Last week we power ranked the Big Ten because I am a biased Ohio State fan but this week we are looking at the SEC. Nick Saban and Alabama are coming off another National Championship and are bringing back enough talent to repeat. Who are the likely challengers in the SEC? Will someone be able to unseat Alabama at some point this season? Let’s take a look:
- Alabama – The Crimson Tide are on one of the greatest runs in college football history. This is a dynasty we may never see again. Alabama’s defense is well stocked even after they lost linebacker Dylan Moses and defensive back Patrick Surtain. The offense will look much different this season. Bryce Young is expected to take over at quarterback following the departure of Mac Jones. Heisman trophy winner, Devonta Smith, is also off to the NFL along with wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and running back Najee Harris. Brian Robinson, Trey Sanders, and Jase McClellan are expected to be the committee which replaces Harris. On defense Christopher Allen and Will Anderson Jr were two of the best pass rusher and run stoppers in the SEC. Both were atop of the leader board in tackles for losses. We can expect another dominant Alabama team once again in 2021.
2. Georgia – J.T. Daniels is back at quarterback to lead the Georgia Bulldogs this fall. Daniels came on strong at the end of last season and will be looking to build a successful 2021 campaign as well as launching himself into a potential first round pick. The Bulldogs also have one of the deepest running back rooms in the country with Zamir White, James Cook, Kenny McIntosh, and Kendall Milton. All should see significant playing time this season. One major question is the health of wide receiver George Pickens. It is uncertain if he will play this fall after tearing his ACL but what are the chances we could still see him late in the year? The addition of tight end Arik Gilbert should give Daniels a potential star play maker. Georgia added depth to the secondary bringing in Tykee Smith (West Virginia) and Derion Kendrick (Clemson). Both Smith and Kendrick should play a valuable role in the Georgia defense.
3. Texas A&M – Jimbo Fisher has been building a strong program over the last few years. The Aggies bring back a talented roster but the most crucial question is who will replace quarterback Kellen Mond? The current favorite is Haynes King who was a four star quarterback in the class of 2020. Star running back Isaiah Spiller returns after crossing 1,000 yards last season. One other potential problem area is the offensive line as only one starter returns. On defense the Aggies return nine starters from the top unit in the SEC last year. Linebacker and leading tackler Buddy Johnson departed for the NFL. Andre White is expected to step in and fill the void left by Johnson. The Aggies will need a strong defense to stay in the upper echelon of the SEC.
4. Florida – Like many other SEC teams, Florida is also replacing their quarterback this fall. Heisman trophy finalist, Kyle Trask, was taken in the second round of the NFL draft meaning Emory Jones is the expected starter. Jones is a true duel threat quarterback who has proven to be an effective runner in limited action. Wide receivers Jacob Copeland, Justin Shorter, and Xzavier Henderson will be Jones’ primary targets this season. The Gators also received good news running back and Clemson transfer, Demarus Bowman, will be eligible to play this fall. Florida will be looking for a significant improvement from their defense after allowing over 30 points per game in 2020. Defensive end Brenton Cox is primed for a breakout year with a full off season after transferring from Georgia. The Gator defense will rely on star defensive back Kaiir Elam after surrendering the most passing touchdowns in the SEC last year.
5. LSU – 2019 was arguably the best LSU team off all-time. 2020 was a significant drop off after numerous departures from the coaching staff and players departing to the NFL. LSU started three different quarterbacks after Myles Brennan was injured in week three. Brennan is expected to return to his starting role in 2021. All five starting offensive linemen are back to help protect Brennan and to block for running backs John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price. On defense, defensive coordinator Bo Pelini was fired after one season. The defense allowed 34.9 points and 323 passing yards per game. Defensive backs Derek Singley and Eli Ricks should have the opportunity to return to form and hold up the standard of LSU defensive backs. The Tigers need a more effective pass rush to help out the secondary in 2021.
6. Ole Miss – At the end of this season, Matt Corral could be talked about as one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks. In 2020 he averaged over 330 passing yards per game while rushing for a total of 506 yards. Ole Miss will be looking for wide receivers after the departure of Elijah Moore to the NFL. Dontario Drummond and Braylon Sanders are expected to get the first shot with former quarterback John Rhys Plumlee expected to see playing time in the slot. Lane Kiffin will need to see dramatic improvements in his defense in order to be competitive. The Rebels defense finished 126th in total defense and 117th in scoring defense. Sometimes returning a large portion of your defense is not always a good thing. It is hard to replace experience but Kiffin might replace experience with younger players in order to see an improvement.
7. Auburn – It is truly do or die time for quarterback Bo Nix this year. Nix is a former five star quarterback who grew up an Auburn fan but has not panned out the way many Tiger fans had hoped. Gus Malzahn was fired from Auburn and replaced by former Boise State coach, Bryan Harsin. Harsin will heavily rely on running back Tank Bigsby who should be one of the top running backs in the SEC. Bigsby is the reigning SEC freshman of the year and should see an increase in his workload in year two. Former Vanderbilt head coach, Derek Mason, takes over as defensive coordinator for a talented Tigers defense. Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe could be the best linebacker duo in the SEC. Roger McCreary is expected to be the top corner back for Auburn but there is limited experience behind him. Finding a solid second corner back will be crucial to having success in the SEC West.
