Southeastern Conference: 2012-13 Football Stock Watch

Kurt WirthCorrespondent IAugust 20, 2012

Southeastern Conference: 2012-13 Football Stock Watch

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    This just in: The SEC can play football.

    Most any other sport too, for the record.

    In one of the sport's most controversial national title games ever, the league played itself for the championship, guaranteeing a sixth-straight national title for the conference.

    After 219 total national titles in all sports, the SEC is now recognized as the most competitive and elite group of athletics programs in the country.

    It's not easy to stay on top.

    Auburn, who won the title just a year ago, finished last season with an 8-5 record and unranked. That 8-5 record was identical to that of the Tigers' season preceding their run to perfection.

    Florida, who claimed the 2006 and 2008 championships, finished 2011-12 with just seven wins.

    The SEC is bubbling over with talent, but knowing which bubbles to trust and which will pop isn't an easy task.

    Here's the indisputable, perfect, guaranteed-to-be-correct predictions on which direction your favorite SEC team is headed.

Alabama Crimson Tide: Sell

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    You know what they say about there not being anywhere to go, right?

    The Tide would need to win 14-straight games to improve on their mark from a year ago, and that's a tall task. Making matters worse, Alabama brings home just 40.3 percent of its rushing and 35.6 percent of its receiving.

    By no means am I suggesting that a Nick Saban-coached team will not be competitive, but it's a safer bet to pick against back-to-back titles this year, 'Bama fans.

Arkansas Razorbacks: Hold

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    The Razorbacks seemed to be on a majestic bike ride across the open highway of the SEC, cruising toward a potential national title run.

    The temptress of scandal was a bit too seductive for Bobby Petrino, and the entire plan came crashing around him. Literally.

    Okay, enough metaphors.

    After the rather unsurprising indiscretion of Bobby Petrino, about which he is fervidly sorry, all eyes will be on how the 'Backs respond.

    There's a lot to like. Arkansas is among the elite in the conference in the amount of talent returning, including first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson. Wilson is All-American and potential Heisman material.

    He'll have a massive roster of talented wide receivers to toss it to, and a [finally] healthy Knile Davis to help carry the load.

    Arkansas would be my pick to represent the league in its seventh-straight national title appearance, if it weren't for the offseason mess. As it stands, there are a lot of questions to be answered off the field and on the sidelines.

Auburn Tigers: Sell

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    Drugs are bad, folks.

    This is less political commentary and more so pointed at collegiate athletes, who seem unable to process how breaking the rules equals losing your future.

    Michael Dyer, as an an example, "transferred" to Arkansas State before losing his scholarship there without taking a single snap. Dyer rushed for 1,293 yards a year ago and placed second in the league with an average of 103.5 yards per game.

    Talent or not, that's some difficult production to replace.

    Auburn enters the season hovering just outside the Top 25, and it simply seems that there is too much to replace at the skill positions and on defense for the Tigers not to slip up a bit.

Florida Gators: Hold

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    Gainesville is at the peak of a talent-rich state, which is located in a talent-rich section of the country that obsesses over football.

    Granted Urban Meyer, who "retired" and is now coaching the SEC's arch-nemesis, had his ups and downs, but Muschamp turned the competition down a few notches in 2011-12.

    A year ago, the only team with a winning record that the Gators were able to unseat was called Furman. Its superstar quarterback who never developed correctly is gone. Things look bleak at a once-feared program.

    Defensively, Florida will be special. I don't believe Muschamp to be a poor coach, and there's too much talent for UF to fall short of expectations for too long. Things will change, and the question is only one of timing.

Georgia Bulldogs: Buy

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    Aaron Murray has planted himself among the top of the league's quarterbacks with his maturity and decision-making, already having brought a divisional title to Athens.

    Remember this name, because your defense sure will.

    The Bulldogs return a wealth of talent and experience from a 10-4 SEC East championship year and could be headed for bigger things. With the SEC West running away, is UGA the tortoise that makes 2012-13 its comeback year?

Kentucky Wildcats: Hold

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    Stock prices on Kentucky football are low—lower than they've been in quite some time, as a matter of fact.

    Let's be honest here. No Southeastern Conference team that is able to recruit—at the minimum—2 and 3-star recruits more easily than its fans can suck down sweet tea, should ever rank much below 70th or so nationally in any statistic.

    Kentucky completed 2011-12, if you can call it that, ranked 118th in offense. That's third-to-last, and two spots below national powerhouse Memphis.

    Losing a great deal on defense and returning any amount of offense that putrid won't move a lot of bets. Best to hold off and see how much longer Phillips will last at UK.

LSU Tigers: Hold

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    Losing your top two quarterbacks isn't easy for any team, but the road is paved with pillowed cobblestones for the Tigers in 2012-13.

    Some teams rebuild, some reload. LSU, under mastermind Les Miles, is quite clearly a member of the former category.

