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2013 SEC football preview: Six teams that will compete for the BCS national championship


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Seven straight championships just isn't enough

Seven straight championships just isn't enough
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Seven consecutive championships are not enough when you're playing on, coaching for, or cheering for a team out of the Southeastern Conference, where the league champion plays for the national title.

Every year.

The outsiders, the haters, and the doubters will all point to the bottom of the standings and make claims to the effect of 'But there's no depth.' or 'The SEC is top heavy'. That's fine, because on one hand, they're right.

Kentucky and Auburn will not be winning a national championship in 2013. Of course, neither will Georgia Tech in the ACC, for example. Or 11 teams in the Big Ten, for that matter. Or Colorado way out west, along with every Pac-12 team save for potentially Oregon or Stanford.

You get the point.

No conference boasts so much talent across so many teams at the top of their respective league. No conference will have a prayer of boosting six of its teams into the nation's top 10-overall ranking slots.

No other league has these six schools, all of which will be competing for the SEC Championship, and, as the last seven years have indicated, the BCS National Title as well.

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Alabama Crimson Tide (2012 record: 13-1 overall, 7-1 in-conference)

Alabama Crimson Tide
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Tide comes in first alphabetically and first in everything else in recent college football history.

Generally speaking, the only thing harder than winning a national championship is repeating as champions. However, in winning three BCS National Titles in the previous four seasons, Bama's finest has made it look relatively easy.

Considering it has been four years, one might be led to assume the program might need to time take a step back and rebuild.

However, coach Nick Saban's team does not rebuild, but instead simply reloads.

A three-peat could very well be in the works here. Quarterback AJ McCarron led the nation in passer efficiency as a junior, and he will be returning for his senior season. The same goes for leading tackler CJ Mosley and two-year starter on the offensive line Anthony Steen.

TJ Yeldon rushed for 1,000 yards in the regular season and broke 100 against Notre Dame in Miami -- all as a true freshman. He and fellow diaper dandy, wide receiver Amari Cooper, are both going to be stars in their encore performance.

And all will be doing so on a team that will be ranked No. 1 to open the 2013 football season.

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Florida Gators (11-2, 7-1)

Florida Gators
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If the Gators' expected 2013 result were to be in direct proportion to the team's improvement from 2011 to 2012, Will Muschamp's crew would not be winning the BCS title, but the Super Bowl.

Such was the wide gulf in performance between Muschamp's 7-6 first year as head coach and the 11-2 final record in just his second.

Offensively, Year 3 of the Muschamp tenure should continue to show the same type of vast progression, especially from quarterback Jeff Driskel. After seeing the field a little bit in the disastrous 2011 season as a true freshman, Driskel was asked to mainly just manage games as a sophomore. However, the team loses All-SEC senior back Mike Gillislee, and as a junior with a full year of starting experience all eyes will certainly be on Driskel.

Especially considering the fact that the Gators will probably have to put up far more points than last season. Defensively, the team loses both starting safeties (Matt Elam, Josh Evans) three linebackers (Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic, Lerentee McCray) and star defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

It will be the year of the true sophomore within the Florida front seven. Defensive linemen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard, as well as linebacker Antonio Morrison, are all expected to step up and play at an elite level in just their second season.

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Georgia Bulldogs (12-2, 7-1)

Georgia Bulldogs
Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Talk about a loaded weapon. The Bulldogs' offense in 2013 is going to have a license to do more cool things, both hard-nosed and gadgetry, than James Bond.

Gerogia players, coaches and fans know all about the heartbreaking, four-point loss to Bama in the SEC Championship game, a deficit which cost the program a shot at beating down Notre Dame.

However, the entire Dawgs offensive starting cast is back for more, headlined by the senior record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray. If Murray plays as he is capable, he will leave Athens as not the school, but the SEC record-holder in touchdown passes, career yardage and pass completions.

However, in all likelihood, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Murray, and his two returning young gunnin' running backs in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will have to put up points in bunches.

