Alabama will almost certainly enter the season with the No. 1 ranking and as the favorite to win the 2013 BCS National Championship.
But if we've learned anything over the last seven years, it's that the SEC is a week-in, week-out grind and that several teams will be in the mix. Only twice during the seven-year run of SEC titles as the eventual champion run the table and finished the season undefeated (Alabama 2009, Auburn 2010).
With so much competition within the conference, it takes talent and luck to get into position to hoist the crystal football.
After back-to-back 11-win seasons—the first two 11-win seasons in school history—the South Carolina Gamecocks have to be asking, "why not us?"
That's a good question, because the chips are set up for South Carolina to make a title run in 2013.
Sure, the loss of Marcus Lattimore and seven senior contributors on defense present some challenges for head coach Steve Spurrier this spring, but the Head Ball Coach has the pieces to lead the Gamecocks through that glass ceiling.
Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds should be the primary running backs in 2013 in place of Lattimore.
Davis rushed for 275 yards and two touchdowns splitting time with Kenny Miles after Lattimore went down last season. The 216-pound rising sophomore has the size to take the pounding in the SEC, and will benefit greatly from the experience he got last season.
What Davis was last season, Wilds was two years ago. He emerged as the primary running back when Lattimore went out with his first knee injury, rushing for 486 yards and three touchdowns. He topped the 100-yard mark three times in 2011, but missed the 2012 season with an ankle injury.
"When you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any."
That's a tired cliché, and not applicable to the 2013 Gamecocks.
Connor Shaw will miss spring practice recovering from foot surgery, but he has proven to be a dynamic dual-threat playmaker during his first three seasons in Columbia. He passed for 1,956 yards and 17 touchdowns, rushed for 435 yards and three scores and presented a major headache to opposing defensive coordinators last season.
Sure, he takes too many hits and gets banged up. That's something that he needs to work on. But that kind of heart and determination that makes a champion.
It also is what has led to the emergence of Dylan Thompson as a legitimate contender for the quarterback spot for the Gamecocks. Thompson played well in Shaw's stead last season, throwing for 1,027 yards, 10 touchdowns and two picks last season, including 310 in South Carolina's win over Clemson to close out the regular season.
Whoever wins the job, or if Spurrier plays musical quarterbacks like he did in the Outback Bowl, the Gamecocks are in good shape.
The losses on defense are concerning, but it all starts up front. The Gamecocks are set in that department with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree have both played well at cornerback at times, and should step into more of a leadership role in 2013.
Plus, that schedule sets up so well.
The Gamecocks' showdown with Georgia has been moved back to Week 2, which is exactly where the Head Ball Coach likes it. They draw Arkansas and Mississippi State out of the SEC West, and get two weeks to prepare for their home showdown against Florida—which will be the last conference game of the year for both schools.
South Carolina has been dancing around the periphery of legitimate national title contention for the last two seasons. Despite the loss of several stars—including Lattimore—the best is yet to come.