    Baton Rouge is one of an elite group of locations that can call itself home to as many recruiting stars as it deems fit. No position will be thin, and no position will be without talent.

    Led by one of the nation's most outstanding offensive lines and group of running backs, the Tigers are a very real threat to return to the BCS title game.

Mississippi State: Hold

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    Losing a starting quarterback, running back and a first-round defensive tackle isn't something most schools could recover from quickly. Mississippi State, a traditional SEC cellar-dweller, is among that group.

    Things aren't all bad in Starkville, though. Quarterback Tyler Russell became the starter late last season, so he has some experience leading the team. A true pocket passer, Russell has a style that is radically different than the Bulldogs have been utilizing the past several years.

    A pass-happy offense loves talented receivers, and the Bulldogs bring back nearly every member of a talented group of them. The defense also brings back a very solid core, meaning that improvement this year isn't out of the question.

    Dan Mullen has done well in his rebuilding efforts at State. There are some big shoes to fill, but MSU might just break through the SEC West glass ceiling if he's able to fill them.

Missouri Tigers: Sell

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    "Injury" is the last word that you want to see on a depth chart when you're migrating into the nation's most elite and challenging conference.

    If you're head coach Gary Pinkel, you certainly don't want the red-colored cross to be next to the name of quarterback James Franklin.

    Franklin ranked 15th in the country last season with 3,846 yards of offense, including 2,865 yards of passing and 36 touchdowns. Spring practice meant a throwing-arm injury that required surgery for Franklin, and his recovery will largely determine if Missouri will have any firepower at the moment of battle.

    A lack of experience for the receivers and injuries in the defense add to the impression that this could be a tough transitional year for the Tigers.

Ole Miss Rebels: Hold

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    A new coach, a new athletics director and a team struggling to compete on an FBS level.

    Things are not well in Oxford, Mississippi.

    The struggles for the Rebels have been well-documented—two wins, the least since 1946. They have an offense ranked 114th in the country and a defense ranked 90th.

    With so little returning and nothing in the cupboard to begin with, Hugh Freeze has a lot of work ahead of him.

South Carolina: Buy

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    Turns out Steve Spurrier still has it.

    He's quickly turned the Gamecocks into an SEC East power, winning the division title two years ago and falling just short last year. This year will be just as close.

    A dual-threat quarterback that isn't a screw-up in Connor Shaw combined with an All-American-caliber running back in Marcus Lattimore means that USC will be shifting to a rush-heavy offense. And it should be a potent one.

    Talent returns on defense, and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Gamecocks could very well be representing the East in Atlanta again in 2012.

Tennessee: Buy

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    Growing pains.

    Head coach Derek Dooley knew that, returning just three starts on his offensive line in 2011-12, there would be some.

    A missed bowl game later, the rest of the nation knew it too.

    Things are looking up. Tyler Bray—however messed up his antics may be off the field—gives UT an accurate, reliable quarterback [when he's not suspended] and Da'Rick Rodgers will be there to throw to. The run game will be a question mark, but who doesn't have a question mark in the preseason?

    Fact is, the Vols will be bowling this season. An easier schedule, more talent and more experience should vault UT near the top sphere of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Texas A&M: Sell

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    Any transition into a new power league is bound to be challenging.

    Doing so without a record-breaking quarterback should be daunting.

    It's a two-man race for the new starting position between sophomore Jameill Showers and redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. Neither is ready to step into the shoes of Ryan Tannehill.

    With holes at tackle and kicking, the Aggies picked a bad year to transition into such a difficult league.

Vanderbilt: Buy

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    Bowl games are a big deal in Nashville.

    Vanderbilt has competed in just five bowls ever. Five. They've won two.

    The 2011 Liberty Bowl was one of the five. Win or not, Commodore fans were excited to be seeing the postseason.

    It's not a sight that will seem unfamiliar this coming December, either.

    Jordan Rodgers brought a 69 percent improvement on offense when he stepped into the quarterback slot, and even he will have to hold off former Mountain West Freshman of the Year Austyn Carta-Samuels.

    Zac Stacy rushed for 1,193 yards and returns as the league's leading back.

    Vanderbilt isn't Vanderbilt anymore. Get ready to see the 'Dores in back-to-back bowls for the first time in history.

Final Assessment

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    Those jealous of the SEC and its dominance rationalize in creative ways.

    One of those arguments is that the league is top-heavy. In the current string of six national championships, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and LSU have all claimed at least one.

    Heading into 2012, it seems to me that Alabama might take a step slightly backward from dominance while LSU remains the team to beat. Arkansas is a wild card perfectly able to step into that role, and as we've seen before, any team could surprise us.

    With that said, the "weaker" teams of the league have never seemed stronger. Only Ole Miss seems completely out of the bowl picture, while Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Mississippi State all seem poised to take a step forward.

    The Southeastern Conference has been, is and will be dominant. The trend continues this year with talent top-to-bottom.