100-days checklist: SEC

We’re 100 days away from the start of the college football season.

Let’s get out our checklist and see what needs to be done before the 2013 season kicks off and the SEC tries to make it eight in a row.

SECTide envy: Alabama is no stranger to being the hunted. That’s just the way it is when you win three of the last four national championships. But it seems like everybody is gunning for Nick Saban and the Tide these days. The truth is that everybody outside of the Tide Nation is tired of seeing Alabama win all the time. Saban’s too zeroed in on what’s right in front of him to be distracted. We’ll find out if the same can be said about his players. Leadership on this team will be important. Saban said after the spring game that some players on the team were too comfortable. That needs to change if Alabama is going to hoist that crystal football for the third consecutive year.

Johnny Football’s encore: Speaking of being a target, think some defenses in the SEC are stoked about getting another shot at Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel? He made more than a few defenses look silly last season and only got better as the season progressed. Sure, it was everybody’s first look at Manziel, and there will be more of a scouting report on him in 2013. But as Manziel said this spring, the Aggies will have a few new tricks up their sleeve as well, and he’ll benefit from having been through the league once. It will be interesting to see how much more he can grow as a quarterback.

Getting defensive at Georgia: It’s been well documented how much the Bulldogs lost on defense. Seven of their starters from a year ago were selected in April’s NFL draft. That’s a serious talent drain for any program, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham isn’t fretting. He likes the young talent in the program and likes what he saw from those guys this spring. Freshman safety Tray Matthews is going to be a star, and sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins is poised to be the dynamic finisher off the edge that Jarvis Jones was the last two seasons. The key will be growing up in a hurry. The Bulldogs open the season at Clemson and also get South Carolina and LSU in the month of September.

Resolving Jeremy Hill's status: There was a time when LSU appeared to be loaded at running back, especially with the way Terrence Magee performed this spring. But Hill was the centerpiece of that backfield with his blend of size and speed. He had a pair of long touchdown runs against both South Carolina and Texas A&M last season that were the difference in those games. He remains indefinitely suspended from the team following his arrest on simple battery charges and recently had his probation restructured to include a curfew. It’s unclear when and if he will return because of his legal problems.

Taking that next step: Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are both riding high after big seasons a year ago. The Commodores won nine games for the first time in nearly a century, and the Rebels won a bowl game in Hugh Freeze’s first season. The question now: Can they build on their success from a year ago? We’ll start to get answers right away. They open the season against each other in a Thursday night game (Aug. 29) in Nashville.