Ranking the SEC Post Spring Practice
Nobody takes spring football as seriously as the folks in the SEC do. With 11 of the 12 teams having played their spring game, lets take an early look at the SEC in 2009.
Will the Gators repeat in 2009? Can Alabama be even better than last year's surprise? Is Ole Miss the team no one wants to play?
East No. 6: Kentucky
The Wildcats are the lone program still practicing and are hoping for another bowl win this year.
Thirteen starters total return from last year, including QB Randall Cobb, who transformed the Wildcats late in the year with his running ability. Mike Hartline will challenge Cobb and likely get playing time next year.
Dicky Lyons is gone, so Kentucky will need to find a new go-to guy. Derrick Locke may fit that bill if he can stay healthy.
Just two of the top six tacklers return from a below average defense in the SEC. But Micah Johnson continues the recent trend of standout Kentucky linebackers.
East No. 5: Vanderbilt
The Commodores are looking to start a bowl streak in 2009 and have 19 starters returning for head coach Bobby Johnson.
QB Mackenzi Adams returns, and he will have leading rusher Jared Hawkins and five offensive linemen to work with. The Commodores lost leading receiver Sean Walker but return the next four.
The defense lost All-SEC CB DJ Moore but returns nine other starters. Three players return who had more than 100 stops a year ago.
East No. 4: Tennessee
Lane Kiffin has gotten under just about everyone's skin, and he did most of that before spring practice even began.
Kiffin needs returning starter Jonathan Crompton to pick up his game at QB and lead the other six starters returning to a better performance than 2008. Leading rusher Arian Foster is gone, but three players with significant time return.
Six starters return from a defense that finished third in the SEC in scoring defense. Eric Berry, who may be the best defensive player in the country, leads the way at safety.
East No. 3: South Carolina
Steve Spurrier has his starting QB, but is it the one he really wants?
Stephen Garcia looks to have cemented his place under center, but he must improve on his decision making to keep it. The Gamecocks lost their top two receiving targets and top rusher from a year ago. Three starters return on the offensive line for a unit that finished last in the SEC in rush offense.
Six starters are back on defense, led by sack artist Eric Norwood. The D-line should be a strong point with three first teamers back.
East No. 2: Georgia
The Bulldogs enter 2009 in a much different state of mind than in 2008, which came with a preseason No. 1 ranking.
Gone are QB Matt Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno, and four other offensive starters. In step senior Joe Cox (QB) and a bevy of talented but unproven tailbacks. WR A.J. Green becomes the go-to guy in the passing game.
Also back are five starting offensive linemen under one of the best coaches in the country, Stacy Searels.
The Georgia defense returns six starters and 24 lettermen from a unit that really struggled down the stretch last year. Tackling was heavily emphasized this spring.
Even with the star power loss, Mark Richt thinks this club is more of a team and better because of it.
East No. 1: Florida
Tim Tebow. That is all you really need to say about the 2009 Florida Gators to draw interest. But if we must go on...
The Gators return a whopping 20 starters from their national championship team, including all 11 on defense. A weak point, though, could be the offensive line, where two veterans were lost. Also, someone will have to step into the role of "game changer" left void by the early departure of Percy Harvin.
Brandon Spikes leads the defense that appears to have no weakness. In addition to not losing a single starter, Florida lost just three lettermen.
The Gators have been fighting complacency this offseason as well as tweaking the offense to make it even better.
West No. 6: Mississippi State
First year coach Dan Mullen has a lot of to do in Starkville and just 13 returning starters to do it with.
Tyson Lee returns at QB, but it remains to be seen how well he can run Mullen's spread offense over the long haul. The top four running backs also return, but the Bulldogs ranked near the bottom of the NCAA in rush offense last year. The good news is that four starters are back on the O-line.
Just five starters return defensively, and only one finished in the top five in tackles last year.
West No. 5: Auburn
Gene Chizik and his 5-19 career record hope 16 returning starters and 47 lettermen will get the Tigers back in the SEC West race this year.
QB Kodi Burns looks to be the starter heading into fall practice in new OC Gus Malzahn's spread offense. The Tigers get their leading rusher back in Ben Tate, plus three of their top four pass catchers come back too. The O-line has three starters back from a year ago.
The defense returns seven starters and four of the top five tacklers.
Chizik spent much of his time in the offseason dodging his credentials, but also hiring a staff with a lot of experience and recruiting expertise.
West No. 4: Arkansas
It's year two under Bobby Petrino, and the Razorbacks are hard at work installing his high-powered offense.
Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett will likely take the helm at QB for an offense that returns eight starters. Leading rusher Michael Smith returns, as do the top five pass catchers. The O-line is a point of concern where All-American C Jonathan Luigs will have to be replaced.
Defensively, the Hogs return nine starters, including their top five tacklers from last year. This should help a unit that was the 93rd best in scoring defense.
West No. 3: LSU
The Tigers return 13 starters from a disappointing 8-5 team in 2008.
The QB battle will be an interesting one to watch with Jordan Jefferson and true freshman Russell Shepard duking it out into the fall. Back are the top four rushers from last year and three of the top four pass catchers. Up front, the Tigers have three starters back.
Defensively, four of the top five tacklers return despite just six starters coming back. Another stellar recruiting class was signed in February that some ranked No. 1.
West No. 2: Ole Miss
Hopes are high in Oxford, and why not when you have a Cotton Bowl-winning team that returns 15 starters.
QB Jevan Snead had an impressive spring, and he will have his top five rushers from last year joining him again this year. Three of the top four receivers are back as well, including the multi-talented Dexter McCluster. The offensive line will be a point of emphasis come fall with three starters to replace.
The defense will have to replace four of the top five tacklers but does get back its leading tackler, Kendrick Lewis.
West No. 1: Alabama
The Tide surprised everyone in 2008 by going 12-0 in the regular season in Nick Saban's second year.
This year's team has 15 returning starters, including nine on the defensive side.
The biggest question marks will be at QB, with Greg McElroy likely taking over for John Parker Wilson, and on the offensive line, where three starters need to replaced, including All-Americans Antoine Caldwell and Andre Smith. The offense will need RB Mark Ingram and WR Julio Jones to step up early.
The Tide defense should be even nastier than last year's group that ranked third nationally in total defense. The dangerous Javier Arenas is back returning kicks.
Alabama has been very focused this off season to shake off the "bleeping way we finished last season," according to Saban.
Another stellar recruiting class was signed in February that many ranked No. 1.