Power Ranking Every SEC East Football Team Post-Spring Practice
Kentucky and Arkansas wrapped up their spring practice sessions during the final week of April, closing the book on the first chapter of the 2014 season and bringing the division races more into focus.
New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper looked like the cure to the offensive blues for Florida, Hutson Mason proved that he can step in for quarterback Aaron Murray with little or no hiccups and Tennessee's got a small village of new skill players who could become stars.
What is the landscape of the SEC East race exiting spring practice? Our post-spring power rankings are in this slideshow.
Click here for the SEC West post-spring power rankings.
7. Kentucky Wildcats
Entering his second season as Kentucky's head coach, Mark Stoops will likely turn to an unproven quarterback to lead the turnaround.
Redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles and true freshman early enrollee Drew Barker are the leaders exiting spring practice, with Towles perhaps having the slight edge after completing 11 of 15 passes for 126 yards in Kentucky's spring game. Both have the ability to be successful and distribute the ball on time and where it needs to be in this air-raid system.
But who are they going to throw to? Kentucky dealt with inconsistency and injuries in its wide receiving corps this spring and will have to find reliable targets in fall camp.
Defensively, "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith will bookend a defensive line and create nightmares for opposing offensive tackles. Their ability to create constant pressure is necessary for this defense, which will have to capitalize when the front seven forces mistakes.
6. Vanderbilt Commodores
After back-to-back nine-win seasons, former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin set the bar pretty high for first-year head coach Derek Mason.
Luckily for Mason, he's got a talented running back corps to fall back on. Jerron Seymour rushed for 716 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago and is probably the best running back in the SEC who nobody knows about. Behind him, Brian Kimbrow and Ralph Webb, who shined in the spring game, should allow offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell to get creative with how he uses his running backs.
But who's going to play quarterback? Sophomore Patton Robinette has the most experience, but redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary has the upside. If he can be consistent, he could be a star in Nashville.
Defensively, the Commodores have a solid foundation with linebackers Caleb Azubike and Kyle Woestmann, both of whom stepped back from defensive end in Mason's 3-4 scheme. They'll still be competitive, but can this defense be consistent?
Enough to keep the 'Dores competitive, but not at that nine-win plateau.
5. Missouri Tigers
When wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed from the Missouri Tigers, the offense changed.
It had to.
With DGB in the lineup, opposing defenses had to devote a ton of attention to him, which would be even more pronounced this season without L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas in the lineup. Without him, all of the pressure on Missouri's offense falls on first-year full-time starting quarterback Maty Mauk.
So, what will Missouri do?
It may go back to its 2011 mode when it finished ninth in the country in rushing offense (243.46 yards per game). Russell Hansbrough, Marcus Murphy and Morgan Steward are all capable backs who will allow head coach Gary Pinkel to mix things up in the running game.
Part of the reason Missouri won the SEC East last season was because its defense got pressure with four and took advantage of mistakes. Several pieces of that puzzle are gone now, including defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, as well as defensive back E.J. Gaines.
Can Shane Ray and Markus Golden replicate that pass rush? They may have to, which is a very tall order.
4. Tennessee Volunteers
With running backs Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane and wide receivers Marquez North, Josh Malone and Von Pearson all available for second-year head coach Butch Jones, the Vols offense is going to be very prolific no matter who wins the quarterback battle.
The small village of top-tier skill players will lead Tennessee to one or two surprise wins.
One problem, though. Well two, really.
No returning starters on both the offensive and defensive lines will lead to inconsistency in the trenches. No matter how exotic the offenses get in the SEC, it's still a line of scrimmage conference, and that inconsistency will lead to a surprise loss or two as well.
Jones will lead Tennessee back, but it will take some time and patience—something that is wearing thin on Rocky Top. Instead of a giant leap forward, the Vols will take a small step forward and get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
3. Florida Gators
But Florida was 4-8 last year, how can the Gators be the third-best team in the SEC East in 2014?
Simple. For the first time in his college football career, quarterback Jeff Driskel isn't a square peg in a round hole. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's hurry-up no-huddle attack allows Driskel to work more out of his comfort zone and use his legs in the running game, and it is designed to create mismatches outside.
If no playmakers outside emerge, Florida must absolutely go to more of a Gus Malzahn-style hurry-up offense and use Driskel and running back Kelvin Taylor to wear down the opposition.
The beauty of Florida this season is that it doesn't have to be one of the SEC's best offenses. If it's just adequate, that talented defense that features "Buck" Dante Fowler Jr., linebacker Antonio Morrison, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and a host of talented players can take it from there.
2. South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina has three straight 11-win seasons under its belt and zero SEC Championship Games to show for it over that same stretch.
The Gamecocks will be dancing near 11 wins again in 2014 and will be squarely in the mix to get back to the Georgia Dome for the first time since 2010.
Mike Davis is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate at running back, the offensive line is solid and first-year starter Dylan Thompson has been solid in spot duty throughout the first three years of his Gamecock career.
The real question for the Gamecocks is on defense, where ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton and tackle Kelcy Quarles are all gone off a defensive line that was fantastic a year ago. Darius English, Gerald Dixon and the rest of the front four need to come together this summer and allow defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward to build some depth leading up to the start of the season.
South Carolina is on the cusp of greatness. If it gets a break or two, it might break through that glass ceiling.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Don't be fooled by the absence of quarterback Aaron Murray, because redshirt senior Hutson Mason can handle it.
He's learned behind one of the SEC's all-time best throughout his career, and it showed in the spring game. Mason showed off his big arm, was accurate underneath and displayed a mastery of the back shoulder fade both in the red zone and deep downfield.
What's scary is that he has weapons...a lot of them.
Todd Gurley is arguably the best running back in the country, the Bulldogs return center David Andrews and tackles Kolton Houston and John Theus on the offensive line and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will be healthy and join Michael Bennett and Chris Conley this summer.
Defensively, Georgia was a train wreck last year. But it fixed the glitch. Well, the glitch really fixed itself.
Todd Grantham was hired away by Louisville and all head coach Mark Richt did was lure Jeremy Pruitt, fresh off a national title, away from Florida State. He inherits a defense that returns nine starters and is loaded with talent but was poorly taught under the previous regime.
Pruitt's track record of both a coach and a teacher should get the Bulldogs defense back to a competitive level in a hurry.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All spring game statistics are courtesy of each school's website, all historical stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
Click here for the SEC West post-spring power rankings.
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