With Alabama expected to be the No. 1 team in most preseason polls in 2013, combined with potential top-10 teams in LSU and Texas A&M, the SEC West should be one of the deepest divisions in college football. That also doesn’t include an improving Ole Miss squad, and Arkansas and Auburn – two teams that should also get better under the direction of new head coaches.
Texas A&M took the SEC by storm last season, winning 11 games and upsetting Alabama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa. The Aggies return a good chunk of personnel from last year, but the defense is a question mark.
LSU was predicted by most to be a top-five team in 2012 and may have underachieved with a 10-3 record. The Tigers have some key personnel losses on defense and need more from quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
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.
Texas A&M or LSU: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC West in 2013?
Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
Texas A&M and LSU open in 2013 with the same goal: dethrone the Crimson Tide. The Tigers are the prom queen who has been around for a few years and will always be a contender, while Texas A&M is the sexy new transfer who’s getting the most attention.
LSU just presents more questions. The offense is going through a transition in coordinators, the defense lost six starters and arguably the SEC’s best back in Jeremy Hill may not even play in 2013 because of legal issues. And we haven’t even started talking about LSU’s hellacious schedule, which features five preseason ranked teams and includes road trips to Alabama and Georgia.
Texas A&M should finish first or second in the West, depending largely on the outcome of the Alabama game. The Aggies should score 40 points or more per game, and the schedule sets up nearly perfect, with just two preseason ranked teams. Obviously losing five front seven starters on defense is a major concern, but anytime teams score the way Texas A&M does, they will always be in the game. The weak schedule alone screams more wins, and add in Johnny Manziel and an electrifying offense, and it makes it even tougher to bet against the Aggies.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas A&M has a much greater chance of matching last season’s 6-2 record in the SEC while I would be surprised to see LSU match last year’s performance in the conference. The Aggies are hoping for a national title run, a prospect that may be too optimistic without a playmaker on defense like Damontre Moore. But the Aggies still have Johnny Manziel, who again will be a great equalizer in the league. LSU just has too much rebuilding to do to expect six SEC wins against a schedule that includes road trips to Alabama and Georgia, plus Florida and Texas A&M at home. LSU reloads every year on defense, but have really seen the Tigers need to replace this much muscle on that side of the ball? Kevin Minter, Eric Reid, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, plus the ace special teams duo of Brad Wing and Drew Alleman, are all gone. Even Alabama would have trouble recruiting well enough to make a seamless transition with that many losses.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I don’t think this debate is even close. Texas A&M will finish ahead of LSU and could challenge for an SEC West title while the Bayou Bengals could lose as many as four games. Every team in the SEC could be as good or better in 2013 than it was in 2012 with the exception of LSU. A massive exodus of talent, a mediocre starting quarterback and improving SEC schedule leads me to believe that the Tigers will once again underachieve. The Aggies, too, must replace some big names — Joeckel, Swope, Moore, Porter — but have the core of their 10-win team back, including a superstar quarterback. Many around the league are concerned about the overall direction of the LSU program since the national title loss to Alabama and the rest of the SEC has gained significant ground on the Tigers. Games at Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama are nasty while home games with Florida, Texas A&M, Auburn and Arkansas provide plenty of challenges as well. And if TCU catches Les Miles’ bunch napping in Week 1, things could unravel quickly in Louisiana. Gig ‘Em.
Josh Ward, MrSEC.com, (@Josh_Ward)
LSU will have home-field advantage when the two teams play in Baton Rouge on Nov. 23, but Texas A&M will face a more favorable schedule in league play. LSU has the misfortune of having to play Florida and Georgia, the top two teams in the Eastern Division in 2012. Texas A&M will play Missouri and Vanderbilt from the East, a pair of opponents much easier to handle. Texas A&M also gets Alabama at home while LSU has to travel to Tuscaloosa.
LSU and Texas A&M both have to replace several key starters on defense. The advantage for Texas A&M lies on offense, starting at quarterback. Johnny Manziel returns from his Heisman season with more offensive weapons around him. The addition of transfer running back Brandon Williams and wide receiver signee Ja’Quay Williams (no relation) will make Manziel’s job even easier. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger returns with a year of experience, but he doesn’t present the same kind of threat to opposing defenses as Manziel.
Texas A&M’s depth of talent on offense and less-challenging conference schedule should help the Aggies finish higher than LSU in the SEC West.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Despite question marks about the defense and the loss of left tackle Luke Joeckel to the NFL Draft, I like Texas A&M to finish ahead of LSU in the SEC West. Quarterback Johnny Manziel may not have the monster season that he had in 2012, but the sophomore is still the SEC’s No. 1 quarterback and will be a handful for opposing defenses. The backfield is one of the deepest in the nation, and the offensive line should be solid with the return of Jake Matthews, Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi.
The biggest concern for Texas A&M is a defense that ranked ninth in the SEC in yards allowed and loses end Damontre Moore and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart. However, the Aggies have a favorable schedule, as they miss Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in crossover play, and Alabama visits College Station on Sept. 14.
While the Aggies have some fairly significant personnel issues on defense, the Tigers could be without running back Jeremy Hill for an extended period of time, quarterback Zach Mettenberger is a question mark, and the defense returns only three starters. LSU has a challenging schedule, including a non-conference game against TCU and crossover SEC matchups against Georgia and Florida.
LSU will reload and should end up with eight or nine wins by the end of 2013. However, the Tigers will finish behind Texas A&M and could be pushed by Ole Miss for third place in the SEC West.
Texas A&M will have to venture into Tiger Stadium for the first time since 1994 to play LSU, but the Bayou Bengals have both Georgia (road) and Florida (home) as their crossover games in conference play. The Aggies' East opponents this season are Vanderbilt (home) and Missouri (road). The Bulldogs and Gators went a combined 23-4 overall and 14-2 in the SEC last season and will enter this fall as preseason top 10 teams. The Commodores and Tigers from the SEC East went a combined 14-11 overall and 7-9 in conference play in 2012 and only Vandy will receive any top-25 preseason consideration. Who do you think has the advantage here when it comes to schedule?
If that's not enough, Texas A&M gets Alabama at home, while LSU will travel to Tuscaloosa to face the two-time defending national champions. Yes, the Tigers were victorious the last time they played in Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2011, but don't forget the Aggies won there last season too. Last I checked, the man largely responsible for that impressive victory is still playing quarterback for A&M. Johnny Football may not win the Heisman again, but I expect him to lead the charge as the Aggies show for a second straight season they belong in the SEC by finishing ahead of the Tigers.
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