Almost every fan has a primary team, of course. But we also all end up playing favorites when we flip through the channels, or end up watching a lot of another team when our own is on a down year. (Many non-Big Ten fans take a side in the perennial Michigan-Ohio State war, for example.) Below, an evaluation of each SEC team’s potential for spontaneous, secondary fandom, in rough order of their expected finish.
1. The Alabama Crimson Tide
– AJ McCarron, he of the beauty queen girlfriend and nation-leading passing efficiency, will be gunning for his third straight national championship as quarterback. That’s potentially pretty epic.
– Nick Saban (68-13 as Alabama head coach) has just enough Bond smarts and Bond villain smarm to pull off both roles.
– Protecting the blind side is future NFL first-round pick and Great Football Name Cyrus Kouandjio.
– T.J. Yeldon, the first freshman in school history to rush for 1,000 yards, will only be better this time around, even with three new starting O-linemen.
– Junior defensive back Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. (That’s all.)
– ROLL TIDE. ROLL TIDE? ROLL TIDE!
– Saban doesn’t command the abject fear (Bear Bryant) or familiar-feeling folksiness (Gene Stallings) of other great Crimson Tide coaching legends.
– Alabama players head to the NFL with such frequency and rapidity that there’s little time to appreciate their individual greatness.
– Ignorantly yelling ROLL TIDE! in the wrong part of the state could be an unwise (last) move. Roll with caution, always.
2. The Georgia Bulldogs
– Senior QB Aaron Murray could be the one (dare to dream!) to finally bring the Bulldogs to the upper echelons of college football. There’s an Alabama-sized problem in his way, but the school’s all-time career TD passer (95) is far from finished. (He also very well may break the SEC record for career passing yards in the process.)
– Uga IX.
– Very favorable schedule tops out with South Carolina and LSU at home. Georgia could be a fun wagon to jump on this year.
– Georgia seems determined to break hearts, like a peach withering on the…stalk…of the…peach plant? I grew up in Queens.
– Bulldogs fans probably knew all about that really cool, under-the-radar band before you did.
3. The Texas A&M Aggies
– Johnny Football is dead. Long live Johnny Football.
– Texas A&M is not Alabama.
– In all seriousness, Johnny Manziel is everything you should love about college, not just college football.
– Saying “Yeah, I go to school at College Station” just sounds really bad-ass.
– Q: What the hell’s an Aggie? (A: It does not matter.)
– Arguing about Manziel and whether he’s embarrassing the game and ruining his NFL chances is being on a hamster wheel from hell that never stops.
– The Johnny Football Phenomenon could come to an abrupt conclusion without a home win against Alabama on Sept. 14.
4. The South Carolina Gamecocks
– Jadeveon Clowney said KNOCK YOU OUT.
– Head coach Steve Spurrier has remained thoroughly relevant after all those years, and you must respect that.
– QB Connor Shaw has a future fronting a Billy Corgan tribute band, if that’s his thing.
– South Cackalack traditionally plays a lot of Thursday games — in fact, they open the season on a Thursday this year against UNC — and for expanding the possibilities of the paradigm of football scheduling, they are owed our gratitude.
– Shirtless Steve Spurrier.
5. The Louisiana State Tigers
– Senior QB Zach Mettenberger now has former NFL head coach Cam Cameron as his offensive coordinator, and that should bode well for an offense that is jacked-up with top recruits but last year ranked 85th in the country (and 10th in the SEC).
– You have absolutely no idea what Les Miles is going to do next and that’s exactly as it should be.
– Pistol Pete.
– There can’t be a more perfect place for highly-anticipated Saturday-night games than Tiger Stadium. You can smell the Musburger on the wind.
– Defensive end Barkevious Mingo, a Great Football Name, is now in the NFL.
– It appears that running back Jeremy Hill will not miss a single game despite being found to have violated probabtion (which he’s on for “misdemeanor carnal knowledge” of a 14-year-old girl) by attacking a man in a bar parking lot.
6. The Florida Gators
– QB Jeff Driskel is a dead ringer for Ken Jennings. This is a fact.
– Will Muschamp is just about the most lovable psychopath coach you could possibly dream up.
– There’s finally been enough time away from The Tebow Years that it feels OK to unabashedly root for them again.
– Stadium nickname is “The Swamp.”
7. The Ole Miss Rebels
– This two-time Super Bowl MVP used to be their quarterback.
– Their coach is named Hugh Freeze, which is just this side of being a Dashiell Hammett villain.
– Almost had Admiral Ackbar as your mascot and you blew it.
8. The Tennessee Volunteers
– Wide Receiver U. doesn’t rebuild. It reloads, as freshman Marquez North is ready to prove.
– Well, Wide Receiver U. did lose Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, so reloading isn’t an option. It’s mandatory.
– Butch Jones will be the school’s fourth coach in six seasons, and that ain’t a recipe for success.
– It’s been far too long since this guy suited up.
9. The Auburn Tigers
– In returning as head coach, former offensive coordinator and speed-spread specialist Gus Malzahn has overcome his wife’s transcendently incredible P.R. disaster.
– They can’t possibly go 0-8 in the SEC again. (Can they?)
– It’s been a long, hard fall since the 2011 BCS championship. Has the energy ever been sucked out of a program so fast?
10. The Vanderbilt Commodores
– Senior WR Jordan Matthews (2012 First Team All-SEC; 1,323 receiving yards) is a stud.
– A manageable schedule (at South Carolina, vs. Georgia, at Florida) means an outside shot at equalling last season’s 9-4 record.
– No national name recognition.
– Stuck in the middling middle of the nation’s toughest conference.
11. The Arkansas Razorbacks
– Highly successful ex-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema looks like a sentient slab of smoked ham but promises to inject relevancy and importance into an Arkansas program that demands it.
– John L. Smith was far more interesting than Bielema could possibly hope to be.
– They have no experience at QB, which could be a problem, since the quarterback…[cross-tabulates spreadsheet formula equations]…yep, quarterback is still an important football position.
– A scoring offense that ranked 89th and lost seven offensive starters is going to mean a lot of lopsided losses during a rebuilding year.
12. The Missouri Tigers
– RB Henry Josey (1,168 yards rushing yards and nine TDs in 2011) is back after shredding his knee and missing the entire 2012 season.
– Head coach Gary Pinkel had one of the friendliest, most non-combative DWI arrests you’ve ever seen.
– Don Draper himself has your back.
– It’s hard out there for a non-blue blood SEC team. Root for Missouri and you’re going to be on the wrong end of a lot of blowouts.
13. The Mississippi State Bulldogs
– QB Tyler Russell (above) started off the season 7-0.
– They get to play Alabama at home.
– It’s hard to root for a team that’s so far down the pecking order that they’re rarely on TV.
– QB Tyler Russell finished the season 1-5.
– They have to play Texas A&M on the road.
14. The Kentucky Wildcats
– They have a top-five punter in Landon Foster.
– One of their players is named Mister Cobble, and that’s the best Great Football Name in the entire SEC.
– Fans haven’t left home since March; they’re all still staring uncomprehendingly at the box score indicating their thousand-star blue-chip basketball team lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris.