Scout.com’s Southeastern Conference publishers have Alabama, winners of the last two national championships, taking the 2013 SEC title again, but not without a fight from Texas A&M in the West and Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in the East.
Alabama, of course, was picked to win the SEC Western Division, followed by Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Auburn. The Eastern Division poll had Georgia first, South Carolina second, Florida third, Vanderbilt fourth, with Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky bringing up the rear.
The publishers also provided pre-season outlooks on their teams. Over the next few days we’ll have all those outlooks, just in time for you to brief yourself for SEC Media Days. After the previews, we’ll give you our guess at how the SEC race looks to pan out.
Although you probably don’t need it, here’s the outlook we provided to all the SEC publishers:
Alabama has won back-to-back national championships and three of the last four, so there is no reason to expect a big falloff in coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in 2013. Bama returns an outstanding quarterback, a 1,000-yard rusher (who was a back-up as a freshman last year), all of its wide receivers, a large number of experienced defenders including four starting linebackers, and a punter and placekicker.
This will be Saban’s seventh season at Alabama. In that time he has put together a record of 68-13. Six of those losses came in his first season in 2007.
The spring NFL draft took three starters from Alabama’s offensive line, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round and team leader and Rimington Award winner as the nation’s best center Barrett Jones. The Crimson Tide was barely into spring practice before Saban declared the new offensive linemen (who are also working under a new assistant coach, Mario Cristobal) to be satisfactory. Returning starters Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle and Anthony Steen at right guard are regarded as potential first round NFL draft choices next spring.
If the offensive line is, indeed, satisfactory, Alabama’s offense has weapons.
Upcoming senior quarterback A.J. McCarron, the signal-caller for two national championship teams, led the nation last year in passing efficiency as he completed 211-314 (67.2 per cent) for 2,933 yards with 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
T.J.Yeldon produced the best freshman season by a running back in Crimson Tide history as he rushed 175 times for 1,108 yards (6.3 yards per carry) for 12 touchdowns and caught 11 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown – the dramatic game-winner against LSU in the final minute.
Amari Cooper was a consensus freshman All-America wide receiver as he set the Bama record with 11 touchdown receptions and broke freshman records held by Julio Jones for receptions (59) and yards (1,000).
Alabama had nine players drafted (six seniors, three juniors) and the other three seniors from the 2012 team signed free agent contracts. The big surprise was inside linebacker C.J. Mosley elected to return for his final season. Mosley led the Tide with 107 tackles last year. He’ll be joined by returning starters Trey DePriest at middle, Xzavier Dickson at jack, and Adrian Hubbard at strongside.
Although the Tide lost two of three starters in the defensive line, Damion Square is being replaced at left end by 6-4, 290-pound junior Jeoffrey Pagan and Jesse Williams is being followed at nose tackle by 6-4, 310-pound junior Brandon Ivory. Senior Ed Stinson, 6-4, 292, is a returning starter in the 3-4 defense.
The question has been in the secondary, as it was last year. Dee Milliner, who was a first round draft choice this year, was not considered a returning starter for 2012, even though he had started almost every game at nickel. One of the candidates to replace Milliner is Geno Smith, who played in 13 games at nickel. Bama also worked former receiver Cyrus Jones at cornerback and also expects Jonathan Fulton to join the fray in August, along with returning starter Deion Belue. At safety, HaHa Clinton-Dix will head to the NFL after this season.
Bama also returns a punter in Cody Mandell and placekicker in Cade Foster.
The Crimson Tide gets a bit of schedule luck with an open date before going to Texas A&M (the Aggies were the only team to defeat Alabama last year) and an open date before the always difficult LSU game. Additionally, once again this year the regular season schedule for the Tide does not include the three favorites in the SEC Eastern Division – Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina.