SEC Power Rankings: Ranking Every SEC Team

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2019

SEC Power Rankings: Ranking Every SEC Team

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    A familiar refrain in the SEC these days is that it's Alabama and Georgia and everybody else. But is that the way it is this year? 

    Well, yes and no. 

    Safe money rests on the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs—the past two SEC champions—meeting in Atlanta again with the winner being anybody's guess. But the league has plenty of other teams who could skip a stone into the spokes of the apple cart.

    The LSU Tigers are loaded with Ed Orgeron-recruited players and finally have a quarterback upon whom they can depend. Texas A&M spent good money on Jimbo Fisher and is seeing early returns.

    Over in the East, Dan Mullen's resurgent first year in Gainesville has the Gators excited, and Missouri winning the sweepstakes to lure former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant to Columbia for a year should keep it on the cusp of the conversation.

    Auburn, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Tennessee and others have reason to be excited after a mixed bag in 2018.

    This time of year, you roll with the safe picks and see where the rest shake out. So, let's take a look at the conference power rankings after Florida's Week 0 opener and just before the rest of the conference kicks off.

14. Ole Miss Rebels

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    It's difficult to judge how the Ole Miss Rebels are going to look this year. Throughout the final days of Hugh Freeze's regime and the two years of Matt Luke's reign, you could always at least rely on the offense.

    That's no longer the case.

    Electric quarterback Jordan Ta'amu and elite receivers DK Metcalf and A.J. Brown will no longer light up the scoreboard in Oxford, and that's a major problem for Luke as he enters a pivotal year in which his program needs to see an uptick in production.

    Is it OK to still have excitement about the future of the Rebels while thinking this is going to be a long and painful year? Because that's likely the case.

    The running back stable has dynamic potential, and it's easy to love the skill set and passion of former blue-chip quarterback Matt Corral, who decommitted from USC and Florida before winding up at Ole Miss. He should star before his days are done, especially if he meshes well with new coordinator Rich Rodriguez.

    Too many questions loom at pivotal spots, though. Who will be the playmakers on the perimeter for Corral? More importantly, the offensive line looks like it has major holes to fill, and the SEC is not kind to unproven units rife with youngsters.

    While the hire of Mike MacIntyre to coach the defense was a brilliant move, he has to rebuild what former coordinator Wesley McGriff and others tore down. There will be massive improvement on that side of the ball, but it just may not be evident in the win-loss column.

    Buckle up for a rough season. But if the Rebels can figure out the coaching situation, things will soon improve.

13. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Last year was a forgettable first season for head coach Chad Morris and his new-look Arkansas Razorbacks.

    You don't do a complete 180-degree flip from Bret Bielema's run-first offense to the high-flying attack Morris employed as a Texas high school coach, Clemson's offensive coordinator and SMU's head coach without experiencing major growing pains.

    Boy, did they ever.

    The Hogs were winless in the league a season ago, and after a competitive battle in an eventual 24-17 loss to LSU, they blew up by losing 52-6 to Mississippi State and 38-0 to Missouri to cap a 2-10 season on a low point.

    This season should be much better. After grabbing the No. 23-ranked recruiting class, Morris should have some of his players in place to run his system. They're led by freshman receiver Trey Knox, who could star right away.

    The Hogs will have a quarterback to get him the ball, too. They hit the graduate transfer jackpot, nabbing Ben Hicks, who reunites with Morris after a strong career for the Mustangs, where the coach helped mold him into a quality player.

    When Texas A&M's Nick Starkel also elected to head to Fayetteville, it created vital competition. Morris is expected to name a starter ahead of the season opener against Portland State, according to HawgSports.com's Trey Biddy.

    It would be a stretch to say the Hogs have the players in place for a complete turnaround, especially with so far to come—on coordinator John Chavis' defense, in particular. But players are at least in place to make things better.

    Arkansas fans will start to see things turn in the right direction during 2019.

12. Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn could play for anybody in the country and start for the vast majority of teams. What does head coach Derek Mason have after him, though?

    That's the biggest question mark facing the Commodores after a 6-7 season that saw highs such as another quick start and a third consecutive victory over the hated Tennessee Volunteers but ultimately wound up as another losing year for Mason.

    He should now be firmly on the hot seat as it's easy to question whether he'll ever approach the success predecessor James Franklin had on West End.

    Gone is star quarterback Kyle Shurmur, and replacing him will be either Ball State transfer Riley Neal or Deuce Wallace. If Mason hasn't announced his starter by now, he likely won't before the Georgia opener. But somebody has to consistently get the ball in the hands of Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb and Jared Pinkney.

    An out-of-conference game against the Purdue Boilermakers looms after the Bulldogs, and VU also plays LSU this season. It's not going to be an easy road.

    Mason still has quality defenders such as Dayo Odeyingbo, but offensive firepower is a concern given the quarterback situation. This should be a tough season for the 'Dores in the post-Shurmur era.

11. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    An odd dichotomy for South Carolina this season: The Gamecocks probably have a better overall roster than a few teams in front of them, but their schedule is so brutal you aren't going to know it by looking at the final standings.

    Nobody is going to pat head coach Will Muschamp on the head and tell him they're sorry the Gamecocks must play Alabama, Georgia and Clemson, but that's the hard truth of this schedule. Not only are those assumed losses, but they're also going to be rugged games out of which South Carolina hopes to emerge with good health.

    While Muschamp has recruited well to Columbia, the Gamecocks aren't deep enough to deal with a lot of injuries.

    Intriguing players abound for South Carolina, and senior quarterback Jake Bentley is a candidate to have a breakout season that could change the entire trajectory of the program. But can he beat just one of those monster competitors?

    If he can, the Gamecocks could have a quality season. But it's tough to predict that.

    The secondary and linebacking corps should be much improved from a season ago, and there's continuity with coordinator Travaris Robinson. A slew of young talent can outfit that side of the ball at all three levels of the defense.

    Perhaps the biggest asset outside of Bentley's grasp of the offense is the star power in the running back corps, where Rico Dowdle, Mon Denson and A.J. Turner already formed a quality trio before Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster entered the picture.

    That's enough quality runners to get through the rigorous season, but do they have enough firepower at other spots? We'll soon find out.

10. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Head coach Joe Moorhead threw us a curveball this past week by naming former Penn State signal-caller and graduate transfer Tommy Stevens the starting quarterback over dual-threat quarterback Keytaon Thompson, who waited his turn behind Nick Fitzgerald.

    "I think Tommy is a kid with a lot of physical tools. Strong arm. He can really run," Moorhead explained at SEC media days in late August. "He's accustomed to the system so he's going to understand it for the most part coming in. And, you know, I think he brings a lot of talent to the position, and I think the competition is going to be an exciting one."

    Stevens doesn't appear to fit what the Bulldogs are used to doing, but perhaps Moorhead will be more comfortable with a 6'5" quarterback who has shown a propensity to stretch the field. He'd better be. Thompson is entering the transfer portal after losing the battle, according to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger's Tyler Horka.

    The Bulldogs are certainly going to look a lot different than they did a season ago as they must replace seven starters, particularly standouts such as Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat. That includes the entire front four from a unit that anchored coordinator Bob Shoop's side of the ball and earned a top-five national ranking in total defense.

    With Fitzgerald out of eligibility and so many question marks on defense, MSU is entering a pivotal season in Moorhead's second year. Sure, last year was a strong first step, but that was with a lot of players recruited by former head coach Dan Mullen.

    This group has more of Moorhead's fingerprints on it, and it's fair to wonder how that's going to translate in the SEC. With all that defensive talent gone, a step back is a likely outcome.

9. Tennessee Volunteers

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    Shocking wins over Auburn and Kentucky teams that had better rosters provided glimmers of hope during head coach Jeremy Pruitt's first season in Knoxville. But just when it looked like the Vols may make a bowl game, they were trounced by Missouri and Vanderbilt to close the season and had no answers for Mizzou signal-caller Drew Lock or Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur.

