The SEC is known for winning national championships, but a lot of that has to do with great play on the defensive side of the ball, and that all starts up front with the defensive line. The SEC had five teams ranked in the top 10 in total defense last year, and it is no mystery why these units in this conference are so stifling.
The NFL featured a total of 60 defensive linemen from the SEC last season, while other conferences weren't even close to those numbers. This conference simply gets after it in the trenches and produces a relentless pass rush on opposing quarterbacks.
But with many starters returning and the new college football season set to begin, let's take a look at the best defensive lines in the SEC for 2012.
6. Auburn Tigers
7. Arkansas Razorbacks
8. Mississippi State Bulldogs
9. Texas A&M Aggies
10. Tennessee Volunteers
11. Kentucky Wildcats
12. Vanderbilt Commodores
13. Missouri Tigers
14. Ole Miss Rebels
Starters: Dominique Easley, Omar Hunter and Sharrif Floyd
Key Backups: Leon Orr, Damien Jacobs, Jonathan Bullard and Earl Okine
If we do this list later in the year, Florida will move up a couple of spots because they'll be getting Ronald Powell back on the roster. He tore his ACL during the spring game and is not expected to return until the beginning of October at the earliest.
Still, Florida returns enough talent on the defensive line to remain an effective unit. Easley is a true pass-rusher, who gets off the ball extremely quickly, and he will cause nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. Floyd will move back to his more natural position at defensive tackle, which should pay off after a subpar 2011 season.
Hunter is listed as the starter, but back-up Damien Jacobs is also sure to see a significant role after having a solid camp.
While the line is solid as is, we will really see this unit at its best when Powell returns from injury.
Starters: Damion Square, Ed Stinson and Jesse Williams
Key Backups: Quinton Dial, Brandon Ivory and Jeoffrey Pagan
Alabama took a hit on the defensive side of the ball this offseason, but this defensive line is still one of the best in the country. Sure, you may not recognize some of the names, but you will quickly know who these players are by the time the season is over.
The Crimson Tide switch to a 3-4 defense this season, which is going to benefit Jesse Williams, as he switches from defensive end to defensive tackle this year. He is one of the strongest guys in college football, and it will take a double-team every play to keep the possible first-round pick of the backfield.
Damion Square does not put up sexy numbers, but he is one of the best run-stoppers there is and will remain at defensive end. Ed Stinson is new to the starting rotation, but he fits the physicality of this team and should be a consistent pass-rusher this season.
Alabama may not have the best run defense in the country again this year, but you would be foolish to think production is going to drop off dramatically from last year.
Starters: John Jenkins, Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington
Backups: Garrison Smith, Kwame Geathers and Ray Drew
Georgia has one of the best defensive tackles in the conference in Jonathan Jenkins, who is nearly impossible to block at 350 pounds. Then you take a true pass-rusher in Cornelius Washington who was an outside linebacker last season but will be a defensive end this year in the 3-4 defense. He had five sacks last year in only six starts.
Abry Jones will keep his starting spot at defensive end after starting all 14 games last year for the Bulldogs. He showed his ability to rush the passer, but he is also solid against the run despite his undersized frame. Kwame Geathers is also an experienced player who will provide depth to this unit.
There is also some guy named Jarvis Jones, who finished last season with 13.5 sacks and 26 quarterback hurries. Although he remains a linebacker, he will continue to draw attention from offensive lines, making life easier for this already talented defensive line.
Starters: Devin Taylor, Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideau
Key Backups: Aldrick Fordham, Chaz Sutton and Gerald Dixon Jr.
Devin Taylor did not have a spectacular season last year, but remains a solid NFL prospect who should be in for a much more productive 2012 season. Jadeveon Clowney, of course, is one of the best defensive ends the country, as he finished his true-freshman season with eight sacks last year.
Kelcy Quarles came on late last season as a redshirt-freshman and showed some consistent pass-rushing skills. His athleticism and quickness off the ball makes him a perfect fit with Clowney and Taylor coming off the edge. Byron Jerideau is somebody who has had a fabulous camp and will fit in nicely as the second defensive tackle.
The Gamecocks will certainly miss the big plays Melvin Ingram used to make, but the starting unit remains one of the best in the conference.
Starters: Barkevious Mingo, Ego Ferguson, Bennie Logan and Sam Montgomery
Key Backups: Anthony Johnson, Josh Downs and Chancey Aghayere
LSU does not just have the best defensive line in the conference; the unit that returns for the 2012 season is the best in the entire country. You know you have a good defensive line when three players will likely go in the first round of next year’s NFL draft. (Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan)
Speaking of Montgomery and Mingo, they are two of the quickest defensive ends in all of college football and are a tandem that keeps defensive coordinators up all night long. Those two players combined for 17 sacks last season, and with an experienced Logan in the middle, it is no wonder this LSU team finished tied for 12th last season with 38 sacks.
LSU not only has the most talented defensive line, but also the deepest with players such as Anthony Johnson, Josh Downs and Chancey Aghayere.
What is even scarier about this unit is that Michael Brockers, a first-round pick in last year's draft, could still be playing for this team this year.