If the SEC season lives up to the opener that Ole Miss and Vanderbilt gave us on Thursday night, hold on to your seats.
The best part? That’s a legitimate possibility.
The two-time defending national champion is the odds-on favorite for a third-straight title. Last year’s Heisman winner returns as just a sophomore. The two teams meet on Sept.14 … and it’s the first conference game for either team.
And that’s just the beginning.
The race for the SEC East should be one of the most entertaining in any conference all season, as Georgia, South Carolina and Florida are each contenders. And because all three teams play each other, the likelihood of a convoluted tiebreaker between them is not only a possibility, it’s a probability.
LSU is hoping to get back into the national discussion. Four teams welcome new, high-profile coaches.
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s tough to argue against the fact that the SEC is the best conference in all of college football.
The season opener on West End in Nashville helped remind us all of that.
IN: Mark Stoops, Butch Jones, Bret Bielema, Gus Malzahn
Credit the SEC with the most entertaining coaching class in quite some time. Kentucky made a splash when it went out and hired Stoops, the longtime assistant who spent time most recently at Arizona and Florida State. Not to be outdone, Tennessee snagged Jones from Cincinnati. Malzahn returns to Auburn after a one-year head coaching stint at Arkansas State. But the move that surprised just about everyone was Bielema’s move from Wisconsin to Arkansas.
OUT: Johnny Manziel
OK, so he’s only reportedly out for the first half of the season opener against Rice. But after the two-quarter suspension, it appears – at least for now – that the offseason trouble surrounding autographs that has followed the young Heisman winner is over.
OUT: Kiehl Frazier
Most preseason magazines had Frazier, the one-time four-star dual-threat QB, listed as the projected starter at Auburn this season. That was magnified when Malzahn returned to coach the Tigers because, after all, Malzahn was the offensive coordinator while Frazier was being recruited. Both also had roots in the same high school in Arkansas – Malzahn was the head coach at Shiloh Christian from 1996-2000; Frazier was the starter there until his graduation in 2011.
It was all supposed to be a happy ending this season. Frazier would get his coach back, and Auburn would rebound from an abysmal 2-6 conference record last year. And then, in mid-August, Malzahn announced that Frazier had asked to move to safety. Malzahn said the move was Frazier’s decision and even he was surprised by it.
“I didn’t play well last year, and that’s something that’s kind of set in stone. I can’t change that now,” Frazier told AL.com about the move. “This will be best for me and the team for me to move to safety.” [image source]
Game of the Year
1. The SEC returns 7 of its top 10 passing leaders, based on passing yards, including all of the top 5 in pass completion percentage – Texas A&M’s Manziel, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace.
2a. While it’s fun to knock the SEC for being infamous for those low final scores – need we remember LSU’s 9-6 overtime thriller over Alabama in 2011 – the statistics showed something very different. Referring to just conference games, SEC teams combined for a total of 2,911 points in the 2012 season. That averages to a combined 51.1 points per game and 25.5 points per team.
2b. Tennessee put up 48 points in an overtime loss to Missouri last season. The Vols’ 48 points would have been enough to win 48 of the 57 games played in the conference in the 2012 season.
2c. How good was Alabama last year? The team averaged 37.2 points per game in the conference. The defense pitched four shutouts on the season – including two conference opponents. Only three other teams in the conference – Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia – shut out a single SEC opponent last year.
3. Trying to pick a winner between Georgia and South Carolina on Sept. 7? Consider this: Georgia leads the all-time series between the two schools, 46-17-2. And the game is being played between the hedges. Edge – at least on paper – would seem to go to Georgia.
4a.. In November, while the rest of the automatic qualifying conferences are in the depths of conference schedules, the SEC for whatever reason enjoys giving its team a breather late in the season. Yes, every major team has at least one, if not two, “cupcake” games on its schedule, but they’re usually within the first several weeks. Take, for instance, Nov. 23, where you can prepare for these scintillating matchups – Florida vs. Georgia Southern, South Carolina vs. Coastal Carolina and Alabama vs. Chattanooga. And don’t forget that big game on Nov. 9 when Georgia hosts Appalachian State. (Still too soon, Michigan faithful?)
4b. Winner of the most advantageous bye week on the schedule goes to the Tennessee Volunteers, who get a week off between their Oct. 5 meeting with Georgia and their Oct. 19 game with South Carolina. Even better? Both of those games are in Knoxville, meaning there aren’t even any travel worries. Runners up on the good timing are LSU, which gets an extra week between Alabama and Texas A&M, and Ole Miss, which gains a week between Texas and Alabama.
Your Guess is as Good as Ours
There’s one thing that every preseason magazine can agree upon – the SEC East will be a race between Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. But the order of finish? Heh. Athlon and Lindy’s agree, and three out of the four think Georgia’s going to win the division.
Here’s a look at each magazine’s predictions, ranking the teams from 1-3 in order of finish.
- Athlon: Georgia, South Carolina, Florida
- Lindy’s: Georgia, South Carolina, Florida
- Sporting News: South Carolina, Florida, Georgia
- USA Today: Georgia, Florida, South Carolina
This is the one that everyone seems to agree upon. Alabama will have an outstanding season and play for another national title.
- Athlon: BCS National Championship vs. Ohio State
- Sporting News: BCS National Championship vs. Stanford
- Lindy’s: BCS National Championship vs. Ohio State
Yes, the Aggies make another appearance in the postseason, and depending on who you believe, they could even disrupt the BCS bowls. Both Athlon and the Sporting News have Texas A&M playing in the Capital One Bowl. But one magazine has higher expectations.
- Lindy’s: Sugar vs. Florida State
With the log jam that is the SEC East (See: Your Guess is as Good as Ours above), the SEC bowl predictions for that division are quite entertaining. Let’s start with Georgia.
- Athlon: Sugar Bowl vs. Louisville
- Sporting News: Chick-Fil-A Bowl vs. Florida State
- Lindy’s: Lindy’s only predicts BCS bowls, and Georgia isn’t listed among those teams. Which is interesting, because Lindy’s believes Georgia will win the East … but then places Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl. Hmm.
The Gamecocks are in a similar situation. Lindy’s doesn’t have South Carolina listed as it predicted it to finish second in the East and outside the BCS bowls.
- Athlon: Chik-Fil-A Bowl vs. Florida State
- Sporting News: Sugar Bowl vs. Notre Dame
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