Sunday, August 19, 2012
SEC Power Rankings: Preseason
I really thought long and hard about this spot and whether LSU deserved it more and ultimately with the loss of Tyraan Mathieu (yes I do think he meant that much to the team) and with Alabama having the more experienced quarterback I decided they deserve the spot. Eddie Lacy is not Trent Richardson but the offensive line who allowed him to rush for more than 1600 yards returns pretty much intact. Defensively, Alabama will have to reload at key positions including jack linebacker after impact-player Courtney Upshaw was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens where he is getting a look at the spot vacated when Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles back in April. The secondary was hit hardest by graduation losing both starting cornerbacks and #7 draft pick, safety Mark Barron. But Alabama has recruited well, as evidenced by their #1 recruiting classes in 2010 and 2011. They have players ready to fill those spots. Tough road games at Arkansas and at LSU loom large, but Bama is poised to have another spectacular season, sad as I am to say it.
#2 LSU 2011 record 13-1 (8-0)
The SEC Champions lost two quarterbacks to graduation in Jordan Jefferson and sometimes player Jarrett Lee but most reports finger Jr. Zach Mettenberger, a Georgia transfer as the "real deal" and expect LSU's passing game to be much improved. The loss of a Heisman finalist in the secondary certainly hurts not only because of his on-the-field play, but also his leadership and the camaraderie he had with the team. LSU has several running backs who can carry the rock -- watch Sophomore Kenny Hilliard to get a lot of touches in addition to Spencer Ware. Defensively there are very little holes Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery return to play the end positions and safety Craig Loston will be a steady hand in the secondary. The schedule favors them as well -- they get South Carolina at home, Alabama at home and a game in Fayetteville looks to be their toughest road test -- that game to cap the season.
#3 Georgia 2011 record 10-4 (7-1)
The Bulldogs return as favorites to win the SEC East, returning more starters than LSU who I've ranked just ahead of them. The loss of sophomore running back Isaiah Crowell is a big one, but they return second team All-SEC quarterback Aaron Murray and lose only two starters on defense. They do lose three starting offensive linemen and the loss of projected right tackle Kolton Houston due to ineligibility over use of a steroid two and half years ago for a shoulder surgery hurts an already suspect line. Running back will likely be by committee unless someone can separate themselves from the pack. The addition of #1 all-purpose back Kenny Marshall is helpful and he will certainly get a chance to show his skills. The defense will include one of the nation's best linebackers in Jarvis Jones but has four defensive starters facing suspensions for at least the first game. The schedule is favorable, however, with no games against Alabama, Arkansas or LSU.
#4 South Carolina 2011 record 11-2 (6-2)
South Carolina is talented but I believe the team goes as Marcus Lattimore goes. No other team in the top 4 so heavily depends on one player. Can he return to form after a knee injury? All-SEC voters seem to think so as he made the first team. Connor Shaw progressed as the season went on and proved he is an upgrade to much-troubled Stephen Garcia. Their offensive line is suspect at times though they do return a second team All-SEC Center. Do not sleep on this defense. They are as talented as ever before returning Jadeveon Clowney and Delvin Taylor on the defensive line along with a group of seniors at linebacker. The schedule is not as favorable as Georgia's however with an annual game with Clemson looking ever more challenging in addition to playing on the road vs. LSU.
#5 Arkansas 2011 record 11-2 (6-2)
Without the loss of Bobby Petrino who I think was so instrumental to this team's success, I would have them ranked higher. They lose much of their wide receiving core and two linemen on offense but return All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson, talented wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, and running back Knile Davis, who was sidelined last year due to a knee injury, to pair with Ronnie Wingo. They lose quite a bit on defense as well but have experienced players along the defensive line. Defense was a weakness for Arkansas last year so the eye will be on them to see if they improve under new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, but I think the real question is how well do they perform with a new head man at the helm in John L. Smith? They could become one of the droppers on this list. Luckily, they do get Alabama and LSU at home.
#6 Florida 2011 record 7-6 (3-5)
Florida was really young on defense last year. That's good for this year though as they return nearly everyone and should be much improved. I don't see a huge drop-off from John Brantley to either Brissett or Driskel, however losing both of their speedy running backs will definitely change the way they gameplan. Their wide receivers and running backs are unproven but may surprise. It's hard to rank a group with this much talent any lower but the season will dictate whether they climb or fall on this list.
