Early SEC Projected Standings
By Matthew Osborne
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Can Texas A&M challenge Alabama for SEC West supremacy?
It’s never too early to look ahead to the upcoming college football season.
As we are getting revved up for the start of spring practice, let’s take a look at the projected standings in the SEC for the 2013 season.
* Note: This is not a power ranking. This is a projection of where the teams will finish in conference play next season, taking both talent and schedule into consideration.
The Crimson Tide will have to replace some key starters along the offensive line, but there is no question that this is still the most talented team in the league. A.J. McCarron and a stifling defense yet again make Alabama the favorite in the West.
2. Texas A&M
The Aggies only return 10 starters from 2012, but they return the one that matters most: Johnny Manziel. Texas A&M will be explosive on offense and will compete for the division title if the defense can give an improved effort.
3. Ole Miss
Ole Miss returns the most starters of any SEC team (18) and is also adding in the best recruiting class in school history. Playing Vanderbilt and Missouri from the East gives the Rebels a slight edge over LSU for third place in the West.
LSU will be devastated by early departures to the NFL, but that doesn’t mean that the Tigers won’t be talented. Zach Mettenberger will be asked to carry the load on offense for the first part of the season. Drawing Florida and Georgia out of the East will hurt LSU in the standings.
Auburn is coming off one of its worst seasons in program history, but Gus Malzahn knows how to win with this collection of players. Set to return 15 starters from a year ago, the Tigers will show marked improvement this fall.
6. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs will be hurting big time in the passing game on both sides of the ball with the losses of countless talented wide receivers and defensive backs. Dan Mullen has his players believing they can win, but the talent simply won’t be there in 2013.
Arkansas has no real identity after losing Tyler Wilson and Cobi Hamilton from 2012’s disappointing team. Bret Bielema will make the Razorbacks more physical, but they simply don’t have the personnel or talent to compete in a loaded SEC West.
1. South Carolina
Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson proved the two-quarterback system can work at the end of last season. With 12 starters returning, including Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks are the most balanced team in the East.
The Bulldogs will likely have the top offense in the conference, but there are plenty of question marks on the defense. Georgia also has to play LSU out of the West this year, which will toughen up the schedule from what it has been recently.
The Gators are only set to return 11 starters, but Will Muschamp has re-loaded the talent cupboard with plenty of athletes. Florida will be able to rely more heavily upon Jeff Driskel this fall, and the defense will continue to be one of the best in the league.
The Commodores continue to get increasingly more competitive every season with James Franklin running the show. Wesley Tate, Brian Kimbrow and Jordan Matthews combine to give Vanderbilt an explosive trio of offensive skill players.
Missouri will be better prepared for the SEC in 2013, especially if the Tigers can keep quarterback James Franklin healthy for an entire season. The Tigers played much better at the end of last season, and that momentum should carry over to this fall.
The Volunteers should make improvements on defense, but the losses of Tyler Bray, Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter will severely hurt the offense. The fact of the matter is that the Vols simply won’t be talented enough to contend in 2013.
Mark Stoops did a nice job in recruiting this year, but the Wildcats simply don’t have enough talent to compete with the rest of the league yet. If nothing else, Kentucky should at least be good enough to win a conference game this fall.