Here are my top five teams in the SEC for the upcoming season.
This is the biggest no-brainer in the history of the conference. Anyone not voting Florida at the top of the league needs to put down the crackpipe.
At the skill positions the Gators lose Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin to the NFL, which only means the box score will have bigger numbers beside the names Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps this season.
With their speed the Gators do a great job running to the perimeter, and they have big wide receivers (Aaron Hernandez, Riley Cooper) to provide the needed outside blocking support.
The best center/guard combo in the nation returns in the Pouncey twins who give opposing defenses trouble when they run the inside trap.
The Gators also have this guy named TIM TEBOW at quarterback as well.
On defense the Gators return 21 out of 22 players from the two-deep in 2008 and all of their starters from a year ago.
Brandon Spikes, an All-American choice by most publications, forwent the NFL draft to lead the Gators linebacking core.
Carlos Dunlap at defensive end provides a big body and enough athleticism to dominate against the run and pass.
The all-underclassman secondary features three preseason All-SEC members.
Brandon James was voted first team return man in a league talent-rich at the position.
The biggest question mark for the Tide this year is the play of the offensive line. Alabama loses Andre Smith, Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis from 2008, all stalwarts who played together for three years on the unit.
Andre Smith was one of the greatest lineman in school history. He was picked sixth in the NFL draft, and the Alabama offense looked woeful in the Sugar Bowl without him anchoring the run based attack.
A somewhat unappreciated player throughout his career, running back Glen Coffee was a tough inside runner who had home run capability in the speed department. He logged TD runs of 87, 78, and 41 yards against SEC opposition in 2008.
The Tide should be in good hands at the running back position though with Mark Ingram, Roy Upchurch and ballyhooed incoming freshman Trent Richardson taking handoffs.
Greg McElroy will replace three year starter John Parker Wilson at QB. McElroy saw spot duty in mop up situations last year.
Wide receiving phenom Julio Jones will make things easier on the first year quarterback.
Defensively the Tide will be as stingy and nasty as any unit in America. Nine starters return from a group that ranked third in total defense in 2008.
Everybody’s All-American Terrence Cody has shed weight off of his large frame in an effort to contribute more on third down.
The Tide is legitimately three deep along the front four and the only missing ingredient going in to 2009 is a pass rushing defensive end. Although, it stands to reason that coming off the heels of two No. 1-ranked recruiting classes the defensive guru Nick Saban will have a plan in place to provide more pressure up front.
Saban’s defense is a complex one to learn and the Tide will surely miss its vocal leader Rashad Johnson from last year. Johnson’s knowledge of the defense extended from the secondary. He was seen various times last year shouting responsibilities to the linebacking unit.
Rolando McClain and Donta Hightower make up the most formidable tandem of ILB’s in the FBS.
If you add in the kick returning talents of Javier Arenas with solid place kicking, then special teams and defense will be enough to get the Tide 10 regular season wins this year.
3. Ole Miss
The most interesting thing to watch in the 2010 NFL draft as far as SEC players are concerned will be what quarterback is taken first—Jevan Snead or Tim Tebow.
Snead possesses a strong arm, and the Rebels as a team last year got better as his play progressively improved throughout the season. The team finished on a definite high note in their final three games beating their opponents by a combined margin of 76 points.
Offensively the Rebels lose first round draft pick, left tackle Michael Oher to the NFL. But they signed the number one prospect at the position to replace him in Bobby Massie.
Dexter McCluster, the team's leading rusher, returns to keep opposing defenses off balance in the increasingly popular “wildcat” offense, a change of pace formation popularized by Rebels' head coach Houston Nutt during his Arkansas days.
Bigger backs Cordera Eason and Branden Bolden are the Rebels' bring-your-lunch runners.
Defensively Ole Miss has the most talented pass rushing end in the league in Greg Hardy. Hardy had eight-and-a-half sacks and nine-and-a-half tackles for a loss last year in an injury plagued campaign.
Gone on the inside is NFL first round draft pick Peria Jerry, but don’t cry for the Rebels up front.
Returning are Ted Laurent and Jerrell Powe, two players who saw significant time last year that would start for most any other SEC school.
The soft and thin spot on the defense could be in the secondary. The Rebels were second in the league defending the run in 2008 but dead last in pass defense.
Houston Nutt said himself at SEC media days that the team could stand very few injuries in the backfield.
Top to bottom LSU is at least the third most talented team in the league, but the Rebels are better on game day because of their quarterback play. The signal calling predicament that existed last year for the Tigers remains a question mark entering the 2009 season.
Look for Jordan Jefferson to step up his game as another year in the system could only serve to bolster the confidence of the true sophomore.
Across the front LSU loses local legend Herman Johnson but returns three starters, including All-American Ciron Black at offensive tackle and tight end Richard Dickson.
A steady run game will help the young quarterback for LSU. Expect the Tigers to turn towards tailback Charles Scott, a downhill runner with a blend of speed and power.
Look for true freshman five star recruit Rueben Randle to enter the battle for the No. 2 wide receiver spot alongside Brandon LaFell.
The defense didn’t do LSU’s offense a lot of favors last year, giving up points galore to most every opponent. In addition, the Tigers were last in the league in interceptions with eight (minus-one turnover margin overall).
To salt the wound the Tigers lost the majority of the players along last year's front four to the NFL draft and graduation.
What the Tigers do have is a cache of talent resulting from four consecutive top 10 recruiting classes and a new face at defensive coordinator in John Chavis.
Returning players are ready for this year to begin so they can prove themselves anew and put to rest the chatter concerning last year’s poor defensive performances.
Last year’s season was disappointing for dog fans. Georgia was ranked No. 1 in many preseason polls and talks of winning it all murmured throughout Athens.
But the injury bug struck and in a big way.
The Bulldogs suffered devastating losses at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Thanks to the play of Stafford and Moreno, the team won in spite of playing a highly inexperienced offensive line.
This year’s team will not have the offensive flash of last year’s, but it will have a good running game behind a now experienced offensive line and a big play threat in wide receiver A.J. Green.
Cagey veteran Joe Cox emerges to run the Bulldog offense, but he will most likely give way to the young gun Logan Gray who the Bulldog fans are anxious to see in game action.
Defensively the Bulldogs get back their best true nose guard in Jeff Owens who was lost to an ACL injury in the season opener last year. Geno Atkins also spurned the NFL to play another season in the SEC.
There is no doubt the Bulldogs will be much improved along the front four.
Team captain and first team all-SEC linebacker Rennie Curran returns to lead the defense. Reshad Jones led the Bulldogs in interceptions with five a year ago from his safety spot. Prince Miller also returns to man one corner spot while the Bulldogs signed five star recruit Branden Smith to fight for the other.