Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffrey might be the best player in the SEC with Cam Newton's departure.
It's hard to pick a team because Alabama, Georgia and Auburn all had top six classes. All those teams, however, are losing their best player from experience-laden teams.
My pick is the team with the 15th-ranked recruiting class in 2011: the South Carolina Gamecocks. Indefinitely-suspended QB Stephen Garcia, RB Marcus Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffrey return from the 2010 SEC East Champion. This offense will be the scariest in the SEC, and the defense will approach it with the commitment of top player in 2011, DE Jadeveon Clowney.
Things often go to hell in the SEC as an embarrassment of competitive teams beat the snot out of each other. This is one of the reasons that South Carolina snuck into the SEC title game in the first place; they put their heads down and grinded with every other team and when the clock was up, the Gamecocks were the ones left standing.
This pick is fully contingent on the assumption that Garcia will be reinstated from his fifth suspension in five years at South Carolina. If they have him, they're as good as anyone. If they don't, they'll sink quickly in the shark-infested waters of the SEC.
Georgia had a developmental season in 2010 with red-shirt freshman Aaron Murray got acclimated to the speed of the SEC. The Bulldogs fell behind the competition with a 3-5 record last year, but the fruit of the 2009 recruiting class is about to bloom.
Murray shone last year, throwing 24 TD passes as the starter. He'll throw primarily to 6'5", 250-pound WR Marlon Brown, who showed flashes of his great potential as well. This year's No. 6 class includes Isaiah Crowell, the No. 1 RB and several other players in the top five at their respective positions.
The Bulldogs will only be a little bit older, but the talent is too much to ignore and it should produce a top result this year.
The National Champion Auburn Tigers will again be a force, despite losing their heart and soul, Cam Newton. The Tigers hooked the No. 3 recruiting class, which includes top players DT Gabe Wright and OT Christian Westerman as well as second-ranked QB Kiehl Frazier.
Alabama has the best recruiting class in all the SEC, but must replace its top three players, QB Greg McElroy, RB Mark Ingram and WR Julio Jones. Had it not been for two of their three losses coming by a field goal or less, the Crimson Tide would have prevented Auburn from even making the SEC Championship. A.J. McCarron, the sophomore QB, will be thrown to the wolves in a high-pressure situation this fall.
Florida returns QB Jeff Brantley, RB Jeffrey Demps and several other important skill players. The Gators roped top five classes in 2009 and 2010, which should really show up on the field this year in explosive talent. They lost a couple bad games last year, which they must avoid if they have any hope of winning the SEC East.
The LSU Tigers played a brutal schedule last year and performed valiantly in its only losses to Auburn by seven and Arkansas by eight. A third consecutive top 10 recruiting class means that a new crop of seeds can grow and nurture slowly, because those from the last two years are ready to sprout.
The Tigers could be ranked in the top five to start the season, showing how strong the SEC competition is.