2013 NCAA Football Preview: Southeastern Conference

August 25, 2013

If I didn’t live in Big Ten country, this post would be my most read post of the year.

But it’s not. Here is the SEC preview.


College football’s version of King of the Hill has had the same winner for seven years in a row now. There is no ifs, ands or buts about it: the SEC is the best conference in the country, and will continue to be known as such until another conference can knock it off its perch by winning the national championship game.

This year isn’t going to be any easier than prior years to do so, however. For as good as Alabama was last season (maybe not their best squad over the past four seasons, but hey, they still won, didn’t they?), chances are Nick Saban has put together an even stronger squad for 2013. Then there’s Georgia, with the best pro quarterback prospect in college football, Aaron Murray. The ‘ole ball coach might have something up his sleeve down in South Carolina. Don’t forget LSU, which will find a way to climb into the top 10 or even top 5 by the middle of the season to make things interesting. Florida might even find a way into the discussion if the Gators discover a passing game.

Oh yea, and Texas A&M. Maybe not a true national title contender, but still a story. Every conference needs a Texas A&M (…just kidding).

The SEC is still the best. All the way up until December 6th, when the 2014 BCS National Championship Game matchup will be set and we will know whether or not the conference will get a chance to defend their title for the eighth straight season. For as good as the conference appears to be, conventional wisdom would tell you that there is a good chance that the best teams will take each other out of the title race by beating each other up during the regular season. But conventional wisdom isn’t really conventional after seven years of the opposite happening, now is it?

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a National Championship Bid


The overwhelming sentiment after last year’s second straight national title for Alabama was that the Crimson Tide would have an extremely good chance of making it a three-peat. Despite a wealth of experience lost on the offensive and defensive lines, prognosticators were already talking about how next year’s team could be much better than the 2012-2013 version before all the confetti had even hit the ground in Miami.

When you look at this year’s squad, it’s hard to argue with those arguments. A.J. McCarron, while not being the most talented or strongest armed quarterback in the league, has a knack for winning and seems to play some of his better football in the most crucial situations. McCarron may look even better this year now that sophomore T.J. Yeldon will be the feature back thanks to Yeldon’s soft hands that make him equally as dangerous a receiver as a running back. Throw in wide receiver Amari Cooper, who is going to give every defensive secondary he goes up against fits, and there is no reason to suggest that the Crimson Tide can’t average 35+ points per game once again this season if the offensive line comes together.

The defense will be one of the best in the nation again; it’s just a question of whether they will be the best. The line must replace three key contributors, which will make things very interesting against Texas A&M. If the Crimson Tide can find a way to get sufficient pressure on QBs and gum in the run game, they will be just fine in all other areas.

The schedule isn’t bad at all for an SEC team. Get past Texas A&M, stay focused at home against LSU, and the Crimson Tide will have all but booked a third straight trip to the national title game. It’s not hard to root against them if you’re not from Alabama, but it’s also hard to bet against them bull-rushing their way through yet another regular season en route to the grand prize.

South Carolina

I never thought I’d be writing this, but I think that Steve Spurrier has something special cooking down in Columbia. What started as a great highlight has turned into a national campaign for the Heisman for Jadeveon Clowney, who will be the anchor of a defense which has the potential to be just as good as or better than last year. Although the Gamecocks appeared unstoppable at times defensively in 2012, statistically they proved to be about the fourth best squad in the SEC in most of the major team categories. While that’s still an accomplishment given the SEC’s reputation for quality defense, it isn’t something that can’t be repeated with a new set of linebackers.

Offensively, South Carolina is lucky to have a quarterback like Connor Shaw. With a strong arm and the ability to tuck it and run, Shaw provides the Gamecocks with plenty of options to pick apart SEC defenses. There are rumblings that Coach Spurrier may split the time at quarterback between Shaw and junior Dylan Thompson, who lead South Carolina to an Outback Bowl win in January, but in my opinion doing that would only hurt their chances of running the table. If the Gamecocks want to go to the national championship, they need to stick with one quarterback.

The Gamecocks are by no means as safe a bet to make it to the national title game as a team like Alabama, and some may argue that South Carolina is as best a dark horse candidate. But the schedule is really favorable, with the most difficult game after the trip to Georgia being a home contest against Florida. If the Gamecocks can make it past the Bulldogs, this is a team that people should keep an eye on.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)


When five other teams in your own conference are ranked ahead of you in the preseason AP poll, it’s pretty safe to assume that most people don’t think you’re going to be all that special. Such is the case for the LSU Tigers, which still must be perceived to be pretty good since they’re at No. 12 in the preseason rankings. But when you’re also predicted to finish third in your own division of a conference by many media outlets, it kind of shifts the scale back to the side of being an afterthought.

