By Darrell Puckett
The Southeastern Conference ranks at the top when talking about power in college football. Everyone has a favorite college football team, but in the south if you’re not going for a SEC team you are certainly the exception and not the rule. The following is a breakdown of the top teams from the west and east divisions. They will be sorted into powerhouse rankings. The equation to come up with these ranks deals with recruiting and current roster.
1. Alabama: Seriously, Bama is at the top again? Yes, the Crimson Tide’s success ranging from 2008-present gives top recognition for this number one rank. Under Nick Saban, the tide has a record of 61-7 since ‘08. Saban hasn’t dropped below fifth in the Rivals rankings, and has amounted five number one classes since ‘08. I guess you could say with winning two consecutive BCS National Championships that the tide may never falter again. Look for Bama to repeat as west champions and move on to the SEC Championship game once again.
2. Texas A&M: The off-season behavior of Johnny “Football” Manziel could potentially kill A&M’s opportunity at the top. Even after their incredible first SEC season, there are many questions surrounding the Heisman winning quarterback. Manziel won the Heisman trophy this past season, which was the first time a freshman has won. His autograph scandal could hurt Manziel’s opportunity on the field because if found guilty by the NCAA, A&M would have to later give up wins in the future. Also, A&M lost two of its most productive players due to the NFL draft, Luke Joeckel and Damontre Moore. The Aggies did finish 11 in the Rivals ‘13 recruiting list, so possibly 15 4-star freshman additions could help their cause.
3. LSU: Why are the tigers projected third in this projected powerhouse rankings? The Tigers follow up on a season of disappointment that ended with a 25-24 loss to Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Les Miles isn’t known for giving prompting interviews or ideal play calls, but it seems to work for him. Losing high school players out of the home state of Louisiana to other SEC teams isn’t even the reason, but the consistency of quarterback play explains it all. Zach Mettenberger, senior, must be able to handle the Tiger’s offense with precision and not turn the ball over. Even with leading LSU to a 10-3 season, Mettenberger must learn how to handle Alabama and Auburn this season. That being said, LSU is ranked sixth in the Rivals ‘13 recruiting rankings. Incoming freshmen always find ways to immediately impact performance on the field, so we will see how things play out.
4. Auburn: The Tigers are prepared for a comeback season under newly hired head coach, Gus Malzahn. Malzahn is known for his electrifying spread offense, but how can he run this attack with a new junior transfer quarterback? Nick Marshall transferred in from Garden City C.C, Pineview, GA. Marshall totaled 3,142 yards from scrimmage and threw for 18 touchdowns, but had 20 interceptions at Garden City. Questions surrounding Marshall involves turning up the touchdown to interception ratio, and if he can handle the SEC game day pressure. Nothing is certain, but with Malzahn’s track record with QB’s the future looks bright for the Tigers. The defense is very weak in the secondary as well, which put up horrific numbers last season. New defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, must find a way to limit big plays in the secondary.
Plus, Auburn finished eighth in the Rivals ‘13 rankings adding future stars such as Jeremy Johnson, Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel. Look for the Tigers to win around seven or eight games this season.
5. Ole Miss: The Rebel Bears could possibly be notched one powerhouse ranking up, but with a very young team it seems that fifth fits more accurate. Ole Miss shocked the nation by pulling off a number seventh finish in Rivals ‘13 rankings. Also, they added the number one ranked player in Robert Nkemdiche. With such a strong recruiting class expect early playing time for these freshmen as the season progresses.
6. Mississippi St.: The Bulldogs end last season 8-5, 4-4 in the SEC, and a 34-20 loss to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl. Dan Mullin, head coach, must bring Hail State to a more productive SEC record if he expects glory. It’s funny though, Bulldog fans would probably be excited for another 8-5 season, but that doesn’t cut it for a SEC championship. They finished 26th in the Rivals ‘13 rankings, so freshmen players could contribute in raising their powerhouse rankings stock next season.
7. Arkansas: It’s crazy to see how fast Arkansas fell from grace with the departure of Bobby Patrino, but confidence lies in newly hired head coach, Bret Bielema. Bielema coached the Wisconsin Badgers to glory in past season, so Razorback fans are excited about this opportunity. They finish last because of the unknown factor of how Bielema’s power running offense will translate to Arkansas. Patrino was known for his complex spread-offense, which lead Arkansas to a 37-17 record in his time there. Arkansas finished 27th in Rivals ‘13 rankings, but adding only four 4-star players. Hopefully, they can put something together and lift their last place status in the powerhouse rankings next season.
