10. Is Florida primed for a comeback?
Will Muschamp’s first season at Florida was underwhelming, but there is ample reason for hope in Gainesville in year two.
New offensive coordinator Brent Pease plans to bring Florida’s stagnant offense back to life after Charlie Weis’s brief tenure in Gainsville. Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are battling for the coveted starting QB spot, and hope to inject some excitement into The Swamp after a disappointing tenure under maligned QB John Brantley.
The Gators luckily get tough SEC foes LSU and South Carolina at home, as well as newcomer Missouri. Florida will also get an early chance to show what they’re made of with back-to-back road trips to Texas A&M and Tennessee in weeks two and three, respectively.
9. Will Georgia live up to the hype?
Georgia is notorious for failing to live up to preseason hype, but the Bulldogs get a chance to prove the naysayers wrong with a preseason number six ranking.
Quarterback Aaron Murray returns under center after a 2011 campaign where he threw for 35 touchdowns. Murray could prove to be the best gunslinger in the SEC.
UGA has a favorable schedule by SEC standards in 2012. They don’t have to play arguably the toughest teams in the SEC West in Alabama, LSU and Arkansas, but they do have to travel to South Carolina in week six in what could be a battle for the SEC East crown.
Georgia’s first test comes in week two when they will face a hyped up Missouri team. The Bulldogs will be without starting linebacker Alec Ogletree and starting safety Bacarri Rambo, which could leave Georgia’s defense vulnerable against James Franklin and Mizzou’s spread offense.
8. Key SEC Non-conference games.
The SEC has a bevy of exciting non-conference games scheduled for 2012, with the opening week being arguably the best.
Alabama vs. Michigan in Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium is must see college football, with Alabama putting its hopes of repeating as BCS champions on the line against a top Big Ten team.
Auburn plays Clemson for the third year in a row after two years of close games. The third installment should be as good as the first two.
LSU gets a shot at PAC-12 opponent Washington in week two, and Ole Miss gets a visit from Texas in week three.
Other notable games include Tennessee vs. North Carolina State in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Classic and Florida’s annual rivalry game with Florida State to end the regular season.
7. Derek Dooley and Tennessee.
Derek Dooley’s seat is getting warm in his third year with Tennessee, and if a coach isn’t cutting it in the SEC, three years is sometimes all he gets.
Quarterback Tyler Bray returns, along with exciting wide receiver duo Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. The Vols will be more than capable of "airing it out" in 2012 and should be able to score enough to hang with most the of teams they play against this year.
The first test comes when Tennessee hosts Florida in week three, but weeks eight and nine could define Dooley’s tenure at UT, with back-to-back games against top-ranked Alabama and South Carolina. If he can manage to upset Florida, and at least one of those two teams, he will more than likely buy himself another year as head coach.
6. Arkansas post-Petrino era begins.
Arkansas was primed for a championship run after an 11-win season last year. Their only two losses came at the hands of Alabama and LSU, the national champion and runner-up, respectively. Those championship aspirations took a hit, however, after Bobby Petrino was fired earlier this year.
The Razorbacks return star quarterback Tyler Wilson and running-back Knile Davis, who is healthy after an ankle injury that kept him out of the 2011 season. Both players are Heisman hopefuls and will contribute greatly to the Arkansas offense.
Arkansas’ season comes down to the Alabama game in week three and the LSU game to end the season. If Arky can win both of those games, they could contend for the BCS title, and Bobby Petrino would be a long-forgotten memory.
5. Will South Carolina break through this year?
Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks are getting loads of preseason love, which is well-deserved after their 11-win season in 2011.
Although South Carolina lost star running-back Marcus Lattimore halfway through the 2011 season, they still managed to beat Tennessee, Florida, Clemson and Nebraska. Lattimore returns for 2012 and gives South Carolina its most potent weapon back.
Their tell-tale stretch starts in week six with Georgia, followed by road games at LSU and Florida, before getting Tennessee at home. If they can make it through that stretch unscathed, then they may very well be the best team in the SEC.
4. New kids on the block: Texas A&M & Missouri.
Newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri are excited to be a part of the SEC, but early success won’t be easy for either team.
Texas A&M will match up with SEC big dogs Florida, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, and Alabama. The Aggies hit the road twice, both trips to the state of Alabama, to take on the Crimson Tide and Tigers. A&M has a real shot at beating both Florida and Arkansas at home early in the season.
Missouri avoids LSU and Arkansas, but still has road games at Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina. Fans shouldn’t be surprised if Missouri knocks off Georgia in week two in their first SEC home game ever.
Texas A&M and Missouri play at the end of the year in a game that could be the measuring stick for who had the most success in year one.
3. Can LSU bounce back?
LSU returns in 2012 with an abundance of talent, a manageable schedule, and a motivation to dominate after being embarrassed by Alabama in the BCS championship game last season.
The loss of Tyrann Mathieu may not hurt the Tigers as much as people think, as they will undoubtedly have other playmakers step up. LSU also replaces quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. Quarterback play in 2012 could make or break the Tigers’ season.
The season could again come down to the showdown with Alabama for the "Best in the West," where fans will get a chance to see what LSU is really made of this season.
2. Alabama tries for back-to-back BCS titles.
College football hasn’t had a national champion truly repeat since Nebraska in ’94 and ’95, but every year, someone has attempted to do it. The Crimson Tide gets its second shot to repeat in three years. Helping the cause is the return of BCS title game offensive MVP AJ McCarron and four starters on the offensive line.
Alabama avoids Eastern Division teams South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida this year, but play at Arkansas and LSU, as well as a neutral site game against a top 10 Michigan team. If the Tide can get past Michigan and Arkansas early on, the season should be another collision course with LSU on November 3. Bama would have to avoid an upset against Texas A&M, Auburn, and whoever makes it to the SEC title game from the East, but could realistically win back-to-back championships.
1. Will the SEC make it seven in a row?
This is the question on every college football fan’s mind, and is the top storyline in the nation once again.
The SEC has five teams in the Top 10 of the AP preseason poll. Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas all have very tangible title hopes going into 2012. The Georgia-South Carolina game could potentially decide who wears the SEC East crown, and the West could come down to Alabama and LSU again. With so many teams already in the Top 10, it is almost inevitable that the SEC will place a team in the title game.
Everyone outside of the South will be rooting for someone, anyone, to knock the SEC down a peg. USC has already been chosen as the team with the best chance to topple the SEC, but the Trojans have depth issues that may not be a big problem in the Pac-12, but could prove to be a glaring weakness against the SEC champion. Other possible teams to end the streak are Oregon, Oklahoma, Florida State, West Virginia or Wisconsin. When the dust settles at the end of the season, it looks like it is going to be Alabama or LSU beating either USC or Oregon for the BCS title, and SEC dominance continuing for another year.
Get Primed for 2012 >> SEC Games You Don’t Want to Miss in 2012