College football fans are stuck with trying to figure out who exactly was trying to tackle Eddie Lacy in Miami and watching the NFL Playoffs, which tend to be beautiful near the Super Bowl.
But let’s look into the crystal ball in the SEC West for 2013, shall we? Here are the never-too-early SEC West predictions for ‘13:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Key Returnees: QB AJ McCarron, RB TJ Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, WR Kenny Bell, WR DeAndrew White, OG Anthony Steen, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, DE Ed Stinson, LB Adrian Hubbard, LB CJ Mosley, CB Deion Belue, CB Grant Hill, S HaHa Clinton-Dix, S Vinnie Suneri
Key Losses: RB Eddie Lacy, TE Michael Williams, C Barrett Jones, OT DJ Fluker, OG Chance Warmack, DE Damion Square, DT Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, CB Dee Milliner and S Robert Lester
Buzz: The Tide will keep rolling in 2013, thanks to Nick Saban’s process and a returning cast of very talented and experienced players. While the running game may not be as strong as last season because three of five are gone on the offensive line, a sophomore TJ Yeldon will be an upgrade toting the rock. The passing game will be more explosive because of McCarron’s experience and cast of receivers to throw to. Alabama actually returned fewer starters on defense in ‘12 than they do in ‘13, and the biggest holes to fill lies on the defensive line, as both the linebacking corps and the secondary will be stout and experienced. The schedule sets up favorably with Kentucky and Tennessee in the East, and bye weeks before big games between Texas A&M and LSU. It almost sets up too perfectly.
2. Texas A&M Aggies
Key Returnees: QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, RB Trey Williams, WR Mike Evans, OT Jake Matthews, RG Cedric Ogbuehi, DT Kirby Ennis, DL Julien Obioha, LB Steven Jenkins, CB Deshazor Everett, DB Tony Hurd, Jr., S Steven Terrell
Key Losses: RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, OT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, DE Spencer Nealy, DE Damontre Moore, LB Sean Porter, LB Jonathan Stewart, CB Dustin Harris
Buzz: Anytime any team has an electric offense that can score 50-plus points per game and a dynamic quarterback like Johnny Manziel, they’re usually favored to win the division. But it just so happens there’s a dynasty in their own division. We know what the offense will do in ‘13, but it will be replacing the freak Damontre Moore on defense, as well as two experienced linebackers, which will be the tell-tale of the Aggies. The schedule sets up very favorably like Bama with Vanderbilt and Missouri in the East, and this team could very well not win their division but get a berth to a national championship like Bama did in 2011. They’re that good.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
Key Returnees: QB Bo Wallace, RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Ja-Mes Logan, OL Evan Swindall, OL Aaron Morris, OL Pierce Burton, OL Emmanual McCray, DE CJ Johnson, DT Isaac Gross, LB Serderius Bryant, LB Mike Marry, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, CB Senquez Golson, DB Cody Prewitt, DB Tre Elson and S Charles Sawyer
Key Losses: TE Jamal Mosley and LB Joel Kight
Buzz: You surprised Ole Miss is at #3? Don’t be. This group made a marked improvement in ‘12, and Hugh Freeze is the author of it. Oh, and this group returns 10 starters on offense and all impact players on defense. And the talent coming back will be another year developed on both sides of the ball. The Rebels could have won nine or 10 games this year, as they lost heartbreakers to Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and LSU. That won’t happen in 2013. The Rebels are my darkhorse pick to be the surprise team in the conference. Tough games at Vanderbilt, Texas and Alabama ensue but home games against LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas set up nicely.
