Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 7/15/13
If you look closely, you can see the rare and elusive Nick Saban smile. Photo: USA Today Sports Crystal Ball Run has been previewing each conference for the 2013 season with week-by-week coverage. Today we continue our 2013 conference previews with a look at the SEC. Another year, another BCS title for the SEC. That was the story for the conference in 2012 (and 2011, 2010, 2009 and... you know the story). When it comes to the college football totem pole, the SEC sits on top after another impressive showing in head-to-head competition in the 2012 season. The SEC went 6-2 against the ACC, 3-2 against the Big Ten, 2-0 against the Pac 12  and 1-1 against the Big 12. Somehow he conference went 1-4 against the Big East, but that stat will be overshadowed by the SEC's performance in the spotlight, and how the conference shined in that situation last year. 2012 In Review The SEC entered the 2012 season on top of the college football world. Alabama had defeated LSU in the BCS championship game to wrap up the previous season and the Crimson Tide once again looked like a top contender for the 2012 season. The conference also opened the year with their first expansion since adding Arkansas in 1992. The additions of Missouri and Texas A&M expanded the conference to 14 members but few knew how successful either program would be in their new SEC eras. Missouri may have been the better bet at the beginning of the season to make any noise in the conference, but it would be the Aggies who would quickly take the SEC and nation by storm. Having made a coaching change in preparation for their SEC debut, the Aggies were led by former Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, who was quick to fit in to the SEC with his personality and charm. He also happened to have a secret weapon of sorts in the form of young quarterback Johnny Manziel. In a conference with established starters such as Aaron Murray at Georgia and A.J. McCarron at Alabama, it was Manziel who came out of nowhere to become the offensive star of the SEC, earning SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors, and of course a Heisman Trophy at the end of the season. Manziel's Heisman moment came November 10 when Texas A&M stunned top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Manziel and Texas A&M's offensive style were supposed to run in to a brick wall at Alabama but the Aggies were unrattled in their road game against the defending BCS champs, jumping all over the Tide early on and managing to hold on for a victory. The win put Texas A&M on the map and helped catapult Manziel's Heisman campaign and ensured the Aggies will be a national title contender entering the 2013 season. At the time it seemed as though Alabama's championship plans may have been put on ice, but the Tide managed to work their way back in to the BCS picture with a little help around the country. First, Alabama had to return to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, which they did by ending the regular season with a victory over rival Auburn in convincing fashion. Then a date with SEC East champion Georgia. Georgia came out on top of a heated three-team race in the SEC East, edging out South Carolina despite losing to the Gamecocks earlier in the season, and holding a tiebreaker with the Florida Gators thanks to a head-to-head victory in the World's Largest Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. For Georgia it was the second straight appearance in the SEC Championship Game, but Mark Richt's quest for another SEC title ultimately fell just short at the end, when a last-second Aaron Murray pass to Chris Conley was complete but stayed in play to allow the clock to expire before getting a chance to run one more play. The victory may have been enough to put Georgia in their first BCS championship game, but instead it was Alabama that returned for a chance to become the first back-to-back BCS champion. One of the other significant stories in the conference took place at Arkansas. Bobby Petrino had the Razorbacks looking like a legitimate BCS title contender at the conclusion of the 2011 season. All sights were set on what could be in 2012, but Petrino never had a chance to coach a game following a motorcycle accident. Petrino attempted to cover up facts regarding his accident as they related to an affair with an athletics department employee he had hired. After being caught lying to his boss, athletics director Jeff Long made a controversial decision to fire the Razorbacks head coach in the spring. Arkansas hoped to get through the season with the animated John L. Smith, but the Razorbacks would trudge through a four-win season. The SEC in Bowl Games Georgia ran away from Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl in a match-up of conference championship game runners-up from the SEC and Big Ten. Photo: USA Today Sports It was another fine year for the SEC in the postseason. Alabama of course was the highlight of the postseason with the Crimson Tide blowing out top-ranked and undefeated Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game. Alabama's 42-14 victory over the Fighting Irish in Miami was the biggest blowout since USC destroyed Oklahoma to the tune of 55-19 in the 2004 BCS championship game, also played in Miami and since vacated. Florida was also invited to a BCS bowl game and was a heavy favorite against Big East champion Louisville, but the Gators came away with one of the worst losses by the SEC in the bowl season. Louisville executed a great game plan and was not intimidated by Florida in the Sugar Bowl, defeating the Gators 33-23 in a game that was not really that close. LSU also took a hit in the bowl season, but it came in thrilling fashion in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The LSU Tigers looked to have a win lined up but Clemson stunned LSU with a final drive and field goal to cap a wild 25-24 victory. The only other loss taken by the SEC in the postseason came at the expense of Mississippi State, who were the first bowl victim of Northwestern since California in the 1949 Rose Bowl. The SEC came out on the winning side of five bowl games in addition to Alabama's BCS championship victory. Texas A&M blew away Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, Georgia pulled away from Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Vanderbilt put away North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl and Mississippi dominated Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Oh, and this happened in the Outback Bowl... Animated GIF via Big Lead Sports Biggest Win in 2012 No. 15 Texas A&M 29, No. 1 Alabama 24 (November 10, 2012) - Having the top-ranked team in the BCS take a hit in November generally derails championship plans for most, but in this case it did not end up hurting Alabama. Instead it showed that the addition of Texas A&M may have been the best pick-up in the conference realignment game to date. The victory threw Johnny Manziel well in front of the Heisman race and helped send Texas A&M to an 11-win season. Honorable Mentions: Alabama over Michigan, Florida over Florida State Biggest Loss in 2012 No. 4 Florida 23, No. 22 Louisville 33 (Sugar Bowl) - Florida was supposed to have their way with Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville, but the Cardinals proved to be no pushover in a solid Sugar Bowl victory. Florida was held to just 286 yards of total offense and they turned the football over three times to the Big East champions. Dishonorable Mentions: Kentucky (pick one), Arkansas to Louisiana Monroe or Rutgers. Who's In? Who's Out? The SEC welcomed two new members last season with the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M. The SEC is standing firm on 14 members in 2013 and possibly the foreseeable future. Head Coaching Changes The SEC has plenty of quality head coaches, and in 2013 it will have even more. This season the SEC will see four new head coaches at programs looking to turn things around. Arkansas - Bobby Petrino was out before the start of the season and John L. Smith was brought in on an interim basis. Smith was let go at the end of the season and Arkansas hired away Bret Bielema from three-time Big Ten champion Wisconsin before Bielema could coach in a third consecutive Rose Bowl. Auburn - Just two years after leading Auburn to a BCS title, struggles on the field coupled with heat off the field led to Gene Chizik losing his job. Taking over the program will be a former Chizik assistant, Gus Malzahn, who had been the head coach at Arkansas State in 2012. Kentucky - With Louisville emerging in the state and Western Kentucky starting to make a name for itself, Joker Phillips was removed as head coach of the struggling Kentucky program. Mark Stoops, Florida State defensive coordinator, was hired to spark interest in the program and so far it may be working. Tennessee - Tennessee has struggled to find a coach to continue the success from the height of the Phil Fulmer era. Last year marked the end of the Derek Dooley era, which never cleared the bar set by his father at Georgia. Tennessee hired Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones. Photos: Usa Today Sports unless noted otherwise Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.
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