It’s pretty cut and dry for the Tigers. Zach Mettenberger needs to become a better passer for LSU to have a shot at competing with the likes of Alabama, Texas A&M and Georgia on a week to week basis. But go back to that game against Alabama last season, and you’ll find that Mettenberger actually played better than A.J. McCarron for the majority of the game. If that Mettenberger can become a consistent performer in 2013, then LSU will be able to do some things offensively that they haven’t been able to do in quite some time.

The schedule is pretty forgiving until late September, so expect the defense to be ready as usual for the grueling SEC grind. If Mettenberger becomes more reliable, this is a team that could be pretty scary.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Jadeveon Clowney (Jr.), South Carolina defensive end

It’s not often that the most exciting player on a team plays on the defense. But in the case of the South Carolina Gamecocks, there is no denying that Jadeveon Clowney is the best and most exciting player that the program has to offer to the country. Clowney, who will probably make at least a dozen more highlight reel worthy plays in 2013, will probably never be able to top the hit he made on Michigan’s Vincent Smith in last season’s Outback Bowl. But it doesn’t matter, because he’ll still be a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy and will also have a major impact on South Carolina’s national title hopes this year.

Despite only being a junior, supporters of Clowney believe that the 6’6″, 274 pound monster at defensive end could start and be a star on most NFL teams today. He has the speed, size and strength to impose his will on any offensive lineman that lines up opposite him, which means that most teams will require extra help to contain him. Clowney will get his stats, but the immeasurable effect that he has in helping other Gamecocks on the defensive front is equally as valuable. 

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Clemson vs. South Carolina (November 30th)

Clemson is taking on some of the best that the SEC has to offer, but this could potentially be the most interesting game for two reasons: one is that Clemson’s offense will be a great test for South Carolina’s defense, and the other is that there is the potential that one or both of these teams is undefeated when this game is played.

Last season South Carolina got the best of Clemson on the road, but Clemson showed it was capable of winning close games against quality SEC opponents when it edged LSU in the Chic-fil-A Bowl. A good indicator for how this game will play out is how each team fares against Georgia (Clemson plays them on August 31st, South Carolina on September 7th). The Bulldogs are similar offensively to the Tigers, and if Georgia can shut down Clemson’s offense, this game will probably favor the Gamecocks.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Alabama vs. Texas A&M (September 14th)

Surely, this game has been circled on Nick Saban’s calendar since the Crimson Tide lost to the Aggies at home on November 10th of last year. This game is not only a way to exact revenge on Johnny Football, but also is far more important from a national title standpoint. Alabama might not be so lucky to slip back into the title conversation this year if they suffer a second straight defeat to Kevin Sumlin’s team.

This game could ultimately come down to which line is more prepared. Texas A&M’s offensive line must replace a lot of pieces from the 2012 squad, and there is no doubt that NFL first round draft pick and former Aggie offensive tackle Luke Joeckel had something to do with Manziel’s success. Alabama’s defensive line will also have a lot of new faces, and if they can’t find a way to contain Manziel, Johnny Football could once again torch the Crimson Tide’s stingy defense.

Conference Predictions

East Division

1. South Carolina (11-1, [7-1])

2. Georgia (10-2, [7-1])

3. Florida (9-3, [5-3])

4. Tennessee (7-5, [4-4])

5. Missouri (7-5, [3-5])

6. Vanderbilt (6-6, [2-6])

7. Kentucky (3-9, [0-8])

West Division

1. Alabama (12-0, [8-0])

2. LSU (10-2, [6-2])

3. Texas A&M (10-2, [6-2])

4. Ole Miss (7-5, [4-4])

5. Auburn (6-6, [2-6])

6. Mississippi State (4-8, [1-7])

7. Arkansas (4-8, [1-7])

Championship Game (South Carolina vs. Alabama)

Winner: Alabama

Questions from the Readers

This is a section dedicated to the readers, where I will answer the questions you have sent me through Facebook, Twitter (@KBecks_ATC) or email (kbecks@aroundthecorn.com). Unfortunately, there were no questions sent regarding the SEC or its teams. Feel free to ask multiple questions, as I will answer any appropriate question that is submitted in time. Thanks guys.

– K. Becks

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