Here are our preseason power rankings – first by division, then the league as a whole.
One positive for all SEC fans: Quarterback play in the league this season should be top shelf, especially considering the crud that’s been on the field for much of this decade. Oh, sure, there always seem to be two or three good quarterbacks in the SEC; this season, though, there are at least eight and maybe 10.
That makes things better for fans – but tougher for defensive coordinators.
Here are our preseason SEC Power Rankings.
The skinny: Jim McElwain and the Gators have won back-to-back SEC East titles with severely flawed teams – the flaw being an offense that can charitably be called pitiful. There are two SEC teams this decade that have not averaged 400 yards in a season at least once. One is Vanderbilt – and the other is Florida. That should change this season for the Gators. There is good talent and depth along the offensive line and at tight end and running back. The wide receivers are promising. If UF can get adequate quarterback play, it will be in good shape. The 2017 defense won’t be as good as the 2016 unit, but it will take just a half-step back, not a full step. And the special teams are excellent.
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The skinny: The defense will be salty. People forget DL Trenton Thompson was the overall No. 1 prospect nationally in the 2015 recruiting cycle, and he began to play like it in the second half of last season. LB Roquan Smith is a rising star and he heads an upperclassmen-dominated linebacker crew. There is both experience and intriguing young talent in the secondary. The running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel might be the best in the nation. QB Jacob Eason has a big arm and looks the part of a big-timer. Alas, there’s a “but” here – two, actually. But can the offensive line protect Eason? There’s a potentially great group of tight ends, but the wide receiver corps is underwhelming. Which wideout scares opposing secondaries? The answer: None of them.
The skinny: This will be the Vols’ best offensive line in a while, certainly of the Butch Jones era. RB John Kelly and WR Jauan Jennings will move seamlessly into more important roles – and have big seasons. The quarterbacks vying for the job have talent and intriguing skill sets. Defensively, though, there are a ton of questions. And that is after last season’s defense was absolutely shredded down the stretch. Is there a legit pass rusher on the roster? Can any of the defensive tackles stay healthy? Is there an SEC-caliber linebacker on the roster other than Darrin Kirkland Jr.? And while there are a lot of experienced defensive backs, are any of them high-level talents?
The skinny: This will be the second season for QB Drew Lock under OC Josh Heupel, who guided some productive quarterbacks — and offenses — at Oklahoma. There is a deep group of receivers, a legit feature back in Damarea Crockett and good line play on both sides of the ball. The back seven on defense, though, is mighty, mighty shaky. Mizzou is going to have to win some shootouts. But this offense is equipped to do just that.
5. South Carolina
The skinny: The Gamecocks sure do have some weapons: QB Jake Bentley, TE Hayden Hurst, WRs Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, an OK group of running backs. LB Skai Moore is back, and that’s big. The secondary should be, at the least, adequate. But is either line that good? And we’re also skeptical whether coach Will Muschamp truly will turn his offensive skill guys loose.
The skinny: Sophomore RB Benny Snell is a star on the rise; the same goes for junior LB Jordan Jones. There are some intriguing parts in the secondary, and the offensive line – even though starting LT Cole Mosier has been lost for the season – will be fine. But the passing attack looks iffy, and the defensive front looks flat-out bad. And there’s also a lot of history to overcome: Kentucky has not had a winning record in SEC play since 1977. Seriously, 1977. In the ensuing 40 years, they have had as many winless league records as they have had .500 finishes (six of each).
The skinny: Senior TB Ralph Webb is a given. But you can’t count on junior QB Kyle Shurmur to be consistent. That said, the Commodores could go bowling again because the defense is going to be OK and Shurmur will have a few big moments.
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