8. Kentucky – Mark Stoops has had winning seasons in four of his last five seasons including a ten win season in 2018. Stoops has also made a bowl game in each of the last five seasons. The Wildcats enter 2021 searching for a new quarterback. Penn State transfer, Will Levis, is the current odds on favorite with Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen also fighting to be QB1. Chris Rodriguez was one of the best running backs in the SEC last year and should look to build off of a positive season. Nebraska transfer Wan’dale Robinson should play a major role in the wide receiver room after two productive seasons in Lincoln. Kentucky will be replacing seven starters on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats ranked last in the SEC in sacks and will need to improve or it could be a long season in Lexington. Stoops brought in one of the top defensive linemen in the country in Justin Rogers from Michigan. Rogers should see playing time early in his career.
9. Missouri – One of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country is Connor Bazelak. Last year he completed over 67% of his passes for 2,366 yards. Baselak returns to lead the Tigers and after an off-season fully entrenched as the starter, it is reasonable to expect his statistics could improve. One obstacle is the receiving room as most of the players are fairly unproven. Keki Chism, Tauskie Dove, Barrett Banister, and Mookie Cooper are expected to play the most snaps this fall. The defense struggled in the last stretch of the season allowing almost 50 points per game in the last three games. Missouri saw issues with depth at linebacker and defensive line in 2021. Rice transfer, Blaze Alldredge, should be looked upon as the star linebacker and one of the main play makers on defense. Missouri should have the offense to compete in the SEC but the defense has serious concerns.
10 Arkansas – When looking at the power rankings before the season, Arkansas has the potential to rise the most of any school on this list. Sam Pittman’s team may have only went 3-7 last year but they were much more competitive than the year prior. The Razorbacks also return 17 starters. They return nine starters on offense with the biggest replacement coming at quarterback. Sophomore KJ Jefferson is expected to step in and start this fall. The defense for Arkansas will need to see improvements in order for them to have a chance a bowl game. They ranked towards the bottom of the SEC in sacks and yards allowed. Pittman made changes on the defensive side of the ball bringing in new assistants for his defensive line and linebackers. One player to watch is defensive back Jalen Catalon. He was an All-SEC performer in his first season starting and Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List for 2021.
11. Mississippi State – The Mike Leach era got off to a rough start last year. Leach’s offense was inconsistent scoring 14 points or less in five of the 11 games last fall. Will Rogers returns at quarterback to help provide stability to the position. Rogers will be surrounded by young but talented players on offense. Receiver Jaden Walley was named All-SEC Freshman after he broke the record for single-season receiving yardage by a freshman. The strength of the Bulldog defense is in the secondary. Martin Emerson finished the season with 11 pass deflections and his counterpart, Emmanuel Forbes, returned three interceptions for touchdowns. The defensive line and linebackers are inexperienced and will be looking to find stand out players to lead the Mississippi State defense.
12. Tennessee – For as irrelevant as Tennessee has been in the last decade, they always find a way to make it into the news. Josh Huepel took over for Jeremy Pruitt in one of the oddest off season firings in recent memory. One of Huepel’s first orders of business will be determining the starting quarterback. He received transfers from Joe Milton (Michigan) and Hendon Hooker (Virginia Tech). Both Milton and Hooker were benched at their previous schools but showed flashes of talent in short stretches. The receiver room and running back room are fairly unproven and will look for leaders to step up. The offensive line has potential with multiple former five stars expected to start in Cade Mays and Darnell Wright. The defensive side of the ball saw numerous players transfer after Huepel was hired. Defensive back Alonte Taylor is expected to be the leader for the Volunteers defense. Henry To’o To’o was one of the best linebackers in the country and transferred to Alabama. He will not be an easy player to replace. Huepel will need to find answers on defense or it will be a long season in Knoxville.
13. South Carolina – Shane Beamer takes over at South Carolina after a productive stint as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. He will be rebuilding the Gamecock program from scratch. Incombent Luke Doty will battle incoming transfer Jason Brown to start at quarterback. Doty was inconsisent in limited action while Brown threw for over 3,000 yards in his last season at St. Francis (FCS). One of the bright spots on offense is running back Kevin Harris. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2020. South Carolina returns most of their defensive line and also received a transfer in Jordan Strachan who had 10.5 sacks at Georgia State last year. They will need an effective pass rush after five defensive backs either left for the NFL or transferred. The secondary is a major concern with almost no experience returning to help lead the defensive backs.
14. Vanderbilt – Clark Lea takes over for Derek Mason after a disappointing tenure at Vanderbilt. The Commodores went winless in 2020 but are looking to rebound in 2021. Ken Seals started at quarterback as a freshman and had moments where he shined. Seals will have almost all of his receivers and tight ends back to help create a formidable offense. Vanderbilt should have enough talent on offense to score against the middle and lower tier SEC teams. When looking at the defensive side of the ball, Vanderbilt has little to no experience returning. Safeties Dashaun Jerkins and Brendon Harris are two of the few returning starters on defense. Vanderbilt only recorded two interceptions in all of 2020 which gives fans little faith moving forward. The Commodores averaged 1.56 sacks per game which ranked 101st in the nation. The first step for Vanderbilt will need to start with making games more competitive.