College Football Preview: the South Eastern Conference

The South Eastern Conference has been, without debate, the big brother to call other collegiate football conferences for the better part of the last decade — a Goliath with no David anywhere to be seen. While everyone outside the Southeastern region will root for that to change in the coming season, it is unlikely to. Six of the top 13 preseason ranked teams hail from the SEC with Alabama holding down their familiar spot at number one. Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Florida and LSU are the other five. With talent bursting at the seams of at least half the teams in the conference, it’s not hard to imagine that one of these teams – or even two — may end up in Pasadena for the BCS Championship Game. Here’s a primer for what everyone should expect from the SEC in this coming season.

Conference Champion:

This may sound familiar to anyone who has a pulse and has ever seen a football: Alabama is the odds-on favorite to take home the SEC crown yet again. This very well could be the best team Alabama has had since the arrival of Nick Saban, which should be a scary thought to any college football fan. They return eight starters off the nation’s top ranked defense from a year ago as well as an All-American caliber quarterback in A.J McCaron, a stable of impressive receivers and yet another incredible rushing specimen, T.J Yeldon, to run the ball behind Alabama’s mountainous offensive line.


McCarron has all the right surrounding pieces for a repeat run in 2013.

Alabama, while great, is not without their faults. They do have two possible chinks in their armor. The offensive line cannot be as good as it was a year ago as they lost three players to the NFL draft, two in the top 11 picks. The other possible deficiency is in the secondary. It is a fairly green unit who lost the best cornerback in nation to the NFL draft a year early. Though new, there is no reason to not expect the young players at these positions to play much like the ones they are replacing. After all, they were recruited to Alabama for a reason.

Offensive Players to Watch

  1. Johnny Manziel QB (Texas A&M): As of this writing he is still eligible so until he is declared otherwise he must be considered the top offensive player to watch, not only in the SEC but in the nation. Johnny Football broke every meaningful offensive record in SEC history as a redshirt freshman, knocked off number one Alabama and won the Heisman. What more needs to be said? Watch this young man play football. Like him or hate him for his off the field antics, there’s no one else quite like him.
  2. Todd Gurley/Keith Marshall RBs (Georgia): These two running backs burst on to the scene as true freshmen last season to combine for 2144 yards and 25 touchdowns. Gurley ended up with more yards (1385) than did Marshall (759). Marshall’s average was slightly better (6.5 to 6.2 yards per carry) but the two consider themselves co-starters and credit each other with their success. Either could start for almost any school in the country but happen to play on the same team, making it best tandem in the nation. Think Darren McFadden and Felix Jones for Arkansas in 2007, who both went on to be first round picks in the NFL draft. These two can be that good.
  3. Aaron Murray QB (Georgia): Expect some scoring from Georgia this season. It remains to be seen if they’ll actually stop someone with all their defensive losses, but they will have one of the best offenses around. Murray is a four year starter at quarterback and has passed for over 10,000 career yards. Behind Murray, Georgia was five yards away from beating Alabama and getting into the BCS National Championship game last season and that is what drove Murray to return for his senior season and push off the NFL draft for another year. Well, that and the chance to own every last SEC record a quarterback can claim.

Defensive Players to Watch

  1. Jadeveon Clowney DE (South Carolina): In case anyone has forgotten the play that made Clowney a household name (THE HIT). While he certainly gained national notoriety for that play, he is far more than a one hit wonder. Clowney had 13 sacks last year while being double teamed more often than not. He is the slam-dunk guaranteed number one overall pick in next spring’s NFL draft. He is the single most dominant defensive force in college football and is being viewed as a once in a decade type of a player
  2. CJ Mosley LB (Alabama): Mosley an all SEC player a year ago likely would have been another high round draft pick to come from Nick Saban’s and Kirby Smart’s defense. He elected to return for his senior season and attempt to win an unprecedented third national championship in a row. He is a likely All-American candidate and has been named to the preseason Butkus and Bendnarik Award watch lists.
  3. Dominique Easly DT (Florida): Easly is one of those guys who is as interesting to watch on the field as he is off the field. The senior has played all over the line at Florida but will finish his career at defensive tackle and has been tabbed as a pre-season all SEC pick by several groups, mostly for his disruptive pass rushing ability from the inside. Off the field, he is known to watch cartoons rather than normal TV shows, doesn’t know who Bear Bryant is, and wants to pet the LSU Tiger. Easly is a great player with a lot of personality on and off the field.

