Power Ranking Every SEC Team Post Spring Football
Spring practices have wrapped up around the South, with some questions being answered at key positions.
Trevor Knight has been tabbed as Texas A&M's starting quarterback, Drew Barker will take the snaps at Kentucky and Austin Allen will take over under center for his older brother at Arkansas.
How has that impacted the SEC race? Does the fact that other key positions battles around the SEC remain unresolved drop contenders down the pecking order?
Our post-spring SEC power rankings based on talent, experience, scheme and unresolved questions are in this slideshow.
14. Missouri Tigers
Year 1 of the Barry Odom era at Missouri could be a bit challenging.
The defensive front should be set in stone with guys like Charles Harris, Terry Beckner, Jr. and Harold Brantley all returning, but the loss of linebacker Kentrell Brothers—who led the nation in tackles last year with 152—will be difficult to overcome.
Quarterback Drew Lock was thrust into action last year after Maty Mauk sputtered and was suspended, tossing four touchdowns and eight interceptions. He should be better as a sophomore now that he's received a full offseason as the Tiger quarterback. But the wide receiving talent at Missouri has dropped off immensely since the Dorial Green-Beckham days, running back Ish Witter is a solid changeup option, but far from a certainty as a feature back and the offensive line was a sore spot this spring.
That, coupled with a coaching transition, should make this a tough year in Columbia for Odom.
13. Kentucky Wildcats
Offensively, Kentucky is dangerous.
New offensive coordinator Eddie Gran will bring a nice blend of spread and power to Lexington, starting quarterback Drew Barker looked solid in the spring game, the duo of Stanley "Boom" Williams and Jojo Kemp at running back provides a solid one-two punch and there's a solid group of wide receivers outside including Garrett Johnson.
Can head coach Mark Stoops' crew stop anybody, though?
The Wildcats finished 12th in the SEC in yards per play allowed last year at 5.55 according to CFBStats.com, tied for 12th in scoring defense (27.4 points per game) and lost six of its top seven tacklers off of that squad.
12. South Carolina Gamecocks
Year 1 for South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp will be a challenge, so patience must be a virtue for Gamecock fans.
True freshman early enrollee Brandon McIlwain looked great in the spring game when he completed 19 of his 26 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for a touchdown according to stats released by the school. But he's a freshman, and when you combine a true freshman at quarterback with inexperienced wide receivers, the highs might be high, but lows are going to be awfully low.
Running back David Williams has potential but hasn't realized it yet, and freshman A.J. Turner could become a nice changeup option to the 216-pounder.
But the offensive line is an uncertainty, the defensive front is lacking the talent that made it successful from 2010-2013 and the only real star on the defense is ultra-versatile linebacker/safety Skai Moore.
Muschamp and his staff can recruit, so things will turn around. It's going to take some time, though.
11. Vanderbilt Commodores
The best way to describe Vanderbilt's 2015 defense is that it was "sneaky-good." Head coach Derek Mason named himself the program's defensive coordinator prior to that season, and helped the Commodores boast the nation's sixth-best third down defense (28.16 percent) and fourth-best red zone touchdown defense (38.78 percent) according to CFBStats.com.
The nucleus of that unit, including linebacker Zach Cunningham and defensive back Oren Burks, are back to help solidify that identity.
Offensively, there are questions.
Running back Ralph Webb is a monster after rushing for 1,152 yards a year ago. But the offensive line looked woeful in the spring game, quarterback Kyle Shurmur needs to take a giant step forward and outside of wide receiver Trent Sherfield, there aren't many weapons in Nashville.
The defense will keep the 'Dores in a lot of games. If the offense can find a way to take just a little bit of pressure off of Webb, they can push for their first bowl berth since 2013.
10. Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas got one big question out of the way midway through spring practice when head coach Bret Bielema named Austin Allen as his starting quarterback, but the more difficult work still awaits.
The Razorbacks running game is in question, with Kody Walker, Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley all vying for carries. The offensive line is starting a new left tackle in Colton Jackson, a converted defensive lineman at guard in Hjalte Froholdt and need those two pieces to work together from the jump if the Hogs are going to make noise in the SEC West.
