Kicking around and debating about which team in the SEC has the best defense can be entertaining and can tend to get downright ugly. After all, the SEC is known for its physically punishing defenses, and every team wants to lay claim to being the ‘best’ one.
So, which SEC West defense will be the best in 2013?
There are way too many variables right now that we have to see play out during the season, but let’s take a look at the ceiling (and the floor) of each SEC West defense.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Last year’s defense: 1st in SEC
Why they could be the division’s best: Certainly the Tide are the favorites to be the top defense in the SEC West again. CJ Mosley will be the Tide’s heart and soul on defense, and, oh, they still have that coach named Nick Saban and his understudy Kirby Smart dialing up defensive plays and bringing in top talent to replenish the Tide’s smash mouth defense. Bama’s stacked depth chart gives Saban and Smart several options to plug five-stars into vacant positions.
Why they won’t be the division’s best: Ok, the Tide may never be the division’s worst defense, but there could be a letdown this year. Losing three defensive linemen, LB Nico Johnson, CB Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester may leave too many vacancies for the Tide to have the top defense.
Last year’s defense: 12th in SEC
Why they could be the division’s best: Bret Bielema’s biggest impact will come on defense, and he has four veteran defensive linemen returning, along with a young crop of talented linebackers and secondary players. SEC games are won and lost in the trenches, and Arkansas has one of the best – on paper – returning front four of anyone. Bielema and Chris Ash are the missing pieces to makes this defense finally click.
Why they won’t be the division’s best: The secondary was unbearable to watch at times last season. What makes us think the secondary will get that much better under a new system in just one year? I’ll buy the front seven, but the secondary has too much of a chasm to fill. Not to mention, if the offense can’t move the ball, the defense will be on the field way too much anyway.
Last year’s defense: 13th in SEC
Why they could be the division’s best: Ellis Johnson is a brilliant defensive mind, and he’ll put guys in positions to succeed. The tackling will improve, and Justin Garrett will be the lifeblood of a much-improved defense all around. The strength starts up front with the defensive line, and this group gets more push and creates more chaos than last year’s letdown.
Why they won’t be the division’s best: Can Auburn’s defense really improve that much with virtually the same players? Regardless, the only impact player in 2012 on the line is gone in Corey Lemonier. The linebackers couldn’t tackle air at times, and the secondary was nowhere to be found. This group will make strides, but there’s a slim to none chance this defensive unit becomes tops in the SEC West.
Last year’s defense: 3rd in SEC
Why they could be the division’s best: John Chavis can take a group of cheerleaders and put them in a Tigers’ uniform and produce a solid defense. Besides, LSU is slammed with top recruits on the depth charts, and they have two very solid defensive ends to replace Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo in Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. Anthony Johnson will prove to wreak havoc at tackle this fall.
Why they won’t be the division’s best: We can talk about replacing the defensive linemen all we want, but LSU’s best player in 2012 was MLB Kevin Minter. Minter was everywhere last season, and he’ll be the toughest Tiger to replace. Along with Minter, five other starters are gone, including safety Eric Reid. Sure, on paper, the depth is there, but it’s a whole different ball game when the lights come on. This defense needs game experience to gel as a unit.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last year’s defense: 8th in SEC
Why they could be the division’s best: This is one of the more underrated defenses in the league. MSU has perhaps the best linebacker in the league in Benardrick McKinney, because he ate up ball carriers last year to the tune of 102 tackles. A young, inexperienced defensive line will prove they are one of the best in the SEC this season, headlined by Denico Autry, Chris Jones and Kaleb Eulls.
Why they won’t be the division’s best: While the front seven is going to be particularly stout, the Bulldogs have gaping holes in the secondary with the departures of Darius Slay, Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Quarterbacks could have a field day on the Dawgs’ revamped secondary, especially if the defensive line doesn’t get as much push as expected.
Ole Miss Rebels
Last year’s defense: 7th in SEC
Why they could be the division’s best: Ole Miss may have the best defensive player in the SEC West this season in Denzel Nkemdiche. From a no-name, zero-star prospect to a freshman All-American, Nkemdiche gives his defense an attitude. Except for tackle Gilbert Pena, this defense returns everyone with a year’s worth of experience, not to mention they get back veteran DT Shackelford as the mouthpiece.
Why they won’t be the division’s best: For the Rebels to become a legit defense, the secondary has to make major strides from last season. The front seven will be very deep and talented, but the secondary could be the weak point, again. The Rebels finished 11th in pass defense in the SEC last year.
Texas A&M Aggies
Last year’s defense: 9th in SEC
Why they could be the division’s best: Finishing as the SEC West’s best defense while losing five starters in the front seven will be tough. With Floyd Raven’s move to safety, it helped solidified the Aggies’ secondary. Mark Snyder will put a very solid product on the field, and veterans Stephen Jenkins, Kirby Ennis and Julian Obioha will lead an improving defense throughout the season.
Why they won’t be the division’s best: Losing Damontre Moore, Spencer Nealy, Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart are too many studs to replace. Losing Moore specifically, there’s no other Aggie defensive lineman who even comes close to his athleticism or ability right now. Maybe someone will emerge, but it’s hard to figure a way Texas A&M’s defense will be tops in the West, unless the defense pulls a Johnny Manziel and comes out of nowhere.
Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports