It has been a bit more than a week since the final SEC spring practice (Arkansas’) concluded and we’re four months from the start of the 2016 season. Thus, what better time for a post-spring SEC power ranking.
14. SOUTH CAROLINA
The skinny: The offense was a disaster last season, and the Gamecocks lost their most explosive player (WR Pharoh Cooper) and best lineman (OT Brandon Shell). Who’s the quarterback? Who’s the feature back? Who are the best five up front? And can anyone other than Deebo Samuel be counted on to catch a pass? And while Will Muschamp is a certified genius when it comes to coaching defensive backs, we’re not sure how much talent he has to work with in the back end in Columbia.
RELATED: South Carolina spring practice review
The skinny: New offensive coordinator Eddie Gran will see to it that the running game is more productive this season; UK has legitimate depth at running back. But how will QB Drew Barker fare? And will the defense be able to stop anybody with a pulse? There is some talent in the secondary, but the front seven could be a disaster area. In the SEC, if you can’t stop the run, you quite simply don’t win games.
RELATED: Mark Stoops wants results this fall
The skinny: Coach Barry Odom has what should be one of the SEC’s best defensive lines; the Tigers’ pass rush should be downright scary. But the offense again looks to be problematic. The receiving corps looks especially barren. Heck, the go-to receiver might be Alabama grad transfer Chris Black, a guy who couldn’t get on the field in Tuscaloosa. QB Drew Lock has an upside, but it might not truly show this fall.
RELATED: Odom ready to tackle his new job
The skinny: Vandy’s defense was solid last season (it gave up just 3 yards per game more than LSU’s), but the offense was rancid. Thing is, the defense should be just as good this season, and if the offense can make even a modicum of improvement, the Commodores could win six and get to a bowl. QB Kyle Shurmur is the key. TB Ralph Webb is a good one, some key receivers are back from injuries and the line should be better than it was in 2015. That puts the onus on Shurmur to produce.
RELATED: Vandy’s Webb, Jelks have exceeded recruiting rankings
10. MISSISSIPPI STATE
The skinny: This is year 1 A.D. – After Dak – for the Bulldogs. Interestingly, for a team coached by offense-minded Dan Mullen, the defense looks to be ahead of the offense. There is a good group of linebackers and a high-level safety trio. While the d-line will miss Chris Jones, there really shouldn’t be much of a drop-off. But the offense has issues at quarterback, along the line and – especially – at running back. At least the receiving corps has some promise.
RELATED: Mullen remains bullish on his Bulldogs
The skinny: Is there a quarterback on the roster who can get things done? Going by spring practice, the answer is “no.” And the line is at least a slight concern. But there is a solid group of running backs, and the receiving corps should be quite a bit better than it was last season. Defensively, the line looks good – though the health of Carl Lawson is vital – and there is some talent in the secondary. But if Illinois graduate transfer T.J. Neal struggles, the Tigers are in big trouble at linebacker.
RELATED: Auburn spring practice review
The skinny: Bret Bielema gradually has added to the Razorbacks’ talent level, and the program is much stronger than when he took over. But Bielema is a guy who loves to run the ball, and there is no clear-cut answer at tailback. Rawleigh Williams III has talent, but he’s coming off a serious neck injury. And Devwah Whaley also is talented, but he’s a true freshman. The secondary should be better, thanks to experience and the hiring of Paul Rhoads as the position coach. Then again, to call the secondary a sieve last season was being kind, so “should be better” is sort of damning with faint praise. LB Dre Greenlaw is a star on the rise, and the pass rush – which came on down the stretch last season – should be strong throughout this season.
RELATED: Will Bielema, Hogs take the next step?
7. TEXAS A&M
The skinny: The heat is on Kevin Sumlin. One giant positive: No drama – or divas – at quarterback for the first time during his tenure. Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight had a solid spring, and as long as he plays consistent football, without a ton of turnovers, this offense has a lot of potential. The receiving corps is loaded, and the running backs look promising. There is some star power on defense – most notably, at end and safety – but unless the Aggies make vast improvement against the run – they allowed an embarrassing 231.7 rushing yards per game last season – nothing else will matter.
RELATED: Texas A&M spring practice review
The skinny: Another first-year coach with a quarterback quandary. But Kirby Smart’s is a bit different than Will Muschamp’s and Barry Odom’s in that he has a senior who was 10-2 as a starter last season. The issue is that Greyson Lambert isn’t near as talented as true freshman Jacob Eason, and you have to figure that at some point this fall, Eason will be the starter – and, as true freshmen quarterbacks in the SEC are wont to do, make some big mistakes. The offensive line should be fine, and if Nick Chubb is healthy, Georgia will have the best tailback duo in the league and maybe the nation. The secondary looks good, too. But there are questions at wide receiver, along the defensive front and at linebacker. The front seven on defense has talent, for sure, but how soon will it all gel?
RELATED: Smart’s hard work has barely begun
The skinny: The Gators performed beyond expectations last season, thanks to a high-level defense. Well the defense is going to be good again, and even though the secondary lost two first-rounders, it still should be the team strength. The defensive front should be stout. LB Jarrad Davis is a star, but the depth is lacking at the position. Offensively, there should be good rotations at tailback and tight end, and the line will be better than it was last season. But the passing game as a whole is a concern. How good can Luke Del Rio be at quarterback? And while it seems likely that WR Antonio Callaway’s suspension eventually will be lifted, the rest of the receiving corps is a question. The Gators must get production from at least two true freshman receivers.
RELATED: What does Jim McElwain do for an encore?
The skinny: Anything less than an East Division title will be seen as a disappointment. And everything is in place for that division title. The Vols have the best quarterback in the division in Josh Dobbs. The tailback duo of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara is a high-level one, and while it may not be as good as Georgia’s, it still will be one of the three or four best nationally. The o-line should be better than it was last season; the same goes for the receiving corps. Defensively, linebacker depth is the only concern. The Vols haven’t been outright East champs since 2004; they were co-champs in 2007.
RELATED: Tennessee spring practice review
3. OLE MISS
The skinny: The draft fallout is going to linger – both the talent lost and the repercussions from Laremy Tunsil’s admission that he took money. But the Rebels will have the best offense in the league, thanks to QB Chad Kelly, a deep receiving corps and an improved group of running backs. There is some concern about the line, but the talent is there. The Rebels had some defensive issues last season, and while there will be a good pass rush, the linebackers and secondary are iffy. If Oregon State grad transfer Rommel Mageo doesn’t fit at linebacker, that position will be a clear weakness; it’s not that strong as it is.
RELATED: Ole Miss spring practice review
The skinny: Everything looks to be in place for an SEC title run – and that means everything looks to be in place for a national title run. Well, everything except a proven quarterback. Improving the passing attack was a spring goal, but, really, is anyone going to truly believe Brandon Harris can get the job done until he proves he can consistently hit some third-down passes? RB Leonard Fournette is a leading Heisman contender. The offensive line will be aggressive and physical. There is a solid group of receivers. The secondary should be as good as any in the nation, and the front seven will be feisty in coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 set. It all comes back to Harris. And if this team doesn’t win at least 10, Les Miles will be feeling tremendous heat again.
RELATED: LSU spring practice review
The skinny: To be the best, you have to beat the best. And not enough teams in the SEC have been able to beat the Tide of late. Yes, there are concerns at quarterback and running back. But the receiving corps is deep and talented, the offensive line is going to be good and the defense has talent and depth everywhere, especially at linebacker. The biggest question about the Tide: Will there be a third consecutive playoff invitation?
RELATED: Alabama spring practice review
(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)
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