1. Florida: The Gators return this season after a humiliating loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, but they have big time stars returning. Quarterback Jeff Driskel leads his team through the SEC east division after a solid sophomore performance. Driskel passed for 1,646 yards, threw for 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. His option running ability shouldn’t be overlooked going into this season, but he must be able to manage an offense that loses top rusher, Mike Gillislee. The Gators finished number four in Rivals ’13 rankings, so young player additions should help produce defensive and offensive depth. Overall, I don’t see the Gators beating Alabama in the SEC championship game, but look for another BCS birth.
2. Georgia: The Dawgs return preseason Heisman hopeful Aaron Murray and bring back all five starting offensive linemen. Five of the six lead tacklers are gone from last season, but Georgia always replaces players well. Murray stats from last year impressed many NFL scouts and that should get Georgia fans excited about offense plus a Heisman candidate. Also, sophomore running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will provide ground game for Georgia’s high efficient offense. Head coach, Mark Richt, finished 12th in Rivals ’13 rankings and added 16 4-star players. Obviously, the addition of big time high school players can elevate a team’s season, so look Georgia to have plenty of depth on defense. Watch the week two game against South Carolina to see how the Dawg’s season will progress.
3. South Carolina: Wow, the Gamecocks are taking a seat behind Georgia again. Even after South Carolina’s 11-2, 6-2 (SEC) record in ’12, and an impressive dominating win against Michigan they are still only ranked third. Top player leading the Gamecocks is defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney. Steve Spurrier’s best efforts to lead his team for another chance at the SEC championship game are on, and he might have a team to accomplish that. The quarterback position is between Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, but either one can provide plenty of success. The Gamecocks also return four starters on the line, so look for a consistent running attack. They added eight 4-stars in the Rivals ’13 rankings, so there is potential youth lingering.
4. Vanderbilt: Don’t be surprised that James Franklin lifted the Commodores to a fourth ranking this season. Their impressive Rivals ’13 recruiting class is impressive, and could provide a lot of help this season. Even after losing starters Jordan Rodgers and leading rusher Zac Stacy the offensive production will be picked up by Austyn Carta-Samuels. The Commodores will feature Samuels as an all-featured back in the backfield, which will help throughout with scoring down field. Franklin has given fans the hope and desire to become relevant for a first time ever. Look for Vanderbilt to turn a lot of heads going through the SEC.
5. Missouri: After a 5-7 outing this past year, the Tigers look to regroup and find their SEC identity. The combination of poor quarterback play and very inconsistent defensive efforts left Missouri searching for answers all season. Quarterback James Franklin must find his sophomore brilliance again, and find a way to transition correctly into the SEC. The speed of a SEC defense seemed to surprise Franklin, which resulted in his horrific efforts on the field. Dorial Green-Beckham, Rivals ’12 number one recruit, has to be a factor in this offense and show what 5-star talents is worthy of. Missouri finished 41 overall in the Rivals ’13 rankings, which is dead last for SEC teams.
6. Tennessee: The Volunteers lost quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to the NFL draft, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be any offensive production. New starting quarterback Justin Worley and running back Rajion Neal should be productive since Tennessee returns an offensive line ranked fifth overall last year. Several receivers must step up to be relevant passing the ball, and the defense has to improve from their dead last finish in SEC play. Only three starters return for defense, so that will be their weakness. The Volunteers finish 21st in the Rivals ’13 rankings adding five 4-star recruits.
7. Kentucky: Is this really a surprise? The Wildcats averaged less than 18 points per game, which led them to a 2-10 overall record. Mark Stoops has questionably the toughest job of any coach this season, but that hasn’t stopped his ability to recruit. Kentucky finished 29th in the Rivals ’13 rankings and has surged to seventh overall this season so far. Stoops no doubt has made the Cats relevant in recruiting and promise for the future ahead. The offense returns quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, so they will need to settle on a starter. A defense that allowed 391 yards per game last season won’t impress anyone, but the return of all three top linebackers will provide stability.
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