Alabama, LSU and SEC trying to remain on top

The Southeastern Conference has lined up a few contenders for

Lucky No. 7.

Defending national champion Alabama and last season’s 13-game

juggernaut LSU remain the headliners of a league that has won the

last six BCS titles. And that’s despite the Crimson Tide and the

Tigers losing a combined six first-round NFL draft picks.

Other SEC – and national – powers are trying to catch up.

Arkansas, which ended last season ranked fifth, and Georgia

return star quarterbacks. Steve Spurrier fields another

formidable-looking South Carolina team. Plus, the Razorbacks and

Gamecocks get star running backs back from injuries.

Even those suffering from SEC fatigue might not want to miss

that prime-time Nov. 3 three-match in Baton Rouge. The Tide and the

Tigers split last season with `Bama grabbing Round 2, 21-0 in the

BCS title game in New Orleans.

The rivalry carried over onto Twitter with sniping between Tide

quarterback AJ McCarron and LSU Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu –

in June.

”I can tell you that no game is won in a Twitter page,” LSU

coach Les Miles noted.

What’s new this year is Big 12 Conference defectors Texas

A&M and Missouri step into the SEC. They’ll both try to show

they belong.

”Only way you’re going to get respect is winning games, OK?”

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. ”That’s the only way it’s going

to happen. I got no problem with that. You’ve got to prove

yourself.”

Here is an overall look at the conference:

EAST

GEORGIA – Key players: QB Aaron Murray, WR Tavarres King, DB

Bacarri Rambo, LB Jarvis Jones. Returning starters: 6 offense, 9

defense.

Notes: RB Isaiah Crowell is gone. Cornerback Sanders Commings

and cornerback Branden Smith – and perhaps Rambo – face

suspensions. … Malcolm Mitchell, last season’s No. 2 receiver,

opens at cornerback and will likely play both positions. …

Lightweight nonconference schedule includes Buffalo, Florida

Atlantic and Georgia Southern.

SOUTH CAROLINA – Key players: QB Connor Shaw, RB Marcus

Lattimore, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Devin Taylor. Returning

starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: A second straight Top 10 finish seems possible. … If

Lattimore returns to pre-knee injury form, it could more than make

up for the loss of WR Alshon Jeffery. … Pass rush remains

formidable even minus NFL first-round pick DE Melvin Ingram.

FLORIDA – Key players: RB Mike Gillislee, WR Andre Dubose, LB

Jon Bostic, DL Sharrif Floyd. Returning starters: 7 offense, 10

defense.

Notes: Gators try to rebound from mediocre season. … Brent

Pease replaces offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, and has the

personnel to mount a more physical running attack. … Defensive

linemen Ronald Powell and Dominique Easley are trying to return

from knee injuries.

MISSOURI – Key players: QB James Franklin, LT Elvis Fisher, WR

Dorial Green-Beckham, CB E.J. Gaines. Returning starters: 6

offense, 7 defense.

Notes: The SEC’s third group of Tigers enters the league hoping

to prove skeptics wrong. … Franklin is expected to be fully

recovered from spring shoulder surgery after flirting with

3,000-yard passing, 1,000-yard rushing season. … It’s unclear if

RB Henry Josey (knee) will play.

TENNESSEE – Key players: QB Tyler Bray, WR Da’Rick Rogers, LB

A.J. Johnson, LB Herman Lathers. Returning starters: 10 offense, 7

defense.

Notes: Derek Dooley’s rebuilding project continues after one SEC

win last season. … Volunteers have dangerous receivers but must

replace RB Tauren Poole. … Tennessee reloaded with several JUCO

transfers, including onetime Alabama defensive lineman Darrington

Sentimore and WR Cordarrelle Patterson.

VANDERBILT – Key players: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, DT

Rob Lohr, CB Trey Wilson. Returning starters: 9 offense, 8

defense.

Notes: The Commodores have adopted coach James Franklin’s feisty

attitude, but face uphill climb from 2-6 SEC mark that still marked

solid progress. … Rodgers, Aaron’s younger brother, seems to have

regained Franklin’s confidence after bowl game benching.

