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Home | Sports | College / NCAA |

2013 SEC football: Way too early conference power rankings


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Now that the dust is settled, where do teams stand in the SEC?

Now that the dust is settled, where do teams stand in the SEC?
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Following a rough-and-tumble regular season and SEC title game, the nation's premier conference wrapped up yet another elite season with another Heisman Trophy winner and BCS national championship.

With all the trophies and ticker tape parades now a thing of the past, teams must finally take a deep breath and make an honest assessment of their squads.

Several underclassmen have entered the NFL Draft. A number of seniors have graduated. Injured players have given up their scholarships and others have simply transferred. There are dozens of fresh, new faces on every campus in the conference.

The first few weeks of the offseason had been a hectic one in college football, and especially within the SEC.

So, now that the dust has finally settled and teams can start gearing up for weightlifting sessions and spring practices, where does each team stand amongst the rest of the SEC?

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14. Kentucky Wildcats

14. Kentucky Wildcats
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The joke has been made a thousand times, but every single time it has held true: Kentucky simply cannot play basketball year-round, now can they?

It is going to be the same old story, at least next year, for newly hired head coach Mark Stoops. Even after making a great hire in the former Florida State defensive coordinator, this team is still far away from competing in this sport in general, let alone in this conference.

Maxwell Smith is an excellent passer, but he proved extremely fragile as a sophomore in 2012. He led the team in passing, throwing for 975 yards in a mere four games, but that is exactly the point: If Stoops only gets four games out of Smith next year, the Wildcats are going to have to get very comfortable at the bottom of this league.

If he cannot find the playing field, Jalen Whitlow played in 10 games as a frosh, passing for 801 yards and rushing for 206 more. Basically, the future is now for Stoops, who does not have much talent amongst his upperclassmen.

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13. Tennessee Volunteers

13. Tennessee Volunteers
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

'Derek' and 'Dooley' are now curse words in Knoxville. His team's on-field performances and his recruiting efforts are going to make life extremely difficult in Year 1 of the Butch Jones regime.

The only bright spots on the Vols' roster in the team's 1-7 conference season in 2012 were quarterback Tyler Bray's right arm and the superstar receiving duo of Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. Unfortunately for Tennessee, however, all three are making the leap to the pros, having entered the 2013 NFL Draft. Further, the team's top tight end and third-leading pass catcher, Mychal Rivera, is graduating along with fellow senior Zach Rodgers and his seven touchdowns.

Justin Worley was the only other quarterback who threw a pass last season. The 6-foot-4, 213-pounder completed 15 of his 23 pass attempts for 134 yards and two interceptions as a sophomore. He will have a fantastic running back in Marlin Lane Jr. to hand the ball off to, but may not have too many warm bodies to throw the ball to.

On the defensive side of the football, the cupboard is bare. Tennessee finished at No. 107-nationally after giving up 35.7 points per game defensively. Linebacker AJ Johnson racked up 138 tackles and defensive back Byron Moore tallied another 86. They will both be back, but two-on-11 will never be a fair fight.

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12. Arkansas Razorbacks

12. Arkansas Razorbacks
Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

New head coach Bret Bielema may believe he left Wisconsin in order to walk into a good thing in Fayetteville, but they will not be the case in 2012.

The only positive to a disastrous 4-8 season was quarterback Tyler Wilson, who threw for 3,387 yards with 21 touchdowns. However, a program that finished 107th-nationally with a putrid 118.7 average rushing yards per game loses it top running back in senior Dennis Johnson. Johnson, who finished 757 yards and eight touchdowns, stepped up following a disappointing junior campaign out of the uber-talented Knile Davis.

Despite only compiling 377 yards on 112 carries, Davis decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

Jonathan Williams will be a sophomore, and he will be asked to carry the load, but SEC defenses are going to tee off on him with either Brandon Allen or Brandon Mitchell under center. Both are wildly inexperienced.

Oh yeah, its 83rd-ranked defense gave up 30.4 points per game and will be losing three of its top four tacklers. If defensive back Rohan Gaines doesn't ball out next year, Bielema's boys could be giving up a lot of points in 2013.

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11. Missouri Tigers

11. Missouri Tigers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Neither coach Gary Pinkel nor his quarterback, James Franklin, were prepared for the Tigers' first season in the SEC. Expected to fare far better than fellow newcomers Texas A&M, Mizzou instead failed to move the ball or stop the football efficiently in limping to a 5-7 record.

Franklin was supposed to be the dual-threat star that carried this program into the conference on a chariot of glory, but instead he simply carried himself with the demeanor of a Pee-Wee player. He refused to play hurt -- not injured, and there is a different -- so often that Pinkel even called him out publicly.

The only guy who brought any physicality or swagger to the team, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, has left early for the NFL Draft. Kendial Lawrence and his 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns is graduating and also heading to the League.

If Franklin gets his act together, this Tigers team can surprise some people. However, for now, based on both last season's play and what we know about Franklin, don't expect much in Year 2 of Mizzou's time with the big boys.

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10. Auburn Tigers

10. Auburn Tigers
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

It is now Gus Malzahn's time to step up and be The Man in The Plains.