    That led to another season in which they sat and watched the postseason.

    If UT is better along the lines of scrimmage this season, that should change. Pruitt went out and secured two excellent coordinator hires, plucking Jim Chaney from rival Georgia to lead the offense and getting old friend and assistant Derrick Ansley to leave the Oakland Raiders and return to the college game for the defense.

    A stellar recruiting class will be evident this season as coups like linebackers Henry To'oto'o and Quavaris Crouch, defensive back Warren Burrell and JUCO transfer Darel Middleton earn quality defensive snaps—and maybe start.

    It's much the same along the offensive front, which was among the nation's worst a season ago. Pruitt convinced a pair of blue-chip stars, Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright, to come to Knoxville, and both will be firmly in the rotation.

    But how much better can you be while relying on so many freshmen?

    Growing pains and some ugly moments are inevitable. But the schedule is easier this season; the toughest out-of-conference opponent is BYU, which comes to town Sept. 7, and the Vols get a decent SEC West draw in Mississippi State. 

    If quarterback Jarrett Guarantano can stay upright, Chaney will help him have his best season, and that could spell seven or eight wins.

8. Kentucky Wildcats

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    Finishing the season this low in the SEC would qualify as a major disappointment for a Wildcats team coming off one of the best years in program history: 10 wins and a Citrus Bowl victory over Penn State.

    However, the Wildcats have a lot to replace in '19—most notably superstar running back Benny Snell Jr. and edge defender Josh Allen, who went in the first round of the NFL draft. That's a ton of star power, but a deeper look shows 16 of 22 starters are gone.

    Head coach Mark Stoops has quietly recruited well and developed players even better, so there's reason to believe the 'Cats can have a quality follow-up season. The schedule is favorable, too, with downtrodden rival Louisville as the only nonconference Power 5 opponent.

    SEC West showdowns against Mississippi State and Arkansas are games in which they should be favorites, too.

    The 'Cats will go however far dual-threat quarterback Terry Wilson takes them as he needs to improve his downfield passing game after a season that saw him produce 2,436 total yards and 15 scores.

    Lynn Bowden Jr. is a major returning weapon, and you need to learn the names of receivers Bryce Oliver and Ahmad Wagner. A stellar linebacking corps with Jamar Watson and Kash Daniel in tow could help offset Allen's production, but you should expect a drop-off from 2018.

    That doesn't mean the program is in bad shape at all. You just have to ask what sustainable success means for a program such as Kentucky, which hasn't ever experienced it. Maybe 2018's result is the new norm, but the Wildcats need to prove it wasn't just an anomaly.

7. Auburn Tigers

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    It's a must-win season for head coach Gus Malzahn, who is feeling the pressure on the Plains.

    On the surface, it doesn't look great for the Tigers—or Malzahn's future, for that matterthat they're placing those hopes on the strong right shoulder of true freshman quarterback Bo Nix. But that's only until you realize just how talented Nix is. 

    The son of former Auburn signal-caller Patrick Nix beat out redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood for the starting gig, and he seems the perfect player to run Malzahn's spread-based concepts. With Malzahn calling the shots on that side of the ball again, high hopes follow.

    If things click into place with Nix and a stable of capable but underachieving running backs, whose new position coach, by the way, is former Auburn great Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, it'll be a fun year.

    The Tigers' defense is going to be strong yet again, led by a defensive line anchored by Derrick Brown, Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson. Auburn has been good on that side of the ball ever since coordinator Kevin Steele took over, and this may be the best defense he's had.

    Malzahn's tenure at Auburn has been odd. During years in which you don't expect too much from the Tigers, they tend to surprise and turn into one of the best teams in the SEC. When high expectations are present, they crumble under the glow of the spotlight. Few are talking about them this year, which could bode well.

