SEC Football: Post-Spring Game Power Rankings

Barrett SalleeFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 5, 2016

SEC Football: Post-Spring Game Power Rankings

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    Spring practices are in the books around the SEC. Now that we've seen some fresh faces, it's time to take a look at where the teams rank.

    All eyes were on Tuscaloosa on Saturday, as the Alabama Crimson Tide looked to reload in an effort to keep its unprecedented dynasty in the Bowl Championship Series era moving in the right direction.

    Meanwhile, Johnny Manziel was busy in College Station, Texas, trying not only to lay the groundwork for his run at repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner, but for another run to a potential SEC West title.

    How do the SEC teams rank after spring practice? Our power rankings are in this slideshow.

14. Kentucky Wildcats

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    Kentucky was the talk of the SEC after first-year head coach Mark Stoops wowed the rest of the conference by packing 50,831 fans into Commonwealth Stadium for the Wildcats' spring game.

    For perspective, only 4,500 fans attended Kentucky's spring game last season, according to ESPN.com.

    That's all well and good, but spring momentum is only the first part of the puzzle. The bigger challenge for Stoops is still ahead, as the Wildcats look to transition into a new offensive scheme and build the depth necessary to compete at an SEC level.

    Jalen Whitlow was the star of the spring game, completing 17 of 28 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.

    That's a solid start as the forgotten man in the three-way quarterback battle with Max Smith and Patrick Towles not only announced that he was a factor, but that he could be the front-runner.

    Now the rest of the pieces can fall into place, but it still is an uphill battle for Stoops. 

13. Auburn Tigers

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    Auburn answered a lot of questions this spring, but many are still left.

    We saw that the running game, which is the foundation of head coach Gus Malzahn's offense, will be just fine thanks to Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. We also saw that the defense has a budding superstar in "star" safety Justin Garrett.

    A fantastic start, no doubt, but there's still work to be done.

    Jonathan Wallace looked like the better of the two primary quarterbacks this spring during his performance in the spring game, but didn't look like the difference-maker needed to take this crew to the next level.

    That's something that could still come with time, but until we see Auburn's quarterback—whoever ultimately wins the job—consistently make the right decisions, the offense will still be a work in progress.

    Auburn looked better and more fundamentally sound on defense in the spring game, but until we see Tigers' tacklers taking proper angles and wrapping up on a consistent basis, it's hard to determine whether or not they've turned things around.

12. Tennessee Volunteers

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    It looks like Justin Worley will enter the summer portion of the offseason with the lead at the quarterback position due in large part to Nathan Peterman's dreadful performance during the Orange and White game.

    One thing is for certain, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson aren't walking through that door.

    Tennessee is still far from establishing itself as a two-dimensional offense, as both quarterbacks and wide receivers looked out-of-sync inside the white lines at Neyland Stadium.

    The offensive line is still solid and the running game will be strong with Rajion Neal and Alden Hill, but you can't be one-dimensional in the SEC.

    Defensively, it's still a work in progress. The Vols' switch back to the 4-3 defense is the right move considering the personnel already on the roster, and the return of Brian Randolph at safety from an ACL injury will certainly help solidify the back end.

11. Missouri Tigers

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    Depending on how you look at it, head coach Gary Pinkel's announcement that senior James Franklin has grabbed the lead in the three-man quarterback competition over Corbin Berkstresser and Maty Mauk could be taken a variety of ways.

    The return of running back Henry Josey is intriguing. Will he return to his 2011 form after missing the entire 2012 season, or will he be hampered by the lack of quality depth up front now that he's playing in the SEC? One wonders whether he can  be the home run hitter for the Tigers.

    New offensive coordinator Josh Henson will have to be more flexible with the offense because stubbornness reigned supreme in Columbia, S.C., last season.

    The Tigers have a solid back end of the defense, but their front seven still lack the size and speed to be consistent in the SEC until proven otherwise.

10. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    It's not really a make-or-break year in Starkville for Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, but it's close.

    The Bulldogs are 5-21 against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs that finish the season with eight or more wins since he took over before the 2009 season.

    That's not good, and with Mississippi State looking to open the 2013 season against Oklahoma State, Mullen needs to answer some spring questions in a hurry.

    Tyler Russell threw for a school-record 24 touchdowns last season, but was inconsistent down the stretch. In 2013, he will essentially have a new cast of wide receivers to become comfortable with, but very little time to do so. 

