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SEC 2012: The New SEC

Welcome to the new SEC. Same as the old SEC.
Welcome to the new SEC. Same as the old SEC.

It's a new season in the SEC, and this one includes even more new faces than usual. For a league that seems to be constantly changing, that's saying something.

The most glaring new faces, of course, are the new teams joining the SEC this fall: Missouri and Texas A&M. Both teams bring some strengths and lucrative television markets to a conference that already has one of the highest profiles in college football. And both are likely to be somewhat surprised by their new conference-mates -- and might surprise a few of them in turn.

As always, there are some new players. Every team is looking to see if they have the next Tim Tebow or Marcus Lattimore on their rosters, hoping to find a player that can make an impact in their freshman year. And there are always the once-unheralded players who suddenly become playmakers.

And there are some new coaches. Hugh Freeze takes the reins at Ole Miss after the end of the Houston Nutt regime. John L. Smith steps into an Arkansas program turned upside down by an ill-advised motorcycle ride by former head coach Bobby Petrino. Kevin Sumlin not only has to get used to a new program in College Station, he will be the Aggies' coach in their inaugural SEC season.

The new storylines might be the most telling indicator of how much the conference has changed even before the new members are added. Can South Carolina make another run to Atlanta? How much longer does Derek Dooley have to turn things around at Tennessee? Is James Franklin really turning Vanderbilt into an up-and-comer?

The top of the SEC West seems to be settled: It's Alabama and LSU. Or LSU and Alabama. Which arrangement depends on who's being asked and when they're being asked it. The other five teams are just fighting for position.

But the most interesting thing to think about might be the fact that the conference has come full circle. When the SEC was founded in 1932, there were the 10 members we generally think of as the "original" members of the conference -- Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt -- as well as Sewanee, Georgia Tech and Tulane. With 14 members now, you can argue that the SEC is closer to its roots than it has been in a long time.

And the coaching questions and shifts in the balance of power have long been a part of life in the hypercompetitive SEC. And the beauty of college football is that there are new stars emerging every year, sparking all of the changes (aside from new conference members) that keep the sport entertaining.

Everything old, it seems, is new again.