4. LSU Tigers
Key Returnees: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, RB Alfred Blue, RB Kenny Hilliard, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham, OL La’el Collins, OL Josh Williford, DT Anthony Johnson, LB Lamin Barrow, LB Tahj Jones and S Craig Loston
Key Losses: RB Spencer Ware, RB Michael Ford, C PJ Lonergan, OL Chris Faulk, DE Barkevious Mingo, DT Bennie Logan, DE Sam Montgomery, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid, P Brad Wing
Buzz: The talent exodus in this year’s draft of 10 underclassmen will take its toll on the Tigers. It may not be that noticeable of a toll early in the season because Les Miles has recruited well, but it will take its toll within the division. The offense is still questionable and has to make strides in the passing game to be considered a potent offense, while the defense will be replacing three stud linemen. The Tigers could lose four to five games in ‘13, especially playing Georgia and Florida in the East as well as running the SEC West gauntlet.
5. Auburn Tigers
Key Returnees: QB Jonathan Wallace, QB Kiehl Frazier, RB Tre Mason, FB Jay Prosch, WR Trovon Reed, C Reese Dismukes, OL Chad Slade, OL Greg Robinson, DL Dee Ford, DL Angelo Backson, DL Nosa Eguae, LB Jake Holland, DB Jonathan Mincy, DB Joshua Holsey, DB Jermaine Whitehead and DB Demetruce McNeal
Key Losses: RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen, OL John Sullen, DE Corey Lemonier, LB Darren Bates and CB Chris Davis
Buzz: Out of all the new head coaches for 2013, Gus Malzahn has the best chance for success now. He’ll have three dual threat quarterbacks to work with, and young players on both sides of the ball to develop. Because of the spread offense, Malzahn has a chance to make an immediate splash, put points on the board and win a few games he shouldn’t. However, the defensive side of the ball is where the biggest development lies. New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has his work cut out for him. There’s a chance to win seven or eight games next season, and it would be a massive improvement from three wins in ’12.
6. Arkansas Razorbacks
Key Returnees: C Travis Swanson, OL Brey Cook, RB Jonathan Wallace, WR Brandon Mitchell, DE Chris Smith, DL Bryan Jones, DL Robert Thomas, DE Trey Flowers, LB Otha Peters, LB AJ Turner S Rohan Gaines, S Eric Bennett and CB Tevin Mitchell
Key Losses: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, RB Dennis Johnson, WR Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg, OL Alvin Bailey, DE Tenarius Wright, LB Alonzo Highsmith and FS Ross Rasner
Buzz: The biggest improvement we’ll see from Bret Bielema in his first year will be on defense. He’ll bring toughness to the team that was notably absent in ‘12, and they have solid cast of personnel to work with and develop. The secondary will need the biggest improvement of any position on the roster. The offense will be absent playmakers like Tyler Wilson, Dennis Johnson and Cobi Hamilton. However, there is a solid group of linemen returning along with freshman running back Jonathan Williams. Arkansas, arguably, has the toughest schedule in the SEC next year, having to play both Florida and South Carolina in the East, as well as the tough Western division slate.
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, RB Nick Griffin, RB Josh Robinson, TE Malcolm Johnson, C Dillon Day, OL Gabe Jackson, OL Blaine Clausell, DE Denico Autry, DT Quay Evans, DE Kaleb Eulls, LB Deonte Skinner, LB Benardrick McKinney and FS Nickoe Whitley
Key Losses: WR Chad Bumphis, WR Chris Smith, WR Arcedo Clark, TE Marcus Green, OL Tobias Smith, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cam Lawrence, DB Johnthan Banks, DB Darius Slay and DB Corey Broomfield.
Buzz: MSU has a tough road in front of them. They are coming off of five losses in the last six games, and fellow in-state rival Ole Miss has all the momentum. The offense regressed over the course of the season in ‘12, and it must return and be innovative under Dan Mullen like it was when he first set foot in Starkville. MSU does return Tyler Russell, but his top receivers are gone. However, a nucleus of offensive linemen and running backs return to be the staple of the offense. The defense loses several veterans in Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay, Cam Lawrence and Josh Boyd, and there are holes to fill. The bottom line is that the way MSU finished in 2012 gave no one any hope for what’s returning in ‘13. It will be an uphill climb getting back to where they have been the last couple of years.
Photo Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE