Ranking the SEC units 1-28 entering 2015
We recently ranked the best SEC offenses and defenses by division.
But what if we put all 28 units into a single pool, and isolated the offenses from the defenses?
Here are the SEC’s 2015 offensive and defensive units ranked by their effectiveness within a vacuum (irrespective of the other side of the ball or special teams).
1. Ole Miss defense (No. 1, SEC West): A report from the Rebels claims that Tony Bridges has intercepted 10 passes during preseason camp. Bridges and Tee Shepard, both junior college transfers, are slated to start at cornerback and should help Ole Miss overcome the loss of two All-Americans in the secondary. If C.J. Johnson can successfully transition from defensive end to middle linebacker, the Rebels could play better against the run as well.
2. Georgia offense (No. 1, SEC East): Whomever starts at quarterback, the Bulldogs feature perhaps the best run-blocking offensive line in the conference and perhaps the best group of running backs in the country. Throw in decent players like tight end Jeb Blazevich, receiver Malcolm Mitchell and X factors Isaiah McKenzie and Terry Godwin and new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has inherited a good situation.
3. Auburn offense (No. 1, SEC West): We suspect that Auburn, a team that likes to throw downfield often, will do so with greater success in 2015. The offensive line should be effective. The main question is whether the team will be able to run the ball as well without Cameron Artis-Payne and Nick Marshall. The backfield talent certainly is there, and quarterback Jeremy Johnson is at least big (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and fast.
4. Texas A&M offense (No. 2, SEC West): The Aggies should be able to spread the field and force mismatches, especially if teams don’t have four or five strong defensive backs. Texas A&M also hired Dave Christensen to sort out the running game and has talked about playing a more physical brand of football all offseason. If that’s the case, teams no longer will be able to crowd them, hit them in the mouth and hope that’s enough.
5. Alabama defense (No. 2, SEC West): Trying to run against this group — especially without a tempo that will test their fitness — will not be much different than throwing oneself against a wall. If new secondary coach Mel Tucker can get the rest of the starters to approximate cornerback Cyrus Jones, offenses are going to be in trouble. Alabama has started to shift the secondary toward speed and pass coverage rather than run support.
6. Georgia defense (No. 1, SEC East): Speaking of the Alabama secondary, the last time it performed at a peak level, Jeremy Pruitt served as the position coach. He’s now coordinator for the Bulldogs. If you believe reports out of camp, the trio of pass-rushing linebackers has ballooned into a quartet. If the team can ensure the middle of the defense — including two new starters at inside linebacker — can stay sturdy against the run, this unit could make the difference in coach Mark Richt winning an elusive title.
7. Alabama offense (No. 3, SEC West): Despite a wave of new and inexperienced starters, the Tide offense holds as much position-by-position talent as any team in the SEC. It will be interesting to watch whether Alabama dials back the tempo and the run/pass options it created last year with coordinator Lane Kiffin and fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Sims. When the team finally decides on a quarterback, that player will get plenty of help.
8. Arkansas defense (No. 3, SEC West): One of the most underrated units in the SEC, Robb Smith had this group playing tremendous football at the end of last season. A few standouts are gone, but another recruiting class has added depth, especially along the defensive line. The secondary helped key last year’s game-by-game improvement. The only concern is at linebacker, where the team wishes Brooks Ellis could clone himself and play multiple spots.
9. LSU defense (No. 4, SEC West): The team’s pass rush was ineffective last season, and that was before LSU lost its starting defensive ends. Jalen Mills is out for at least a few games due to a leg injury. No one outside of Baton Rouge is quite sure what the transition from John Chavis to Kevin Steele will look like. But the Tigers retain as much NFL talent as any defense in the conference, especially at linebacker, cornerback and safety.
10. Florida defense (No. 2, SEC East): Even without Dante Fowler Jr., and even if Antonio Morrison’s recovery from a knee injury lingers into the season, the Gators have enough talent to keep Florida in ballgames. The defensive line may not include household names, but Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister and company can get it done. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III may be the most talented player at his position in college football, and he’s not alone in the secondary.
11. Tennessee offense (No. 2, SEC East): It looks like Pig Howard, Marquez North and Von Pearson finally will take the field as a healthy group of starting receivers. Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara give the Vols a potent backfield. And most everyone expects Joshua Dobbs to evolve into one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC. The question is whether the offensive line, already down a starter, can make drastic improvement.
12. Mississippi State offense (No. 4, SEC West): The Bulldogs churn out productive running backs without a fuss. Dak Prescott to De’Runnya Wilson has the potential to be the best passing connection in the SEC. And there are a number of solid skill players that should help share the workload. The biggest question is whether the offensive line can retain its physical, nasty style without the three senior instigators from 2014.
13. Missouri defense (No. 3, SEC East): When he returned to Columbia rather than accept a co-defensive coordinator job at Illinois, Craig Kuligowski knew he would have to remake the defensive line. He just didn’t know it would be without Marcus Loud and Harold Brantley. At any rate, this unit still includes capable playmakers at every level in Charles Harris, Kentrell Brothers, Michael Scherer, Aarion Penton and Kenya Dennis.
