Post-National Signing Day SEC power rankings
Barring a stray graduate transfer or an academic non-qualifier, we know what the roster is going to look like for all 14 SEC teams in 2016.
Players have declared for the NFL draft. National Signing Day is past. Several quarterbacks have transferred to and from the conference.
So, just weeks before the start of spring practice, let’s take a look at the current SEC pecking order. Keep in mind there’s plenty of room for revision between now and September. But here’s how every program looks at this moment.
HOPING TO EARN A BOWL BID
All four of these teams finished below .500 in 2015, and won a combined 6 SEC games — most of them against each other. The outlook for 2016 isn’t much different. South Carolina and Missouri have new coaches. All four teams have something to prove at quarterback, though Lorenzo Nunez running a spread offense is intriguing in Columbia and Kentucky at least has some nice skill players. There isn’t much separating these teams as of Feb. 8, but I expect at least one of them to reach 6 wins this fall.
14. South Carolina
WILL GO AS FAR AS THE NEW QUARTERBACK
Dak Prescott, Brandon Allen and Kyle Allen are gone. Jeremy Johnson and Sean White didn’t seem like answers at Auburn in 2015. All of these teams have the talent to at least get into the top 25 with good quarterback play, but that’s a major caveat. There’s hope for transfers Trevor Knight and John Franklin III. Arkansas has options and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen has a track record. Entering spring, these are the consensus bottom four in the SEC West. But there’s plenty of time for answers to materialize.
10. Mississippi State
9. Texas A&M
FORMER NICK SABAN COORDINATORS POISED TO CHALLENGE IN THE SEC EAST
The Bulldogs signed yet another top 10 class just weeks after Kirby Smart finally assumed full-time duties in Athens. The question he’ll have to answer is whether he can get more out of that talent than Mark Richt did. Until we find out, the assumption here is that UGA is more or less the same — a 9- or 10-win team that belongs in the top 25 but isn’t going to win a championship. Florida is intriguing as well, as the Gators started 6-0 with Will Grier at quarterback and then faded hard without him. Now that Jim McElwain has settled into the job and gone through his first full recruiting cycle, can he start to turn around the offense?
FLAWED AND DANGEROUS
Both of these teams have some tremendous talent, thanks to the excellent recruiting of Les Miles and Hugh Freeze. Leonard Fournette and Chad Kelly likely are the two most exciting offensive players in the SEC. It wouldn’t be shocking if either of them finished in the top 10 or even won the SEC West. Alabama has lost three games in the last two years, and the Rebels account for two of those. But the feeling here is that to win championships of any kind, a team needs to avoid weaknesses. Great strengths help a team win 10 games. But great balance help a team win against elite competition, which often forces you to win left-handed. Both LSU and Ole Miss need to prove they can beat top teams in multiple ways.
3. Ole Miss
THE (BRICK) HOUSE THAT BUTCH JONES BUILT
Give Ole Miss lots of credit as a program. Alabama lost to the Rebels in Tuscaloosa last year and beat the Vols. But a smart football fan can at least build an argument that Tennessee played Bama at least as well. The defense and running game were championship-worthy last year. This team must learn how to close games and get more effective throwing the ball downfield. If UT can do that as the 2014 and 2015 classes become veterans, it is capable of at least winning the SEC East in 2016.
After six consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes, the Tide arguably has the most talented roster in the country. That said, there aren’t many players that flat-out terrify you, although there are plenty of future NFL draft picks. Alabama is in this spot not so much because the personnel is far-and-away better as it is because the Tide lack an obvious weakness. The coaching staff is top-notch. The secondary and offensive line, issues in recent seasons, were much better in 2015. Lane Kiffin will develop yet another first-year starter at quarterback, but that has become less of a worry every season. This is a machine, one built with plenty of redundancies and a deep bench even among the graduate assistants. Alabama won the 2015 national championship because it could take advantage of whatever you dared it to. This year’s team is built in a similar way.