest Games: Oklahoma State (August 31), LSU (October 5), @ South Carolina (November 2), @ Texas A&M (November 9), Alabama (November 16)
Key Players: Rory Anderson (TE), AJ Cann (OL), Jadeveon Clowney (DL), Kelcy Quarles (DL), Jimmy Legree (CB)
Bowl Prediction: Fiesta Bowl vs. Texas (W)
Team Analysis: South Carolina has the best player in college football in Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is so ridiculously talented that his presence on defense is enough to consider the Gamecocks contenders to the National Title. Steve Spurrier and company return 7 players on offense and 5 players on defense. Not only that, but their schedule is extremely winnable. Outside of an away game against Georgia in week two, the Gamecocks should be favorites in every single one of their games. Spurrier and the boys are definitely contenders to play for a National Title and if they can find a way to take out North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Clemson…..the Cocks may be the team that continues the SEC’s streak of winning National Championships. 
3. Florida Gators – 9-4 (5-3)
Last Year’s Record: 11-2
Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Sugar Bowl to Louisville
Toughest Games: Oklahoma State (August 31), LSU (October 5), @ South Carolina (November 2), @ Texas A&M (November 9), Alabama (November 16)
Key Players: Jeff Driskel (QB), Louchiez Purifoy (WR/CB), Jonotthan Harrison (C), Jon Halapio (OL), Dominique Easley (DL), Ronald Powell (DL), Antonio Morrison (LB), Marcus Roberson (CB), Jaylen Watkins (S), Kyle Christy (P), Andre Debose (KR)
Bowl Prediction: Gator Bowl vs. Michigan State (W)
Team Analysis: Florida was a good team last year who decided to half ass it against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl because they were pissed off they didn’t get a chance to play for the SEC title. This year, Will Muschamp returns 6 starters on offense and only 4 starters on defense. Not only that, but they have a pretty tough slate of games having to travel to Miami, LSU, and South Carolina. The Gators also draw Georgia and Florida State at home. That’s a pretty difficult schedule for a team coming off a disappointing bowl performance and also losing a ton of talent, especially on the defensive end. Florida could be a dark horse in the SEC this year, but I expect them to be in the middle of the pack come December. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been wrong though if they end up winning the SEC. 
4. Tennessee Volunteers – 6-7 (3-5)
Last Year’s Record: 5-7
Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game
Toughest Games: Oklahoma State (August 31), LSU (October 5), @ South Carolina (November 2), @ Texas A&M (November 9), Alabama (November 16)
Key Players: James Stone (C), Zach Fulton (OL), Ja’Wuan James (OL), Daniel McCullers (DL), AJ Johnson (LB), Curt Maggitt (LB), Byron Moore (S)
Bowl Prediction: Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma (L)
Team Analysis: First-year head coach Butch Jones has a lot on his plate if he is the guy that finally brings Tennessee back to being a major player in the college football world. The Volunteers haven’t won a bowl game since 2007 and haven’t contended for a conference title in sometime. Fortunately for Vols fans, the team should be good enough to sneak into a bowl game this year, but if you are expecting them to challenge for a SEC title, you will be highly disappointed come year’s end. The Vols have to travel to Oregon, Florida, and Alabama, but there are enough winnable games on Tennessee’s schedule for them to find themselves bowling in January. 
5. Vanderbilt Commodores – 7-6 (2-6)
Last Year’s Record: 9-4
Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Music City Bowl against NC State
Toughest Games: Oklahoma State (August 31), LSU (October 5), @ South Carolina (November 2), @ Texas A&M (November 9), Alabama (November 16)
Key Players: Jordan Matthews (WR), Chris Boyd (WR), Wesley Johnson (OL), Walker May (DL), Karl Butler (LB), Andre Hal (CB), Kenny Ladler (S), Carey Spear (K), Jonathan Krause (PR)
Bowl Prediction: Independence Bowl vs. Maryland (W)
Team Analysis: Vanderbilt was a popular pick last year to sneak up on people and the Commodores actually played well en route to an 8-5 record. The former SEC bottom-feeders have turned into a decent program under head coach James Franklin and while I don’t expect Vandy to go back into the depths of SEC-hell, I do expect them to slide a little this year. They play a rather tough schedule having to go to South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida, and Tennessee. However, winnable games against teams like Austin Peay, UMass, UAB, Kentucky, and Wake Forest should allow Vandy to sneak into a bowl game. It actually wouldn’t surprise me to see Vandy pull off a couple of upsets this year and sneak into a better bowl game than I have them slotted for, I just wasn’t ballsy enough to pull the trigger. Keep an eye on this team folks. James Franklin has put together a nice little team in the 3 years he’s been in charge. 
6. Missouri Tigers – 6-7 (2-6)
Last Year’s Record: 5-7
Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game
Toughest Games: Oklahoma State (August 31), LSU (October 5), @ South Carolina (November 2), @ Texas A&M (November 9), Alabama (November 16)
Key Players: Kony Ealy (DL), Andrew Wilson (LB), EJ Gaines (CB), Andrew Baggett (K), Marcus Murphy (KR/PR)
Bowl Prediction: Liberty Bowl vs. Tulsa (L)
Team Analysis: It still baffles me that Missouri decided to up and join the SEC. Why would a team that doesn’t have much historical significance, has a horrible location, and didn’t win much in the BIG 12 to begin with, decide to jump at the chance to join college football’s toughest conference? Either way, thanks to an actual winnable schedule, Missouri should sneak into a bowl game this year. They have winnable games against Murray State, Toledo, Indiana, Arkansas State, Kentucky, and Tennessee and that would be enough for the Tigers to back themselves into a bowl game. However, if Missouri fans expect to compete among the SEC’s elite, I think they will be disappointed every year. They will likely be SEC bottom-feeders from here on out or until they decide to join another conference they could actually compete in. Maybe something like the Mountain West or Conference USA? 
7. Kentucky Wildcats – 3-9 (0-8)
Last Year’s Record: 2-10
Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game
Toughest Games: Oklahoma State (August 31), LSU (October 5), @ South Carolina (November 2), @ Texas A&M (November 9), Alabama (November 16)
Key Players: Raymond Sanders (RB), Avery Williamson (LB), Alvin Dupree (DL), Landon Foster (P)
Bowl Prediction: No bowl game
Team Analysis: Kentucky is Kentucky. If you expect them to be good this year, you are a dreamer. New head coach Mark Stoops could end up being a good hire in a few seasons, but he doesn’t have much talent to work with this year and the chances of Kentucky heading to their first bowl game since 2010 is very slim. They have a tough schedule and play only 3 teams that I don’t have making a bowl game this year. Sorry Wildcats fans, but it’s going to be another craptastic year in Lexington. 

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