Never-too-early SEC East predictions for 2013

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 East for 2013, shall we? Here are the never-too-early SEC East predictions for ’13:

1. Georgia Bulldogs

Key Returnees: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, RB Keith Marshall, WR Malcolm Mitchell, OL Chris Burnette, OL Kenarious Gates, OL John Theus, OLB/DE Jordan Jenkins, Chase Vasser and CB Damian Swann

Key Losses: WR Tavarres King, OLB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree, DT John Jenkins, CB Sanders Commings, SS Shawn Williams, S Bacarri Rambo and CB Branden Smith

Buzz: The good news for Georgia is the entire offense – outside of wide receiver Tavarres King – returns to make Georgia’s offense the one to look out for the in the SEC East. The Bulldogs didn’t quite put up the numbers Texas A&M’s did with Johnny Manziel, but it was just as balanced and explosive. Aaron Murray returns as an early Heisman favorite with three straight 3,000-yard seasons. He will break several records over the course of 2013. And scoring points will be at a premium next year again with all the talent lost on defense. While the talent and NFL names won’t be there, this unit has a chance to be better than 2012, assuming Todd Grantham stays as the defensive coordinator. And Georgia gets LSU on a down year and hosts South Carolina.

2. South Carolina Gamecocks

Key Returnees: QB Connor Shaw, QB Dylan Thompson, RB Brandon Wilds, RB Mike Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, OL AJ Cann, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Chaz Sutton, DT Kelcy Quarles and CB Victor Hampton

Key Losses: RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, DE Devin Taylor, LB Shaq Wilson, LB DeVonte Holloman, CB Akeem Auguste and FS DJ Swearinger

Buzz: South Carolina may not have Marcus Lattimore returning as the big name in the backfield, but I’ll remind you they have finished 9-1 over the last two years without him. However, Steve Spurrier needs to figure out who the better quarterback will be, and Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson have obvious differences and strengths. Could Spurrier elect to play two quarterbacks? Ace Sanders leaving for the NFL is a tough loss, but Bruce Ellington should step right into that role immediately. Ellington actually led the Gamecocks in receiving, not Sanders. However, the loss of Devin Taylor, Shaq Wilson, DeVonte Holloman and DJ Swearinger are concerning on defense. But expect Jadeveon Clowney to wreak all kinds of havoc against opposing offenses. Road games against Georgia, Arkansas and Missouri will be tough, but the Gamecocks do get the Gators at Williams-Brice.

3. Florida Gators

Key Returnees: QB Jeff Driskel, OL John Halapio, C Jonotthan Harrison, WR Quinton Dunbar, DL Dominique Easley, LB Antonio Morrison, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson and CB Jaylen Watkins

Key Losses: RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, WR Frankie Hammond, DE Lerentee McCray, DT Shariff Floyd, DT Omar Hunter, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins, S Josh Evans and S Matt Elam

Buzz: Florida has more questions heading into the offseason than answers. The first objective is to figure out the offense and passing game with Jeff Driskel. Secondly, they have to identify wide receivers and playmakers who can create some separation in space. Lastly, the offensive line has to do a much better job of pass blocking. It’s safe to say the only aspect of the offense Florida feels remotely good about is the running game. The Gators lose seven prominent defenders, too, but return guys at every position who have experience and have tons of talent. Florida has much work and development to get to over this offseason after such a strong 11-2 showing in ‘12. Road games at LSU and South Carolina and playing Georgia in Jacksonville will ultimately end up being the tell-tale of ‘13.