    Junior college transfer Jeremy Chappelle looked like a weapon in the spring game, and Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson have been around long enough to have a firm grasp of the offense.

    The defense is filling a lot of holes and didn't look great in the spring game on Saturday. Denico Autry has All-SEC talent at defensive end and linebacker Bernardrick McKinney flew under the radar last season despite 102 tackles as a freshman.

    But until Mississippi State gets that signature win, I'm not buying into the Bulldogs.

9. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Brandon Allen appears to have a lead in the quarterback race with Brandon Mitchell following an 11-for-16 performance in the Red-White Game that saw the rising sophomore throw for 158 yards and one touchdown.

    Mitchell wasn't bad himself, completing 12-of-17 passes for 138 yards and a score.

    That's really good news for Arkansas because, in all likelihood, the Hogs will be in good shape either way.

    Toss in an underrated receiving corps led by Demetrius Wilson, Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton and a running game that will likely feature Jonathan Williams and incoming freshman Alex Collins, and the Razorbacks have a recipe for offensive success under first-year head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

    Defensively, however, there are still some questions.

    Trey Flowers and Chris Smith will provide a quality pass rush, which will benefit the entire back end, but there still will be some inconsistency as they transition to the new scheme under Chris Ash.

8. Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Vanderbilt continued on the upward swing last season, winning nine game and going to a second straight bowl game for the first time in school history.

    Quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy are gone, but that doesn't mean the Commodores have lost their punch.

    Wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd will combine to create matchup nightmares for opposing secondaries, running back Brian Kimbrow is a home run hitter and quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels can be just as much of a dual threat as his predecessor.

    Defensively, the 'Dores have a solid foundation returning in linebacker Chase Garnham and cornerback Andre Hal, which should be enough to keep them competitive in the rough-and-tumble SEC East.

    This isn't your parent's Vanderbilt team. They are good enough to be competitive on a weekly basis and sometimes when you're in games, you find the luck you need to win them.

7. Ole Miss Rebels

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    Offseason momentum usually doesn't mean much, but the exception could be this year's offseason for the Ole Miss Rebels.

    Their 7-6 record in their first season under head coach Hugh Freeze wasn't anything to write home about, but they played LSU, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt close last season, proving that they no longer are the pushovers they once were under former head coach Houston Nutt.

    With 18 starters returning and an injection of talent coming later this summer thanks to a top-10 recruiting class, things are looking good in Oxford.

    Offensively, there are weapons galore. Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan will be joined by Laquan Treadwell this summer to create a dangerous wide receiving corps while incumbent running back Jeff Scott will have a cast of talented running backs nipping at his heels.

    The one question is at quarterback where Bo Wallace will have to be more efficient with the football. He threw 22 touchdowns a year ago, but 17 interceptions is way too many. He was banged up at times and missed spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery, which means he has had to make the most of those mental reps this spring.

    Defensively, the Rebs are underrated. C.J. Johnson, Channing Ward and incoming freshman Robert Nkemdiche will present a dynamic pass rush to opposing offensive coordinators, and Denzel Nkemdiche showed that he has All-SEC talent last season.

    Watch out for the Rebels. They're good enough to give every team on the schedule fits, including the presumed front-runners in the SEC West.

6. Florida Gators

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    Despite some significant roster turnover from a year ago, Florida's defense will be fine.

    The offense, however, is a different story.

    There's a noticeable lack of playmakers on Florida's roster, which is precisely why quarterback Jeff Driskel struggled to stretch the field last season.

    Quinton Dunbar has been a spring superstar at wide receiver for quite some time, but sometime that has to translate to the fall.

    Andre Debose came in to Florida as the "next Percy Harvin," but injuries and ineffectiveness have limited his production. Early-enrollee Demarcus Robinson could be that guy, but that still remains to be seen.

    With Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor at running back, the Gators will be fine in that department. However, you can't be one-dimensional in the SEC and get away with it, especially when depth is an issue along the offensive line. 

    Consider the Gators "good," but not "great" until they can be more explosive on offense. 

5. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    South Carolina fans, don't be disappointed that you're only No. 5 in this list and not ranked higher.

    The Gamecocks are very much in the SEC East and BCS National Championship hunts, but this team still has some building to do before it breaks through that glass ceiling.