    Maybe Auburn isn't on the same level as hated rival Alabama, but look for it to be right there with LSU and Texas A&M at the top of that "contender" pile.

6. Missouri Tigers

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    Missouri may have seemed like a sore-thumb selection for the SEC when the conference expanded, but the Tigers have enjoyed plenty of success since joining the league in 2012.

    The program enjoys lots of momentum exiting the Drew Lock era, and excitement permeates Columbia with Clemson quarterback transfer Kelly Bryant ready for his senior season and TCU transfer Shawn Robinson ready to join the fray a year from now.

    Head coach Barry Odom has a lot of weapons surrounding Bryant with which he can work this year, too.

    Tons of receiving talent dot the offense for coordinator Derek Dooley, including Albert Okwuegbunam, Jonathan Nance, Johnathon Johnson and Kam Scott. Runners Larry Rountree III, Tyler Badie and Simi Bakare comprise a dynamic stable.

    Bryant's legs will also cause problems for opposing defenses, and the offensive line is experienced.

    Defensively, Missouri features a lot of talented players. If the line can find an explosive contributor or two, the Tigers are going to be hard to handle on that side.

    Everybody is talking about Florida as Georgia's biggest contender, and that may be true. But if Bryant has an all-conference-caliber year, or if he is just a steady force who can make everything tick, Mizzou is going to be a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams.

    This is a squad that can win as many as 10 games.

5. Florida Gators

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    Florida is one of two 1-0 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. But how the Gators got there after a 24-20 win over a young but talented Miami team in Week 0 is a much more complicated answer.

    They made bizarre and horrific mistake after mistake, throwing an inexplicable interception with 4:20 to go and then getting flagged for egregious pass interference on 4th-and-34—and again on 3rd-and-12 down the stretch. They were actually flagged for another pass interference in the end zone on a different 3rd-and-12 during the same drive, but it was picked up to prevent things from getting dicier.

    The bottom line is Florida won despite some big-time gaffes on both sides of the ball. It didn't look like a team that can compete with Georgia in the East, but it has plenty of time to fix things.

    On the bright side, the Gators had 10 sacks and pressured Hurricanes quarterback Jarren Williams all night.  They looked dynamic in the front seven, and though they made too many errors on the back end, the defensive backs are talented, too.

    Quarterback Feleipe Franks isn't going to post many beautiful performances, but his big arm and athleticism will win some games—even if his decision-making may lose some.

    Dan Mullen is one of the best coaches in the country, and he'll get the most out of his team, which should improve as the season goes on. But Saturday night proved they've got a long way to go. Was that just the early-season jitters, or is this Florida outfit so undisciplined that such games will become a trend?

    The final answer will determine just how good this team can ultimately be.

T-3. LSU Tigers

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    How good is quarterback Joe Burrow going to be?

    That may be the biggest question facing an LSU Tigers team that has three full classes of Ed Orgeron-recruited players and should enjoy talent at all levels and at every position on the field.

    Sure, there's inexperience at running back, and they also lost a lot of defensive talent. But there are elite prospects waiting in the wings. Guys like John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price are runners who could have committed to basically any team in the country, and they may start the season as backups to Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

    The SEC's top defensive player roams the Tigers backfield in safety Grant Delpit, and incoming freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. certainly looked the part of a star in the making this spring.

    But all eyes are going to be on Burrow, the former Ohio State transfer. If he is a superb force rather than a steady one in his second season with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, then look out.

    "The Burrow-Ensminger combination in 2019 will mark the first time since 2010 that LSU will return the same starting quarterback and offensive coordinator since Jordan Jefferson and Gary Crowton returned in 2010," USA Today's Glenn Guilbeau wrote. "And Jefferson is a far cry from Burrow."

    Guilbeau is a veteran SEC writer, and he expects big things from the Tigers this year. 

    There are plenty of reasons to agree, but Orgeron hasn't proved he is a top-tier SEC coach yet. If he can make things click this year, all the pieces are there for greatness.

