Summer is winding down, vacations are coming to an end, and kids are heading back to school. All those things mean one thing: football is back and down south that means the best in the land, the SEC. 2013 marks the eighth year in a row with the king of college football has to defend the crown and win another national championship to prove it is the best. So, as we prepare for the final season of the BCS, we take a look at the SEC and who will step up to try to claim another national title for the conference.

Who Will Win- Alabama

I absolutely hate putting that, but the Tide have won two straight, so I have to put them there until someone beats them. Offensively, most of the skill position players are back. Alabama will be extremely balanced with the likes of Amari Cooper out wide and TJ Yeldon in the backfield. It will be interesting to watch the continued development of quarterback, AJ McCarron. McCarron went from a game manager to more of a playmaker by the end of last season. Alabama will have to deal with the loss of three starters on the offensive line, but that should not stop the offense from being the strength of this team.

I have concerns about the secondary of Alabama. They lost their best corner, and the next guys up don’t seem to be the typical, physical corner we are used to out of Alabama. Even with those concerns, the Tide will be favored in every game they play, and the consensus is there are only two teams (I believe only one) that have a chance to beat the Tide.

Who Will Surprise– LSU

LSU-football

I really do not want to make this pick, but there really isn’t another choice. So how does a team that has only lost four games in the past two years “surprise” anyone. Easy, everyone is overlooking LSU. LSU had a record number of underclassmen declare for the draft (most on defense, the team strength), a disjointed offense (to put it kindly), and an increasing sentiment (according to national perception) that the program is in decline. The only problem with that is Les Miles’ LSU teams have won at least 10 games in six of his eight years with the program.

The defense will again be solid. They may not be the defense of 2011, but since John Chavis has taken over in 2009, the Tigers have never finished below 12th in total defense in the nation.  Even replacing so many parts, it is hard to imagine that there will be a major drop off.

The question is on the offense, but new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was brought in to fix that problem. Cameron is a proven coordinator with a style that suits what LSU wants to do. If Cameron can help quarterback Zach Mettenberger to improve (which he showed signs of in the latter half of the season), LSU may finally have a competent offense to go along with their consistent defense. If that happens, the Tigers will win a lot of games.

Who Will Disappoint– Florida

Florida currently sits at #10 in the AP poll. I just don’t get it. Last year, Florida finished 11-1, largely on the back on their defense. The Gators went on to be embarrassed by upstart Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Florida loses key pieces off every level of defense coming into the season. Under Will Muschamp, the Gators are always going to be a stout defensive team, but that unit may not be as dominant as it was last year.

With the defense losing a step, the offense will have to be able to carry its own weight, and I’m just not sure it’s capable of doing so. Jeff Driskel was horrible last year, and what’s worse if that I did not see any signs of improvement as the year went on. Driskel has all of the tools, and Florida thinks this is the year he puts it all together. Even if he does, Driskel will receive zero help from his wide receivers. The closest thing to a play making wide out was Andre Debose, and he is out for the season with injury. It is going to be up to projected starter at running back Matt Jones to alleviate some of the pressure on the passing game. The Gators will have a hard time capturing the magic of last season if their offense can’t develop a pulse.

Player of the YearAJ McCarron

If Alabama does win a third national championship, this is a no brainer. AJ McCarron would go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history, and would receive the award as a sort of “lifetime achievement” award. It may not seem fair, but McCarron would deserve it. And do not forget that he has become the key cog in how the Alabama machine runs. Without him, Alabama is not nearly as good, and that says a lot considering the talent on the field with him. That should be enough to earn him Player of the Year in the SEC.