It's a long, long offseason, especially for college football bloggers. To pass the time, I and several other SB Nation SEC bloggers will spend the next few weeks ranking the various position groups of SEC football teams 1 through 14. This week we get things started with the hallmark of SEC football teams' mythical speed advantage: those big, fast defensive lines. You can find the final rankings over at Mississippi State site For Whom the Cowbell Tolls. Here's how I ranked them ,along with a brief explanation of my (perhaps faulty) reasoning.
1) Alabama: In the words of that old hymn, the Tide defensive line is deep and wide, deep and wide. There's a depth chart flowing deep and wide. Losing the likes of Jeoffrey Pagan and EdS tinson doesn't help, but of all the spots where the Tide have recruited well over the past few years, the D line may be the spot where Saban and company have recruited the best.
2) Auburn: Thank goodness Dee Ford is gone. However Auburn returns a lot of athleticism at the end and tackle spots. Ford's presumptive replacement, sophomore Carl Lawson, underwent surgery recently for an unspecified knee injury, and if he's out this ranking may be a bit high. But Gabe Wright, Montravius Adams and LaDarius Owens should be a very good group inside, and Elijah Daniel also should be a solid player. Auburn's just good all over up front. I hate that. And I hate Auburn.
3) Georgia: Overlooked in the transition from Todd Grantham to Jeremy Pruitt is the fact that Georgia returns a lot of talent up front. Also, Tracy Rocker is one of the best defensive line coaches in the business. I don't fault those who think the Georgia defensive line won't be this good. But Georgia finished second in the SEC against the run last year, and returns every significant contributor up front other than Garrison Smith. That's a recipe for success.
4) Florida. Dominique Easley was a guy I underrated right up until he left Florida, and I think losing him hurts. But no one doubts that the Gators have tons of talent up front, led by Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard. Statistically the Gator defense was actually very good in 2013, and far from the reason for Comrade Muschamp's brilliant 4-8 sabotage job in Gainesville. If Florida is able to hold onto the ball on offense and avoid turning it over to put the defense in terrible positions, this unit could look even better this year.
5) Ole Miss: I think Robert Nkemdiche's move inside to tackle will pay off for him and for Ole Miss. But you can't ignore Isaac Gross and Lavon Hooks at DT, either. Depth is going to be the question for the Rebels. If they suffer injuries up front who steps up in this unit? I don't think the answer's as easy for them as for the teams ranked above them.
6) Mississippi State: Chris Jones is a future NFL early round selection. But after watching film of the Bulldogs in preparation to cast this and future ballots, I realized that there are a lot of good players up and down this front. As a result I moved MSU up into the top half of my rankings.
7) LSU: It feels a little weird ranking the Bayou Bengals this low. Year in and year out, defensive line is just what they do. But I sense that at some point LSU will finally suffer from being picked over by the NFL year after year, and because of the lack of experienced depth inside, I think this may be the year.
8) South Carolina: A lot of people would ask how the Gamecocks will survive the loss of Jadeveon Clowney. I'm not one of them, because Clowney wasn't a factor for much of the 2013 season. Instead, I'm curious whether Spurrier and company can replace Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton.
I took a lot of flack over at FWtCT for this vote. Oddly it was for saying that Quarles and Sutton were a big loss while seeming to gloss over the fact that Clowney is . . . also a huge loss. Only South Carolina fans could fault me for this.
9) Missouri: Markus Golden is a known quantity, but DE Shane Ray is a real potential star. But losing Michael Sam and Kony Ealy is just more than I expect Mizzou to overcome. Especially in the pass rush, they'll take a step back this year.
10) Texas A&M: I didn't watch a lot of the Aggies last season so I had to go back to the old DVR for this one. Statistically the Ags gave up 5.4 per carry last season on the ground, and Duke ran through them like a hot knife through butter. TAMU returns a lot of guys from last year's starting unit, but those guys have a long way to go in 2014.
11) Kentucky: Basically I'm ranking Bud Dupree the 11th best defensive lineman in the SEC all by himself.
12) Arkansas: Again, it's the depth. Bielema just doesn't have a lot coming back behind Darius Philon and trey Flowers.
13) Tennessee: Only slightly less awful statistically than the Aggie defense last year against the run, plus they lost a big Daniel McCullers and veteran starter Jacques Smith. That's not a recipe for success.
14) Vanderbilt: I really may have the Commodores ranked too low. But i just don't know how this new staff will handle the transition, and 30+ years of history says that when it doubt you can't go wrong rating Vandy last in the league.
So where did I go wrong? Let me know in the comments below. Also be on the look out for my rankings of the SEC's offensive lines later this week. Until later . . .