SEC Football 2011: Power Ranking the Teams Hit Hardest by Graduation
The most important thing in college football is the attrition of great players via the NFL draft and graduation. What SEC teams were hardest hit by these two things?
It tells us what team are best suited to duke it out in the rigorous SEC.
It is a huge indicator of who will be a conference and national contender in each season.
It could tell us who the sixth straight BCS National Champion could be.
12: South Carolina Gamecocks
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Quick! Name a key player that the defending SEC East Champions lost to the draft or graduation.
No one? Yeah, that's what I got, too.
Wunderkind running back Marcus Lattimore is back. The SEC's best wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is back. Occasionally shaky but definitely experienced quarterback Stephen Garcia is back.
The South Carolina Gamecocks actually added the top player in the 2011 recruiting class in Jadeveon Clowney.
11: Vanderbilt Commodores
The Vanderbilt Commodores bring back their quarterback, top running back and top three wide receivers.
I'm not positive if that bodes well for the 2011 since those players earned a 2-10 record last year, but this article is all about who lost the most in graduation.
In fact, it's what Vandy added that makes its 2011 season look promising: New head coach James Franklin.
10: Tennessee Volunteers
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As a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers, I pay close attention to the radio waves when it pertains to the Vols. Many fans seem to be resigned to the "fact" that Tennessee will be worse in 2011 than in 2010.
The Vols lost their Rudy linebacker in Nick Reveiz to graduation and lost randomly good wide receiver Denarius Moore to the later rounder of the NFL Draft. Gerald Jones, who became an after thought last season, also is gone.
Otherwise, the entire team is back. All of them. Times might be tough on Rocky Top, but it won't be because of losing players to the NFL or graduation.
9: LSU Tigers
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While I don't think that head coach Les Miles is dependent on any one player or thing (including water, shelter, or common sense), they LSU Tigers did have a couple notable losses.
Leading running back Stevan Ridley joined the New England Patriots in the NFL draft, while top wide receiver Terrence Tolliver is awaiting for the NFL lockout to end so he can be signed by a team as an undrafted free agent.
Ridley was a powerful running back, which provided LSU a great go-to option with Miles' trick plays weren't clicking.
Tolliver was a four-year contributor, really coming into his own the last two years. Replacing his 14.1 yards per catch average will be a top priority for quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
Patrick Peterson, star cornerback and return man was lost to the draft as well in the first round. Such players are hardly ever replaced quickly.
8: Ole Miss Rebels
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While the Ole Miss Rebels didn't have a 2010 season to remember with a 4-8 season, they could potentially be worse in 2011.
The Rebels are a far cry from their Ed Orgeron recruited, Houston Nutt coached back-to-back Cotton Bowl Champion team of 2008 and 2009. Now they have to focus on rebuilding.
Rental quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is gone to graduation. Ole Miss fans probably rejoice his departure after an extremely disappointing year.
Top wide receiver Markeith Summers is gone to graduation as well and will probably get a chance with an NFL team once the lockout ends.
7: Mississippi State Bulldogs
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Head coach Dan Mullen has reinvigorated the dormant Mississippi State Bulldogs.
They return their star quarterback Chris Relf as well as his partner in crime, running back Vick Ballard. Both are hoping for a great senior year to follow up a successful 9-4 2010 campaign.
The Bulldogs did lose their best two defensive players (and leading tacklers), though. Linebackers Chris White and K.J. Wright are gone to graduation, sure to have a shot at the next level one day.
They'll need to rebuild the defense fast in order to repeat last season's success.
6: Arkansas Razorbacks
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Arkansas experienced their most successful season since 2006 last year. The maturation of quarterback Ryan Mallett along with head coach Bobby Petrino's growing comfort in Fayetteville had a lot to do with that.
While the Razorbacks have a lot to look for to in new quarterback Tyler Wilson, no one can honestly say you improve when you lose a signal-caller like Mallett.
He was the prototypical pro-style quarterback with his big arm, steady pocket presence, and huge 6'7" frame. The fact that the New England Patriots took him tells you all you need to know.
5: Georgia Bulldogs
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Losing an elite wide receiver is rarely a strategy to improve a college offense. The loss of A.J. Green to the NFL Draft is no different for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Green was highly regarded during his three-year career in Athens. Green averaged 873 yards and 7.7 touchdowns per year. He caught passes from three different quarterbacks, too, which makes his numbers even more impressive.
The loss of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King to transferring and academic ineligibility respectively, doesn't help the offense's running attack.
That puts additional pressure on incoming freshman running back Isaiah Crowell and rising sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray to mature quickly.
4: Florida Gators
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The Florida Gators will have to retool their great 2010 offensive line after the NFL draft and graduation ravaged it.
Center Mike Pouncey and offensive tackles Mike Gilbert and Maurice Hurt to the Draft. Those losses don't bode well for a quarterback in John Brantley that already had a lot of issues getting the ball under center last year.
Safety Ahmad Black is also gone to an NFL team, leaving a hole at the back of the Gator defensive backfield.
Can new head coach Will Muschamp fix the holes? Sure, he can. But it's easier said than done.
3: Kentucky Wildcats
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While the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats may not have had what "experts" call a breakthrough season, it was the culmination of a wonderful career for QB/RB/WR/returner Randall Cobb.
In Cobb's three years in Lexington, he racked up 5,363 in all-purpose yards and 42 all-purpose touchdowns. He added two solo tackles on defense, too!
The Wildcats also lost regular starting quarterback Mike Hartline, starting running back Derrick Locke and leading wide receiver (minus Cobb) Chris Matthews.
Kentucky was hit hard by the NFL draft and graduation.
2: Alabama Crimson Tide
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Question: What happens when you lose your starting quarterback, starting running backs, top wide receiver and best defensive player?
Answer: You get the No. 2 ranking in my list.
Since Nick Saban's arrival in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 2007 has been a national power, and 2011 will be no different. However, the loss of Greg McElory, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Marcell Dareus can't be overlooked.
While the Crimson Tide are well-stocked to reload and repeat their recent dominance, no team improves after losing four first-rounders. No team.
Alabama will probably flat-line for one year, and then proceed with its championship ways in 2012.
1: Auburn Tigers
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No team in the SEC was hit harder by the draft and graduation than the Auburn Tigers.
It's no secret that the Tigers were led to the 2010 BCS National Championship on the arm and legs of Cam Newton and the strength and spirit of Nick Fairley.
Both were taken in the top 13 of the first found of the NFL Draft.
While the Tigers still have running backs Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb for the 2011 season, the huge holes left on the offensive and defensive side of the ball have left many "experts" predicting a huge drop-off for the defending champs.