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Deke Bellavia

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Email: bigchief@wwl.com

Deke's SEC Preview Part III: The contenders

This is part III  in Deke’s top-to-bottom breakdown of the 2013 SEC.  Today, the Big Chief takes a look at the teams bubbling just under the top.  

LSU Tigers (10-3) – How can you not consider the Bayou Bengals a legit contender in the SEC?  When you look at which team in the SEC has had the best overall record the last three years, you go to the LSU Tigers.  And when you look to see which SEC Team has had the best conference record the last 10 years, you go to LSU.

The thing that surprises me is that going into the season, not many folks are thinking too highly of LSU.  Outside of Phil Steele, everywhere I’ve looked the pre-season predictions are not high on the Tigers from Baton Rouge.

LSU has posted an SEC best 20-4 mark in the last three seasons, with an SEC Title to their credit.  And over the course of the last 10 seasons the Tigers boast an SEC best 60-20 league mark, which leads second-best Florida, with the Gators having 56 league wins in that very same time span.

The Tigers did not end the season the way they would have liked.  But when you look back over the course of the last several seasons, the Tigers have kind of tapered off in the last few games of the season.  It’s like LSU gives it their all against Alabama, and then they coast the rest of the way!

The Tigers, along with the Ole Miss Rebels, have the most difficult paths in the SEC this season.  At least, that’s my opinion.  You can look at the Tigers schedule and you can’t find one stretch where there are not at least one or two very difficult games.
In September the Tigers take on Auburn and UGA at the end of the month, and those tough games come after opening the season against a very good TCU Team.  October brings the likes of Florida and Ole Miss, and November has Alabama, Texas A&M and Arkansas.  

I think a much needed spark this off-season was needed in the Capitol City, and that spark came in the form of new Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron.  Now, I get call after call saying that folks are not buying into Cameron, and I’m OK with that.  But to say that Coach Miles will not let Cam do his thing on offense because of past offensive sputtering is to me flat-out silly.
If Miles meddles with the offense, we will see.  But until that happens I think we have to assume that it’s the ‘Cam Show’ on offense.  Bottom line is that LSU is a talented team and they are deep with solid players across the board.  But, it all comes down to the QB.

If Zack Mettenberger can play like he did against Alabama, and not like he did against Arkansas, then LSU will make a serious run in the SEC.  If Zack plays like the latter then the Tigers will once again allow most of their foes the opportunity to hang around, and that is not a good thing!

And to me, on defense it’s all about Anthony Johnson.  If Johnson lives up to his high school hype then the Tigers defense will be fine.  If Johnson does not kick it into high gear and live up to his best linemen in the land status while he prepped at O.P. Walker High on the West Bank, then look for Jermauria Rasco and Ego Ferguson to have breakout seasons.  Bottom line, someone on the Tigers D-Line needs to have a breakout season!  

Texas A&M Aggies (11-2) – Ok I’m sure the folks to the near West of us will call me a hater.  But I’m telling you, one thing about the SEC is that time will most certainly tell which teams are consistent contenders and which teams are one-year wonders.
Hell, Auburn was a one-year wonder just three seasons ago.  Now that one year wonder landed the Tigers the crystal ball.  But look at their program since that magical season.  Am I saying that A&M is the next Auburn?  No!  But what I am saying is, prove us all wrong, Aggies!  If you are all that, then another double-digit-win regular season will happen, and the solid youngster named Johnny will be back in the spotlight again in 2013.

The reason why I think that A&M will be a consistent team in the SEC for years to come is their head coach!  Kevin Sumlin is an all-business type guy who is a proven winner.  I think Sumlin is one of the best young coaches in the country and he can lead the Aggies out of the long shadows of an overrated UT program.

The Aggies welcome back 11 starters this season, with six back on offense and five more starters back on defense.  But the reason why I think that A&M has a chance to win the West this season is due to their schedule.

A&M has Alabama at home early in the season and they have to go to Baton Rouge late in the year.  Even if the Aggies drop both of those games, to me it would be a shame if this team is at the very worst a 10-2 team in the regular season.  Bad news is that sometimes 10-2 in this league means you’re left out of the SEC Title Game.  Just ask A&M!  
Florida Gators (11-2) – Well, the Florida Gators had a hangover after being left out of the national title game play in game last December in January.  The Gators got handled from start to finish in the Sugar Bowl, losing to underdog Louisville.

“I’ll tell you, have to give Louisville credit.  The Cardinals were well prepared and Coach Strong and his staff really had them ready to play,” said former Gators great and color analyst of the Florida Radio Network Scott Brantley.

Florida could be better this season and might not equal last year’s 11-win total.  The Gators welcome back six starters on offense and four on defense.  But don’t let those numbers fool you.  Coach Will Mushchamp and his staff have done a good job of landing some of the nation’s top prospects.  

For the first time since the Tebow days, the Gators look set at QB with Jeff Driskel.  Driskel can throw and run, and he is one of the best dual threat QBs in the nation.  Three O-Linemen are back as well to help pave the way up front.

The multi-talented Trey Burton is back for his senior season to help give Florida more of a spark on the offensive side of the football.  Florida did lose seven quality starters from last season’s defense that allowed only 14.5 points per game in 2012.  

Florida will be tested early in the season with a week two trip to Coral Gables to face the Hurricanes.  Miami is said to have one of their best teams in years, and this Sunshine State showdown could be a biggie early in the season.

If the Gators beat the ‘Canes, they should be 5-0 before they head to Louisiana to face the LSU Tigers.  The two best SEC Football programs over the last 10 seasons will square off in what could be an elimination game to see who gets to Atlanta.  

I think the Florida program has made some big strides the last two seasons but equaling last season’s win total is going to be difficult this season.  And to the Gator Nation, be happy you’ve got a solid UF guy leading you’re program and not the Urban Lyer from up North!  
South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2) - Did you know that in the last three seasons, the Gamecocks have the best record against their East Division foes?  In fact, SC has lost only two SEC East games in the last three years.  SC was a perfect 5-0 in 2011 but lost to two Western Division Teams keeping SC out of the SEC Title Game that season.

Steve Spurrier said he would build SC into a legit SEC Contender, and he has.  SC was 11-2 last season and now everyone in the country is on their jocks, so to speak.  DE Jadevon Clowney has a chance to go down as one of the best defensive players ever in the mighty SEC.

Clowney has by far lived up to his hype coming out of high school…and let’s be truthful here:  Had Clowney been able to go into the NFL draft last season he would have been the #1 pick last April.  South Carolina has a schedule that sets up nicely.

Basically, if the Cocks can win in Athens the second week of the season, SC could run the table.  Having their last four games of the season at home is huge especially facing the likes of Florida and a much improved Clemson team.

SC is better at QB, better on defense, and now that the Gamecocks have been able to beat everyone in the East more times than not the last few seasons, South Carolina could reign supreme in the East.   And who knows, with an SEC Title in the ATL, South Carolina could win it all!
Click HERE for Deke's SEC preview, Part II

Click HERE for Deke's SEC Preview, Part I

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People : Anthony JohnsonCam CameronCam ShowCoral GablesFlorida MissJeff DriskelKevin SumlinMilesOle MissP. Walker HighPhil SteeleSteve SpurrierStrongWill Mushchamp

07/18/2013 11:09AM
Deke's SEC Preview Part III: The contenders
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