Depth is required to sustain a championship season in the SEC. Without depth, there is no hope.
The weakest teams in the SEC do not have that coveted depth that the great teams like Alabama have. It makes them more vulnerable in the fourth quarter, as they can't afford to spell their starters much needed rest.
Which team in the SEC will be the most vulnerable in the fourth quarter this season?
Of all the great depth charts around this league, which SEC school has the weakest? Let the controversial rankings begin.
South Carolina is more than just a one-man team.
Though Jadeveon Clowney is the best defensive player in college football, the Gamecocks have plenty of talent surrounding him in 2013. Joining him on defense will be standouts Chaz Sutton, Kelcy Quarles and an experienced secondary.
As for the offense, the Gamecocks will be led by two capable starting quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson Jr., and they'll be protected by an offensive line with very few losses.
Throw in a few wide receivers such as Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd and Shaq Roland (who will have his breakout year in 2013, just watch), and it's hard not to like what you see at South Carolina. The loss of Marcus Lattimore might affect the offensive production, but heavy expectations surround Mike Davis.
This is a solid group that is impressive at nearly every position on the field.
LSU fans thought they would never see this day. Well, the 12-year-old fans at least.
The Tigers have been spoiled in recent years with the deepest depth chart in the country. LSU could rotate players regularly, and the backups would perform just as well as the starters.
That may not be the case in 2013. Talented, indeed, but shallow as well. The defense has to plug many holes, mainly the defensive line and linebacker position. It's a good thing LSU recruits players that are capable of stepping in and contributing right away.
Will the inexperience hinder the front seven's ability to dominate the game? The Tigers will need good leadership from the best pure defensive tackle in the SEC, Anthony Johnson, and veteran linebackers Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow will have to do the same for these young, stud linebackers.
The Tigers return a wealth of experience in the secondary with Craig Loston leading the way, and the offense boasts familiar faces at every position. Zach Mettenberger returns, most of the offensive line is back, the gruesome twosome on the outside (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham) will be spread wide in 2013, and Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard, J.C. Copeland and Terrence Magee give LSU a strong running back stable. This LSU team will be athletic like years before, but it won't be as deep.
The Nkemdiche boys have arrived.
Denzel, the undersized linebacker who accounted for 82 tackles, three interceptions, 13 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles last season, will be joined by his brother, Robert, who was the proverbial No. 1 most highly recruited player in 2013. Ole Miss fans rejoice.
Rebel fans have plenty more reasons to be excited than the Nkemdiche brothers though. The Rebels have eight returning starters on offense and seven returning on defense from a team that went 7-6 in the SEC West last year. Add in a recruiting class that boasted four of the top 25 players in the ESPN 150, and there's reason to be excited in Oxford.
Another starting quarterback in the SEC returns, Bo Wallace, the Rebels' top rusher in Jeff Scott will rejoin the backfield and one of the league's best receivers, Donte Moncrief, will be split wide once again. Moving the football should not be a problem for this offense.
It's the defense that has Ole Miss fans on edge. Last season, the Rebels were 11th in the conference against the pass, allowing 246.5 passing yards a game. Improvement is expected, as the Rebels welcome back a more experienced C.J. Johnson, Isaac Gross, Senquez Golson and Dehendret Collins.
You know, it's amazing that absolutely nobody is talking about Mississippi State heading into the season.
Partly it's because Ole Miss looks to be the top dog on the Mississippi scene now and also it's because people are tired of hyping Mississippi State up, only to see the Bulldogs have a mediocre season. Hey, that's life in the SEC.
Look at the talent they have returning though. The offense has six returning starters on offense and five returning on defense. Now we're cooking with peanut oil.
Leading the offense again will be Tyler Russell (year of the quarterback in the SEC? I think so), and the Bulldogs' leading rusher, LaDarius Perkins, is back tool. Gabe Jackson, who is one of the best offensive linemen in the SEC, will be clearing holes on a regular basis for Perkins in 2013. The Bulldogs receiving corps leaves much to be desired as the top four receivers of 2012 are no longer present.
The defense will be strong again, but the secondary is not near as star-studded as it was a year ago. Still, the Bulldogs return great athletes in Benardrick McKinney, Preston Smith and Nickoe Whitley.
This is pretty much the same group that Missouri had in 2012.
If you remember correctly, the Tigers were supposed to be the team that competed in the SEC, not Texas A&M. In comes Johnny Football and everything changes. Well, that's half of the story.
The other half was constant injury woes to this Missouri club. If the Tigers can stay healthy, they'll make noise in the SEC East this season. Let's look at the guys returning, shall we?
On the offensive side, Missouri has James Franklin, Henry Josey (Missouri fans are going thank God he's finally healthy), Evan Boehm, Dorial Green-Beckham (here's to hoping he has his breakout year) and Marcus Lucas.
