With three likely top-10 teams in 2013, the battle to win the SEC East is going to be one of the most heated conference battles in college football.
Georgia is the defending East Division champ, but South Carolina and Florida each have a strong case to be picked as the division favorite.
The Gamecocks return the best player in college football in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and manhandled Georgia 35-7 in Columbia last year.
Florida finished 11-2 last season, and Will Muschamp seems to have the Gators moving in the right direction. However, the defense lost a few key performers, and the offense still has no proven playmakers at receiver.
The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.
Athlon Sports’ college football top 25 countdown for 2013 is officially underway. To provide some insight into the selections and rankings for 2013, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May.
Georgia, South Carolina or Florida: Who Wins the SEC East in 2013?
Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
What a loaded question to speculate on in May, but I’ll bite. The schedule screams South Carolina; the eye test yells Georgia, and Florida says don’t count me out, either.
But ever since Aaron Murray announced he was returning for his senior season, I’ve contested that Georgia should be the favorite. After all, they host South Carolina the second week, and the winner will immediately become the in-season favorite. The offense will be loaded again with the return of Murray, Todd Gurley and eight other starters, including all five offensive linemen.
I know what you’re thinking – how can Georgia be the favorite with losing so many NFL defensive stars? Well, they didn’t exactly play like NFL studs in 2012. In fact, they weren’t even a top-five overall defense, nor were they ranked even a top-ten rushing defense in the SEC. Egos, missed assignments and NFL dreams clouded the ‘12 Dawgs. A younger, inexperienced defense is an exciting new challenge, and overall, even though I’m in the minority, I think the defense will improve upon last season.
Georgia is my May favorite!
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Florida’s offense is still too one-dimensional, and the Gators flirted with disaster too many times during an 11-2 season for me to feel to comfortable picking Will Muschamp’s team. South Carolina finally got the edge from the schedule-makers in 2013, facing Mississippi State and Arkansas from the West while Georgia plays LSU on the road and Auburn. Still, I’m going with Georgia to win the East again. The offense should be the best in the SEC other than Texas A&M. Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and five offensive line starters are back on a team that led the nation in yards per play at 7.09 (Texas A&M was No. 2 by a hundredth of a yard). The defense is young and underachieved last season despite plenty of high draft picks. That needs to change for Georgia to be a title-contending team, but Florida and South Carolina have more flaws to overcome. Besides, Georgia already has proven it can win the SEC East despite problems on defense.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
All three teams are excellent and will be within one or two games of each other, but I am taking the South Carolina Gamecocks to break through in 2013. The defensive line is the best in the nation, quarterback Connor Shaw is wildly underrated and, packaged with Dylan Thompson, will provide plenty of spark on offense. Finally, the schedule finally sets up for Steve Spurrier. There is no LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M or Ole Miss — the best four teams in the West. Meanwhile, games with Florida and Mississippi State come at home in Williams-Brice Stadium. It likely means that the division crown will be decided on the trip to Georgia in Week 2. However, Carolina has owned the Dawgs of late, winning three straight over UGA by a combined score of 97-55. The Cocks have scored 80 points in the last two against what was considered one of the best defenses in the nation. A win Between the Hedges and Carolina finally has an inside track on a legitimate shot at its first SEC Championship.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
All three teams – Georgia, South Carolina and Florida – could be ranked in the top 10 of most preseason polls. And the winner of this race should be in the mix to play for the national title, provided it beats the champion of the SEC West in Atlanta.
Although a strong argument could be made for each team, I have to go with Georgia as my favorite to win the SEC East. The Bulldogs return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Aaron Murray, and the one-two punch of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall may be the best running back tandem in college football. There’s plenty of talent in the receiving corps, while the offensive line should be better with everyone coming back for 2013.
The biggest question mark for Georgia is a defense that must replace eight starters. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree were the biggest losses, but don’t overlook the absence of linemen John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers, as both were key cogs in the line last season. Despite having only three starters back, I think Georgia’s defense will be fine this year, especially if linebacker Jordan Jenkins, cornerback Damian Swann and safety Tray Matthews continue their development from spring practice.
Another reason to like Georgia: The Bulldogs host South Carolina in the SEC opener for both teams.
Both divisional races in the SEC should be fairly entertaining, but the East may offer the most intrigue and potentially play the biggest role in determining the national title outcome. If things go according to plan, Alabama will hold off Texas A&M and other challengers in the West division to advance to the SEC championship game in Atlanta yet again. There it will be up to whichever team ends up representing the East to put an end to any three-peat talk as a loss by the Crimson Tide would, in all likelihood, keep them out of the BCS title game.
To that end, who will emerge from the East with a chance to potentially dethrone mighty Alabama? I'll go with Georgia and its experienced quarterback, Aaron Murray, who has an opportunity to make his last season in a Bulldog uniform special. The knock on Murray during his career has been his inability to win the "big one," despite the fact he will more than likely own the majority of the SEC's passing records when he's done. The defense lost a lot of NFL talent, but the cupboard is far from bare and maybe a perceived lack of star power, if you will, is just what this unit needs to perform on a consistent level throughout the season.
Florida and South Carolina have some pretty stout defenses of their own, but I'll take Murray, and the Bulldogs' running game for that matter, over what the Gators and Gamecocks have at their disposal on offense. One thing's clear, though, should Georgia make me look good and make it to the SEC title game, Mark Richt's crew will have earned it. The Bulldogs open the season at ACC favorite and possible national title contender Clemson followed by a visit from South Carolina, a game on the first Saturday of September that could very well end up determining who wins the East. LSU also is on the conference slate as well as the always-anticipated Cocktail Party showdown with Florida in Jacksonville on Nov. 2. The road won't be easy, but I like the Bulldogs' chances of making this season one for the memory and record books.
Related College Football Content
Will Missouri Make a Bowl Game in 2013?
Ranking the SEC Running Backs for 2013
Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2013
Will Tennessee Make a Bowl in 2013?
Ole Miss or Mississippi State: Who Wins More SEC Games in 2013?
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches for 2013
Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2013
College Football's Top 10 Assistant Coaches on the Rise for 2013
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 10 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013