Why? Because a defense that gave up 44 points to Tennessee and 29 to a garbage Kentucky team lost arguably the nation's top linebacker, Jarvis Jones, to the NFL Draft. He left a year early, as did Alec Ogletree, another beastly linebacker. Run-stuffing, 350-plus pound defensive tackle John Jenkins is also gone with the wind.

Coach Mark Richt is going to have to pull a Q and come up with some slick ideas if this defense is going to get the program to its first title game since 1980, but he absolutely has the talent to get the job done -- just like Q, for that matter.

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LSU Tigers (10-3, 6-2)

LSU Tigers (10-3, 6-2)
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn't really seem fair to call a 10-win season a 'down year', but such is life in Death Valley. The issue is that Coach Les Miles lost the only three games he and his team really had to win: Against Florida and Alabama in the regular season and in suffering an upset to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Even worse, he and his coaching staff are losing 10 guys to the NFL Draft, an almost insurmountable level of attrition.

Almost.

Like Alabama and Florida, the talent necessary to win every single game, in every single season, will always be available at a place like LSU. Thus, despite the fact that the Tigers are losing Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan along the defensive line, as well as linebacker Kevin Minter, corner Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid, Miles has elite bodies ready to step in and step up. Jalen Mills finished fourth on the team in tackles as a freshman defensive back.

Perhaps more importantly, Miles should have an offense that can take the load off of a defense that will be learning on the fly in the early going. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger struggled in his first season after coming over from junior college, but he looked much more comfortable later in the season.

Miles is going to be able to pick and choose from a stable of running backs to ride to a potential national title berth. Jeremy Hill led the team in 2012 and he will only be a true sophomore in 2013. Alfred Blue returns from an ACL tear and Kenny Hilliard is just plain good at football.

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South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2, 6-2)

South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2, 6-2)
Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports

The Ole' Ball Coach's team finished the 2012 season with 11 wins for the second straight season. That was a first for the program.

However, coach Steve Spurrier, all-universe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and the rest of the Gamecocks don't have anything to show for it -- no conference title.

Could next year be the year South Carolina finally breaks through?

Whereas several other teams on this list are losing their best defensive players, the Gamecocks have Clowney. At 6-foot-6 and just over 250 pounds, the soon-to-be-junior is a one-man wrecking crew and a favorite to become the first exclusively defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy.

Spurrier was first named a head coach way back in 1983, when he was a relative spring chicken at 37. In all of that time, Spurrier has never surprised anyone in repeatedly going with two quarterbacks in the same game. In 2012, both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson both saw significant playing time, and both are returning in 2013.

Their experience should take a boatload of the pressure off the team's running game. Superstar Marcus Lattimore will not be returning to campus, instead opting to enter the NFL Draft. The team also loses senior Kenny Miles, putting the rushing duties squarely on the shoulders of Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds.

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Texas A&M Aggies (11-2, 6-2)

Texas A&M Aggies (11-2, 6-2)
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Why not?

You can guarantee that question, or some semblance thereof, will be posed to Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel a thousand times between now and the beginning of next season.

For example: Why not put the numbers up to become the first to repeat as Heisman winner since Archie Griffin?

Why not lead the Aggies to an SEC championship and a berth in the national title game in just the program's second season in the new league?

Well, honestly, why not?

The team is losing two guys that are both set to be taken in the top 5 in the upcoming NFL Draft in defensive end Damontre Moore and offensive tackle Luke Joeckel. That said, Jake Matthews is also seen as a potential top 5 selection, and he is being slid over to left tackle, Joeckel's old spot and the most important on the line.

Coach Kevin Sumlin's defense is going to be a bit tougher to sort out. Including Moore, the Aggies lose five of their top six tacklers. Defensive back Tony Hurd is going to be a senior, and he is going to be asked to step up in a big way.

Then again, the Aggies have got themselves Johnny Football under center, so, what the heck?

Why not?

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Where do each of these teams rank in our way too early BCS top 25?

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