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Alabama, LSU and SEC trying to remain best in the nation

FILE - This July 18, 2012 file photo shows LSU Coach Les Miles speaking to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media day in Hoover, Ala. Miles, who last season fell just short of his second national title since taking over at LSU in 2005, knows he has enough talent returning to get back to the big game. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

FILE - This July 18, 2012 file photo shows LSU Coach Les Miles speaking to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media day in Hoover, Ala. Miles, who last season fell just short of his second national title since taking over at LSU in 2005, knows he has enough talent returning to get back to the big game. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

WEST

LSU

Key players: QB Zach Mettenberger, CB Tyrann Mathieu, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan. Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: Mettenberger, a former Georgia player, has drawn strong reviews from coach Les Miles and teammates and might represent a sizable upgrade at QB. ... Offense has runners galore, led by Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, and offensive line has five players who have logged 102 collective starts. ... Secondary loses Morris Claiborne, but returns stars Mathieu and Eric Reid. ... Ends Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo combined for 17 sacks. ... Tigers spent 11 weeks at No. 1 last season.

ALABAMA

Key players: QB AJ McCarron, C Barrett Jones, LB Nico Johnson, S Robert Lester. Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense.

Notes: Quest for third national title in four years faces daunting scheduling, including opener with Michigan in Arlington, Texas, and visits to LSU and Arkansas. ... New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is unlikely to change pound-before-pass philosophy. ... Defense that topped all four major categories nationally must replace seven starters with 188 combined starts.

ARKANSAS

Key players: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi Hamilton, LB Alonzo Highsmith. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: Coach John L. Smith trying to keep Bobby Petrino’s offseason ouster from slowing program’s momentum. ... All-SEC RB Knile Davis returns after ankle injury sidelined him in 2011. ... Razorbacks hosting LSU in Fayetteville for the first time since 1992. ... Six members of Smith’s staff in new roles.

AUBURN

Key players: QB Kiehl Frazier, WR Emory Blake, DE Corey Lemonier, LB Daren Bates. Returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense.

Notes: Frazier is the odds-on favorite to claim starting job over Clint Moseley. ... Tigers have new coordinators in Scot Loeffler (offense) and Brian VanGorder (defense). ... Two-time 1,000-yard rusher Mike Dyer is gone, and so is Gus Malzahn’s no-huddle offense.

TEXAS A&M

Key players: LT Luke Joeckel, RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, LB Sean Porter. Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.

QB Jameill Showers is apparent leader in race to replace Ryan Tannehill, the No. 8 NFL draft pick. ...Coach Kevin Sumlin, whose Houston offenses twice led the nation in total, passing and scoring, brings a fast-paced attack to College Station. ... Top pass rushers Sean Porter and Damontre Moore return from team that led nation in sacks per game.

MISSISSIPPI ST

Key players: QB Tyler Russell, LG Gabe Jackson, CB Johnthan Banks, LB Cameron Lawrence. Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Bulldogs have won back-to-back bowl games for first time since 1999-2000 — not to mention three straight Egg Bowls with rival Mississippi. ... Coach Dan Mullen predicts “a huge year” from Russell. ... Mississippi State 0-12 under Mullen against SEC West teams other than Ole Miss.

OLE MISS

Key players: WR Donte Moncrief, RB Jeff Scott, DB Charles Sawyer, LB Mike Marry. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.

NOTES: Randall Mackey has moved from QB to WR with emergence of Barry Brunetti, JUCO transfer Bo Wallace. ... WR Nickolas Brassell has left the team because of academics, and four others had work this summer to assure eligibility.