SB Nation's SEC bloggers are ranking every position group in the league, having begun the project last week with the defensive lines. This week we're taking on the offensive lines. While one of the biggest stories in the conference for 2014 is likely to be the chore of replacing a gaggle of veteran quarterbacks (Murray, McCarron, Mettenberger, and Manziel), an under-appreciated one is that the offensive lines are largely intact. Eight different teams return at least 60 combined starts (Georgia may be the ninth, depending on how you do the math). Here's my ranking, 1 through 14.
1) South Carolina.The Gamecocks are tied with Auburn for the most returning offensive line starts with 113. Of course, this statistic isn't perfect for predicting success. Georgia returned the most offensive line starts in the nation in 2010 and that veteran unit led the 'Dawgs to a 6-7 record and a Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida. So experience isn't everything.
But the thing is that South Carolina returns a lot of good experience. Guard A.J. Can may be the best guard in the league. Brandon Shell and Corey Robinson are both veteran starters with NFL size at the tackle spot. The biggest question may be Cody Waldrop at center, but even he's no slouch. Just a really stout group all the way across the board. I'm not saying Mike Davis is a better back that Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon, or Derrick Henry, but if you told me he was going to rush for 1500 yards in 2014, I wouldn't be at all surprised. Because these guys will make life a lot easier for him and a lot tougher for the rest of us.
2) Auburn. Reese Dismukes is likely the top center in the league, and while Greg Robinson will be a tough guy to replace, Coach Malzahn doesn't have to replace returning starters Patrick Miller (OT), Chad Slade (OG) and Alex Kozan (OG). That's a recipe for continued success running the ball on the Plains.
3) Texas A&M. They seem to mint NFL first rounders on the offensive line in College Station of late, and Cedric Ogbuehi may be the next one.
4) LSU. La'el Collins and Vadal Alexander are both potential first round NFL players on an LSU unit that will return four starters from 2013's iteration.
5. Alabama. Anthony Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio are major losses, but as usual Bama's going to be okay. Austin Shepherd's a solid All-American candidate, Arie Kouandjio is just as physically gifted as his departing brother, and center Ryan Kelly is on par with fellow veteran Rimington Award candidates Reese Dismukes (Auburn) and David Andrews (Georgia). So don't cry for Nick Saban. Unless you just feel sorry for sawed-off millionaires. Then cry away.
6. Missouri. Missouri loses standout left tackle Justin Britt, but not much else. Under Gary Pinkel the Tigers usually seem to have solid play up front, and this season won't be any different, even without a lot of star power.
7. Mississippi State. The departed Gabe Jackson leaves a big hole on the interior. Literally.
8. Georgia. Center David Andrews returns to anchor a Bulldog offensive line that lost senior starters Ken Gates(OT), Dallas Lee (OG), and Chris Burnette(OG). The upside is that none of those guys ever really separated themselves from Kolton Houston (OG), Mark Beard (OT), and Brandon Kublanow (OG/C), all of whom started at least part time in 2013. It remains to be seen whether former five star offensive tackle prospect John Theus is ready in his junior season to finally take control of the left tackle spot. If not, Beard will likely draw the assignment of guarding the blind side of senior starter Hutson Mason.
9. Florida. Florida's as good in the starting five as several teams in front of them, but past that things just get dicey.
10. Ole Miss. Again, it's the depth, stupid. Laremy Tunsil will be an NFL tackle one day, but not today. And the cast around him is a couple of injuries away from a really rough year.
11. Vanderbilt. It's a veteran group in Nashville, but the depth and talent are just not quite on par with the top half of the league.
12. Tennessee. The Vols lost a ton up front after 2013. Tiny Richardson, Ja'Waun James, and Zack Fulton are all gone off to the NFL. The guys filling in may be good, but there's really not a lot to base that on. If redshirt juniors Mack Crowder & Kyler Kerbyson and senior Jacob Gilliam can lock down a center, guard, and tackle spot, this unit might be okay. But I see no scenario in which it's one of the elite ones in the conference.
13. Arkansas. Arkansas played two freshmen up front last season and at some point the young group Bret Bielema inherited is going to be all grown up. But again, I don't believe this is the year.
14. Kentucky. Is returning four of five starters from a unit that gave up a league worst 37 sacks in 2013 a good thing? We'll see.
So what did I get wrong? Let me know in the comments below. Until later . .