Our SEC panelists from around SB Nation's college network were asked which conference opponent is the greatest unknown entering the 2013 season.
Red Cup Rebellion (Ole Miss): Arkansas. The Razorbacks were definitely much more talented than their five wins last season would suggest. In many games, such as their games against Texas A&M and Mississippi State, the team simply gave up when the going got tough despite coming out of the gate pretty hot. Obviously the Bobby Petrino firing and John L. Smith stopgap had everything to do with this.
So I do believe that with a return of good coaching to Fayetteville this team could improve. That said, they lost so much from last year's team, especially on offense, that it is really tough to say what this team will do. They'll be less talented, but more well-coached, making them a mystery to me.
Rocky Top Talk (Tennessee): Missouri. I've been through their team roster, previous season information, team previews, and I still have no idea what they're doing here and if they're going to be anything other than just there from now until eternity.
Arkansas Expats: There's a certain bit of mystery to most of them, but I'd have to say Auburn because of where they fall on Arkansas' schedule. That's a game the Hogs will need to win, coming off a brutal stretch of our schedule, and it's a big unknown how much Gus Malzahn will have his offense rolling by that point in early November. Obviously, most Arkansas fans want to hope that Auburn will still be somewhat similar to last year's disaster team, but we really know we don't have the good fortune for that to happen again. The question is how much better they'll be.
Roll Bama Roll (two respondents):
Slice of Life: I think it would have to be LSU. The defense at LSU will always tend get a bit of a pass despite personnel losses (like Bama), but I really think that unit could go either way this year. The secondary is perilously young, and in a lot of ways, their upcoming defense reminds me of Alabama 2010. Add in the uncertainty of Jeremy Hill's status (arguably their best player on either side of the ball) and Zach Mettenberger's uneven play, and it is nearly impossible for me to get a bead on LSU.
Bammer: I'm going out on a limb with Ole Miss. The Black Bears gave Bama probably it's fourth-toughest fight last year just behind LSU, UGA and A&M (sorry Michigan, Notre Dame, and every other SEC team who played Bama). They'll have a lot of confidence going into 2013 and could be the surprise team in the SEC West. However, Ole Miss being Ole Miss, they could very easily end up fighting for last place in the West with Auburn, Arkansas, and Mississippi State. Who knows?
Good Bull Hunting (Texas A&M): Arkansas with Bret Bielema. I don't expect them to be the pushovers they were last season, and they have a talented roster. We get them on the road, and I expect to win, but something about this game makes me uncomfortable.
Team Speed Kills (SEC): Missouri. I was really surprised that they crashed and burned in such spectacular fashion last year, and I'm really wondering if that's because THEY WERE IN THE WEAK BIG 12 NORTH PAWWWWWLL or because they just had some bad luck last year. I would be stunned if they won 10 games, but not really all that surprised if they won eight, nor completely floored if they won five again.
If the question is SEC teams in general that are not on South Carolina's schedule (since I'm kind of wearing two hats here) -- Ole Miss. That offense was, at times, something to watch last year, and a lot of it comes back. So does a lot of the defense, which could be good or could be bad. My guess is that they win at least seven games in the regular season, and I'm glad they're not on South Carolina's schedule.
Alligator Army (Florida): This has to be Georgia. The offense returns almost entirely intact, and should be excellent; the defense returns almost no one of note, and could be awful. (This Georgia team feels a little like 2007 Florida to me, if I'm being totally honest.) LSU's also a mystery, having lost an incredible amount of talent, but I figure LSU will be what a Les Miles LSU team always is: talented, with a fair bit of variance.
A Sea of Blue (Kentucky): Tennessee. With all the turmoil in Knoxville over the last several years, I have no idea what to expect from first-year coach Butch Jones, who was not the most popular choice to replace Derek Dooley, but who has done a good job with his first recruiting class.
And The Valley Shook (LSU): Georgia. The Bulldogs rotate onto LSU's schedule a little early, but we just don't play the Dogs often enough to have that intimate familiarity (READ: hatred) of that team. While I expect UGA to have an impressive offense led by Aaron Murray, I have no idea what to expect from a defense that graduates four of the top five players in the secondary and four of their top five tackling linebackers, especially All-World MLB Jarvis Jones. Let's just say I'm quite happy to be playing them in September and not November. With any luck, not even Georgia will know what kind of team they have by the time they play LSU.
College and Magnolia (Auburn): I’ll go with Ole Miss. On paper, the Rebels have a ton of talent, but part of me still says, "yeah, but it’s Ole Miss." Looking at the schedule, anything between 6-6 and 9-3 appears to be a realistic possibility for Mr. Freeze’s team. Will the Rebs do the typical Ole Miss thing and underachieve, or will the results match the talent and make them a real player in the West?
Garnet and Black Attack (South Carolina): Georgia. Obviously, they should be a good team, and they should have one of the best offenses in the country. Their defense is a huge question mark, though. They lose so much talent, and while they've recruited well enough to reload quickly, it's going to have to meld really quick for them to compete for a national title because the first two games come against top-10 opponents.