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Men’s spring preview: SEC

When it comes to golf, the Southeastern Conference has long been known as one of the nation’s stronger leagues. This season the SEC increased that strength with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri and is proving to be arguably the country’s most competitive conferences top to bottom.

No doubt there are those who will argue for the Pac-12 and with good reason. Led by top-ranked California, the Pac-12 finished the fall season with four teams ranked in the top 10 and 11 of the 12 among the top 80.

But how about this: Each of the 14 teams that now comprise the SEC ended the fall ranked 45th or better, including five in the top 15 and nine in the top 30. Pretty impressive, to say the least.

Once again, Alabama, No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, leads the way. The Crimson Tide had one of the best seasons in school history a year ago when they won four titles, including the SEC Championship by six shots over Auburn, and the Southeast Regional. After leading the 54-hole stroke play portion at the NCAA Championship, they finished runner-up to Texas at nationals, losing out on the final hole in the final match of the day.

Four of the five starters from that NCAA team are back and, like last season, the Tide has a potent lineup from top to bottom with sophomore Justin Thomas and juniors Bobby Wyatt, Cory Whitsett and Trey Mullinax leading the way.

The Tide posted a 39-12-1 overall record in the fall and more importantly that mark came against all top-50 ranked teams.

Still, Alabama will have its work cut out if it hopes to successfully defend its SEC crown.

Led by seniors T.J. Vogel and Tyler McCumber, No. 6 Florida had an equally impressive fall with a win and two seconds and a 43-7 overall record, including 23-7 against top 50 teams. The Gators won the SEC title in 2011 and finished third last season.

Georgia, LSU and Arkansas, ranked 11, 12 and 13 respectively, also are major contenders for the league’s title. The Bulldogs were 43-13 (22-9 vs. top 50), the Tigers 34-10-2 (20-10-2 vs. top 50) and the Razorbacks 38-24-2 (26-22-1 vs. top 50) in the fall.

No. 21 Vanderbilt had one of its finest fall seasons while compiling a 40-8 record, while No. 23 Auburn was 33-28-2, although just 11-26-2 against top 50 teams.

And the two new kids on the SEC block should certainly have their presence known at this year’s league championship. No. 19 Missouri won four of its five fall events and posted a 56-6 overall record. And, although No. 26 Texas A&M, which left the Big 12 after capturing that conference’s title last season, struggled in the fall (24-31 and 9-27 vs. top 50), you can bet the Aggies will have their act together come SEC Championship time.

Then you have Tennessee (No. 32), Kentucky (34), South Carolina (39), Mississippi State (41) and Mississippi (45). Each of these posted winning records last fall.

Add it all up and you get 14 teams comprising one very strong conference.

Right now the likes of Alabama and Florida rank as the favorites to take home the SEC championship trophy with Georgia, LSU and Arkansas close behind.

But the bottom line is that it won’t be considered a major upset no matter which team secures the title in a conference jam packed with quantity and quality.

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Where it stands now

Top of the class: Alabama

Best player this fall: Justin Thomas, Alabama

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Past champions

2007: Tennessee

2008: Alabama

2009: Georgia

2010: Georgia

2011: Florida

2012: Alabama

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Conference capsules

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