The front seven looks strong with Deatrich Wise leading the way in the trenches, and linebackers Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw at linebacker. But the pass defense was atrocious last season (275.2 YPG) and is undergoing personnel changes on the field and off of it with new defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads.
This is more likely to be a re-tooling year than a year in which the Hogs make a run to Atlanta.
9. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Don't be fooled by cynics thinking that Mississippi State will return to anonymity in the post-Dak Prescott era.
Yes, the Bulldogs will take a small step back. But it won't be off of a cliff.
Quarterbacks Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley both can provide the between-the-tackles rushing power that Prescott used to compliment edge threat Brandon Holloway, fellow quarterback Damien Williams has experience with they system, wide receiver Fred Ross returns to be a weapon deep and head coach Dan Mullen has proven that he can make things work in the face of roster attrition in the past.
Defensively, Johnathan Calvin looked like a monster along the defensive line in the spring game, redshirt freshman Leo Lewis looks like a potential star alongside Richie Brown and the Bulldogs will still play a physical brand of defense under first-year coordinator Peter Sirmon.
The Bulldogs will be dangerous, even if they don't finish in the upper half of the SEC West.
"We have learned a lot and I look forward to the season," safety Mark McLaurin said according to HailState.com. "We are going to come in with a lot of power and we have a lot to show the people."
8. Auburn Tigers
Auburn's offense didn't exactly look dangerous in the spring game when it converted just one of 22 third down chances, but the offensive line should be solid and running back Jovon Robinson has everything it takes to be a star.
The quarterback position is a mystery, but pro-style passer Sean White showed off some solid accuracy on A-Day on deep passes to receiver Marcus Davis and two running backs on wheel routes out of the backfield. Dual-threat junior college transfer John Franklin III didn't stretch the field much, but has the wheels to provide the running threat at quarterback that Auburn has been successful with in the past with Cam Newton and Nick Marshall.
Auburn's offense might not have to be great, though.
Carl Lawson playing in his first A-Day game. Auburn’s DL sure does look fierce when he’s healthy.— Saturday Down South (@SDS) April 9, 2016
The defensive line is loaded with stars including end Carl Lawson, tackle Montravius Adams and early enrollee Marlon Davidson—who's already ascended to a starting spot. The secondary boasts freshman All-SEC corner Carlton Davis, veteran safeties Rudy Ford and Tray Matthews, and should be a strength. Junior linebacker Tre' Williams is a veteran and will be joined by Illinois graduate transfer T.J. Neal this summer.
The Tiger defense shouldn't be a laughing stock this year, which means the offense will have a little more wiggle room to grow.
7. LSU Tigers
It seems like the world is hopping on the LSU bandwagon this offseason, including ESPN's Football Power Index, which gave the Tigers the best chance out of the conference's 14 teams to win the SEC Championship Game.
The return of star running back Leonard Fournette, veteran cornerback Tre'Davious White, linebacker Kendell Beckwith and defensive lineman Lewis Neal have a lot to do with it—as does the presence of new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
But none of those positives address the main problem at LSU, which nearly got head coach Les Miles fired last year. The Tigers still have a stubborn head coach who outright refuses to change his ultra-conservative offensive philosophy that is predicated on the run and tries to mold dual-threat quarterbacks into pocket passers.
Until that changes, and Miles overcomes his own stubbornness, LSU is a paper tiger in this day and age of offensive football.
6. Georgia Bulldogs
First-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has his starting quarterback, after true freshman early enrollee Jacob Eason lit up the Bulldog defense to the tune of 244 yards and a touchdown on G-Day.
He just won't admit it yet.
"He throws BBs," he said in the postgame press conference. "Sometimes he throws them to the other team and sometimes he throws them to our team, but he throws BBs, now. He can spin the ball. He can spin the ball. I didn't hide anything from y'all when I said that he has an elite arm. He's got great arm strength and arm talent. He makes good decisions most of the time."
Add a downfield threat to the proven ability of running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and the Bulldog offense will be fine.
