It's the "Year of the Quarterback" in the SEC as the league goes for its eighth straight national championship.
The M & M & M boys
1.) Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. As the NCAA investigates "autograph-gate," it will be fascinating to see if the reigning Heisman Trophy winner even gets to play a full 2013 season. If he does, it will be interesting to see how "Johnny Football" performs after a tumultuous off-season.
2.) A.J. McCarron, Alabama. Will try to bring joy to the Roll Tide crowd and at least one Auburn War Eagle (girlfriend Katherine Webb) by leading the Saban-ic forces to their third straight BCS title.
3.) Aaron Murray, Georgia. After two straight losses in the SEC Championship Game, how serious is Murray about helping the Dawgs break through the class ceiling? The senior gave up fast food, junk food and all candy in the off-season and has lost some 10 pounds as a result.
Honorable mention: Zach Mettenberger, LSU.
Coaches under pressure
1.) Gary Pinkel, Missouri. You'd think a coach who needs only 12 victories to become a school's all-time career wins leader would be pretty secure in his job. In Pinkel's case, that seems not to be the case. Mizzou went 5-7 (2-6 league) in its first year in the SEC, and concern mounts in Columbia that Pinkel is not recruiting at an "SEC level."
2.) Mark Richt, Georgia. During the SEC's seven-year national title run, crystal balls have been claimed by Florida, LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Alabama and Alabama. Conspicuous by its absence on that list is Georgia. Now the dean of SEC coaches in terms of continuous service (13 years) at one school, Richt has not proven he can parlay a bountiful in-state recruiting base into college football's top prize.
3). Les Miles, LSU. Yes, Miles is 34-6 over the past three seasons, but he has not claimed a national title since 2007. Meanwhile the former LSU head coach, chap by the name of Saban, has won three BCS crowns since then.
Why 'The Hatter' is mad
Wonder why LSU head man Les Miles is so agitated over the SEC scheduling format that includes one permanent, cross-division rival for each team?
This year, Alabama's two foes from the SEC East are Tennessee (permanent rival) and Kentucky. Those two went a combined 1-15 in league games last season.
LSU's two SEC East opponents are Florida (permanent foe) and Georgia. Those two went a combined 14-2 in league games last season.
Hardest league schedules
1.) Arkansas. By my reckoning, there are six teams — Alabama, Texas A&M (with Manziel) and LSU from the West; Florida, Georgia, South Carolina in the East — with realistic hopes of winning the league championship. Bret Bielema's Hogs are the only SEC team that plays five of those powers.
2.) Tennessee. Butch Jones opens his career as an SEC head coach with this superfecta: at Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, at Alabama.
3.) Kentucky. Mark Stoops opens his career as an SEC head coach with this trifecta: Florida, at South Carolina, Alabama. At least Stoops does not get to at Georgia until the season's 11th game.
Honorable mention: Auburn and Mississippi State, each of whom will face four of the Big Six, too.
Softest league schedules
1.) Alabama. Avoid Georgia, Florida and South Carolina from the East; have open dates before West showdowns with Texas A&M and LSU.
2.) Texas A&M. Gets Alabama at home and faces Vanderbilt and Missouri from the East.
3.) South Carolina. Has Florida at home and avoids Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M from the West. The freakiest
After he pulverized Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl, South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (13 sacks last season, 23.5 tackles for loss in 2012) became a national phenomenon. As you read the three numbers below, remember, Clowney is 6-foot-6 and plays football at around 270 pounds.
1.) 38. Before South Carolina's spring practice began this year, Clowney weighed 274 pounds, yet in the vertical jump tested at 38 inches
2.) 4.54. On the same day Clowney jumped 38 inches, he was clocked at 4.54 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
3.) 4.46. At SEC Media Days in July, Clowney told reporters he had been timed at 4.46 in the 40 (while weighing around 265 pounds) by South Carolina strength and conditioning coaches.
Three men who were on the Kentucky sidelines last season are in the SEC in 2013 and will be coaching against the Wildcats in 2013:
1.) Joker Phillips. The former UK head man is coaching the receivers and coordinating the recruiting for Florida.
2.) David Turner. After coaching the defensive line for his buddy Phillips in Lexington, Turner is now doing the same at Mississippi State.
3.) Pat Washington. The longtime former Tennessee wide receivers coach spent only 2012 at UK and is now coaching the wideouts at Missouri.
Three bold predictions
1.) Jadeveon Clowney will become the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy since Charles Woodson (Michigan) in 1997.
2.) South Carolina will upset Alabama in the 2013 SEC Championship Game.
3.) The SEC will not "eight-peat." In a BCS Championship matchup of ex-Florida Gators head coaches, Urban Meyer and Ohio State will finally stop the SEC's national title streak with a victory over Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.