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SEC Football Power Poll: Pre-season

 

1. Alabama: After a 10-3 record last season, Alabama looks poised for a bounce back season in 2011. Whether it’s sophomore A.J. McCarron or redshirt freshman Phillip Sims under center, the Crimson Tide will run the ball with junior Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson and arguably the conference’s best offensive line, led by junior Barrett Jones. There’s talent and experience throughout the defense, including all four returning starters in the secondary.

2. Arkansas: The Razorbacks would have been my pick before junior running back Knile Davis suffered a season-ending ankle injury earlier this fall — this coming after senior Broderick Green, Davis’s backup, went down with a season-ending ACL injury in spring practice. A running game needs to emerge to complement junior quarterback Tyler Wilson and the conference’s best receiving corps, a senior trio of Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. 

3. LSU: Much like Alabama, LSU needs to find a quarterback, whether it’s senior Jarrett Lee, sophomore transfer Zach Mettenberger or senior Jordan Jefferson. Last time we saw Lee under center, he set school records with 16 interceptions, seven of which were returned for touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Russell Shepard is ineligible for the season opener against Oregon. On defense, LSU continues to reload with size and speed.

4. South 

Carolina: The Gamecocks’ keys to success are much like they were last year — on offense, sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore to wear teams down, senior quarterback Stephen Garcia to stay out of trouble and manage the offense, and junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey to make teams respect the pass. On defense, get after the quarterback with the conference’s pass rush and take away the other team’s best wide receiver with junior Stephon Gilmore.

5. Georgia: Sophomore Aaron Murray is the best quarterback in the conference, but there are way too many question marks in his supporting cast. Gone is wide receiver A.J. Green, and the Bulldogs must also replace three offensive linemen and find a running back if top-recruit Isaiah Crowell doesn’t live up to the hype. The defense should also be improved in the second year of the 3-4 defense.

6. Florida: The one-two punch of head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will inject new life into the program following a 8-5 season. There’s talent, but with the new schemes, this season will be a work-in-progress, and the Gators are probably a year away. Senior John Brantley seems a better fit for the pro-style offense and freshman. Even without Janoris Jenkins, the defense will fly around and make plays.

7. MSU: The Bulldogs have not beaten an SEC Western Division team not named Ole Miss, but following back-to-back wins under Dan Mullen has landed MSU as  “The People’s University” of Mississippi. In his third season in Mullen’s offense, senior Chris Relf should continue to excel both on the ground and through the air. Another senior, Vick Ballard, leads the rushing attack and junior Chad Bumphis is explosive at wide receiver but must be more consistent. Pernell McPhee, Chris White and K.J. Wright must also be replaced in the defense’s front seven.

8. Ole Miss: There’s a lot of youth and inexperience on both sides of the ball, so this ranking will likely change at season’s end. Among the question marks are sophomore quarterback Barry Brunetti, three freshman wide receivers and new starters throughout the defense. Early in the season, the Rebels will lean on the offensive line and a stable of running backs, led by senior Brandon Bolden.

9. Tennessee: The Volunteers under first-year head coach Derek Dooley were a mess for much of last season before rattling off four straight wins to finish out the regular season. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray put up big numbers in the wins, but it remains to be seen how much of it was improvement and how much was the quality of opponents. There’s also a lack of depth on defense with the dismissal of safety Janzen Jackson.

10. Auburn: The stars of last season’s National Championship team, Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, are both gone, as are many starters. The Tigers are breaking in four new offensive linemen, a new quarterback in junior Barrett Trotter and underclassmen will contribute at most every position. Sophomore running back Michael Dyer and junior running back Onterio McCalebb will have to carry the offense.

11. Kentucky: The Wildcats scratched and clawed their way to a bowl game last season. Gone are quarterback Mike Hartline, running back Derrick Locke and two wide receivers, Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. They will have an experienced, talented offensive line blocking for them. The defense quietly returns talents and experience in the back seven, led by senior linebacker Danny Trevathan.

12. Vanderbilt: First-year head coach Tony Franklin has brought a lot of excitement to the program, particularly with recruitment. Junior running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy will be explosive, but the offense desperately needs to stretch the field vertically in the passing game. Senior linebacker Chris Marve is a star on defense but the team needs a mixture of youth and experience to step up on that side of the ball.