Representing that defense will be E.J. Gaines (one of the league's best corners), Andrew Wilson, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. The Tigers also regain one of the best return specialists in the conference, Marcus Murphy.
This ain't your daddy's Vanderbilt.
James Franklin has athletes all over the field, but he'll have a new face at the most important position on the field—quarterback. It looks like Austyn Carta-Samuels may get the starting job, as he had an impressive spring game with 14-of-20 passing, 196 passing yards and a touchdown.
The loss of running back Zac Stacey will be a huge factor as well, but at least the Commodores return star receiver Jordan Matthews, who had 1,323 receiving yards and eight touchdown receptions in 2013. He and Chris Boyd pose one of the best wide receiver tandems in the SEC.
That will be the Commodores' lifeline on offense. Limited but effective.
The true strength of Vanderbilt will be its defense. Kenny Ladler, Chase Garnham, Andre Hal and Javon Marshall are all talented in their own respect. With this core group and James Franklin motivating, Vanderbilt should have a fighting chance to build off of last year's nine-win season.
This defense has to be better.
The Auburn Tigers were second to last in the conference in total defense, and with the athleticism this defense possesses, that's embarrassing.
How about a head count? The Tigers have Dee Ford on the defensive line, Jake Holland holding down the linebacker position, while the secondary is occupied by Demetruce McNeal, Jermaine Whitehead and Chris Davis. That's five of the top seven tacklers returning.
Let's see if the 4-2-5 scheme will help this Auburn defense perform to its potential. As for the offense, Gus Malzahn has less talent to work with, but he should be able to find some success behind the running game of Tre Mason.
Mason was the Tigers' leading rusher last season, and he should be the focal point of this 2013 offense. Look for Malzahn to maximize his starting quarterback's abilities, whoever it may be, and develop Trovon Reed into a capable playmaker on the outside.
That "thug," Bret Bielema has very few guns to play with at Arkansas.
Oh, how he would have loved to play with the offensive tools last season had. Look around. Unfortunately in 2013, there's no Tyler Wilson, Cobi Hamilton, Knile Davis or Dennis Johnson to form an offense with.
In fact, there's a total of three returning offensive starters. The good news is Brandon Allen got some valuable experience last season with Wilson being injured, and with Bielema's scheme, Jonathan Williams could develop into the league's next superstar at running back.
Still, it's time for new playmakers to emerge from this offense. Looking at you, Mekale McCay, Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton.
As for the defense, well, Bielema gets eight starters back, with Rohan Gaines, Chris Smith and Trey Flowers headlining as the top dogs. However, the depth is still shallow, as the backups are unproven.
Where exactly is the offensive firepower for Kentucky?
The Wildcats are all out of sorts on offense. Kentucky doesn't know which quarterback will emerge as the starter. Will it be Patrick Towles, Max Smith or Jalen Whitlow? Wildcat fans are hoping Whitlow steps up and provides the 'Cats with a dual-threat option.
This is just the beginning of the questions for the offense though. How will Kentucky replace leading receiver La'Rod King? What will the Wildcats do without Larry Warford and Matt Smith blocking upfront? Here's to hoping Kentucky fans have a brighter basketball season to look forward to.
As for the defense, there's talent there, and Mark Stoops should only make this unit better. In fact, with Alvin Dupree, Avery Williamson and Miles Simpson, the Wildcats have one of the best linebacker corps in the SEC. They were the top three tacklers on the Wildcats last season and totaled for 295 tackles.
Though Stoops will be able to put up a fight with this defense, he'll struggle to get any momentum whatsoever on offense. Judging by the depth chart and how much talent Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have in the SEC East, 2013 should see the Wilcats lose quite a few games. But hey, at least the Wildcats aren't No. 1 on this list...
It's lonely at the top. It's especially lonely at the top of a list ranking the weakest depth charts. Questions surround this Tennessee Vols team.
Will Marlin Lane stay suspended? Eh, he'll likely venture back on to the field by the time the season starts.
Will Justin Worley win the starting job as the Vols next quarterback? He certainly has the edge on his competition with some playing time experience in his back pocket.
Will A.J. Johnson repeat as the conference's leading tackler? That's a tough feat to accomplish, especially when you're trying to do so in the SEC.
Will any of this matter? There's a good chance it won't. You see, though the Vols return most of their players on defense, it's still a defense that gave up 471.3 yards per game. Yards per game, guys... Bringing in Butch Jones, a primarily offensive-minded coach, likely won't turn things around so soon.
As for his offense, well, he's missing Tyler Bray, Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. The lack of defensive stars, absence of offensive playmakers and the mystery of Lane's return make the Vols the weakest depth chart in the SEC in 2013.