Brilliant head coaching minds across the nation’s most dominant conference have proven it time and time again: It is a ferocious, tenacious defense that wins championships.
Just ask Les Miles, Nick Saban and Will Muschamp, all of whom boast some of the nation’s most successful programs and defensive units.
However, the coach of SEC newcomer Texas A&M marches to a different drummer, or sings a different tune, or tells a different tale (or insert your favorite cliche metaphor here).
The Aggies brought in Kevin Sumlin from Houston, hoping the offensive mastermind would help the program make a splash in its new conference.
Instead, Sumlin and Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel turned the league on its head. A&M dominated games in a manner so prolific that Miles, Saban, Muschamp and all the rest were forced to go back to the drawing board this offseason and figure out new ways to break down Sumlin’s innovative ‘stun gun’ offense. This, of course, in spite of the fact that LSU and Florida beat Texas A&M in 2012.
Johnny Football will be back in 2013, keeping folks on the edge of their seats with his gunslinging attitude and his free-flowing game play — but he will not be a one-man show in College Station next season. Mike Evans may make a name for himself as one of the top receivers in the conference in 2013.
Except for the fact that several other pass catchers will have something to say about that.
Donte Moncrief of Ole Miss teamed up with quarterback Bo Wallace for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns, and with another offseason to work together, may just dominate the SEC headlines in 2013. If it is not them, the Vanderbilt trio of Jordan Matthews, Chris Boyd and JUCO transfer tight end Brandon Vandenburg will.
Or Amari Cooper of Alabama. There are very few defenses in the nation that are going to have a prayer at stopping the nation’s most efficient passer in 2012, Tide quarterback AJ McCarron, in his efforts to air it out to Cooper or hand the ball off to 1,000-yard rusher TJ Yeldon.
Not to be outdone by Yeldon’s exploits as a freshman, however, Georgia boasts two running backs who tore up the league as diaper dandies. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, better known as the dynamic two-headed monster “Gurshall”, are gearing up for huge sophomore seasons behind record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray. Murray, like McCarron, chose to return for his senior year, and he should easily break the SEC’s all-time touchdown pass record set by Danny Wuerffel of Florida.
Nearly 20 years after the fun ‘n’ gun days at The Swamp, Florida has plenty weapons of its own. Quarterback Jeff Driskel was the nation’s No. 1-quarterback recruit out of high school, and his tools are on par with those of Tim Tebow — only with a stronger, more accurate arm. With a full offseason as the team’s undisputed starter, he will be expected to make waves in 2013. While he makes waves, however, Matt Jones will be looking to make a name for himself as he replaces the graduated Mike Gillislee at running back.
South Carolina attempts to replace legendary running back Marcus Lattimore, Vandy tries to replace Zac Stacy, Mizzou tries to replace Kendial Lawrence, but Tennessee may have to work the hardest to compete offensively next year.
The Volunteers lose not one, but two potential first round draft picks at wide receiver in Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, as well as the talented but inconsistent Tyler Bray at quarterback.
Arkansas loses Tyler Wilson, one of the most prolific passers in school history, to the NFL Draft as well.
Thus, the league will be seeing quite a bit of youth out of these teams, as well as at rebuilding programs such as Kentucky and Auburn. The Wildcats, under new head coach Mark Stoops, must choose between the fragile Max Smith and his canon for an arm or dual-threat super-talent Jalen Whitlow.
Auburn also brings in a first-year head coach in Gus Malzahn. He must decide between Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace, both of whom are inexperienced but have the talent to succeed. At least whomever Malzahn chooses will have the benefit of handing the ball off to 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason, who is primed to run roughshod across the conference next season.
Mississippi State and LSU both have quarterbacks who must prove themselves as seniors in order to bring their teams to the next level. Tyler Russel needed a lot more cowbell towards the end of 2012, as his numbers — and the Bulldogs’ wins — tailed off towards the end of the season. Zack Mettenberger has all the tools to be a great passer, and he got progressively better as the season wore on. However, he laid a dud against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and must prove he can be consistently great in order to carry the load in Baton Rouge.
However, with running backs Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard all on board, Mettenberger may just have to turn around and hand the ball off in order to help get the Tigers rolling.
Offensive line talent is great across the board, headlined by Florida’s DJ Humphries, A&M’s Jake Matthews and Bama’s Anthony Steen.
Teams will be able to pass, run, and block their way to massive point totals and to victories.
But who will do it best? Will A&M continue to change the way football is played in the conference, or will old-school stalwarts Alabama and Georgia prove the SEC is dominated on the ground and with efficient passing? Will a number of teams’ passers prove they have what it takes to carry the load?
We have no idea, but you do. Now is the time.
We’re just going to come right out and ask it …