SEC football preview, part IV

Our 2013 SEC countdown is now to the Top 5, and at #5 is the most controversial team entering the season, the Texas A&M Aggies.

No team made a bigger splash from nowhere in 2012 than A&M, and no player was as spectacular as freshman QB Johnny Manziel. Hardly a household name and with a checkered past entering the season, Manziel was dazzling in leading the Aggies to an 11-2 season which included an upset of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and in becoming the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy. But the same character flaws from the past have surfaced again for the man commonly called ‘Johnny Football.’

At press time, Manziel is embroiled in an NCAA investigation concerning his future college eligibility. At issue are reported autograph sessions, mostly focused on last January’s BCS Championship game in South Florida. While there are numerous reports of signings and some implications of payments to Manziel, as of the writing of this there has been no hard evidence of payments having come to light. Based on what is known as fact, the chances of Manziel losing all future eligibility are slim, but some sort of suspension seems possible.

The thought of the Aggies ranking fifth entering the season however are not based on Manziel’s eligibility. It centers on substantial losses from a year ago and the fact that unlike 2012, everyone knows all about Johnny Manziel. Can anyone stop him? Alabama visits College Station on September 14 with revenge on their minds. There will be no surprise factor for Kevin Sumlin’s team this time.

We are now in national championship contending territory as the LSU Tigers come in at #4. Coach Les Miles can never be underestimated, so the fact only three starters return on defense is not nearly the concern it might be somewhere else. Entering the season there are no stars on defense for the first time in years. I think Miles prefers it that way. By the end though, freshman LB Kendell Beckwith could fill that role, anyway.

LSU has had their own share of offseason trouble with the on-again, off-again, suspensions of RB Jeremy Hill. But the Tigers are extremely deep there and should be fine with or without Hill in Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard. Zach Mettenberger returns at QB and simply must manage the offense. Big plays for would be nice, but it is the big plays against he must avoid.

LSU does not have the margin of error they have had recently. They will have to grind it out—something the Ol’ Michigan Man, Miles, loves. TCU is a stern test in the opener, as are road trips to Georgia and Alabama. Never count the Tigers out of the championship mix though, especially not this year.

The Georgia Bulldogs are at #3. The defending Eastern Division champions probably have the best offense in the country coming into 2013 led by QB Aaron Murray and the rushing tandem they call ‘Gurshall’ in sophomores Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. The entire offensive line returns along with a talented and balanced receiving corps led by Malcolm Mitchell.

But defense is the rub, and with the toughest two-game opener of any team in college football, at Clemson and vs. South Carolina, the ‘Dawgs will have no time to experiment. Only three starters return. Four all-Americans do not. Georgia will have to rely on youth. OLB Jordan Jenkins is the name to watch. If UGA wins their first two, they will unquestionably be 12-0 come the first Saturday in December.