SEC Football: Ranking the SEC West for the 2013 Season
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There's no denying the Southeastern Conference is the best conference in all of college football. But if that wasn't enough, the SEC might have the strongest division in the country in the SEC West.
Five of the last six national championships have hailed from the SEC West, with the Alabama Crimson Tide winning three of the past four national titles. And Nick Saban and company aren't going anywhere.
The addition of Texas A&M only strengthened the conference, and two teams that struggled last season—Auburn and Arkansas—acquired new head coaches to turn their programs around.
Needless to say, the SEC West is set to dominate the college football landscape once again in 2013, and there's not much that any other division can do about it.
Here we rank the teams that make up the SEC West for the 2013-14 season.
New head coach Bret Bielema will have a tough time adjusting to the SEC in his first year at Arkansas.
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The Razorbacks hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin to pull the Arkansas program out of the ashes and back into the spotlight. But the departure of quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis will make the new road that much harder to travel for the first-year coach.
The schedule for the Razorbacks doesn't make Bielema's task any easier. Arkansas faces SEC West foes Alabama and LSU on the road, and it must battle Florida and South Carolina from the SEC East.
It is a tough road ahead for Bielema and the Razorbacks, and it will be difficult to keep up with the rest of the division.
6. Mississippi State
Senior quarterback Tyler Russell and the Bulldogs will trail off from the progress they made last year.
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The Bulldogs finished the 2012 season with an 8-5 record, but Mississippi State lost a lot to the 2013 NFL draft. Both starting cornerbacks are gone, and the passing games for the offenses of the rest of the SEC West aren't getting any weaker.
After Mississippi State lost to Alabama last year, after starting the season 7-0, the brakes fell off the car for the Bulldogs and they were only able to salvage one more victory.
Senior quarterback Tyler Russell is back, but doesn't possess the star skill set like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. He alone can't carry the team.
The 2013-14 season could be more like the end of the season rather than the beginning for them, as most of the bottom feeders have shown signs of improvement for the future.
Look for Mississippi State to struggle to win games they managed to win a year ago.
Gus Malzahn hopes to bring Auburn back from an abysmal season in 2012.
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First of all, Auburn can't go anywhere but up. The Tigers failed to win one conference game in 2012 and have a new head coach because of it.
Auburn fans hope new head coach Gus Malzahn will be the savior they desperately need to turn the program in the right direction, and he will certainly be a breath of fresh—yet familiar—air for the Tigers.
With a relatively young team to work with and a slew of recruits that fit his liking, Malzahn will look to right the ship and obtain some conference wins in 2013. Auburn may not go from worst to first, but it can't get much worse than a 3-9 (0-8 SEC) record.
4. Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze will look to rise in the SEC standings in his second season at Oxford.
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Ole Miss shocked a lot of people with the successful recruiting class it signed this spring. The Rebels pulled in the nation's No. 2 recruiting class, including the country's top recruit in Robert Nkemdiche. Second-year head coach Hugh Freeze has created a lot of excitement in Oxford.
Ole Miss didn't lose many athletes to graduation, and Freeze's players have a year of SEC experience under their belts. It will be interesting to see how much the seeds Freeze planted have grown in a year's time.
Zach Mettenberger will have to have a great season to make up for all of LSU's departures.
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Unlike Ole Miss, LSU lost a ton of talent to graduation and the NFL. Ten underclassmen opted to bypass their senior seasons and put their names into the NFL draft, leaving Les Miles with fewer experienced players than almost every coach in the country.
But quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be back with a full season of starting experience on his resume, and that should greatly benefit the Tigers. Any players with game experience will help at this point.
But LSU is still LSU, and the Tigers will still be in contention in the ultra-competitive SEC West.
2. Texas A&M
Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel will have another strong showing in the Aggies' second SEC season.
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Johnny Manziel is back for an encore performance from 2012. The Heisman quarterback will have an enormous target on his back in every game the Aggies play in 2013, but that didn't stop him from dominating defenses every week.
However, it will be very hard for him to put up the same numbers he did in his year as a starter for Texas A&M. The Aggies will still be a dangerous contender for the SEC West title with the easy schedule they have. The teams they face out of the SEC East are Vanderbilt and Missouri, which are not quite up to the same caliber as Georgia, Florida or South Carolina.
Still, the one game that will make or break Texas A&M's season is when Alabama rolls into College Station. That match up could eclipse the meeting between the Crimson Tide and LSU.
The Aggies will be fine with Manziel back at the helms, and they should provide college football fans with another entertaining year of its high-octane offense.
Alabama should claim another spot in the SEC Championship game in 2013.
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Alabama is still Alabama, and Nick Saban is still roaming the sidelines in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide own the No. 1 recruiting class, and quarterback AJ McCarron is returning for his senior season and a chance to win three national championships in a row.
Things seem to be going Alabama's way, and it seems like there's a strong chance it could end up back in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game at the end of the regular season.
Alabama has to face Tennessee and Kentucky out of the SEC East, and it will kick off the season against Virginia Tech. The road to an unheard-of third consecutive national championship seems easier for the Crimson Tide than it has in years past, and that can't bode well for opponents who have seen the young talent Saban and company have just seemed to stockpile.
There's no doubt who the No. 1 team in the SEC West—and entire conference—is, and it seems like the Tide will continue to roll in 2013.