KENTUCKY – Key players: QB Morgan Newton, OL Larry Warford, WR

La’Rod King, S Martavius Neloms. Returning starters: 6 offense, 5

defense.

Notes: Coach Joker Phillips might be on the hot seat after 4-12

SEC mark in first two seasons. … QB Morgan Newton was held out of

contact in spring after having surgery on his right shoulder. …

Defense must replace SEC’s two leaders in tackles per game, LB

Danny Trevathan and S/LB Winston Guy.

WEST:

LSU – Key players: QB Zach Mettenberger, CB Tyrann Mathieu, DE

Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan. Returning starters: 7 offense, 5

defense.

Notes: Mettenberger, a former Georgia player, has drawn strong

reviews from coach Les Miles and teammates and might represent a

sizable upgrade at QB. … Offense has runners galore, led by

Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, and offensive line has five players

who have logged 102 collective starts. … Secondary loses Morris

Claiborne, but returns stars Mathieu and Eric Reid. … Ends

Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo combined for 17 sacks. … Tigers

spent 11 weeks at No. 1 last season.

ALABAMA – Key players: QB AJ McCarron, C Barrett Jones, LB Nico

Johnson, S Robert Lester. Returning starters: 6 offense, 4

defense.

Notes: Quest for third national title in four years faces

daunting scheduling, including opener with Michigan in Arlington,

Texas, and visits to LSU and Arkansas. … New offensive

coordinator Doug Nussmeier is unlikely to change pound-before-pass

philosophy. … Defense that topped all four major categories

nationally must replace seven starters with 188 combined

starts.

ARKANSAS – Key players: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi

Hamilton, LB Alonzo Highsmith. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6

defense.

Notes: Coach John L. Smith trying to keep Bobby Petrino’s

offseason ouster from slowing program’s momentum. … All-SEC RB

Knile Davis returns after ankle injury sidelined him in 2011. …

Razorbacks hosting LSU in Fayetteville for the first time since

1992. … Six members of Smith’s staff in new roles.

AUBURN – Key players: QB Kiehl Frazier, WR Emory Blake, DE Corey

Lemonier, LB Daren Bates. Returning starters: 7 offense, 9

defense.

Notes: Frazier is the odds-on favorite to claim starting job

over Clint Moseley. … Tigers have new coordinators in Scot

Loeffler (offense) and Brian VanGorder (defense). … Two-time

1,000-yard rusher Mike Dyer is gone, and so is Gus Malzahn’s

no-huddle offense.

TEXAS A&M – Key players: LT Luke Joeckel, RB Christine

Michael, WR Ryan Swope, LB Sean Porter. Returning starters: 7

offense, 6 defense.

QB Jameill Showers is apparent leader in race to replace Ryan

Tannehill, the No. 8 NFL draft pick. …Coach Kevin Sumlin, whose

Houston offenses twice led the nation in total, passing and

scoring, brings a fast-paced attack to College Station. … Top

pass rushers Sean Porter and Damontre Moore return from team that

led nation in sacks per game.

MISSISSIPPI ST – Key players: QB Tyler Russell, LG Gabe Jackson,

CB Johnthan Banks, LB Cameron Lawrence. Returning starters: 5

offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Bulldogs have won back-to-back bowl games for first time

since 1999-2000 – not to mention three straight Egg Bowls with

rival Mississippi. … Coach Dan Mullen predicts ”a huge year”

from Russell. … Mississippi State 0-12 under Mullen against SEC

West teams other than Ole Miss.

MISSISSIPPI – Key players: WR Donte Moncrief, RB Jeff Scott, DB

Charles Sawyer, LB Mike Marry. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7

defense.

NOTES: Randall Mackey has moved from QB to WR with emergence of

Barry Brunetti, JUCO transfer Bo Wallace. … WR Nickolas Brassell

has left the team because of academics, and four others had work

this summer to assure eligibility.