    Mike Davis emerged as the heir apparent to Marcus Lattimore this spring, culminating with 40 yards and a touchdown in the spring game to earn high praise from the Gamecocks' coaching staff, according to the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier.

    Dylan Thompson and Connor Shaw will battle it out for first-team snaps this summer and while the Gamecocks are in good hands either way, it'll be interesting to see how head coach Steve Spurrier divides the snaps once the season starts.

    Defensively, we know that defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will do his thing on the defensive line alongside Kelcy Quarles, which will work wonders for the back end of the defense. Several starters sat out the spring game, however, and linebacker is still an unanswered question for defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.

    The schedule sets up well and the South Carolina program is going to fly under the radar. Don't be surprised to see the Gamecocks in legit title contention.

4. LSU Tigers

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    I know, I know—"LSU lost a small village from its roster."

    Just stop.

    The Tigers upgraded with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, have their top four wide receivers returning and boast a stable running game led by Jeremy Hill and four contributors returning along the offensive line. That kind of continuity would be beneficial to any offense, much less one that has new, and better, leaders.

    Sure, Zach Mettenberger was a joke last season. I get that, but he threw for more than 215 yards in every game in November and will benefit immensely from Cameron's tutelage. 

    Six players from LSU's starting defense bolted early for the NFL, but that's not anything new for LSU.

    They're loaded with talent, and players like defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, defensive end Jermauria Rasco, linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lamin Barrow and defensive backs Jalen Mills, Jalen Collins and Craig Loston are more than capable of becoming the next wave of stellar LSU defenders.

    Can LSU win the SEC West? They're flying under the radar entering the season, which, if you catch head coach Les Miles in an honest moment, is probably how he likes it.

3. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Life is different in College Station now. Texas A&M isn't viewed as that under-acheiving program that can't break through the glass ceiling anymore.

    It's viewed as a contender not only for the SEC West title, but for the national title as well.

    While a lot of the pieces remain in place, including Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, the offense may look a little different in 2013.

    With a wide receiving corps led by sophomore Mike Evans that rolls about six deep, and a four-headed monster at running back, Manziel probably won't have to run for 1,410 yards this season. Expect a more patient and polished quarterback that gets the ball into the hands of his teammates in a variety of ways.

    Defensively, the front seven are still a work in progress. A concern? Yes. The end of the world? Hardly.

    With a dynamic offense and players in the secondary like safety Floyd Raven and cornerbacks De'Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett, all the Aggies need to be on defense is opportunistic.

    Finding a replacement for defensive end Damontre Moore will be big because if the Aggies can do so, that will benefit the secondary immensely. 

2. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia's offense—the same offense that finished third in the SEC in total offense with 467.6 yards per game—remained relatively intact with the exception of the departure of wide receiver Tavarres King.

    That should strike fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators who will be charged with stopping Heisman Trophy candidate Aaron Murray at quarterback and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

    The big question is on defense, where a virtual all-star team departed Athens over the offseason due to graduation or early departure. 

    It won't matter.

    The personnel on the defensive side of the ball are better suited to stop the run, which is the one missing piece of the puzzle between the hedges.

    Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins plays more downhill, middle linebacker Amarlo Herrera emerged as a leader last season and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews both have "superstar" written all over them.

    The schedule is tough. With games at Clemson, versus South Carolina and versus LSU in the first month of the season, Georgia needs to get its issues resolved in a hurry.

    If they can make it through September unblemished, the Bulldogs not only will be in the national title mix, they'll probably be the front-runner.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    After creating a dynasty in the Bowl Championship Series era, Alabama will occupy this spot until it does something on the field to prove that it doesn't deserve it.

    The offense didn't shine in the spring game, but with as many weapons as Alabama has at the skill positions, the Crimson Tide will be fine.

    The offensive line is still an issue, which may prevent Alabama from playing ground-and-pound in the same fashion it did last year. That just means more production from quarterback AJ McCarron, wide receiver Amari Cooper and the rest of that talented wide receiving corps.

    Cornerback is still a sore spot on the defense, but it's clear from the spring game that Saban's team is loaded with talent at safety. 

    Much like LSU and Georgia, there's enough talent on the defense for Saban to fill holes with 5-star talent that's been riding the pine in years past. In other words, it's the same thing that Saban does every offseason.

    It seems to have worked fine in the past, so there's no reason to doubt Saban's ability to repeat the feat in the future.