Alabama, Texas A&M lead 2013 SEC conference preview

Thursday August 22nd, 2013
Quarterback AJ McCarron will look to lead 'Bama to a third straight BCS championship in the '13 season.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
SEC Conference Report
 
How They'll Finish
 
EAST Conference Overall
South Carolina 7-1 11-1
Florida 6-2 10-2
Georgia 6-2 10-2
Vanderbilt 4-4 8-4
Tennessee 3-5 6-6
Missouri 2-6 5-7
Kentucky 0-8 3-9
 
WEST Conference Overall
Alabama 8-0 12-0
Texas A&M 6-2 10-2
LSU 5-3 9-3
Mississippi State 3-5 6-6
Ole Miss 3-5 6-6
Arkansas 2-6 6-6
Auburn 1-7 5-7
Conference championship: Alabama def. South Carolina
 
Offensive MVP
 
QB
Johnny Manziel
2012 stats: 3,706 pass yards, 26 TD, 9 INT; 1,410 rush yards, 21 TD
2013 projection: 3,900 pass yards, 30 TD, 8 INT; 1,200 rush yards, 18 TD
Obviously, this can only happen if Manziel plays. Given the current lack of solid information concerning the NCAA's inquiry into accusations that Manziel was paid for autographs, it remains a legitimate question as to whether Manziel will take the field when the Aggies open against Rice on Aug. 31. But if the defending Heisman winner plays, he'll be surrounded by as much or more talent than last year. He'll have had an entire offseason as the starter. (Insert your own courtside/Drake/Rick Ross/Vegas joke here.) More important, Texas A&M coaches will have designed the offense around Manziel's skill set. Last year, they didn't know exactly what they had until Manziel started scaring the daylights out of Florida's defense in the first half of the Gators' win in College Station. In 2012, Manziel had one of the best seasons a quarterback has ever had. In '13, he could match or better those numbers. However, if he does miss time -- either because the NCAA suspends him or because A&M sits him as a precautionary measure -- the list of guys who could be the SEC's best offensive player is fairly deep despite being concentrated mainly on two teams. It could be Alabama's AJ McCarron or T.J. Yeldon, or it could be Georgia's Aaron Murray, Keith Marshall or Todd Gurley.
 
Defensive MVP
 
DE
Jadeveon Clowney
2012 stats: 54 tackles, 13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss
2013 projection: 55 tackles, 12 sacks, 23 tackles for loss
Clowney wrecked opposing offenses last year, and he still hasn't hit his ceiling. As long as he doesn't put things on cruise control before heading to the NFL draft, he'll be the most dominant defender in a conference full of dominant defenders. Clowney's numbers likely won't improve much because every offense will be geared toward slowing him, but that should benefit defensive line mates Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles.
Staff: Jadeveon Clowney leads SI's 2013 Preseason All-America Team
 
Breakout Star
 
LB
Jordan Jenkins
2012 stats: 31 tackles, 5 sacks, 8 tackles for loss
2013 projection: 65 tackles, 11 sacks, 20 tackles for loss
Of all the questions Georgia's defense has to answer this year, "Who replaces Jarvis Jones?" should be the most difficult. It's actually the easiest. Playing behind Jones as a true freshman linebacker last year, Jenkins quickly proved that Jones was the only better pass rusher on the Bulldogs' roster. Now a year older, Jenkins is ready to pick up where Jones left off -- most likely in opposing offense's backfields.
ANDERSON: Georgia ranks No. 12 in SI's preseason Top 25
 
Impact Freshman
 
RB
Derrick Henry
2012 stats (high school): 462 carries, 4,261 rush yards, 55 TD
2013 projection: 175 carries, 1,108 rush yards, 12 TD
If Henry's projected stats look familiar, they should. They're Yeldon's numbers from last season. 'Bama featured backs are like Sith Lords. Always there are two, a master and an apprentice. Darth Yeldon was the apprentice to Darth Lacy, just as Lacy was the apprentice to Darth Richardson, just as Richardson was the apprentice to Darth Ingram. I'm guessing the 6-foot-3, 238-pound Henry -- who broke the national high school career rushing record at Yulee (Fla.) High -- has recovered from a broken fibula and will win the apprentice job. Whether it's Henry, Altee Tenpenny or Kenyan Drake, the results will likely be the same. But if I've guessed correctly, arise, Darth Henry.
 
Coach On The Hot Seat
 
Gary Pinkel
Last season: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
Career at Missouri: 90-61 (2-6 SEC)
The first year in the SEC wasn't kind to Pinkel, who had built up a stockpile of goodwill during his mostly overachieving tenure in Columbia. Frankly, he seems a bad fit in the league. For recruiting purposes -- and sometimes just because they're slightly insane -- SEC coaches tend to have a lot of pizazz. (Even Alabama's Nick Saban has a type of driven, soul-eating pizazz.) Pinkel doesn't appear to have any pizazz of which he is aware. That won't matter if he bounces back and wins eight or nine games, because results are all that matters as long as those results are (mostly) wins. But if the Tigers struggle again, it might be time to find a more SEC-esque coach. That would be a shame, because then the world would have to live without the cyberspace wonderland that is GaryPinkel.com.
 
SEC Video Preview
 
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