4. Vanderbilt Commodores

Key Returnees: WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Boyd, WR Jonathan Krause, RB Wesley Tate, RB Brian Kimbrow, OL Wesley Johnson, DE Walker May, DE Caleb Azubike, LB Chase Garnham, CB Andre Hal, SS Javon Marshall and FS Kenny Ladler

Key Losses: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, OL Josh Jelesky, OL Ryan Seymour, DT Rob Lohr, DT Colt Nichter, LB Archibald Barnes, CB Trey Wilson

Buzz: If you think Vanderbilt is going away or I’m crazy for projecting the Dores to finish 4th in the East, I don’t want to hear it. After getting to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history, the next step for James Franklin and the program will be beating a top 25 team – one of the big boys. Jordan Matthews return to combine with Chris Boyd as arguably the best one-two duo receiving duo in the SEC East. Losing Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy hurts, but it won’t hurt near as much when Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow get to touch the ball more often on offense. The schedule sets up that Vanderbilt could start 5-1 or better.

5. Tennessee Volunteers

Key Returnees: RB Marlin Lane, RB Rajion Neal, OL Alex Bullard, OL Zach Fulton, OL Ja’Wuan James, OL Antonio Richardson, DT Maurice Couch, DE Marlon Walls, LB Jacques Smith, LB AJ Johnson, LB Curt Maggitt, CB Justin Coleman, FS Brian Randolph, DB LaDarrell McNeil and CB Eric Gordan

Key Losses: QB Tyler Bray, OL Dallas Thomas, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, WR Justin Hunter, DE Darrington Sentimore, LB Herman Lathers and CB Prentiss Maggner

Buzz: Tennessee had an electric offense in 2012 but statistically the worst defense in Volunteer history. With Butch Jones coming in, I think Tennessee has a chance to be a better overall team in just his first season. Six wins and a bowl game are not out of the question, but replacing offensive starters like Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson is item one on the agenda. However, Jones has a solid offensive line and two returning backs as the core weapons on offense. And on defense, Tennessee can’t be worse than last season. I expect this club to show much improvement as Jones’ regime takes over. Tennessee does need some depth on defense, but overall, this team has a chance to be better than last season. Road games at Oregon, Florida and Alabama will be tough, but the Vols do host Georgia and South Carolina.

6. Missouri Tigers

Key Returnees: QB James Franklin, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, WR Marcus Lucas, WR L’Damian Washington, DE Kony Ealy, LB Andrew Wilson, CB EJ Gaines, S Braylon Webb

Key Losses: RB Kendial Lawrence, WR TJ Moe, DT Sheldon Richardson, DE Brad Madison, LB Will Ebner, CB Kip Edwards, SS Keronte Walker

Buzz: Missouri needs to get back to playing Missouri 2011 football. You know, the team that was the 12th best scoring team in the country? Gary Pinkel and Mizzou had a rude awakening their first year in the SEC, and he now knows he will need depth and talent on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Tigers need James Franklin healthy and mentally ready to play. Receivers DGB, Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington will go a long way in his development, but the Tigers need a running game and more depth on offensive line. The Tigers actually had a good year on defense, but stars like Sheldon Richardson, Brad Madison, Will Ebner and Kip Edwards will be sorely missed. There are too many personnel losses on defense and depth issues on the line of scrimmage to get excited about.

7. Kentucky Wildcats

Key Returnees: QB Max Smith, QB Jalen Smith, RB Jonathan George, RB Josh Clemons, RB Raymond Sanders, WR Demarco Robinson, DT Mister Cobble, DT Donte Rumph, DE Alvin Dupree, LB Avery Williamson and LB Miles Simpson

Key Losses: OL Matt Smith, OL Larry Warford, DE Collins Ukwu and SS Martavius Neloms

Buzz: I don’t expect Mark Stoops to come in and win six or seven games next season, but this group will show improvement and belief in their new coach. Kentucky wants to be relevant, and I think they will be relevant starting next season. Relevant enough not to finish in the bottom of the East? Probably not, but we will see improvement. Let one thing be known now – this air raid offense is going to put up some points with Max Smith. The defense just may not be deep enough right now to win six. And that’s okay. Along with playing the East powers, the Cats draw Bama in the West. It sets up as one of the toughest schedules in the SEC.

Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports