Post-spring SEC power rankings - 2016
Here’s to hoping the next four months fly by.
All 14 SEC teams now have completed spring practice. And while regular season wins and losses will determine the ultimate strength of these teams, now seems like a logical time to update our SEC power rankings.
Here’s the prism through which we view every football program entering the summer months.
HOPING FOR A BOWL BID
All four of these teams failed to win 6 games in 2015. Two of them, South Carolina and Missouri, changed coaches. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops may need to make a bowl game this to keep his job, and Vanderbilt coach Derrick Mason bought some job security by winning two SEC games for the much-improved ‘Dores. It will be interesting to see if one or two of these teams separates. For now, it appears as though these four teams will have to scrap with each other for SEC wins.
Vanderbilt and Missouri feature better defenses and more experienced quarterbacks. Drew Lock and Kyle Shurmur looked pretty good in their spring games. So for now, they get the nod.
14. South Carolina
WILL GO AS FAR AS THEIR NEW QUARTERBACK
I’ve flipped the Tigers and Aggies in this ranking after spring ball. To be fair, Texas A&M seems to pick up steam every year between spring ball and the first two or three games of the regular season. But transfer quarterback Trevor Knight and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone appear to make a good team. Texas A&M’s offense doesn’t have to be overly complicated with so many playmakers at receiver. A little tempo and some run-pass options can go a long way.
Meanwhile, Auburn and Mississippi State’s quarterback competitions seem to be among the most difficult to figure out entering the summer. Both teams should be decent or even good on defense, especially up front. And at least Auburn should feel confident about being able to run the football.
Austin Allen looks as though he’ll be able to approximate his brother, Brandon Allen, in 2016. So the Razorbacks may be finding their level, more or less.
10. Mississippi State
7. Texas A&M
SPRING HOPE BLOSSOMING
I haven’t changed my opinion about where these teams sit in the SEC power rankings after spring practice. But Florida and Georgia both showed me enough that they’re much closer to the four teams ahead of them on this list than I thought.
The Gators appear ready to return to competency at quarterback (Luke Del Rio) and and kicker (Eddy Pineiro). With an improved offensive line and a defense holding steady, Florida is capable of competing with LSU, Georgia and Tennessee.
The arrival of Kirby Smart inevitably was going to make this an interesting season in Athens — the first coaching change within the program in 15 years. Add to that the 93k spring game and “controversy” about Smart’s handling of things like transfer restrictions, open records laws and music lyrics and there’s plenty to talk about with this team entering summer.
Whether UGA starts Greyson Lambert or Jacob Eason at quarterback could determine the feel of the 2016 season in the SEC East.
The Rebels will field a more dynamic passing game led by Chad Kelly and hold a two-game winning streak against Alabama, which is why we’re giving coach Hugh Freeze and his team the edge here. But many favor LSU and Leonard Fournette, who should be backed by an improving passing game and a transformational defense with new coordinator Dave Aranda.
Both these programs are sure to be ranked preseason. The SEC West very well could be determined by their head-to-head matchup (Oct. 22) as well as each team’s game against Alabama.
3. Ole Miss
PUT UP OR SHUT UP
The Vols now are in a position that must be familiar to fans of rival Georgia. A roster more experienced and talented than the rest of the division, sky-high preseason expectations and no more justification for falling short of Atlanta.
Team 120 put forth one of the most mundane, vanilla springs in the SEC, mostly punctuated by injuries. In many ways, that just made UT feel like even more of a contender. The spring game, coach Butch Jones said, would’ve been canceled in past years. But the team had enough depth to overcome some two-dozen players out due to injury.
Despite playing with just three scholarship receivers, Jeff George and Preston Williams flashed enough times to provide hope for an improved Tennessee passing game.
NICK SABAN’S PENTHOUSE
For a team that just won its fourth national title in seven years, Alabama didn’t lose many players to early NFL draft entry. A Heisman Trophy running back eligible for the draft isn’t coming back. And A’Shawn Robinson has been a grown man since the age of 12. Aside from that, the team lost linebacker Reggie Ragland, run-stuffer Jarran Reed, center Ryan Kelly, versatile running back Kenyan Drake and quarterback Jake Coker.
Spring practice helped the Tide gain confidence that the backfield is in good hands with Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. The pass rush remains as good as it’s ever been. The team just needs to settle on a quarterback before a season opener against USC. Games against Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss also should be tough in 2016.