The SEC has built its championship run on defense. Elite linemen, linebackers and strong secondaries have been the blueprint to winning championships in college football’s best conference. Other teams – looking at you, Notre Dame – have tried to mimic that blueprint, but the SEC has just a little bit different caliber of athletes on defense.
And 2013 defenses will be no different. We talk about how this year could be slightly unique in that there are more elite offenses than defenses, but those questions will be answered over the course of the season.
Alabama and Florida will go head-to-head for the SEC’s top defense. Kirby Smart and Nick Saban’s club may have the better stats, but you could make an argument that Will Muschamp’s defense topped the SEC last season. Both replace some key personnel, but both return elite players at every position group. The Tide have the best linebacking corps, while Florida may have the best secondary in the country.
3. South Carolina
South Carolina and LSU replace several key pieces on defense. The Gamecocks replace five top tacklers at linebacker, and the Tigers replace eight starters on defense, including five of the front seven. Both have elite caliber players, but South Carolina has more knowns than LSU. The Gamecocks have finished third and fourth in the SEC the last two seasons, and with the elite defensive line, they should have little drop off. LSU is counting on four new starters in the front four.
Units that will surprise
6. Ole Miss
Bob Shoop has Vanderbilt’s defense firing on all cylinders. They boast one of the top defensive backfields, and they will improve along the defensive line and at linebacker. The Dores have finished fifth and sixth the last two years, and they are better than you want to believe…Ole Miss had a top seven overall defense in the conference last year, and with 10 returning starters, expect improvement. How much improvement? It largely depends on the defensive line…The defense that could make the biggest jump is Arkansas. The Hogs finished 12th in total and scoring defense, but they return eight starters, including both bookends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers. The Hogs linebacking corps will determine whether or not the defense can jump into the top five range.
9. Mississippi State
No one expects UGA’s defense to be as good as they were last season, and there are certainly questions. This young, hungry and inexperienced group wants to make a name for themselves. Remember, UGA finished as the 12th best run defense last season, and that won’t cut it…Mississippi State has finished with the 8th best defense in the SEC the last three years, and if the secondary questions are answered, this group has a chance to be very good. The front seven is strong and should improve…Tennessee had the SEC’s worst defense in 2012. In fact, it was the worst defense in Tennessee history. While depth may not be where the Vols need it, the first team is very solid and getting healthier, headlined by LB AJ Johnson. Watch for Tennessee to improve this season.
Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas A&M (alphabetical order)
It’s impossible to tell which defense will be tabbed the ‘SEC’s worst defense’, because so many things affect that. Injuries, scheme changes, coaching, etc. affects the way teams either exceed expectations, or worse yet, don’t reach them. But I have the most questions regarding these four teams. Auburn changes a scheme of one of the softest defenses in the SEC last year, as does Kentucky. Missouri loses Sheldon Richardson – last year’s difference maker – but do return three of four on the D-line, MLB Andrew Wilson and CB EJ Gaines. The Aggies lose four of the front seven but return a solid secondary. The difference maker on the defensive line has to be Julien Obioha. Mark Snyder did wonders with last year’s defense, and he’ll likely exceed your expectations again. All four could jump to the next level in a heartbeat.
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