The 2013 season is upon us, and I think that this could be one of the more interesting seasons for the SEC in quite a while. In honor of every sports columnist hack, here's a list of BOLD PREDICTIONS for each SEC team:
The Crimson Tide will not three-peat. Repeating as champs is hard enough; doing it three times is just too much to ask. LSU and TAMU probably aren't as good as they were last year, and, on paper, Alabama should be favored against everyone they play, but Nick Saban's teams haven't been immune to the mid-season hiccup against a "lesser" opponent. Chalk this one up to the law of averages. It takes a bit of luck to make it to the championship game, and I'm betting that the Tide's luck will run out this year.
BONUS PREDICTION: this will be the year the SEC ends its run of national champions, but it won't be for lack of talent. The SEC Champ is going to have at least one loss, but this time there will be two undefeated teams from major conferences to keep a one-loss SEC team out of the big game.
The Tigers will show the most improvement of any team in the SEC, will make a bowl game, and will beat a team that it has no business beating. The wheels really came off the wagon last season, but Gus Malzahn is familiar enough with the roster for him to plug-and-play his offense. The talent is still there, and with Chizik not around to gum up the machine, this team will look a little bit more like the Auburn we're used to.
RB Alex Collins will be the SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year. We all know Bielema wants to run, and more than one back at a time was able to flourish at Wisconsin. Collins is going to get a lot of touches as Bielema looks to the future.
The Gators will win the SEC East. Florida's defense will find a way to be as good or better than it was last year. Its strengths are the D-line and the secondary, with the Linebackers young and inexperienced. I'll take that over the opposite any day. As for the offense, it really has no place to go but up. Florida managed to win 11 games last season with the offense barely able to function at a high school level. This year, the line is better, Driskel is one year older, and the receivers have an injection of young talent. Add to that a solid stable of backs, and we might just see something resembling competence on offense. As we'll see, the other teams in the SEC East have too many question marks to really be a complete team.
Georgia will lead the SEC in offense but finish in the bottom four on defense. Aaron Murray is, I think, the best QB in the league, and they also have the best one-two punch at RB with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. They will definitely have growing pains on defense, however. All but three starters are gone from a squad that was hit-or-miss a season ago, and with offenses improving across the SEC, this is not the year to be replacing that many players on the defensive side.
Kentucky will go winless in the SEC. That's not too much of a stretch, I know, but I just don't see where the win will come from. I think Mark Stoops will eventually get this program going in the right direction, but it's going to be a long-term challenge.
The Tigers will lose their first game against TCU in the Jerry Dome. The talent will eventually take over, and they'll finish much stronger that they will start, but a lot of fresh blood along with a fairly tumultuous off-season will mean a loss to the stacked Horned Frogs.
Ole Miss will beat one of the SEC West's "Big Three" (Bama, LSU, and TAMU). They have enough returning starters and incoming freshman talent to compete with everyone. This year, they will make the next step and knock off one of the big boys.
This season will be the beginning of the end for Dan Mullen in Starkesville. While he has definitely improved the product at MSU, the rest of the SEC West has simply passed them by. An end-of-the-year loss in the Egg Bowl will sour the fan base enough to put him firmly on the hot seat.
Missouri will be much improved from last season, but their record won't show it. Missouri was simply snake-bitten with injuries a year ago. This time, the other James Franklin will stay healthy and at least make it look like the Tigers can compete with the rest of the conference. The SEC being what it is, however, they will still have a hard time finding wins.
Clowney is the first pick in next year's NFL draft, but he'll leave without winning any trophies during his time in school. Carolina's defense line will be one of the best in the country, but the rest of the defense will let the team down en route to a disappointing second-place finish in the East. Many visors will be thrown.
The Vols will finish with one SEC win (against Kentucky), but everyone will agree that they're at least headed in the right direction. Tennessee will have to take one step back this season to go two steps forward next season. The defense will competent, and the offense will steadily improve during the course of the season. The Gators will feel fortunate for playing Tennessee in September instead of November.
The Aggies will finish a distant third in the SEC West. Bama will crush them just out of spite, and they will lose to a then-seasoned LSU team in Baton Rouge in November. A&M will then manage to lose at least one of the games against Arkansas/Ole Miss/Auburn/Vandy. It won't be a bad season by any stretch, but JFF will regress a bit in his second year as a starter.
Vandy will win another bowl game, but Commodore fans will actually be a bit underwhelmed by the way the season plays out. James Franklin obviously has this team on the right track, but it will take more than three years to infuse the kind of talent into this Vandy program in order for it to take its next major step (i.e., competing for the division title).
What does everyone else think? Am I way off base with these? Feel free to yell and curse at me in the comments.