On Saturday, Georgia and Texas A&M kick off spring practice, and with it, all teams will continue trying to dethrone the Crimson Tide.
Steve Spurrier, along with every other SEC coach, is trying to figure out a way to make the Tide into a beatable opponent in big games.
“We’re all chasing them, everybody in college football is … but they can be beat,” Spurrier said. “I know we’re not going to out-recruit them here at South Carolina, but it doesn’t always get down to [recruiting]. Sometimes, you just have to play better than the other guy, and Alabama has been super in the big games.”
One of those teams that has a marquee game with Bama is Texas A&M in week three. I know your calendars are circled for that game already, and all coaches have Bama circled as the team and the program to become.
Here’s how each SEC team stacks up entering spring practice:
Top Shelf: Alabama
The Tide excel with the target on their back. Headed by the unflappable Nick Saban, Alabama will try to make it three national championships in a row. And the Tide return several stars in QB AJ McCarron, RB TJ Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper on offense, along with LB CJ Mosley, LB Adrian Hubbard and safety HaHa Clinton-Dix on defense. This team is experienced, talented and loaded entering another spring to gel as a 2013 team.
Next Level: Texas A&M, Georgia, South Carolina, LSU and Florida
Outside of Alabama, five other SEC teams could potentially win the SEC. Texas A&M and Georgia are the two top contenders, along with South Carolina closely following both. LSU and Florida both lose several players in the draft, most notably on defense, making the Tigers and Gators develop younger talented players in a hurry. The Aggies, led by Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin, have an explosive offense, but replacing six starters on defense is a tough test. Georgia returns arguably the most potent offense in the SEC, but they’ll have to beat South Carolina in ‘13, a team that has given the Bulldogs fits. All five of the next level teams could win the SEC Championship.
Middle of the pack: Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt
Three middle-of-the-pack teams must prove they can take the next step as a program. Mississippi State took a giant step back, finishing 1-5 in their last six after starting 7-0, while in-state rival Ole Miss finished a strong turnaround in style with a bowl win against Pitt and a stellar recruiting class. After a historic season for the Commodores, finishing ranked for the first time since 1948 and posting back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time ever, they have to find out how to beat a ranked opponent and move into real contention in the SEC East. Until MSU, Ole Miss or Vandy beats a legitimate ranked team in the SEC, they will remain in the middle of the pack at best in the SEC.
The New Guys: Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky
Four programs who all replaced head coaches have a tough road ahead of them. Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas play three of the toughest schedules in the SEC, while Auburn isn’t far behind the Vols for the easiest of the four. Mark Stoops, Bret Bielema, Gus Malzahn and Butch Jones have to change the culture of their teams, and that starts this spring. And all four teams are at the lower end of their divisions. Arkansas replaces all offensive skill positions, including Tyler Wilson and Cobi Hamilton. And like Arkansas, Tennessee replaces their big three in Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, along with inheriting the worst defense in the SEC. Kentucky must make great strides with returners to even make a bowl game in ‘13. But if there’s one team that has a chance to make a jump after only registering three wins in 2012, it would be Auburn. Malzahn will score points and has several top recruiting classes already on campus, but it’s Ellis Johnson’s defense that will have to make a big jump to reach eight wins or better. There are too many questions for these four teams.
Next on the chopping block: Missouri
Gary Pinkel is next on the coaching chopping block if he isn’t careful. The Tigers underwhelmed in their first season in the SEC, posting only two SEC wins against Kentucky and Tennessee, two teams that both fired their coaches. Pinkel has a new offensive coordinator in Josh Henson and hopefully a new identity along with him. Mizzou must return to their 2011 offensive form, or it could get rather ugly for the 12th year coach. Pinkel could become the SEC’s next head coach posting his resume on Monster.com.
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