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Three SEC Teams to Watch

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Expect big things from this group, including anticipation and attention that carry through to kickoff.

The pre-season is a time for prognostication and punditry, with all of the hype reaching a fever pitch come late August. As we enter the summer months, here are three SEC programs who appear to be on the rise. Expect big things from this group, including anticipation and attention that carry through to kickoff.

1. Georgia -- With 17 starters back, the pieces are cleary in place for a run for the likely SEC East favorite. Expect more cohesion overall in Kirby Smart's second season, especially with the return of the likes of quarterback Jacob Eason, running back Nick Chubb and safety Dominick Sanders. Additionally, Georgia's linebackers, with rising Roquan Smith, are arguably the best in the league. Few teams in college football bring back as much proven talent as the Bulldogs, so the expectation should be a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Smart's incoming recruiting class has a number of standouts ready to contribute as well.   

2. South Carolina -- Will Muschamp's first year was a successful one and, looking ahead, there is considerable star power with quarterback Jake Bentley and linebacker Skai Moore, now back healthy. Bentley, now a sophomore with experience, threw for a career-high 390 yards and three touchdowns versus South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl. A year older and wiser as a group, the Gamecocks could have one of the SEC's most-potent offensive attacks. This South Carolina team only plays four true road games this season, with four of five at home to finish the year. 

3. Mississippi State -- Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is a star. Despite not being the full-time starter to open the season, he scored 37 total touchdowns in a record-breaking 2016. Fitzgerald's productivity and versatility is a threat each and every game, especially in a conference without many proven signal callers; of SEC teams, only Alabama, Tennessee and Texas A&M scored more touchdowns than Dan Mullen's Bulldogs a year ago. If Mississippi State can get off to a good start, five of the Bulldogs' final seven contests are in Starkville.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports