Saturday Down South's preseason power rankings for the SEC in 2016
With fall camp starting throughout the SEC, we are but a few weeks from toe finally meeting leather.
This past year, Alabama gave the league its eighth national title the past decade alone. Only the Big Ten (Ohio State) and ACC (Florida State) crashed that party. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have been shut out lately.
Alongside West rival LSU and East favorite Tennessee, ‘Bama will once again start the season in the Top 10 — probably No. 1. The Tigers are the Crimson Tide’s primary threat in the division, although Ole Miss and Texas A&M could pull some upsets. Florida and Georgia are likely the lone divisional hurdles for the Vols.
As for the presumed non-contenders, indecision at quarterback is the common theme. Half of the 14 member schools are yet to settle on a QB1. Expect those daily battles to receive a fair share of media coverage.
Here are our preseason power rankings for the best conference in America.
struggling for bowl eligibility
14. South Carolina
It’s a distinct possibility that Steve Spurrier walked off the job last year not just because his fire had run out on the sideline, but because there was a stunning lack of talent on said sideline. Will Muschamp has a much bigger rebuild on his hands than a lot of SEC fans anticipated. There’s uncertainty at quarterback, little offensive production returning and holes all over the defense.
The defense should be strong with Derek Mason calling his own signals again, led by all-everything linebacker Zach Cunningham (below) and safety-turned-linebacker Oren Burks. The Commodores need to develop a more consistent passing game, though. Kyle Shurmur has the job all to himself now after flashing some ability in 2015 as a true freshman. Luckily, he can stick the ball in Ralph Webb’s belly early and often.
12. Mississippi State
Predicting anything offensively from the Bulldogs is a waste of time, as Dak Prescott was the catalyst for Dan Mullen these past few years both running and throwing. Nick Fitzgerald is the likely heir apparent under center, but aside from 1,000-yard receiver Fred Ross, the skill-position starters are questionable. Richie Brown and Co. need to step it up a notch defensively with Prescott gone, too.
One of the worst offenses in the country a season ago, Drew Lock looked like a true freshman at the game’s most important position taking over for the dismissed Maty Mauk. If first-year coach Barry Odom wants to go bowling, he’ll have to lean on his defense. However, his fearsome front four lost some of its bite on the first day of fall camp with pass rusher Walter Brady unexpectedly kicked off the team.
fighting an uphill battle
Mark Stoops has upgraded the roster in Lexington in the three years he’s been there. Whether that actually leads to more wins remains to be seen. Drew Barker was rudely baptized at quarterback taking over for the now-transferred Patrick Towles. He would be wise to run the rock with Stanley “Boom” Williams as much as possible. Stoops, a defensive coach, has to make strides on that side of the ball.
Brandon Allen, who was quietly sensational at QB for the Hogs, is now trying to make it in the NFL. His younger brother, Austin Allen, won the starting job during spring ball. While he’s reported to have a good arm and nimble feet, he lacks his older sibling’s considerable experience. Defensively, Brooks Ellis and Co. were tremendous against the run a year ago but terrible against the pass.
Jovon Robinson, supposedly the one sure thing at the skill positions this season on The Plains, was booted off the squad Wednesday by Gus Malzahn. So now, not only does he have no idea who his quarterback will be, but his depth chart at running back is perilously thin. Did I mention that the returning receivers are void of past production, too? Malzahn’s seat is getting warmer by the minute.
divisional dark horses
Defending his unexpected East title, Jim McElwain’s 10-win debut may have been a bit of a mirage. Aside from Luke Del Rio, who sat out 2015 as a transfer from Oregon State, McElwain’s quarterback meeting room has been completely turned over. Last season’s dominant defense lost five starters to the draft. There are plenty of difference makers left in the cupboard on D, but points could be hard to come by yet again.
Five-star quarterback Jacob Eason is probably the most highly anticipated freshman in the conference. We know the Bulldogs can run the ball with a healthy Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who are both recovering from injury. But if Eason can add some life to the aerial attack, suddenly UGA is a candidate to make noise in the East. Rookie coach Kirby Smart gets division favorite Tennessee between the hedges, as well.
5. Texas A&M
Trevor Knight transferred from Oklahoma and immediately became a leader on offense, which appeared to be an issue under center last season in College Station. Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray were apparently too busy jousting each other to worry about anything else. There might not be a more dominant defensive player in the country than pass rusher Myles Garrett. He has a lot of help along the D-line, too.
4. Ole Miss
It’s considered a weak year in the SEC at the quarterback position, but Hugh Freeze has no such problem in Oxford. He has Chad Kelly at the controls coming off a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown campaign through the air. However, there are big holes to fill at left tackle and wide receiver with the departures of Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell, respectively. If NCAA sanctions are coming, the Rebels better make a run now.
college football playoff contenders
Runaway favorites in the East, the Volunteers return starters at every position that matters. The ground assault should be punishing with running backs Jalen Hurd (below) and Alvin Kamara. Additionally, Joshua Dobbs is a dangerous runner. He’s not nearly the passer he needs to be, though. The defense has playmakers at every level, so expect improvements against both the run and pass under new coordinator Bob Shoop.
Oozing with four- and five-star signees up and down the depth chart, the Bayou Bengals feature arguably the No. 1 player in college football this season in tailback Leonard Fournette. He has a chance to crack the 2,000-yard plateau and is one of the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy. But it’s long past time for Brandon Harris to elevate his game throwing the ball. He has the skills to do so.
Defending their fourth national championship in the past seven years, there is no reason to move the Crimson Tide out of the top spot. Nick Saban needs another quarterback. Heisman winner Derrick Henry is gone. Rimington winner Ryan Kelly has departed, too. The defense lost its usual handful of draft picks. But the embarrassment of riches at Saban’s disposal makes him the envy of every other program in the land.