SEC Football: 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in 2013

Jake Martin@JakeMartinSECCorrespondent IIIJanuary 8, 2013

SEC Football: 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in 2013

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    If the 2013 season is anything like the 2012 season was in the SEC, fans should expect the unexpected.

    Oh how cliche, right? But seriously, this season took many by surprise. The perfect example is the rise of Texas A&M. After all, where did the Aggies come from? "The Big 12 doofus." Yeah, I hear ya.

    Better yet, where did Johnny Manziel come from? Manziel and the Aggies won 11 games in their inaugural SEC season, while Missouri (who was supposed to compete in the SEC East) won just five games. And speaking of the SEC East, how about the resurgence of Florida?

    Who saw that coming as quickly as it happened? "Uh, been saying it all along." Of course you have, Gator nation.

    So 2012 was a riveting year full of engaging, surprising storylines, but what storylines will 2013 bring? Here are a few to keep an eye on.

The Success of the New Coaches

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    Let's start with the new faces.

    2012 was the year of the hot seat, and none of the coaches were able to cool that seat down. It cost Derek Dooley, Joker Phillips and Gene Chizik their head coaching jobs. Heck, John L. Smith couldn't even make Arkansas think twice without getting rid of him.

    So now it's time for the new coaches to come in and try to get Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn and Arkansas back on track.

    The most intriguing of the new hires has to be Bret Bielema to Arkansas and Gus Malzahn to Auburn. Can Bielema's ground-and-pound style transition well in the SEC, and will Malzahn's familiarity with the program be enough to pull it out of the shadow of Alabama?

LSU's Offensive Progression

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    Here again, aren't we, Les?

    Before any fan tries to make a claim that Les Miles should be fired, please read this. Look, Miles shouldn't take the (full) blame for what happened to LSU against Clemson. There's obviously a problem with LSU's offense, and it has always been there.

    First thing's first, Miles needs to find a true offensive coordinator and allow him to dictate the play-calling. Miles is not a bad coach, but he sometimes tries to put his hand over the offense, when in reality, the offense would be much better without him doing so.

    For LSU in 2013, it's all about growth on offense. With Zach Mettenberger, a stable of backs returning and experience upfront and at wide receiver all coming back, there's no reason the Tigers should finish 10th in the SEC in total offense, like they did in 2012.

Johnny Football Part II

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    This feels like the main event doesn't it?

    The main attraction of 2012 was Johnny Football, so it's only fitting that Manziel be the star of 2013. And a star he shall be.

    Teams around the league will have a better feel for Manziel after his record-shattering performance one year ago, but don't get it twisted—Manziel will still be running around, high-stepping and juking defenders all season long.

    The real question is will Manziel have a strong enough year to win him a second straight Heisman? This is something every college football fan will keep an eye out for next year.

Can James Franklin Continue to Elevate Vanderbilt?

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    James Franklin has done the unthinkable.

    As the head coach of Vanderbilt, Franklin has transformed the Commodores from being pushovers in the SEC East to a nine-game winning, Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Championship team.

    Yeah, get your laughs in now. "They won the Music City Bowl? Freaking congrats..." Look, it's not every season you see Vanderbilt make a bowl game, much less win one. So for all of those die-hard Vanderbilt fans out there (a total of 23), enjoy this season and thank the good Lord above for Franklin.

    Because really, the odds will be stacked heavily against Vanderbilt in 2013. Vanderbilt will lose Zac Stacy and Jordan Rodgers, and the schedule will get much tougher. But hey, you'd be a fool to write Franklin off.

Who Will Be the Dark Horse?

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    Who will be the surprise team of 2013?

    As mentioned in the intro of this slideshow, Texas A&M was the surprise team of 2012, so who will take the league by surprise in 2013?

    It seems like every year, one SEC team comes out of nowhere to surprise many. Last year was the Aggies and the Gators, and in 2010, Auburn rose to championship caliber in the blink of an eye.

    Will Missouri step up in the SEC East? Can Auburn or Arkansas somehow compete in the SEC West? Will Ole Miss shock everyone in 2013? One of these teams is bound to make noise.

Can Florida Rebound?

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    Seriously, what happened to Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl?

    We all knew Teddy Bridgewater was good, but Florida made him look like an NFL quarterback. After the Gators had such a strong defensive performance in 2012, it really took everyone by surprise that Bridgewater was able to throw for 266 yards and two touchdowns against this supposed elite defense.

    So heading into next year, Florida will have a bad taste in its mouth. Can Will Muschamp use this to motivate the Gators and have them ready to compete for an SEC title?

    LSU showed this past season that it's tough to get over that mental psyche of being humiliated in the last game of the season, but then again, Alabama proved otherwise when the Crimson Tide went undefeated and won the national championship in 2009 after losing to Utah 31-17 in the 2009 Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Will Georgia's Offense Be Strong Enough to Carry the Losses on Defense?

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    Georgia fans received great news when Aaron Murray announced he was returning.

    With Murray returning, the Bulldogs will have much firepower on offense. Thinking about Murray, Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Malcolm Mitchell all coming back should make Georgia fans grin from ear to ear.

    But then, they're reminded that the defense will be without Jarvis Jones, John Jenkins, Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and Alec Ogletree. Yikes.

    This Bulldogs' defense will have a lot of new, fresh faces, and growing pains are to be expected. Can Georgia's offense carry the team in 2013 or will the loss of defensive talent be too much for this team to overcome?

Is Jadeveon Clowney a Real Heisman Threat?

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    Jadeveon Clowney started his Heisman campaign next season on Jan. 1, 2013.

    We all saw it. Clowney slid through the offensive line untouched and met Vincent Smith in the backfield about as violently as you can.

    The hit uprooted Smith's helmet and it forced Smith to fumble the football. It pretty much is already the biggest hit of 2013, and for those that didn't know about Clowney before, they surely know about him now.

    Clowney should be the best defensive player in the country next season, but can a defensive end actually win the Heisman Trophy? If any defensive end could, it would be Clowney.

Does Mississippi Now Belong to Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss?

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    Chill out, Mississippi State. Take a few months to recover from that ice cold beatdown delivered by Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels.

    The battle for Mississippi in 2012 can be summed up by a box score; "41-24," is all Ole Miss fans have to say for a year, and it must be sweet after losing to Dan Mullen and Mississippi State for the past three seasons.

    Because Mullen wouldn't just win and let it go. He would tell the entire state of Mississippi with billboards that Mississippi State was the premier university in Mississippi.

    That might come back to bite Mullen after Freeze and the Rebels won the Egg Bowl, 41-24. Is Mississippi Freeze's state now?

Can Any Team Beat Alabama?

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    Alabama is the flagship program in the SEC.

    You want to stare at the face of greatness? All you have to do is look at the way Nick Saban runs Alabama, and you will bear witness to the premier college football program.

    But Alabama can't keep winning can it? Surely, a team out there will step up to knock Alabama off of its pedestal. Maybe, but then again, maybe not. As long as Saban is coaching this team, Alabama will be well-disciplined and talented. You can bank on it.

    So can Manziel can lead Texas A&M past the Crimson Tide in 2013? We'll see. Maybe LSU can get its offense intact before the Tigers play Alabama next season. Would've, could've should've... One thing's for sure, Alabama will be the favorite and "to be the man, you've got to beat the man."