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SEC Team-By-Team Preview: Western Division

Here’s a look at each team in the SEC Western Division. This story originally appeared in the USA Today Sports 2013 college football preview — now available on newsstands. 


Star watch – Wide receiver Amari Cooper has the talent to dominate. T.J. Yeldon will lead the running backs. DE Jeoffrey Pagan could be Alabama’s next defensive star. The linebacker duo of C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard should be fun to watch. Cyrus Kouandjio is one of the nation’s top offensive tackles.

Top newcomer – RB Derrick Henry. The coaches will find a spot for this elite athlete as a freshman.

Big question – Will Alabama’s rebuilt offensive line protect McCarron? His experience – along with a strong running game – will be the key to another championship run.

What to expect – Alabama will begin the season as the favorite to win another BCS title. That road will go through the SEC first. Will the Crimson Tide be as motivated to win as their opponents will be to stop them? That will be the main challenge for coach Nick Saban.



Star watch – Brandon Allen led the quarterback battle through spring. Jonathan Williams is the No. 1 running back with plenty of depth behind him. Chris Smith and Trey Flowers are disruptive defensive ends. Otha Peters and A.J. Turner are young linebackers who will need to step up.

Top newcomer – RB Alex Collins. The freshman instantly adds speed to Arkansas’ offense.

Big question – How quickly will the Razorbacks’ offense come together? The staff is developing chemistry at the same time as the players.

What to expect – QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis and WR Cobi Hamilton are gone. So are the high expectations that surrounded Arkansas during their time in Fayetteville. Road trips to Alabama, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss look brutal. A trip to a bowl game should be considered a success.



Star watch – RB Tre Mason returns after rushing for 1,002 yards last season. Newcomer Cameron Artis-Payne will shoulder some of his workload. Senior receiver Trovon Reed needs to finally reach his full potential. The experience of defensive backs Jonathon Mincy and Jermaine Whitehead will be welcomed.

Top newcomer – RB Cameron Artis-Payne. A junior college transfer, Artis-Payne proved he deserves carries during the spring.

Big question – Will Auburn finally find a replacement for Cam Newton? Gus Malzahn’s biggest challenge will be to find a quarterback that he trusts.

What to expect – Auburn spent the offseason healing from an embarrassing 2012. Malzahn’s return should help restore some pride on the Plains. Will success return with it? November will be a tough month. Road games at Arkansas and Tennessee will lead into matchups with rivals Georgia and Alabama.



Star watch – Jeremy Hill* leads a deep group of running backs. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger needs to take advantage of his SEC experience. He’ll get the ball to Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, two playmakers at wide receiver. Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson could be dominant at defensive tackle. Craig Loston will be key at safety.

Top newcomer – WR Quantavius Leslie. Leslie, a junior college transfer, adds depth to a talented wide receiving corps.

Big question – Will John Chavis have his defense ready? The Tigers have to replace key performers at every unit from last year’s team.

What to expect – LSU might not be receiving as much attention as Alabama and Texas A&M, but the Tigers have enough talent to challenge their Western Division rivals. LSU will rely on a strong running game and a talented yet inexperienced defense. Mettenberger, buoyed by the arrival of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, will have to play well to keep his job.


Ole Miss

Star watch – QB Bo Wallace returns with experience. Ole Miss returns its leading rusher (Jeff Scott) and receiver (Donte Moncrief). DE C.J. Johnson and LB Denzel Nkemdiche are playmakers. Hugh Freeze has called Nickolas Brassell** a “lockdown” cornerback. He needs to take care of his academics.

Top newcomer – DT Lavon Hooks. The Rebels need him to be ready immediately coming from junior college.

Big question – Can Ole Miss take another step and beat elite teams in the SEC? The Rebels were close against LSU and Texas A&M last year.

What to expect – Ole Miss still has to prove itself in the SEC despite a successful 2012 season. Wallace will be welcomed back after missing the spring because of shoulder surgery. There’s room to improve on both sides of the ball. Can Ole Miss capitalize on its offseason momentum?


Mississippi State

Star watch – QB Tyler Russell will direct the offense. Derrick Milton takes over as the No. 1 running back. Safety Nickoe Whitley can make plays defending the pass and stopping the run. Denico Autry and Preston Smith make up one of the league’s best defensive end tandems.

Top newcomer – CB Justin Cox. Cox could land a starting job out of junior college.

Big question – Can Mississippi State keep up in the West? Ole Miss and Texas A&M took big steps in 2012. Arkansas and Auburn won’t be down for long.

What to expect – Expectations aren’t high for Mississippi State despite three straight winning seasons in Starkville. Russell spoke during the spring about rebounding from last year’s disappointing finish, which resulted in five losses in the Bulldogs’ final six games. Mississippi State will be tested early when it opens against Oklahoma State in Houston.


Texas A&M

Star watch – It starts with QB Johnny Manziel. A deep backfield, led by Ben Malena, and a group of receivers, starting with Mike Evans, should make Manziel’s job easier. Jake Matthews is one of the best offensive tackles in the SEC. Deshazor Everett*** is one of the league’s top defensive backs.

Top newcomer – RB Brandon Williams. The Aggies will design plays for the versatile transfer from Oklahoma.

Big question – Will Manziel repeat his 2012 success? With all the attention paid to his busy offseason, his on-field talent was almost forgotten.

What to expect – Nothing was expected of Texas A&M entering 2012. Now, the Aggies are supposed to challenge Alabama for the top spot in the SEC. Kevin Sumlin’s offense should be explosive in Year Two. His team will have to handle plenty of hype.

*Hill is suspended indefinitely after pleading guilty to a simple battery charge earlier this month.

**Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said earlier this week it’s unlikely Brassell will qualify academically.

***Everett is facing disciplinary action after being arrested on July 1 in connection with an April incident in College Station.



Ole Miss: Brassell is not going to be eligible. We've known this for about two months now. The idiot had a golden path to the NFL, now he'll probably be changing oil at Walmart if he's lucky.


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