LSU: The Tigers are ranked in a Top 25 preseason poll for the 13th consecutive season. Players report Sunday and hit the field for their first practice Monday. LSU will face five teams in the coaches’ Top 25, and the Tigers are the only ranked squad to face four top-10 ranked teams.
Alabama: There are five players from the No. 1 Crimson Tide on the Sporting News first-team preseason All-American squad of 27 players: linebacker C.J. Mosley, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, guard Anthony Steen, running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper. There are 12 SEC players on the first team, including Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M), Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia), Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina), Anthony Johnson (DT, LSU), Loucheiz Purifoy (CB, Florida), Kyle Christy (P, Florida) and Marcus Murphy (PR, Missouri).
South Carolina: The Gamecocks start the season as the No. 7 team in the coaches’ poll, the same place they finished last season, which was their highest final ranking in school history. They begin practice at 7:15 p.m. Friday and open Aug. 29 against North Carolina.
Georgia’s Mark Richt: “Any year everything is on the line in the first month. Because of where these teams are ranked in the preseason. … Every single year that first SEC game is a monster. Of course we didn’t play South Carolina in the first SEC game last year, but if you lose that game you have to run the table basically. No matter who that next SEC game is, that’s a monster.”
LSU’s Les Miles: “I like us in any game.”
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier: “We may fall flat on our face, but that’s what we’re going to try to do, try to win the conference.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Chasing the Tide: Alabama might be the team to beat nationally after claiming three of the past four championships, but navigating the competitive SEC is a challenge for any team. Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M are in pursuit, and so are Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. All four finished last season among the nation’s top nine teams.
Made for TV: This list clearly begins with the Sept. 14 rematch in College Station, Texas, between Alabama and Texas A&M, the only team to beat the Tide last season. A week earlier, defending East champion Georgia tries to avenge a 35-7 loss to South Carolina. Florida and LSU, perhaps somewhat overlooked in the preseason, meet Oct. 12, a year after Will Muschamp’s team ended the Tigers’ 18-game regular-season win streak.
SEC newbies: Arkansas nabbed a proven winner in Bret Bielema, Auburn landed offensive whiz Gus Malzahn, Kentucky got a spark with Mark Stoops and Tennessee turned to Butch Jones, who already is making waves on the recruiting trail. Now, if only all four of the league’s new head coaches can find a starting quarterback.
Rising stock: Vanderbilt is coming off its best record since 1915, going 9-4 two years after a second cosnecutive two-win season led to the hiring of James Franklin. Back-to-back bowl games also is a first for the Commodores, who have gone from doormats to respected foe under the ever-confident coach. They’re led by one of the SEC’s top wide receivers in Jordan Matthews. Ole Miss’s turnaround in Hugh Freeze’s first season was impressive, too. The Rebels won seven games, including the BBVA Compass Bowl. Freeze then made even bigger waves with a highly touted recruiting class.
Youth movement: From five-star newcomers to talented players with a year under their belt, the SEC is full of youngsters with the potential to emerge as stars. Missouri wide receiver and prized 2012 signee Dorial Green-Beckham racked up 21 catches for 267 yards and four touchdowns in the final five games. Alabama’s Yeldon ran for 258 yards in the SEC and BCS Championship games plus freshman running back Derrick Henry, linebacker Reuben Foster and tight end O.J. Howard could develop significant roles. Ole Miss defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, defensive tackle Lavon Hooks and wideout Laquon Treadwell are freshmen to watch.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.