The Congrove Computer Rankings say the SEC will have a shot at an 8th straight BCS title, but it won't be Alabama taking the shot.
The computer says this year's SEC rep will be Georgia after the Bulldogs run the table in the regular season and knock off Texas A&M in the conference championship game. Ultimately, Georgia will fall to Stanford in Pasadena.
The Aggies make it to Atlanta by virtue of a slim home win over the Tide as A&M is a mere 0.63-point preseason favorite in what could be the game of the year.
The predicted setback at College Station is the lone blemish on the computer's 2013 forecast for Alabama. Last season, the Aggies upset Nick Saban's men in Tuscaloosa for their only loss and 'Bama still managed to log its 3rd national title in 4 years.
The offseason was busy with news that Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, allegedly received payments from brokers for his autograph at signing events during the offseason. The allegations put his eligibility for the 2013 season in question. But on Wednesday, just one day before the season begins, news broke that the NCAA could find no evidence to warrant action. Instead, he will sit the first-half of the Saturday opener vs. Rice for the "inadvertent violation" of signing so many autographs for memorabilia dealers that he should have known they would be sold for profit.
The Tide are 2.10-point home favorites over an LSU team that is picked to take 3rd-place in the SEC West, just a game behind the Aggies and Alabama. In fact, LSU is a 6.27-point projected winner over A&M in Baton Rouge in the next-to-last game of the SEC regular season, but expected losses at Georgia and Alabama doom the Bayou Bengals.
South Carolina is the forecasted runner-up in the SEC East, meaning the conference title will be determined the second week of the season when Georgia hosts the Gamecocks as a 7.77-point favorite.
The Bulldogs must be careful not to let it slip away in week 1 when they open at Clemson as a slim 1.04-point pick. And if they do survive the first 11 games unscathed, then they better watch out for the season finale at Georgia Tech where the 'Dawgs are getting just a 2.99-point edge.
Florida is forecasted to take a step back after last year's 11-win season. The Gators are the computer's 3rd-place pick with records of 9-3 overall and 5-3 in conference play. The three losses would come at LSU (6.43) and South Carolina (3.15), and in Jacksonville versus Georgia (4.93).
The computer has 10 of the SEC's 14 teams going bowling - Georgia, Texas A&M, Alabama, South Carolina, LSU, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Missouri.
Tennessee is projected to finish 5-7 under new head coach Butch Jones who replaces Derek Dooley. Jones' 3-year record at Cincinnati was 23-14 overall and 12-9 in the Big East as the Bearcats tied for the conference title each of the last two years. His overall record is 50-27 with 4 conference titles in 6 years as a head coach. Dooley's Volunteers teams were 1-14 in the SEC in the last two seasons with the only win coming against Vanderbilt in 2011. Dooley's three-year record was 15–21 overall and 4–19 in conference games.
There are also new head coaches at Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky, all of which are expected to finish at the bottom of their respective divisions.
At Arkansas, Brett Bielema will try to undo all the damage done by Bobby Petrino's personal misgivings and the subsequent failure of John L. Smith to hold the team together. Smith, you will recall, was hired to replace Petrino for the 2012 season when Petrino was fired in disgrace after a motorcycle accident led to the uncovering of an affair with a young football office worker. When 2012 was said and done, Arkansas had spiraled from a preseason SEC favorite, and legitimate BCS title contender, to a 4-8 finish.
The downfall began with a 2nd-half collapse in Little Rock against Louisiana-Monroe in the 2nd week of the season when a 21-point lead turned into an overtime loss.
Bielema was 68-24 record in 7 seasons at Wisconsin, but the computer doesn't seem to believe a turnaround will come quickly. In fact, the Razorbacks are 8.51-point computer underdogs to Louisiana-Lafayette at home in the season opener and are only favored to win 3 games - Samford (FCS), Southern Miss and Auburn.
Auburn's new commander is Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator for the BCS title team of 2010. Malzahn led Arkansas State to the 2012 Sun Belt title while going 9-3 overall and 7-1 in league play in his only season as the head coach.
Malzahn replaces Gene Chizik who was fired the day after a 49-0 loss to arch-rival Alabama. His four-year stint resulted in an historic high and an even more historic low.
After an 8-5 campaign in 2009 (3-5, SEC), QB Cam Newton came onboard for one season and led the team to a 14-0 record and the BCS Championship. It was Auburn's second national title in history and first undisputed title. Auburn's only other national title was bestowed by the AP in 1957 when Shug Jordan was the head coach, and that title was shared with Woody Hayes and Ohio State who were voted No. 1 by the UPI. The 2010 Tigers are just one of three teams to ever go 14-0. Only the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes and the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide have matched that accomplishment.
Newton and DT Nick Fairley were among a dozen starters who didn't return the next season, and four who planned to come back were arrested in the spring of 2011 on robbery charges. Auburn fell back to 8-5 and was just 4-4 in the SEC.
As great as the 2010 season was, it also came under much NCAA scrutiny surrounding the recruitment of Newton.
More off-the field problems and a new NCAA investigation marred the 2012 season that ended with a 3-9 overall record and the first-ever 0-8 SEC finish for Auburn. The last time an Auburn team was winless in the SEC was 1980 when it went 0-6, yet that team still managed 5 non-league wins. The 2012 campaign only saw victories over FCS member Alabama A&M, the WAC's New Mexico State (1-10 to-date) and the Sun Belt's Louisiana-Monroe in overtime.
Chizik's hiring wasn't a popular decision to begin with. The one-time Auburn defensive coordinator (2002-2004) was a head coach for just two seasons at Iowa State where he went 5-19 before he was named as the successor to Tommy Tuberville.
Overall, Chizik was 33-19 at Auburn and 15-17 in SEC games.
Auburn is forecasted to suffer through another 3-9 campaign and once again go winless in the SEC.
Kentucky made Joker Phillips the second head coaching casualty of 2012 on November 4 when the school announced he would be let go at the end of the regular season. The Wildcats were 1-9 overall at the time and 0-7 in the SEC, fresh off a 40-0 pasting at the hands of Vanderbilt for its worst loss to that school in 96 years. They finished 2-10, 0-8 and his overall record for 3 seasons was 13-24, including 4-20 in SEC games. Numerous injuries had forced Kentucky to play more than 25 freshmen.
Kentucky announced Mark Stoops as its new head coach on November 27. The Florida State defensive coordinator for the last three seasons is the brother of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and former Arizona had coach Mike Stoops.
The computer has the Wildcats repeating last year's 2-10, 0-8 debacle.