SEC Football: Power Ranking the Best Defenses for 2013

Jake Martin@JakeMartinSECCorrespondent IIIApril 29, 2013

SEC Football: Power Ranking the Best Defenses for 2013

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    Throw out all of the cute wrinkles in the offensive game plans as well as the razzle dazzle that offensive superstars create. The pride of the SEC lies on the defensive side of the ball.

    Sure, Johnny Manziel, Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon will gain the most hype entering the 2013 season, but come on, this league is all about defense. Ranking the defensive units is a good way to get an idea of who will reign supreme in 2013.

    Is it too early to start ranking these defenses? Maybe, but is it ever too early to start comparing teams in this conference?

    Here are the defensive rankings heading into the fall, following spring practice.

14. Missouri

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    And just like that, a bombshell has been dropped.

    Missouri starting off the list at No. 14? Say it ain't so. Well, truth be told, the loss of Sheldon Richardson is going to effect the Tigers a lot more than most people expect.

    Most people know that Richardson is a great player, but last season, he was the anchor for this defense. He brought the physicality needed to match some of the best offensive lines in the league.

    That's hard to replace.

    The good news for Missouri fans is that E.J. Gaines and Andrew Wilson are coming back. Wilson was the leading tackler for the Tigers last season, while Gaines had 74 tackles and one interception. Can they shoulder this unit and keep it from finishing last in total defense? We'll see.

13. Tennessee

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    Can one man carry an entire unit? Tennessee fans are hoping so.

    The leading tackler in the SEC last season was Tennessee's A.J. Johnson. I know what you're thinking: Really? Was he the only member of that unit playing defense?

    The Volunteers were ranked last in total defense, giving up 470 yards per game last season, but Johnson, Byron Moore and Justin Coleman all return.

    Will the Vols turn things around in 2014? It's unlikely that Tennessee will see dramatic improvement with a new coach taking the reigns, but it shouldn't be as bad as it was last season.

12. Texas A&M

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    Never fear Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel is here.

    Let's hope Johnny Football can put up 44 points a game again this season. Worry clouds the minds of Texas A&M fans because they know it's all on their star quarterback's shoulders.

    The defense needs to find suitable replacements for Damontre Moore and Sean Porter. As if that weren't bad enough, senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart is no longer around, either.

    New superstars must emerge on this defense. If they don't, every game will turn into a shootout, and that's not a winning recipe in the SEC, even if Johnny Football is on your side.

11. Auburn

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    Auburn was 13th in total defense last season. Improvements are coming.

    The biggest reason for that is the experience gained in last year's abominable season. The Tigers' lack of offense combined with a defense that gave up 421 yards per game led to a 3-9 season.

    But hey, it's a new year, right? Though the Tigers will miss Daren Bates, T'Sharvan Bell and Corey Lemonier, the defensive backfield is returning a few solid playmakers in Jonathon Mincy and Jermaine Whitehead.

    Expect Nosa Eguae to perform better next season as well.

10. Mississippi State

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    Losing Cameron Lawrence, Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Darius Slay is going to undoubtedly hurt Mississippi State on defense.

    Thank goodness the Bulldogs are returning a lot on offense, right, Bulldog fans?

    Despite losing four of its main superstars on defense, Mississippi State returns a player who had a breakout season as a redshirt freshman, Benardrick McKinney.

    McKinney was second on the team in tackles last season with 102. Can he help the Bulldogs overcome the monumental losses in the defensive backfield?

9. Arkansas

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    Admittedly, Arkansas might be underrated on this list.

    It's hard to predict how the Hogs will perform because Arkansas was so bad last season, ranking 12th in the SEC in total defense. But keep in mind that John L. Smith was in charge of things at the time.

    This defense has a lot of talent returning with Rohan Gaines, A.J. Turner, Chris Smith and Trey Flowers headlining.

    Let's see what Bret Bielema can do with this group. You never know, this could be a surprisingly dominant defense this fall.

8. Kentucky

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    Here's a bold prediction—Kentucky will finish in the top eight of the SEC in total defense.

    Here's why: Mark Stoops is a brilliant defensive mind with loads of defensive toys to play with.

    Here's a bold statement—Kentucky will boast the league's best linebacker corps. "You serious, Clark?" SEC fans are outraged at the thought of such a preposterous idea.