Malzahn was War Eagle's offensive coordinator when the team won the BCS title in 2010. He helped guide former coach Gene Chizik's offense to several records and he helped lead Cam Newton to a Heisman Trophy.

Cam is back at Auburn finishing up his degree, but he won't be strapping 'em up for the Tigers anytime soon. That being said, there is talent on this roster.

Linebacker and leading tackler Damen Bates is gone, but junior Demetruce McNeal finished with 90 tackles himself and will be sticking around. In fact, outside of Bates, nearly the entire Tigers defense returns intact. Having experience defensively will help keep this team in games while Malzahn conjures up a bit of magic offensively.

Again, the pieces are in place for him. Tre Mason rushed for more than 1,000 yards without much of a passing game to support him.

That should not be the case in 2013, with pocket passer Kiehl Frazier and potential dual-threat star Jonathan Wallace duking it out for starting quarterback responsibilities.

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9. Mississippi State Bulldogs

9. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 edition of the Bulldogs absolutely feasted on weaker competition in jumping out to a 7-0 start. However, while it may be easy to stuff one's face with Cheetos and Jacksonville States, everybody knows those snacks and those wins only provide empty calories.

Once coach Dan Mullen's squad reached the real meat of their schedule, these Dawgs were already done eating.

Running back Ladarius Perkins rushed for more than 100 yards against the likes of Troy, Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State. However, he only compiled 38 and 42 against Alabama and Texas A&M, respectively.

He will be a senior in 2013 and so will his quarterback, Tyler Russell. After throwing only four interceptions all season long, Russell threw a whopping six in season-ending losses to Ole Miss and Northwestern -- you just cannot do that and win games.

Perhaps Mullen has to put his student-athletes through a more intense conditioning program if they don't want to fall off at the end of the year in the way that they did in 2012. If not, there will be no rise in the Rankings for these Dawgs.

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8. Vanderbilt Commodores

8. Vanderbilt Commodores
Don McPeak-US Presswire

Coach James Franklin has been an absolute miracle for a Vanderbilt program that was treated like a 'redheaded step child' for decades prior to his arrival.

The Dores' Music City Bowl berth gave the team back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in school history, and the win over NC State gave them nine wins and its best record since 1915.

No joke.

Franklin loses quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy. Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels sat behind Rodgers as a junior and is ready to step into the starting role. With the departures of the Vol's star duo, Carta-Samuels may be passing to the best receiving duo in the conference in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Further, the nation's No. 1-ranked junior college tight end, Brandon Vandenberg, is expected to dominate come fall for Vandy.

Stacy is the school's all-time leading rusher, so replacing him won't be quite so easy. However, Brian Kimbrow rushed for 413 yards on a mere 66 carries as a frosh in 2012. He may just break out as a sophomore next year.

Defensively, the team returns its top seven tacklers save for senior linebacker Archibald Barnes. We all know what wins championships.

If this were not the SEC, Franklin's squad would be ranked far higher.

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7. LSU Tigers

7. LSU Tigers
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Who is going to make tackles for Les Miles and the Tigers in 2013?

Yes, there will always be elite talent playing under the lights of Death Valley, but the program suffered from record attrition following a shocking loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Ten underclassmen are leaving Baton Rouge for the NFL, and several seniors are graduating out. Linebacker Lamin Barrow is going to be asked to step up in a huge way with all the inexperienced players that will be surrounding him defensively in 2013.

Offensively, Miles' program has struggled for years. Zach Mettenberger was brought in from junior college in order to dominate the nation, but instead he struggled in only throwing 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

Mettenberger has a stable of running backs to whom he can hand the ball off, headlined by Jeremy Hill. Hill will be a sophomore in 2013, and he will be looking to build off of his 755 yards and 12 touchdowns. Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue will also see significant carries.

Can this team win 10 games yet again? Of course, but these are Power Rankings, and right now Miles' roster is not looking as powerful as the top half of teams in the SEC.

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6. Ole Miss Rebels

6. Ole Miss Rebels
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The Rebels are the definition of 'up-and-coming' heading into Year 2 of the Hugh Freeze regime.

After Ole Miss floundered its way to a 2-10 finish in Houston Nutt's embarrassment of a final season in 2011, Freeze came in and immediately injected a shot of life into the program.

After going 5-6 through the team's first 11 games, already showing significant improvement, Freeze's squad caught fire. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw for more than 1,000 yards in the team's final four games. Obviously, both Freeze and fans alike are hoping his momentum carries over into his junior season.

Running back Jeff Scott will be back for his senior year after compiling 850 yards on 197 carries as a junior, but the real gem is in this team's receiving game.

Donte Moncrief has the chance to be one of the breakout stars of the SEC after catching 66 passes for 979 yards and 10 scores as a sophomore. If he and Wallace chose to enter the NFL Draft after next season, they will most likely end their careers in Oxford with a huge bang.

Defensively, this team is only getting better. Denzel Nkemdiche led the team in tackles as a freshman, and he, along with the next five leading tacklers, will all be back and should be better than ever in 2013.