T-3. Texas A&M Aggies

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    You may think it's a cop-out to have Texas A&M and LSU tied in these rankings.

    You'd be wrong.

    After all, the two teams virtually tied in their epic seven-overtime game a year ago, which went deep into the night and ultimately ended with the Aggies winning 74-72. It's just hard to choose which squad is better, and you should be pumped to see what they have in store for an encore in Baton Rouge on Nov. 30.

    Right now, LSU looks to have the better overall roster and more talent that has played in the league. But Texas A&M has the better head coach in Jimbo Fisher, and the Aggies also have quarterback Kellen Mond surrounded by a ton of receiving talent.

    Defensive coordinator Mike Elko's unit will experience some early growing pains, but the Aggies have recruited too much talent to have long-term issues. By the time the teams meet, they'll both be strong on either side of the ball.

    The Aggies are going to have a difficult time replacing star running back Trayveon Williams, who was the SEC's most underrated player a season ago. But again, there are plenty of viable options. Expect A&M to take another leap forward this year, even if it doesn't start out looking like it'll do so.

    This is a young team, and it may take a while for all the incoming star players to mesh. But when they do, it's going to be exciting to see just how far they can go.

    The Aggies aren't ready to compete with Alabama just yet, but that gap isn't getting bigger, either.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama under head coach Nick Saban is a steady and destructive storm, ripping through every other team in its path to dominance over the past decade-plus. Yes, other teams sometimes rise to the occasion, but only Clemson has proved up to the challenge of a sustained stay at the top.

    It's always safe to lay money on the Crimson Tide as one of the top four teams standing in the College Football Playoff.

    At least on paper, though, there are some cracks in the armor this season.

    Saban's defense was ravaged by injuries in 2018, and a repeat has already started this year as inside linebacker Joshua McMillon is likely out for the season with a knee injury. Plus, the coaching overhaul creates more uncertainty on defense. 

    Saban always finds a way to cobble together a good group, but will it be strong enough to handle teams like Georgia and Clemson? Those are the true measuring sticks now.

    Alabama has elite players at running back (as well as everywhere else), but a season-ending foot injury suffered by star freshman Trey Sanders is a concern, too.

    We say all that to say this: The Tide still have 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, and he has arguably the best group of receivers in the nation around him, led by Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle. How are defenses going to hang with those guys?

    Alabama may just have to outscore everybody in shootouts this year until the defense finds the right mix of continuity and playmakers, but it should be up to the challenge. Even so, the Tide may fall a little short to Georgia.

1. Georgia Bulldogs

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    This is the year the Bulldogs kick the crimson curse.

    Alabama broke Georgia's heart in the national championship game two seasons ago and the SEC Championship Game last year. But head coach Kirby Smart is going to get payback on his old boss in '19, and it's going to come during an epic showdown in Atlanta.

    Don't be surprised if you watch two rounds of Georgia vs. Alabama, followed by next year's regular-season matchup. This is going to be a rivalry everybody wants to see.

    Georgia is led by junior quarterback Jake Fromm, who figures to take a giant step forward if he can find the right blend of playmakers on the perimeter. Miami transfer Lawrence Cager, Cal transfer Demetris Robertson, Trey Blount and Tyler Simmons have experience and should be effective.

    Throw in freshmen receivers George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock, and UGA should have plenty of options.

    This is a Dawgs team with a running back group—led by D'Andre Swift to go along with James Cook, Zamir White and others—that will hit holes paved by the nation's best offensive line.

    Defensively, potential playmakers are everywhere given the way Smart and Co. have recruited the past three seasons. Yes, some of the guys who'll play will be inexperienced, but they have enough talent to make up for it.

    All is not perfect, of course. UGA must replace both its coordinators, and that is rarely a seamless transition. But the Dawgs' talent is on par with Alabama and Clemson, and they're going to be fun to watch as they grow and thrive.

    This feels like their year.

          

    All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite. All stats are from CFBStats.com.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.

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