Surprise Team:


Vandy may be considered another program stuck in the old-school tradition, but they’re winning more than you think.

In the flurry of headlines written about the extreme talent in the SEC, a school like Vanderbilt with little football tradition is easily lost in the shuffle. Many will be surprised to find out that ole Vandy won nine games last season and have one of the most popular coaches in college football and who will likely be offered a bigger job in the very near future. James Franklin took Vanderbilt to a bowl game in his first two seasons (records of 6-7 and 9-4), something the school had never done before. While it could be said that they benefitted from an easy schedule compared to most SEC teams, all a team can do is play whoever is on their schedule. Looking ahead to Vanderbilt’s 2013 schedule, it is certainly more difficult, but they should expect another eight or nine win season and a trip to another bowl game. More importantly for Vanderbilt football, they should be competitive against just about every team they play.


Nick Saban versus the future of football

116 wins, 29 loses, five SEC titles, four BCS National Championships and not one losing season — this is the resume of Nick Saban since he entered the SEC and started his run of college football dominance in 2000, with the exception of his two season stint with the Miami Dolphins. The way Saban has marched through the most difficult conference in football, especially since taking the reins of the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2007, is incredible and rivaling only the unprecedented. In fact, no coach has ever won three national titles in consecutive seasons and Saban is looking to be the first to do so this year. He has taken on all challengers on the biggest stage and embarrassed some of college football’s proudest programs (If you listen carefully you can still hear Manti Te’O whiffing the tackle on another Alabama ball carrier). Why then, with everything going so well, does something seem to be bothering the reigning emperor of college football?

Saban has been publically outspoken against the trend of constantly high tempo offenses who run up to 80 or 90 plays in a game and never stop huddle and who rarely substitute. He has claimed he is worried about player safety in regards to the added stress of extra plays. There is no evidence to show that this type of offense causes any more injuries on either side of the ball — other than the common conception that if you run more plays naturally more hits are going to be given and taken.

Saban has also publically asked the question, “Is this what we want football to be?” More people are watching college football than ever on TV, attendances are at all time highs, and revenues are skyrocketing with increase every year. Considering top players are flocking to programs that run these exciting and diverse attacks, and fans are tuning it for it, it seems to be a unanimous ‘yes’ to Saban’s question.


“Rather than trying to beat their helmets against a brick wall looking for a soft spot, smart men in the sport are looking for ways around that wall, and slowly they are finding those ways.”

The coach is a very smart man. He wouldn’t be in the position he’s in if he wasn’t. Saban knows all of what is being said and what has been studied about the game and its health risks and certainly doesn’t need to turn to the media for answers.

Nick Saban is scared.

It is likely that Saban has finally found the one thing besides his own retirement and nuclear war that could put an end to his historic run, the breakneck speed and execution of the no-huddle, hurry-up spread-style offenses that have taken the sport by storm over the last ten years. This nightmare started for Saban in 2010 when Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers with a new fast paced, dizzying offense under the tutelage of then offensive coordinator and now head coach Gus Malzahn erased a 24 point deficit in just over a half to beat Alabama to earn the right to go to the SEC title game and eventually win the 2010 BCS National Championship. Fast forward almost two years to November 10th 2012 when conference new comer and expected punching bag, Texas A&M came into Tuscaloosa. With them, they brought a high flying offense built on speed, tempo, and execution and a highly touted 6 foot, 200 lb freshman QB whom Alabama was surely going to put in his place, right? Wrong. In casual terms, the freshman balled out. Johnny “Football” Manziel passed for 253 yards and two scores and added another 92 defender dodging yards on the ground on his way to becoming Johnny Heisman before the night was out.

It’s difficult to blame Saban for wanting the spread gone as it seems to have become the only chink in his crimson armor. There is not a team in the college ranks any given year that could line up and go punch for punch with the Tide. They have the biggest and best recruits and the best coach this — and maybe any — generation has ever seen. Rather than trying to beat their helmets against a brick wall looking for a soft spot, smart men in the sport are looking for ways around that wall, and slowly they are finding those ways.

If Nick Saban’s run atop the college football world is to come to an end this will be how it’s done, and the coach knows it. Unfortunately for Saban, this is the 21st century and these “hair on fire” style offenses are here to stay. The choices are to accept the reality, adapt the way he coaches his defenses, and take his place at the table with the greatest of all time or stay the course and slowly fall back to earth as other top programs begin surpass Alabama sooner rather than later.