Coupling these returners with an elite recruiting class has gotten the campus abuzz, already, for what Freeze and Co. can do for an encore.

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5. Florida Gators

5. Florida Gators
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Will Muschamp pulled off a near miracle in just his second season in Gainesville. He was hired following the abrupt and disappointing departure of Urban Meyer, and when he arrived in The Swamp he found the cupboard nearly bare.

A bad loss in the Sugar Bowl should not dampen the massive improvement this team showed in going from 7-6 in 2011 to 11-2 in 2012.

The team loses All-SEC running back Mike Gillislee and defensive stars Sharrif Floy and Matt Elam, among others. However, Matt Jones should be ready to step up to the leading rushing role as a sophomore and there are several elite defenders remaining for the Gators to trot onto the football field.

This team is excellent, and will find itself in the top 10 of the AP rankings to open the 2013 season. the only problem is, of course, that each of the teams ahead of them in these Rankings are also going to be in the top 10 of the preseason polls.

Such is life in the SEC. If quarterback Jeff Driskel can harness all of his talent as he enters his junior season, however, the 2013 Florida team will not be sitting in fifth for very long.

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4. South Carolina Gamecocks

4. South Carolina Gamecocks
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Gamecocks may not have much of a running game next season. Coach Steve Spurrier is losing top playmaker Ace Sanders, to the NFL Draft. The team will not have a single starting quarterback at any point next season, as Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will both spend time under center at various points in 2013.

However, no one else in the country has anything like what South Carolina has in homegrown hero Jadeveon Clowney.

At 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds, Clowney has absolutely everything one could want in a defensive end, and he stole the show this past bowl season with his bone-rattling hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith (if you have not seen it, Google it ... now. Thank us later).

The program has won 11 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in its history. Clowney is ready to take his game to the next level and make a run at the Heisman. His entire team is ready to do the same, and finally make a run at an elusive SEC championship.

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3. Georgia Bulldogs

3. Georgia Bulldogs
Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Folks have seen the Oregon Ducks score in bunches and win games at an equally impressive clip. In 2013, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's offense should provide the folks in Athens with the same fireworks and coach Mark Richt with the same wins.

When quarterback Aaron Murray announced that he was returning for a senior season having already nearly rewritten the Georgia record books, this team immediately became national title contenders. And that is after coming only four points short of a meeting with Notre Dame after falling in a heartbreaker to Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

Superstar freshmen running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are ready for bigger and better things and so is receiver Malcolm Mitchell.

There is no replacing Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and John Jenkins defensively, but Amarlo Herrera collected 70 tackles as a sophomore. The defense will be his to lead in 2013, and he should shine with the responsibility.

This entire team should shine brightly all season long.

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2. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide are the kings of the college football world, there is absolutely no question about that. Having three of the nation's last four national championships, coach Nick Saban's program has undeniably earned the right to call itself a dynasty.

What's more, the champion must be given the benefit of the doubt until beaten by a challenger, and thus the Tide deserves a No. 1 ranking when the first AP polls are released prior to the kickoff the 2013 season.

However, this is not a poll, but rather power rankings.

There will be talent across the board once again in Tuscaloosa, with two-time defending champion quarterback AJ McCarron headlining a core that includes Amari Cooper and TJ Yeldon offensively and CJ Mosely and Vinnie Sunseri defensively.

However, the team will lose three elite underclassmen in Eddie Lacy, Dee Milliner and DJ Fluker along with several other seniors.

Will this team at least compete for a national title, if not win one yet again? Yup. Will they be ranked No. 1 to open the year? Definitely.

However, in terms of how both rosters are shaping up this spring, one team ranks more powerfully than the mighty Tide.

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1. Texas A&M Aggies

1. Texas A&M Aggies
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Aggies were supposed to embarrass themselves in their first season in the SEC. Instead, Mizzou looked the part of shocked deer while A&M was busy putting a bow on its first 11-win season since 1998.

Johnny Manziel was supposed to lay an egg against Big 12 bullies Oklahoma in front of 100,000 in the Cotton Bowl. However, after becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in the long and storied tradition of the award, Johnny Football went out and set a Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards.

And he made it look easy.

What will not be easy is replacing two superstar linemen who are both expected to be taken in the top five of the NFL Draft, left tackle Luke Joeckel and defensive end Damontre Moore.

However, Jake Matthews is basically a Joeckel clone and will be making the move from right tackle to the left in order to protect Manziel's blind side. Offensively, the team should not skip a beat.

Defensively, things are a bit trickier, but Deshazor Everett has all the makings of an elite defensive back. Julien Obioha played in limited minutes as a freshman along the defense line, but he is primed to blow folks apart in his second time through.

In the program's second time trough their new conference, coach Kevin Sumlin's Aggies are primed to blow everybody away.

To top it off, Johnny Football will only get better and the schedule sets up beautifully with Bama traveling to College Station.

Buckle up Aggieland, this could be your shot to take what's yours and finally show the state of Texas who's boss.

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Get a leg up on the 2013 season with our Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Texas, Notre Dame and Ohio State previews.

Who would you rank No. 1? Sound off below!

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