When it comes to handicapping conference title outlooks, it's all about finding out which team is more likely to win than those around it; not the team most likely to win.
ESPN's Will Harris did just that on Monday when he evaluated the conference title odds for the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12.
For the SEC, Harris gave Alabama the best odds to win the SEC (+220 to win the West and +145 to win the conference). LSU was second (+225 for the West and +145 for the conference).
But his best value pick came from the East, which has been overlooked by the West in the last few years. Harris made South Carolina the best play in the SEC (+1,100/+240).
Harris reiterated some of my same sentiments when it came to the Gamecocks' chances of winning the SEC in 2012. All the talk has been about running back Marcus Lattimore and his health, but one area that South Carolina's faithful has to be pleased with is the quarterback spot.
A position that was marred in inconsistency for the last few seasons saw vast improvement during the latter part of the 2011 season with Connor Shaw under center. While he went through some growing pains when he first took over for the drama-ridden Stephen Garcia, who was dismissed halfway through the season, he really came alive in the season finale against Clemson and carried that over to the bowl win against Nebraska.
Lattimore is very important and could decide whether this team returns to Atlanta, but Shaw's play will mean a lot for this team in the fall, especially if Lattimore isn't 100 percent healthy. Coach Steve Spurrier wanted him to become a more consistent passer and we saw that toward the end of last year and during the spring.
I also really like this defense. Jadeveon Clowney could be a real star in this league at defensive end and he'll get a lot of help from fellow linemen Devin Taylor, Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideau. The returning linebackers have a lot of experience and D.J. Swearinger is primed to have a big year at safety.
There are some concerns with the youth and inexperience in the secondary, but overall, South Carolina certainly has the talent all around to get through the SEC East for the second time in three years and could take the whole thing.