- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Now that we're just a day away from the start of the 2013 college football season, who in the SEC has the most to prove?
We're talking players, coaches, teams, units, position groups ... even fan bases.
Let us know if you agree with the 10 we've selected. I'm sure you will.
Alabama's secondary: It seems as though the Crimson Tide just reload every year in the secondary no matter how many talented players they lose to the NFL. Junior safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looks like he's the next big star back there, but there are also a lot of unknowns, as well as some depth concerns. Alabama needs senior John Fulton to come through at cornerback and sophomore Landon Collins to make a big jump at safety.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema: You gotta hand it to Bielema. He didn't come into the SEC and quietly stand in the back of the pack. Nope, he was speaking his mind and shaking things up from the time he was announced as the Hogs' coach back in December. Bielema led Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowls and took a few swipes at the SEC in the process. Now, he gets a chance to prove that he can win in the SEC.
Florida's passing game: It's not just quarterback Jeff Driskel. It's not just the Gators' receivers. It's not just their pass protection. It all has to improve if Florida is going to throw the ball more effectively this season. The Gators finished last in the SEC a year ago in passing offense and had virtually no downfield passing game. The feeling coming out of camp is that Driskel will be fine, so a lot of the burden falls on Florida's receivers to get open and make more plays this season.
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham: The Dawgs were tormented by suspensions a year ago and having to play different combinations. They never really played up to their talent level on a consistent basis, which was evidenced by seven defenders being selected in the NFL draft. Grantham, who helped restore the edge to Georgia's defense when he was hired in 2009, faces the challenge this season of getting that edge back and doing it with a whole heap of younger players.
LSU running back Jeremy Hill: The talented sophomore is getting a third (and presumably) final chance after deciding to go WWE on some guy outside a bar in the wee hours of the morning last April. He was already on probation at the time. Les Miles is clearly sticking out his neck for Hill, who was sensational down the stretch last season. Let's see if he repays Miles and his LSU teammates by doing all of his damage on the field this fall.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel: What a whirlwind these past seven months have been for Johnny Football. It sure sounds as though the Aggies are preparing for him to play this season, despite the NCAA investigation into whether he took money to sign autographs. A better question: How will Manziel respond on the field, and can he put everything that has happened off the field behind him and continue to light up opposing defenses?
Mississippi State: There was a time when Mississippi State had all the momentum in the Magnolia State. Dan Mullen guided the Bulldogs to three straight victories over the "school up north," and talked openly about owning the state. Suddenly, though, Ole Miss is streaking after knocking off Mississippi State last season in the Egg Bowl and reeling in a top-five recruiting class nationally. The Bulldogs have to find a way to get their mojo back after ending the 2012 season with losses in five of their last six games.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel: With all the injuries Missouri sustained last season, Pinkel gets (and deserves) a pass. The Tigers were decimated in the offensive line and looked overwhelmed in a lot of their SEC games. Pinkel is entering his 13th season at Missouri and has won eight or more games in seven of those seasons. But what he's going to be judged on now is whether he can make the Tigers a consistent winner in the SEC.
Tennessee's defense: It can't get any worse for the Vols on defense, right? They were embarrassingly bad a year ago in Sal Sunseri's one and only year as defensive coordinator, giving up 37 or more points in eight of their 12 games. John Jancek takes over as defensive coordinator in Butch Jones' first season as head coach and has gone back to a 4-3 scheme and simplified things. A lot of the same players who went through last season's nightmare are back, so they get a chance to right the ship.
Vanderbilt's fans: The Commodores won nine games last season for the first time in nearly 100 years, and second-year coach James Franklin says that was just a start. But to truly take this program to the upper echelon of the SEC, he's going to need the fans to start filling 40,330-seat Vanderbilt Stadium on a consistent basis. He has been pretty open about challenging them and said he doesn't want to hear any excuses. We'll see how they respond starting Thursday night when Ole Miss comes to town for the opener.
1dSam Khan Jr.
2dSam Khan Jr.