5 SEC Media Days buzzwords: Quarterbacks, Lattimore, newcomers, Gators and the quest for seven
It seems unlikely, with competition coming from Florida State, Oklahoma and Southern Cal. But the survivor — and perhaps runner-up — of the SEC West's Alabama-LSU-Arkansas tussle will make another strong argument.
Hard to wager against an SEC team in the BCS title game in the final season before the four-team playoff is installed.
The SEC has more prominent and established QBs than it did a year ago. The group is led by Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, Aaron Murray of Georgia, and AJ McCarron of Alabama.
But maybe a top gun doesn't matter that much. Sure, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. Otherwise, the SEC's run of national champs includes a quartet of less than dazzling Pro Bowl prospects: Chris Leak of Florida, Greg McElroy and McCarron of Alabama, and the LSU combo of Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux.
This bodes well for South Carolina and workmanlike Connor Shaw, who quietly finished third in the SEC in pass efficiency last season.
No game illustrates USC's newfound SEC East power status better than the 17-6 home win over Georgia in 2010 when freshman Marcus Lattimore served notice with 182 rushing yards and two touchdowns and the Gamecocks went on to win their first division title.
Though Lattimore missed the last six games of 2012 with a knee injury, USC went 5-1 down the stretch.
Missouri and Texas A&M will get the royal welcome and a quick lesson on SEC extremism.
Missouri, placed in the SEC East, opens conference play at home against Georgia on Sept. 8, and plays at South Carolina on Sept. 22.
Texas A&M, sentenced to the rugged SEC West, plays its inaugural league game at home against Florida on Sept. 8. The Aggies do not play South Carolina this year.
Fourth place is an ambitious 2012 goal for both programs.
There are no Florida players on the SEC preseason teams (first or second) on offense, not surprising considering the Gators went 7-6 in 2011. They salvaged a winning season with a Gator Bowl win and finished seventh in the SEC in points per conference game.
But a lot of people think Will Muschamp's defense, underrated last year, will be one of the nation's best. Former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease takes over for Charlie Weis to guide a Florida offense that figures to improve.
Prognosticator Phil Steele is among the believers, tabbing Florida to win the SEC East (with Georgia second and South Carolina third).
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff