The image of college football last season ended with the SEC completely taking over the BCS Championship game. That guaranteed that the SEC dominance would continue for a seventh year. This year, the SEC looks to make it eight straight with a couple of familiar names: Alabama and LSU. The rest of the league will have a say in this championship race this year and it starts with a couple of new kids on the block.

This year adds former Big 12 members, Texas A&M and Missouri to the league. Ever since the move was announced, everyone has wondered how the two teams from a perceived passing league would fare against the defensive minded SEC. It would appear that both are in for a rough go of it. A&M has the bigger learning curve. The Aggies are in the best division of college football, the SEC West (the division that produced the two teams in the national championship game). Throw in Arkansas, who beat the Aggies the past three years, and there is reason for concern. To go along with all of this, the Aggies are welcoming a new coach, who brings a new offense AND a true freshman quarterback.

Missouri has a better ride compared to that. Gary Pinkel returns and so does all Big-12 quarterback James Franklin. There is a bit of concern about Franklin sustaining a shoulder injury during spring practice; however he appears to be ready to go for the season. Also, Mizzou gets to travel the SEC East. The SEC East should be improved, but it still will not match the brutal road through the West.

While they will take different roads, neither of these teams are ready to contend for the SEC title.

East Projections

The early favorites to win the SEC East are Georgia and South Carolina. On paper, South Carolina appears to be the better team, but Georgia is the beneficiary of the softest schedule of any contender. Georgia will be favored against any team not named South Carolina. The Bulldogs have their issues with a young inexperienced O line, but the schedule layout gives them a chance to address those issues. It helps that Georgia has All-SEC QB, Aaron Murray, to solidify that offense. South Carolina has fixed their issues at quarterback with returning starter Connor Shaw. All-SEC running back Marcus Lattimore returns from last season’s injury, and monster defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is back to anchor the defensive line. But the Gamecocks have to go to LSU and bring in Arkansas. Georgia just has less to go through to make it to Atlanta.

The most intriguing team out of the East is Tennessee. No coach has a hotter seat coming into this season than Derek Dooley, who is clearly coaching for his job. Even with all that pressure, Dooley may finally have a good team to contend with, at least on the offensive side of the ball. The Vols have the best wide receiver duo in the conference, Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter, and one of the best quarterbacks in Tyler Bray. There are questions abound about the defense, but Dooley has brought in another Saban pupil, Sal Sunseri, to overhaul that unit. If the Vols can avoid injury, which devastated the offense last season, and get to Georgia with a 4-0 record, they could make the East very interesting.

The rest of the East may cause some teams headaches, but they have too many issues to overcome. Florida should have a very good defense, but are lacking an offense. They are also not settled at the all- important quarterback position. James Franklin has got Vanderbilt going in the right direction and they have found a quarterback in Jordan Rodgers. The schedule is favorable, but Vandy is a few years away of competing with Georgia and South Carolina.

And Kentucky…well they are Kentucky. Joker Phillips is going to lose his job this season and Bobby Petrino will be waiting by his phone.

SEC East Winner: Georgia

West Projections

The SEC West, and likely the SEC and national titles, will be decided when LSU and Alabama square off, as it was last year.

This year, both teams take heavy losses to their vaunted defenses. Alabama lost seven starters on defense and Heisman candidate Trent Richardson to the NFL Draft. LSU lost four players, three to the secondary alone, and was dealt the additional blow of losing the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, three weeks before the season. Despite the losses, both teams are better than the rest of the conference by a wide margin.

LSU and Alabama are going to be mirror images of each other. Both will lean on their defenses, but will count on a more dynamic offense. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron had a breakout game in the BCS Championship game and will try to build upon that momentum this coming season. LSU will continue to depend on as many as five running backs to deliver their brutal rushing attack. The Tigers hope to add a consistent passing game with new starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Both teams will be undefeated heading into their November 3rd match-up. The team that is able to produce offensively will head to and win the SEC Championship.

This was supposed to be the year that Arkansas was able to get over the SEC West hump. This was supposed to be the year that Arkansas defeated LSU and Alabama. That was before Bobby Petrino got himself fired. Now, Arkansas is the biggest question mark in college football. The Hogs could very well be over, or they could not miss a beat and wind up in Atlanta. The Hogs have the talent, led by Tyler Wilson and All-SEC running back, Knile Davis. Their offensive system is staying in place with Paul Petrino, Bobby’s brother, calling plays as offensive coordinator. Interim Head Coach John L. Smith is familiar with the program, which is why he was brought in. It is just a matter of Smith being able to pilot this ready- made ship to glory. It sounds good, but it all seems a little too easy. The Hogs will be competitive, but missing Petrino has to cost the Hogs something. Most likely it will cost them a title shot.

Auburn is in for a world of trouble this season. Gone is offensive guru Gus Malzahan and his spread offense. Now Auburn is trying to transition back to a pro style. To go along with that, the Plainsmen have been unable to set a quarterback; coach Gene Chizik has gone as far as to say that the competition has been disappointing. It will be a tough one on the Plains.

Dan Mullen is still a hot name in coaching, but has only beaten one team in the division (the hapless Ole Miss). Mullen has a chance to beat three more this season (Arkansas, Auburn, and Texas A&M). They may finally beat a western team not from the state of Mississippi, but it will only be one.

Houston Nutt left the cupboard pretty bare at Ole Miss. When Ole Miss takes the field on September 1 st they will have gone 700 days without a SEC win. That number will only grow in 2012. God Bless, Hugh Freeze, he will need it.

LSU makes it to Atlanta after getting Alabama at home, while Georgia takes a trip down the street with the easiest schedule in SEC schedule in years. In a rematch of last year’s SEC championship game, the end result will be much the same. This time there will be a more even event as Georgia is able to take advantage of LSU’s secondary, but in the end LSU will wear the Bulldogs down with their unrelenting rushing game. LSU will once again represent the SEC in the BCS Championship game and will try to keep the SEC’s streak of dominance alive.

SEC West Champions: LSU

What are your thoughts on the SEC? Do you think LSU is going to repeat as conference champs? Let us know in the comments!