Sam Khan Jr.Alex Scarborough 107d

SEC preseason power rankings: Alabama vs. the field

It's no secret that defending SEC champion Alabama is starting the season atop our conference power rankings.

Instead, the question is: Who from the crowded field of contenders will emerge as a team capable of knocking off the Crimson Tide?

With the season about to begin in earnest on Saturday, ESPN writers Sam Khan Jr. and Alex Scarborough collaborated on the final preseason SEC rankings.

1. Alabama: Though the defense might take a bit of a step back without Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen & Co., the offense should be able to carry the load. The unit returns defending SEC Offensive Player of the Year Jalen Hurts at quarterback with a loaded stable of running backs and arguably the best receiver in the SEC (Calvin Ridley).

2. Auburn: If quarterback Jarrett Stidham is the real deal, this could be the most complete team Gus Malzahn has fielded at Auburn, with talent at running back and receiver, experience on the offensive line, and a defense that's in solid shape.

3 LSU: Ed Orgeron got his dream job, now what will he do with it? The defense should be able to sustain significant losses from last season, but it's the offense overseen by new coordinator Matt Canada that's under the microscope.

4. Georgia: Kirby Smart isn't a rookie head coach any longer. With Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Jacob Eason back on offense, and a defense with the bulk of its starters returning, there's no reason the Bulldogs can't end Florida's streak of winning the division.

5. Florida: There's an awful lot to replace on defense, not to mention the fact there's a new coordinator on that side of the ball. But whether it's Feleipe Franks or Malik Zaire at quarterback, this could be the year the Gators' offense finally becomes a difference-maker.

6. Texas A&M: There are some key pieces to like -- Christian Kirk, Trayveon Williams and Armani Watts, to name a few -- but with no clear-cut answer at quarterback and no more Myles Garrett on defense, expectations ought to be tempered in College Station.

7. Arkansas: Is this the year Bret Bielema breaks through? He has one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Austin Allen, and the defense should improve under new coordinator Paul Rhoads.

8. Tennessee: The bad news is that Joshua Dobbs, Derek Barnett and Alvin Kamara are all gone. The good news? At least the Vols aren't burdened with high expectations anymore.

9. Mississippi State: Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is awfully good, but he can't be the entire show in Starkville. If running back Aeris Williams steps up and the defense takes a step forward under new coordinator Todd Grantham, the Bulldogs could be ready for a rebound after going 6-7 last season.

10. South Carolina: The Gamecocks surprised many by reaching a bowl game in Will Muschamp's first season. Now, with so many starters back and linebacker Skai Moore returning from injury, it's time to see how the team does with expectations.

11. Kentucky: Now that the bowl drought is over, what will the Wildcats do? The offense appeared to be on the right track with Stephen Johnson returning at quarterback, but then the receiver corps was hit hard by Jeff Badet's transfer and Dorian Baker's season-ending injury.

12. Ole Miss: The bowl ban and NCAA investigation were bad enough. Throw in the forced resignation of Hugh Freeze and there's simply too much drama in Oxford. Quarterback Shea Patterson and that offense will be dangerous, but it's hard to envision a winning season for interim coach Matt Luke.

13. Missouri: The defense might continue to struggle, but scoring points shouldn't be a problem with quarterback Drew Lock back along with wideout J'Mon Moore and running back Damarea Crockett.

14. Vanderbilt: Star running back Ralph Webb is back. So is two-year starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur and seven other starters on offense. It's now or never for Derek Mason to field a team capable of scoring points.

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