    But seriously now, Alvin Dupree, who had 91 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2013, joins Avery Williamson, who was second in the SEC in tackles with 135, once again. Add in fellow linebacker Miles Simpson, who was third on the team in tackles with 69, and it's hard not to make a case that this is the best linebacker trio in the SEC.

7. Vanderbilt

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    Vanderbilt was fifth in the conference in total defense last season.

    That's an impressive feat for the Commodores, but they also inherited a schedule without LSU, Alabama or Texas A&M. The 2013 schedule is not as kind.

    Still, this is a solid group put together by James Franklin. First things first though—the Commodores need to find a way to replace Trey Wilson. Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler should be able to do so in a combined effort, as both cornerbacks have great athleticism.

    The next area of concern, and probably the most worrisome, is the defensive line. The Commodores are thin here, but Vince Taylor had a breakout spring. Taylor should be the anchor on the defensive line this fall.

6. Ole Miss

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    Beware SEC—the Nkemdiche brothers are on the scene.

    If Robert Nkemdiche is just as exciting as his brother, Denzel, and lives up to the hype for Ole Miss, the Nkemdiche brothers should make a tremendous impact in the SEC West.

    Denzel led the Rebels in tackles last season, despite being undersized at linebacker. The Rebels should be solid in their front seven, but the secondary has to step up in 2013 for this unit to be considered elite.

    Ole Miss is a defense that struggled against the pass last season, ranking 11th in the league. The experience that Trae Elston and Cody Prewitt gained last year should be valuable.

5. Georgia

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    There's not a defense in the SEC that has to overcome more departures than Georgia. LSU is a close second.

    The Bulldogs have the misfortune of having to replace Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams, John Jenkins, Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. Talk about a true who's who. 

    Now it's up to the new guys to come in and make an impact immediately. Doing so thus far are Trey Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons at the safety positions. They look to be the next great safety tandem for the Bulldogs.

    There will be growing pains for the Bulldogs, but Georgia is talented enough to still boast a top defense in the league next season.

4. South Carolina

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    Two words—Jadeveon Clowney.

    South Carolina has the best defensive player in the country on its team, and that makes it a contender in the SEC East.

    As long as Clowney stays healthy, South Carolina will benefit from having a playmaking defensive end on the outside.

    The Gamecocks lost a lot of seniors, but a talented Sharrod Golightly should emerge as another defensive superstar for the Gamecocks. He will man the spur position this fall.

3. LSU

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    Hold that Tiger.

    What in the world is LSU going to do without its dynamic defensive ends, Kevin Minter in the middle and Eric Reid at safety?


    Because of a stellar 2012 recruiting class, the Tigers have multiple linebackers with the ability to step up and contribute, hopefully filling the void left by Minter. They have talent in the secondary to overcome the losses of Reid and Tharold Simon as well.

    But the Tigers' main concern is finding defensive ends that will have the same type of impact Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery had last season. Incoming freshmen Frank Herron, Kendall Beckwith and Tashawn Bower will get opportunities this fall. Expect John Chavis to have this team prepared by the opening kickoff in September.

2. Florida

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    Florida, like LSU and Georgia, has a lot of holes to fill, but the foundation is already laid.

    Will Muschamp has done a tremendous job of recruiting and building Florida's defense. Expect Muschamp to find a way to overcome the losses of Matt Elam, Jon Bostic, Josh Evans and Sharrif Floyd.

    But in order for that to happen, new faces need to step up and become impact players. Players such as Vernon Hargreaves III and Marcus Maye should be up to the challenge.

    If Dante Fowler Jr. transforms into the player that Gator fans were hoping he would become, Floyd's absence will be less damaging. Regardless, Muschamp should make this unit dominant once again. 

1. Alabama

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    You guessed it. It didn't take an extensive amount of thinking, but you guessed it.

    It doesn't matter that these defensive rankings are coming out in April, because we all know who will have the best defense in the SEC this fall. It's the Alabama Crimson Tide. "Roll Tide," an Alabama fan says to his computer screen with his favorite choice of beverage raised in the air.

    The Tide return their leading tackler in C.J. Mosley, as well as Trey DePriest, Vinnie Sunseri, Adrian Hubbard and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix.

    This talented group mixed with the greatest defensive mind in college football, Nick Saban, will make the Tide the top defense in the country once again.