SEC Football Q and A: Who Are the Contenders, Pretenders and Doormats?
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Every Thursday on The SEC Blog, we will feature questions from the Bleacher Report inbox, Twitter and email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Q and A was pushed back to Friday this week due to NFL draft and BCS meetings coverage.
You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you, everybody for your questions this week. If I didn't get to them, they will be saved and used in the future.
And we're off:
@barrettsallee Could you put the current SEC teams into tiers? Contenders...competitive...doormats.— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) May 16, 2013
If you ask Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, he'd probably say it's Alabama and everybody else. That's not true though. Here's how I'd rank them right now.
Contenders: Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina
I mentioned these five teams in my column from earlier this week on championship-worthy SEC teams not named Alabama.
All five of those teams either answered their most-pressing needs this spring, or don't have many holes to fill to begin with. The SEC has cannibalized itself over the last two years, only to find the luck around the country to get Alabama to the BCS National Championship Game.
These five teams all are elite, and would be in my preseason top 15 if we were forced to vote today.
Competitive: Florida, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee
In the column linked above on championship-worthy teams, Florida brought up the rear. That was on purpose. Florida has elite talent and can certainly contend for the division, conference and national titles, but didn't solve its biggest issue this spring.
I want to buy the Gators, but until they develop some sort of downfield passing game, I'm hesitant to put them back in the BCS National Championship picture right now. Once they hit the field though, it won't take long to change that.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt will be in every ball game, and if they catch a break or two, could jump up a category and seriously contend. But a talent gap exists between those two programs and the top-tier teams. Because of that, I expect some inconsistency.
Mississippi State is destined for, at best, a lower-tier bowl but will be a tough out. Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas are all going to be improved (because, let's be honest, getting worse would be quite a feat); with Auburn being the most likely of the three to find immediate success under a first year head coach due to the talent on the roster and the fact that Tennessee and Arkansas both have brutal schedules.
Doormats: Kentucky, Missouri
I like where Kentucky is headed with Mark Stoops, but the talent just isn't there...yet. Kentucky was bad last season, but injuries played a big part in the inconsistency. Stoops was wise to bring in Neal Brown to run his air-raid offense and the return of Avery Williamson at linebacker and a stout defensive line will help the defense, but it's more than just a one-year rebuilding process.
Missouri had a hard time adjusting to life in the SEC, and that trend will continue in 2013. Head coach Gary Pinkel says that James Franklin is his leader at quarterback (via: CollegeFootballTalk.com), but new offensive coordinator Josh Henson says that he wants his quarterback to take fewer hits (via: Terez Paylor).
So a dual-threat quarterback is not going to use one of his threats? It could be a long year in Columbia for Pinkel.
@barrettsallee Georgia's defense is young and inexperienced. Won't that be their downfall this year?— Brody (@BrodyFLA15) May 9, 2013
No. In fact, I think it's going to be one of Georgia's primary strengths in 2013 and will be a big reason why Georgia will contend for the BCS National Championship.
Don't be fooled by Georgia's lack of star power on the defensive side of the ball. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins played very well (31 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks) as a part-time starter last season. Can he be Jarvis Jones? Of course not, but he plays downhill and can certainly fix Georgia's issue of stopping the run.
At the back end of the secondary, Damian Swann played well at cornerback—especially late last season. Plus, safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews could be All-SEC players this season. They're that good.
Georgia's defense is going to be legit. If the Bulldogs have a downfall, it's that those new pieces are going to be tested early. Games at Clemson, vs. South Carolina and vs. LSU before Oct. 1 is a far more serious issue than the defense.
@barrettsallee What are some of the true freshman in the SEC you see making a huge impact on their respective teams?— Look at Steele (@thisisdecaf490) May 7, 2013
As evidenced by the above response, I really like Matthews. He enrolled early and participated in spring practice in Athens, which will be a major benefit for him and the team. I'd be shocked if he wasn't the starter in Week 1.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry also enrolled early, but missed the back end of spring practice with a broken leg. The 6'3" and 238-pounder is going to be a superstar down the road once T.J. Yeldon leaves. But for the time being, he'll have to settle for being the best goal-line and short-yardage back in the SEC.
Then, of course, there's Robert Nkemdiche. The No. 1 overall prospect will immediately be part of a defensive end rotation with C.J. Johnson and Channing Ward, Carlos Thompson and Cameron Whigham. In passing situations, Ward may even drop down and play tackle which would create matchup nightmares for opposing offensive lines.
Other true freshmen that could make a huge impact are: Alabama WR Robert Foster, Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson, Auburn DE Carl Lawson, Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi State DE Chris Jones and Texas A&M WR Ricky Seals-Jones
Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee via the B/R inbox, on Twitter @BarrettSallee or at email@example.com.
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