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Harbach: SEC Pre-Spring Rankings
Alabama QB AJ McCarron
Alabama QB AJ McCarron
Posted Feb 8, 2011

It may be early but here is the first look at the SEC prior to Spring Practice.

By Brian Harbach

Ranking teams in the month of February is never easy and frankly not usually a smart thing to do, but recruiting is over and spring practice is right around the corner so there has to be something SEC Football related to talk about. These rankings are based on today and today we haven’t seen Zach Mettenberger throw a pass, we haven’t seen Isaiah Crowell become the 2011 version of Marcus Lattimore and we haven’t seen how the South Carolina QB situation will shake out this offseason. Before we have seen what spring practice has in store for coaches, fans and players…this is how the SEC looks.

1. Alabama
The Crimson Tide may not be the dominant force they were two years ago and they may not be the overwhelming favorite they were last season but in February 2011 they look like the best of the SEC. AJ McCarron got some good reps last season, the offensive line has great depth and once again Alabama has the best group of linebackers in the SEC. If a bad season for Nick Saban is 10 wins, we all know what a good season looks like.

2. Arkansas
I am not shy to admit that I like Tyler Wilson a lot and expect some big things from with the Arkansas offense. Even though in the bowl game the receivers reverted back to their Pre-2010 hands of stone…there is a lot of talent on the offense. Knile Davis will get a full 12 games as the starter, Wilson will run with the 1’s for the second straight spring and the defense is slowly improving. This team is capable of fighting for the SEC West once again this year and a second straight BCS bowl.

3. LSU
The Fighting Tigers are the most intriguing team in the SEC this year because of the QB position…if Jordan Jefferson wins the starting job this spot might be a little too high for LUS. If Zach Mettenberger comes out this spring and plays like myself and many other analysts expect…this spot might be too low. This might be the most important spring Les Miles has had at LSU and all eyes will be on the quarterback battle. Quarterback is the final piece of the puzzle for LSU this year.

4. Auburn
Two big difference makes gone but the biggest reason for Auburn’s success is still there as Gus Malzahn will run the Auburn offense for another season. A Chris Todd led offense won 8 games in 2008 with limited playmakers but the Auburn offense is stacked at the skill positions. The defense has to rebuild an experienced defensive line and replace some senior leaders but it won’t be worse than it was last year.

5. Tennessee
The Vols have some very good pieces put together and this year the Eastern division puzzle will be completed by Derek Dooley. The offense should be good with Tyler Bray and a group of young offensive weapons taking a big step forward. The defense still has All-SEC capable players at every level and the extra bowl practice will be the difference in a trip to Atlanta for Tennessee.

6. South Carolina
Like LSU in the SEC West, South Carolina has the most room to improve with the spring practice because we have no clue what is going on at quarterback. This is not meant to infuriate the Stephen Garcia supporters but the battle this spring should be fun to watch. Alshon Jeffrey and Marcus Lattimore will be unanimous All-SEC selections at SEC media days but does Carolina have the leaders on defense to replace some very special seniors?

7. Florida
For the first time in a long time I have no clue what to expect from the Gators this year. They will be running a completely new offense, a completely new defense and have a completely new coaching staff. Moving a bunch of spread players into a pro-style offense is not going to be easy and John Brantley is the key to their success. Is Brantley overrated or just the wrong fit for a spread offense? That quarterback position will dictate the success of the Gators and Charlie Weis has his work cut out for him.

8. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs have great coaches; the Gator Bowl answered any questions you may have had about Dan Mullen. The team that some thought would be happy to be in Jacksonville acted anything but happy to be there. Chris Relf returns, hopefully his accuracy will improve this year but minus Manny Diaz and two awesome linebackers look for MSU to take a small step back.

9. Georgia
This recruiting season amazed me…not because of Georgia’s success but because of how big a deal everyone made of it. UGA has recruited top 10 classes for nearly a decade now so talent has never been the problem…developing it has. That is why Georgia might be in trouble again this fall. Relying on a true freshmen to run the football is risky, no receiver improvement in years is a worry and an offensive line that never gets better is a problem. It is hard to see a huge turnaround for Richt and the Dawgs this fall; they just look mediocre right now.

10. Ole Miss
Houston Nutt continues to improve the talent in Oxford but this team is still rebuilding. There will be a new starting quarterback this fall and the middle of the defense was hit hard by graduation and players declaring for the draft. Houston Nutt always does his best as an underdog and that is what the Rebels are this year.

11. Kentucky
Year two for Joker Phillips is going to be a lot tougher than year one, the Wildcats are replacing a lot of key players with Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline and Derrick Locke all gone. The defense brings back all everything linebacker Danny Trevathan but with so many losses it will be a huge success for Kentucky to make it back to a bowl game for the sixth straight season.

12. Vanderbilt
No one should be surprised to see Vandy last in this poll, they are going to struggle once again this year and while the offense may be a little more organized under first year coach James Franklin, and the players aren’t there. Maybe in a year or two Vandy will be back to its normal self where a sloppy game by the favored team could result in an upset but the Dores aren’t there yet.

What teams need to move up, who needs to move down and is Bama your number one? E-mail me Brian Harbach

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