5 THINGS TO WATCH
1: 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. It's hard to count out still-talented LSU, even after 11 underclassmen departed for the NFL. The Crimson Tide, though, remains loaded with talent and has a talented group of tailbacks and receivers to go with the always sturdy defense led by the All-America linebacker Mosley.
2. MADE-FOR-TV GAMES: This list clearly begins with the Sept. 14 rematch in College Station between Alabama and Texas A&M, the only team to beat the Tide last season. That game was a Heisman moment for Manziel. Alabama gets a bye week to change gears for the no-huddle offense. 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 on Oct. 12 a year after Will Muschamp's team managed to end the Tigers' 18-game regular-season win streak, 14-6. The season gets started Aug. 29 with Mississippi visiting Vanderbilt, not ordinarily a scintillating matchup but a chance for both to make an early statement.
3. SEC NEWBIES: Arkansas nabbed a proven winner in Bret Bielemma, Auburn landed offensive whiz Gus Malzahn, Kentucky got a spark with Mark Stoops and Tennessee turned to Butch Jones, who is already making waves on the recruiting trail. Now, if only all four of the league's new head coaches can find a starting quarterback. In the meantime, it's no coincidence that those teams had the SEC's four most generous defenses before the bosses made changes at the top. The result: A combined mark of 3-29 in league play, $15 million in buyouts and fresh starts.