Which SEC West team will have the best defense?
We’ll not know the answer to that question until December, but it’s fun to speculate in May. There’s about four months until college football returns, but we can begin to look at spring developments, incoming players and new coaches who will bolster success in 2014.
The SEC West welcomes just one new defensive coordinator in Arkansas’ Robb Smith, and he has a tough task rebuilding the Hogs’ defense back to an SEC contender.
There are many variables right now that we have to see play out during fall camp and on into the season, but let’s take a look at the ceiling (and the floor) of each SEC West defense.
PPG: Points per game; YPP: Yard per play
Alabama Crimson Tide
PPG: 13.9 (1st)
YPP: 4.83 (1st)
Total defense: 286.5 YPG (1st)
Why they could be the division’s best: Nick Saban’s defensive cupboard is stacked full of four- and five-star players. The main addition Alabama has been missing the last few years has been a premier pass rusher. Whether that comes from a veteran or a freshman, if the Tide develop a dominant pass rush, this unit could be nasty. There’s depth and talent at every position, as well as having the best defensive mind in the conference coordinating them in Saban.
Why they could be the division’s worst: Losing two starting defensive stars CJ Mosley and HaHa Clinton-Dix, is a tough lick, not to mention the secondary really struggled at times. Alabama will rely on mostly younger players to fill out the secondary needs, and when teams have to rely on young talent, it sometimes comes back to bite you.
PPG: 30.8 (12th)
YPP: 6.09 (12th)
Total defense: 413.4 YPG (9th)
Why they could be the division’s best: New defensive coordinator Robb Smith could breathe new life into the Hogs’ unit. The defensive line should be fine, and if the linebackers and secondary keep improving considerably – all indications show they did this spring – Arkansas will surprise people. There’s a lot to like along the defensive line.
Why they could be the division’s worst: Building linebacker depth could be a problem. The Hogs were too small and inconsistent at the position last year, and the secondary was two missed tackles away from being awful. The defense loses three defensive line starters, including future NFL-er Chris Smith.
PPG: 24.7 (9th)
YPP: 5.96 (10th)
Total defense: 420.7 YPG (12th)
Why they could be the division’s best: It’s encouraging the Tigers’ defense was average at best last season. Dee Ford was a standout, as was Chris Davis, but it was lacking star power. Immense youthful talent headlines the defensive line, and key pieces have to be replaced in the secondary. Overall, a second year in the same system will be obvious and will pay dividends starting this season. There’s much to like on Auburn’s defense for 2014.
Why they could be the division’s worst: The secondary and defensive line are the two biggest concerns. A dominant pass rush covers up considerable secondary mistakes, but if the Tigers struggle replacing Ford’s pass rush, even an improved secondary could get exposed. Several first-year starters headline Auburn’s defensive unit.
PPG: 22 (4th)
YPP: 5.08 (3rd)
Total defense: 340.7 YPG (3rd)
Why they could be the division’s best: NFL talent will be all over LSU’s defense, and the Tigers are known to have one of the strongest defensive backfields in college football. That will be the case again, and the Tigers could have the best corner duo in the SEC in TreDavious White and Rashard Robinson. DE Danielle Hunter is also primed for a huge year as a pass rusher, and the linebackers should be better than last season with the addition of a hungry Kendell Beckwith and seasoned Kwon Alexander and DJ Welter.
Why they could be the division’s worst: Losing two defensive tackles is tough to overcome, and what if Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter have little impact this season? Leading tackler Lamin Barrow is gone, as is star safety Craig Loston. Let’s face it: LSU’s defense won’t be the division’s worst, but they could experience a minor setback.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
PPG: 23 (5th)
YPP: 5.45 (8th)
Total defense: 349.3 YPG (4th)
Why they could be the division’s best: It’s starts with leadership in Geoff Collins, who could be the conference’s most underrated assistant coach. The Bulldogs return talent and depth at every level, headlined by DT Chris Jones and LB Benardrick McKinney.
Why they could be the division’s worst: MSU has to get more productivity from its defensive ends. Despite having an overall strong unit, the Bulldogs finished 11th in sacks. Safety Nickoe Whitley leaves a sizeable secondary hole, as does DE Denico Autry.
Ole Miss Rebels
PPG: 23.7 (7th)
YPP: 5.25 (4th)
Total defense: 370.5 YPG (7th)
Why they could be the division’s best: It’s starts up front with what could be the SEC’s top defensive line, headlined by Robert Nkemdiche. CJ Johnson returns, along with Isaac Gross and Lavon Hooks. The Rebels’ defense is loaded at linebacker with Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche, along with the secondary led by All-American safety Cody Prewitt. Basically, if this unit stays healthy, the Rebels’ could become the SEC’s top defense. Did I just say that?
Why they could be the division’s worst: The Rebels were the SEC’s 9th best run defense last season, and that has to improve. The sack numbers also have to increase, as they finished just 12th in the conference last year with 19 sacks. If the pass rush production or the run defense doesn’t improve, the Rebels will be looking up at better defenses, despite having one of the best personnel units in the conference.
Texas A&M Aggies
PPG: 32.2 (14th)
YPP: 6.36 (14th)
Total defense: 475.8 YPG (14th)
Why they could be the division’s best: Not saying it couldn’t happen, but going from the conference’s worst to the conference’s best in one year is a stretch. The Aggies’ young 2013 defense is a year more experienced, and they may have an improved run defense and pass rush. The addition of Myles Garrett at defensive end will be huge, and another year for Gavin Standsbury, Daeshon Hall and Julien Obioha is promising. Still, the Aggies have to improve at linebacker and in the secondary. This unit will be improved, though it would take a massive jump to become the division’s best.
Why they could be the division’s worst: Seeing as it was the conference’s worst defense last year, more of the same and little development would add to another long year for the defense. Offenses averaged over 222 yards rushing and over 475 yards of total offense per game. Talent isn’t the problem; it’s developing the players on campus that will make or break this unit.
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