1.LSU (October 6)- This is no surprise. LSU is going through a quarterback transition as Zach Mettenberger takes the reigns under center, but the new job won't be as tough with the stable of running backs LSU will have to its advantage. Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard and Spencer Ware will get plenty of touches so that all three stay fresh throughout the season, and any of the three would see significant touches if they played for Florida.Mettenberger also has a deep group of receivers to throw to. Odell Beckham Jr. became a household name in the SEC last year as a freshman and should take another step forward this year. Russell Shepard is a senior for the Tigers and has all the tools to be an elite playmaker if he can be consistent. Jarvis Landry and Kadron Boone provide quality depth to the group.
As usual, LSU will bring a stacked defense into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo give the Tigers one of the top defensive end duos in the country, while LSU will rotate plenty of bodies along the line.
Experience at linebacker could become an issue, but the secondary should be strong even after the loss of first-round pick Morris Claiborne. Tyrann Mathieu returns, along with both safeties—Craig Loston and Eric Reid.
2. South Carolina (October 20)- The Gamecocks lost plenty of talent to the NFL after winning a season record 11 games last season, but there's enough experience returning for South Carolina to put together another successful season in 2012.The offensive game plan shouldn't be much of a mystery. If Marcus Lattimore is healthy, he will be the focal point of the offense.
This will be the first season Connor Shaw goes into the year as a starter. With Stephen Garcia no longer on the team, Shaw doesn't need to look over his shoulder and wonder when Garcia will get the job again. It's now Shaw's job to start the season, and it should stay that way throughout the year.
The loss of Alshon Jeffery raises some questions at wide receiver. On a big third-and-long, there are now questions about which receivers will get the ball. The Gamecocks are hoping former Florida prep receiver Ace Sanders can step up and take that role after showing flashes early in his career. It could also be a freshman like Shaq Roland that steps into the job early in the year.
The experience on offense helps at the skill positions, but there is a lot of uncertainty along the offensive line.
The South Carolina defense will be under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward after Ellis Johnson became the head coach at Southern Miss. Ward has some toys to play with, especially at defensive end, where Devin Taylor and Jadevon Clowney are both highly projected NFL prospects. Kelcy Quarles has all the physical tools to step in immediately at defensive tackle.
3. Missouri (November 3)- The Tigers make their first trip to Gainesville as a member of the SEC for the final conference game of the season. Their immediate success in the conference will depend on junior quarterback James Franklin, who makes their spread offense work. It will be tough for it to have immediate success because of the new players the Tigers will feature on the offensive side of the ball.Missouri returns Franklin, running back Henry Josey and three offensive linemen from last year's unit. Freshman and top-ranked high school wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is expected to step in and play early. By the time Missouri makes the trip to Gainesville, he'll be more comfortable in the offense.
The star of the Missouri defense is All-Big 12 cornerback EJ Gaines. His athleticism shines from the secondary, but the group as a whole is very athletic. The linebackers are solid, and if the defensive line can stay healthy, they should be able to provide necessary pressure.
The biggest positive for the Missouri defense is that they aren't in the Big 12 any longer. The up-tempo, high-scoring offenses in the conference are a thing of the past.
Morgan Newton as the 2011 season started, but he struggled from the beginning until he was replaced. Now, it's Maxwell Smith's turn. There's also depth at running back with Coshik Williams, Josh Clemons and Raymond Sanders.
It's the second year for the Wildcats under defensive coordinator Rick Minter. The defense did show signs of improvement down the stretch. The Florida offense, which struggled throughout the 2011 season, put up 48 points and 520 yards of offense last year in Lexington.
5. Louisiana (November 10)- The Ragin Cajuns went 9-4 with a 6-2 record in the Sun Belt last year. The successful season pushed head coach Mark Hudspeth's name into the conversation for some bigger head coaching positions across the country.Louisiana returns nine starters on offense, including quarterback Blaine Gautier, who threw 23 touchdowns and six interceptions last season.
The defense is the biggest area of concern after returning just four starters. Louisiana will also add former Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Fields this year. The lack of experience on the defense is the biggest concern.
6. Jacksonville State (November 17)- The Gamecocks will feature a familiar name to Florida fans—former Georgia running back Washaun Ealey. When Jacksonville State takes the field of The Swamp for the final game before the showdown against Florida State, it'll be about getting a win and a tune up.Jacksonville State almost beat Florida State in 2009, which you can bet the Florida coaches will be pounding into players' heads throughout the week before this game. Ealey rushed for 1,082 yards and eight touchdowns for the Gamecocks last season.
7. Bowling Green (September 1)- The Falcons will be the season-opener for the Gators after going 5-7 last season. Bowling Green's offense is pass-heavy and has been throughout its time under head coach Dave Clawson. The rushing attack was 91st in the country last season, averaging 123 yards per game. In 2010, it was statistically the worst rushing attack in college football—averaging 63 yards per game, which was 14 less yards than the team that was second-to-last.Bowling Green was 116th in the nation last year in turnover margin because the defense forced just 15 turnovers. Teams ran wild on the Falcons last season. This could be an opportunity for the Florida run game and Mike Gillislee to gain some confidence before conference play starts in week two.