Defensively though, Smart's new team is nowhere close to as deep and versatile along the defensive line as his former team, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Trent Thompson is a future star at defensive end and tackle Julian Rochester could become a star, but great defenses need 8-10 quality players up front to rotate during games, and Georgia isn't there quite yet.
That said, Smart has enough talent to contend for the SEC East and could win it if he catches a few breaks in Year 1.
5. Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M's offseason was dominated by the departures of former 5-star quarterbacks Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) and Kyle Allen (Houston), but don't let that blind you from what's really going on in College Station.
New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's power-tempo system is perfect for the Aggie personnel, offensive line coach Jim Turner has plenty of talented players to work with including tackle Avery Gennesy and defensive coordinator John Chavis has stars everywhere including end Myles Garrett, tackle Daylon Mack, safety Armani Watts and linebacker Otaro Alaka.
Former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight looked like a star in the spring game, and he has weapons everywhere to work with including receivers Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones.
Texas A&M will be competitive in the SEC West in 2016 as long as everybody stays healthy.
4. Florida Gators
Florida appeared to have found its quarterback during its spring game, when Luke Del Rio—formerly of Oregon State and Alabama—went 10-for-11 for 176 yards and two touchdowns against a defense that, even on the second team, is loaded.
Meanwhile, on the first team defense, tackle Caleb Brantley, linebacker Jarrad Davis, corners Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor and safety Marcus Maye are all bona fide stars who will lead one of the best units in the SEC.
The offensive line is still a work-in-progress, but head coach Jim McElwain appears to have found stars at running back in junior college transfer Mark Thompson and wide receiver in junior college transfer Dre Massey.
Add a slightly more explosive offense to a solid defense and new found stability at kicker with junior college transfer Eddy Pineiro, and McElwain has his recipe for success.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss lost some big-time stars including defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. But head coach Hugh Freeze has amassed a ton of talent since that 2013 recruiting class, and many of those players will take on bigger roles for the Rebels in 2016.
Quarterback Chad Kelly is back, and will have a ton of weapons outside including Quincy Adeboyejo, Van Jefferson, Demarkus Lodge and several more wide receivers coming in this summer. Eric Swinney should be the between-the-tackles threat at running back that Freeze needs after suffering a stress fracture and redshirting last year.
Linebacker DeMarquis Gates led the team in tackles last year with 76, Breeland Speaks should be a star in the trenches, Tony Conner is a veteran who's had a ton of success when healthy and Greg Little could step right in and start at Tunsil's old spot at offensive tackle.
Ole Miss has made two straight New Year's Six bowls, and a third should be in Freeze's future.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee returns a fantastic defensive front led by end Derek Barnett, a fierce linebacking corps led by Jalen Reeves-Maybin, one of the best corners in the game in Cam Sutton, a multi-dimensional rushing game with Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and quarterback Joshua Dobbs and four starters along the offensive line.
What's more, the Vols have upgraded at defensive coordinator to Bob Shoop, have established depth in the trenches for the first time under head coach Butch Jones' watch and have improved upon their record in each of Jones' three seasons.
The only hurdle left to clear is the downfield passing game, which is as much of a wide receiver problem as it is a Dobbs problem. But Preston Williams and Jeff George looked great in the Orange and White spring game, which could help land the Vols in playoff contention.
With the roster set and the SEC East as open as its ever been, there's no time like the present for Tennessee to return to national prominence.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Yes, Alabama has a lot of roster holes to fill after winning last season's national title.
No, it won't matter all that much.
Head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin have proven over the last few years that they're fully capable of replacing stars with stars. Rashaan Evans and Reuben Foster are future stars at linebacker, Daron Payne and Da'Shawn Hand are the same up front and Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris will be monsters at running back.
Add them to a roster that still includes defensive end Jonathan Allen, tight end O.J. Howard, wide receiver Calvin Ridley and a defensive backfield that includes Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey, and the Crimson Tide will be just fine.
Yes, the quarterback position is a concern. But Blake Barnett, Jalen Hurts, Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell are all talented players, and Kiffin has earned the trust of the nation after helping Blake Sims and Jake Coker win SEC titles in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.