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What the SEC retains and loses for the 2013 season

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The number of returning players for a team does not always spell success, but it surely gives a good indication of what to expect. When your team returns big-number guys from the year prior, good things tend to happen, however there is no guarantee. Returners at skill positions often mean an added level of excitement for the following season, but those crucial non-skill positions like the big boys in the trenches can be just as important.

The Southeastern Conference is expected to dominate the college football world once again, but that is no thanks to a large number of returning starters. Ole Miss is fifth in the country in the number of returners, and Auburn ranks 24th, but the rest of the conference comes in at 58th or worse in total number of returning players.

But at the skill positions — especially the quarterback — things look very dangerous, headlined of course by Johnny Football (if he didn’t void is eligibility, but that’s a completely different story). Eleven players from last season will return under center, a number of which ranked highly in passing yards and completion percentage

What you are looking at is a group of heat maps for the 2012 season of the top players at each position group. In bold are the projected starters for the 2013 season. With these charts you can see what kind of good (or bad) players are coming back for another year.

The SEC is known for its ferocious defense, but after this year, it might become known as the conference of the quarterback. With the “superfecta of M’s” in Murray, McCarron, Mettenberger, and Manziel leading the way, pass defenses around the country must be on high alert. But even Tyler Russell, Bo Wallace, Connor Shaw, and Kentucky’s own Maxwell Smith in the new Air Raid will be slinging it all over the field.

All of that passing raises even more concern for the Wildcat’s thin secondary.

With the departures of Mike Gillislee, Eddie Lacy, Marcus Lattimore, and Zac Stay, there are only a few leading rushers coming back for a second season, Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon. So much of the conference will be turning to new faces to pave the way out of the backfield.

Interesting to note that Jonathan George ranks second in receiving yards for the running backs that qualify. That could be an interesting wrinkle for the Air Raid that likes for its backs to catch the ball as well as run it. George is listed third on the spring depth chart.

For a few teams, there are a lot of targets coming back for those returning QB’s… Mississippi State leads the way with its top three wide outs returning for Tyler Russell, but Ole Miss returns a pair, as does LSU, and Vanderbilt.

Kentucky, of course, will be relying heavily on primary receiver Demarco Robinson with the departure of La’Rod King. But A.J. Legree and Daryl Collins look to be the secondary targets behind him.

A top tackler in the SEC from last year, Avery Williamson, will spearhead the Wildcats defense. But Bud Dupree plus Za’Darius Smith is going to be nasty. One of the best one-two punches on the defensive ends in the SEC. Also of note: Kentucky’s Miles Simpson ranks on this chart, but he is not projected to start in 2013, listed behind Kory Brown on the spring depth chart.

This chart is focused more on the secondary, and Kentucky is going to be scary thin. You’re probably well aware. The Cats were weak last year, and look to be even weaker in 2013. Nate Willis, please study hard.

Article written by Stuart Hammer

B.S. Broadcast Journalism from the University of Kentucky. @StuartHammerKSR