The final year of the BCS will start in less than 10 weeks, and the SEC looks to make it eight championships in a row to cap off a dominant BCS era.
Entering 2013, the SEC has the ‘Big Six’ teams of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M that are the favorites to compete for championships. That’s not to say a team like Auburn’s 2010 club can’t come out of nowhere, because it can happen. Phil Steele says Vanderbilt should be a Big Six team, not Georgia.
But most figure that one of the top six teams will win the SEC and, furthermore, the BCS Championship. Obviously, all roads to the BCS run through Atlanta.
Let’s breakdown the SEC’s hardest to easiest path of the Big Six teams, shall we?
6. LSU Tigers
Preseason ranked teams: 5 (vs. TCU, at Georgia, Florida, at Alabama and Texas A&M)
Strength of schedule rank: #2
Skinny: Les Miles and LSU hired a new offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron to take over the offense. That’s great news for one of the most underachieving and head-scratching offenses over the last few years. Cameron should develop Zach Mettenberger and help develop the offense by getting the backs and tight ends much more involved. But losing eight key starters and NFL talent all over the defense will hurt this team. Also, the schedule is downright brutal and is the second-hardest schedule in the SEC, slightly below Arkansas. The Tigers play five preseason top 25 teams, and their opponents won 60.3 percent of 2012’s games. If there’s one consolation, LSU gets bye weeks before Alabama and Texas A&M. Is LSU’s program in decline like one anonymous coach mentioned?
5. Florida Gators
Preseason ranked teams: 4 (at LSU, vs. Georgia, at South Carolina and FSU)
Strength of schedule rank: #5
Skinny: Florida’s margin of error last season was paper-thin. Combine that with losing seven starters on defense, including two first-round picks, and, on paper, Florida stands to take a step back. Will Muschamp has recruited very well and arguably depth has never been better, but the dismal passing game has to take a step forward…and I’m not putting that all on Jeff Driskel. Florida thought they had an identity last season, but they were exposed in the Sugar Bowl for tinkering with it. The Gators play a gauntlet of four preseason ranked teams, including three of the four away from The Swamp. The three-in-a-row stretch featuring Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina is nasty.
4. Georgia Bulldogs
Preseason ranked teams: 4 (at Clemson, South Carolina, LSU and vs. Florida)
Strength of schedule rank: #8
Skinny: We know all about Georgia’s explosive returning offense headlined by Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and others, and all Georgia has heard about this offseason has been the lost talent and starters on defense. For UGA, it’s all about how they start 2013. A road test at Clemson should develop into a high-octane shootout, but it also could become a national championship elimination game. Combine that with the next week’s massive game against South Carolina, and the Bulldogs have the nastiest back-to-back early season games. Despite the lost personnel on defense, I’m higher on UGA’s defense than most, and they will be in the championship talk come November.
3. South Carolina Gamecocks
Preseason ranked teams: 3 (at Georgia, Florida and Clemson)
Strength of schedule rank: #10
Skinny: South Carolina has the easiest path of any of the three SEC East powers. USC has owned Georgia, winning the last three, and host Florida in November for their biggest game of the season. Still, it will all come down to replacing personnel losses on defense, namely at linebacker. Safety DJ Swearinger isn’t there to lead Lorenzo Ward’s defense. They’re more athletic but have much less experience than last season. The offense will be fine with veterans and depth all over the field. Oh, and some guy named Jadeveon Clowney should help an underrated defensive unit gel and excel in 2013.
2. Texas A&M Aggies
Preseason ranked teams: 2 (Alabama and at LSU)
Strength of schedule rank: #13
Skinny: Outside of Alabama and LSU, Texas A&M’s schedule scares no one. Ten wins are certainly attainable again, and if Johnny Manziel and company beat Alabama in back-to-back years, the championship run will be well under way. Underrated games against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt could get more interesting than most perceive. Still, this offense will be downright explosive with a bevy of depth and talent all over the field. For me, it will come down to managing expectations with a target on their backs and replacing several key starters on defense as to whether or not this team plays for the BCS Championship.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Preseason ranked teams: 2 (at Texas A&M and LSU)
Strength of schedule rank: #14
Skinny: Yeah, I hear you. Alabama can’t play Alabama, but Alabama has the biggest advantage to any team in the SEC schedule-wise. Combine that with unbelievable talent at every single position across the board, and it will be a major disappointment if this team doesn’t win three in a row. The key game is week three’s throw-down with Texas A&M, but Nick Saban doesn’t get fooled twice. And you better believe that Saban is continually game planning against Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Football all the time. It consumes his thoughts.
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