#7 Auburn 2011 record 8-5 (4-4)
Losing Michael Dyer due to undisclosed reasons certainly hurts Auburn's offensive chances this year along with questions at the quarterback position. Onterio McCalebb does return to ensure Auburn has at least one proven SEC runner though it is yet to be seen if he can handle the full load and an entire SEC season. All-SEC tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen returns as does wide receiver Emory Back to give whomever wins the quarterback job between Kiel Frazier and Clint Mosley some weapons. Gone is Auburn's championship-winning offensive formula along with coordinator Gene Chizik who took the head coaching job at Arkansas State. Auburn returns most of it's defense but it's defense wasn't very good last year. Perhaps going through some growing pains will make them a better unit. The schedule is tough too with a game vs. Clemson to open the season then LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia at home, then Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
#8 Tennessee 5-7 (1-7)
Last year's record wasn't pretty but do not let that fool you. Tennessee returns a lot of talent including quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter who were injured for portions of last season. They also return All-SEC receiver Da'Rick Rogers and add JUCO transfer receiver Cordarrelle Patterson who shows flashes of greatness. The defense loses a good player in defensive tackle Malik Jackson but a move to a 3-4 under new coordinator Sal Sunseri and the addition of nose tackle Daniel McCullers should help improve the run defense considerably. The strength of the defense is in the linebacking core namely AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt -- two sophomores who started much of the season last year as freshmen. The schedule is also favorable to the Vols losing LSU and Arkansas for Mississippi State.
#9 Missouri 2011 record 8-5 (5-4 Big 12)
I see Missouri's welcome to the SEC to be an ugly one but they return so much of their team from an 8-5 season a year ago they deserve this spot. Quarterback James Franklin (no not THAT James Franklin) returns as does wide receiver T.J. Moe. Running back Henry Josey also returns who ran for over 1100 yards last year. They will not find the path to an SEC East title easy though as they face South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas A&M all on the road.
#10 Texas A&M 2001 record 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)
Texas A&M lost a lot from a team that honestly wasn't very good last year. They lose starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the draft in addition to running back Cyrus Gray and wide receiver Jeff Fuller. The offensive line should be a strength for them at least led by Luke Joekel among three other returning starters. An entirely new coaching staff is in place for the team to adjust to in addition to all of the personnel turnover. A&M does have a proud tradition and history but welcome to the SEC, so does everyone else.
#11 Mississippi State 2001 record 7-6 (2-6)
MSU won all of it's out-of-conference games last year, but went just 2-6 in the SEC and they lose the core of their team in quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard. Tyler Russell will be handed the quarterback reins this year and he does return some targets to throw the ball to including wide receiver Chad Bumphis. They have a top cornerback duo in Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield to look at the positive side of things but I think if they found their 2011 season in the SEC to be stressful, this year they are going to be miserable.
#12 Vanderbilt 2001 record 6-7 (2-6)
Vanderbilt returns running back Zac Stacy who was good last year running for almost 1,200 yards and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Inconsistency at quarterback lost Vandy some close games the previous year and no one yet knows what to expect yet out of Jordan Rodgers. The offensive line does return four starters but they do not go very deep, nor are they very talented. The defense will have to replace Chris Marve, Tim Fugger and Casey Hayward but feel good about guys like linebacker Chase Garnham, defensive end Walker May and cornerback Trey Wilson.
#13 Kentucky 2001 record 5-7 (2-6)
Kentucky loses some offensive linemen to graduation and loses six defensive starters including linebacker Danny Trevathan. Joker Phillips has quite the task on his hand to coach this group of players up. Of course, Kentucky comes off of a season capped by a victory to their most hated opponent, Tennessee, but it will take talent to compete in an ever-tougher SEC league. The quarterback battle is between a freshman and the incumbent Morgan Newton and it appears the freshman may have the edge. Still it figures to be a long season for Kentucky football fans.
#14 Ole Miss 2001 record 2-10 (0-8)
Last year saw Houston Nutt replaced after a winless SEC season. In comes Hugh Freeze who got his college coaching start under former head coach Ed Orgeron. The defense should be better with D.T. Shakelford coming back from knee surgery. Also the offense returns weapons in Jeff Scott, Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell but the offensive line is very iffy and the quarterback situation has yet to work itself out. If Ole Miss does anything of significance it will be an improvement over last year, but improving a culture is not an easy task and I am not sure Ole Miss has hired the correct man to right that ship.