14. Tennessee defense (No. 4, SEC East): Opposing coordinators are going to spend all week preparing for the Vols with a migraine. That’s because it’s going to be impossible to determine whether to slide protection toward Curt Maggitt (11.0 sacks in 2014) or Derek Barnett (20.5 tackles for loss). In the middle, the team may be counting on youth at defensive tackle and inside linebacker, but cornerback Cameron Sutton is one of the most underrated defensive backs in the SEC.
15. Auburn defense (No. 5, SEC West): The arrival of Will Muschamp coincides with improvements in personnel. The pass rush adds Carl Lawson and Byron Cowart. The secondary adds Trey Matthews and Blake Countess. And both linebackers decided to return for their senior seasons. If this group can continue producing takeaways at a high rate, it should be much improved in 2015.
16. Ole Miss offense (No. 5, SEC West): The pass-catchers may be as good as any team in the conference outside of Texas A&M. There are questions everywhere else. Most anticipate the veteran offensive line will be improved. Beyond that, we’ll see if Chad Kelly can become at least an above-average SEC quarterback and whether the team can get any more production from its running game.
17. LSU offense (No. 6, SEC West): The offensive line should be fine without La’el Collins. The receivers all returned and should be better as Malachi Dupre matures. Leonard Fournette won’t be a lone wolf in the backfield, although LSU would be just fine if he was. The entire conference will be watching nervously to see whether Brandon Harris can develop into even an average quarterback.
18. Mississippi State defense (No. 6, SEC West): The Bulldogs defense is a prime example of a glass half-empty/half-full sort of Rorschach test. There are a lot of “if” statements here. If Chris Jones can play like a superstar at defensive tackle. If Taveze Calhoun and Will Redmond can slow down the persistent deep completions. If Mississippi State’s oft-inserted backups from last year can take on even bigger roles. But “new” coordinator Manny Diaz, and optimistic fans, have plenty about which to be excited.
19. Missouri offense (No. 3, SEC East): This group features a veteran quarterback, two likely NFL draft picks along the offensive line and a returning 1,000-yard rusher. The team lost its top three receivers after the 2013 season and its top four last year, including do-everything gadget Marcus Murphy. Whether the team’s wideouts and tight ends can offer enough support will define 2015 for the Mizzou offense.
20. South Carolina offense (No. 4, SEC East): The Gamecocks seem set to rely on a steady running game and the stardom of Pharoh Cooper. The biggest difference-maker may be the emergence of tight end Jerell Adams. But this unit is going to take a step back unless Connor Mitch proves he can play some decent quarterback in the SEC.
21. Kentucky offense (No. 5, SEC East): This unit has a chance to rank much higher at season’s end. Quarterback Patrick Towles already has gotten some attention as a future NFL prospect. Boom Williams may have been one of the more underutilized running backs in the SEC East last year. And the team’s bevy of young pass-catchers is well-suited for the Air Raid offense maintained by new coordinator Shannon Dawson.
22. Arkansas offense (No. 7, SEC West): More than any offense in the SEC, the Razorbacks center around the offensive line and the tight ends. Oh, and the running backs always are going to put up big numbers, because coach Bret Bielema is going to run the ball again and again — and again. Thus, the loss of running back Jonathan Williams may be more important for his leadership than for his physical ability. If junior-college transfer Dominique Reed is the real deal, Brandon Allen could have a nice senior season.
23. South Carolina defense (No. 5, SEC East): Skai Moore, Jonathan Walton and Bryson Allen-Williams could be one of the better groups of linebackers in the SEC. The Gamecocks added so many new defensive linemen, including a few significant junior-college transfers, that it may still be sorting them out. Kansas transfer Isaiah Johnson could be the star of what was a weak secondary in 2014.
24. Florida offense (No. 6, SEC East): Never has Murphy’s law been more evident. Florida has lost multiple offensive linemen due to injury, the NFL draft and transfer. Five-star freshman Martez Ivey looked prepared to start the season at one of the tackle spots before he, too, suffered an injury. The team also may not settle on a quarterback until after the season starts, and running back Adam Lane transferred as well. A few playmakers remain, like Demarcus Robinson and Jake McGee, but look for an occasionally shaky first year under Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier.
25. Texas A&M defense (No. 7, SEC West): Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall, Julien Obioha and Alonzo Williams comprise one of the better defensive lines in the SEC. If Justin Evans and Armani Watts can morph into an above-average safety tandem, this group may be better than we anticipate. The linebackers probably need another playmaker or two before that position unit is championship ready.
26. Kentucky defense (No. 6, SEC East): The Wildcats defense acted like an overrun dam last year, leaking from all sides before eventually shattering. Then it lost linemen Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith to the NFL. That may put even more pressure on a maligned group of cornerbacks. But at least the offense should provide some solid support.
27. Vanderbilt defense (No. 7, SEC East): To be frank, the Commodores probably deserve better on this side of the football. Especially in the front seven, the talent is decent and the play should improve with more attention from head coach/coordinator Derek Mason. But opponents have a huge advantage when Vandy’s offense struggles so badly. And the team is susceptible in pass coverage.
28. Vanderbilt offense (No. 7, SEC East): As if Vandy needed any more handicaps, quarterback Patton Robinette (dentistry), receiver C.J. Duncan and left tackle Andrew Jelks (injuries) all have disappeared from the depth chart since the end of spring practice. Ralph Webb, we hope you’re ready to get met in the hole by three linebackers every time you touch the ball.