Today we continue to rank the unit groupings of the SEC top to bottom. Last week we looked at SEC linebackers, of which your Georgia bulldogs have some of the best. Today we take a swing at the special teamers. It's kind of a catch-all expression for a group of guys who do wildly different things, many of which are not fully understood by the average football fan. It's shocking really when you consider that more games are probably won on special teams in a given year than just about anywhere else on the field. Just ask Georgia players what they would give to have a long snap or two from last year's season opener at Clemson back. Or ask Alabama coach Nick Saban if he has a second to discuss the last play of the 2013 Iron Bowl.
Special teams prowess makes winning games a lot easier, and being poor in the kicking game makes losing them a whole lot easier.
Which is why it's a little surprising that so many SEC squads sport thoroughly mediocre special teams units. In reviewing the special teams units of all fourteen SEC schools I noticed that most fall into one of two camps. One lacks experience this season. That's always bad. Even when you have an All-American high school kicker like Marshall Morgan or Blair Walsh there's a learning curve there. Counting on freshmen to kick the ball consistently or return it without making bonehead mistakes is just asking too much. A few SEC fan bases are going to be remind of that in a few short weeks.
Another group of schools return many of the chess pieces from last year's units, they just hope those guys don't do the things they did last season. Georgia falls into this category with the exception of Marshall Morgan, who should really keep on doing whatever he's doing, because hot damn is it working.
As always, you can find the final vote and commentary from across SB Nation's SEC blogosphere over at For Whom the Cow Bell Tolls. Here's how I ranked them, with what passes for a rationale for each.
1) Texas A&M: The Aggies return all their specialists including potential All-American punter Drew Kaser. That's more than their conference coevals can claim.
2) Missouri: I ranked the Tigers from the other Columbia much higher than others (they finished 6th in the polling) but hear me out. They return a solid kick returner in Marcus Murphy (he averaged 7.0 yards per punt return and 22.0 per kickoff return, in the top 12 in the conference in both categories). Punter Christian Brinser averaged a solid 41.0 yards per punt and returns. Andrew Baggett was a decent 18 of 25 on field goals and also returns. See a pattern emerging? Missouri wasn't the best in the conference in these categories last season, but they're not going to get worse. In all likelihood they'll move from the middle of the pack to the top of the charts in 2014.
3) LSU: Losing Odell Beckham won't help,. but LSU has no shortage of unbelievable athletes to replace him. And Colby Delahoussaye was the only kicker in the league in 2013 who hit a higher percentage of his field goals (13 of 14) than Marshall Morgan.
4) Alabama: Returning starter Christian Jones is inarguably the league's top return man, finishing second in the SEC in both kickoff return yardage (28.7 per return) and punt returns (14.0 per return). But they lose standout kicker Cade Foster and punter Cody Mandell.
5) Georgia: Marshall Morgan is a legitimate All-American candidate, coming off a sophomore campaign in which he hit 22 of 24 field goals (7 of 8 from 40+) and nailed a perfect 47 of 47 extra points. But everything else was mediocre to dreadful. This is a vote based on Isaiah McKenzie making an immediate impact in the kicking game and a suspicion that the coaching staff's alleged renewed emphasis on the kicking game will pay dividends.
6) South Carolina: Gamecock punter Tyler Hull finished dead last in the league in net punting at 34.0 per kick. But hey, it's not like he can do worse this season, right?
7) Florida: I'm ranking the Gators too low if Andre Debose is in fact healthy. There are few guys in the SEC who can flip the field like him. The kicking game however was an utter mess in 2013 and I'm taking a wait and see approach on improvement in 2014.
8) Arkansas: Punter Sam Irwin-Hill is one of those crazy Australians who can kick righty or lefty and averaged 44.3 yards per kick last year. But they lose solid kicker Zack Hocker and replace him with arguably the top kicking prospect from the class of 2014, Cole Hedlund. That's great, but again, freshman kickers, man.
9) Kentucky: Neither the best or worst at anything in the kicking game, returning a decent punt returner in Demarco Robinson and kick returner in Javess Blue.
10) Tennessee: When Michael Palardy graduated the Vols lost both one of the best kickers and punters in the league.
11) Auburn: The Tigers lose punter Cody Parkey, who led the nation last year in touchbacks. They also lose Chris Davis, he of that famous Iron Bowl kick return.
12) Mississippi State: Kicker devon Bell was a horrific 6 of 14 on field goals, but he's back. They lose prolific punter Baker Swedenburg. So . . .yeah.
13) Ole Miss: Few teams lost as much as the Rebels. They'll have to replace punter Tyler Campbell (4th in the SEC with 44.4 yards per kick in 2013), kicker Andrew Ritter, and punt returner Jeff Scott.
14) Vandy: The Commodores lost efficient a solid kicker in Carey Spear and don't really have a solid answer yet on kick or punt returns. Other schools have scads of athletes to plug in at those spots. I'm not so sure Vandy can do that.
So there you have it. Let me know what I missed on. It's okay, I can take it. Until later . . .