It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next season in the SEC, and we’ll start on defense.
Here’s a rundown of who returns most of their top tacklers from this past year.
We’ll start with the Western Division since it owned the Eastern Division this season.
The Crimson Tide return 18 of their top 20 tacklers from this season, including their top seven tacklers. The entire secondary will be back, including All-SEC safety Mark Barron, who led the team with 75 tackles. Free safety Robert Lester led the SEC with eight interceptions. Outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss, and middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower was second on the team with 69 tackles. Eight of the 11 players who started on defense in the Capital One Bowl return for the Tide.
Key losses: Defensive ends Marcell Dareus (11 tackles for loss) and Luther Davis (three tackles for loss).
The Hogs return 15 of their top 20 tacklers from this season, including their top three tacklers. Linebackers Jerry Franklin (13.5 tackles for loss) and Jerico Nelson (11 tackles for loss) are both back along with safety Tramain Thomas, who led the Hogs with four interceptions. Defensive end Jake Bequette had a team-leading seven sacks, while fellow defensive end Tenarius Wright had six sacks.
Key losses: Linebacker Anthony Leon (12.5 tackles for loss), safety Rudell Crim (three interceptions) and cornerback Ramon Broadway (team-leading six pass breakups).
The Tigers return 10 of their top 20 tacklers from this season, losing five of their top seven tacklers. Only four of the 11 players who started on defense in the BCS National Championship Game return. In the secondary, cornerback Neiko Thorpe and safety Mike McNeil return. Thorpe was third on the team with 64 tackles and also had a team-leading nine pass breakups. McNeil led the Tigers with 14 tackles in the title game and was sixth during the season with 56 tackles. Defensive end Nosa Eguae had 7.5 tackles for loss.
Key losses: Defensive tackle Nick Fairley (24 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks), defensive end Antoine Carter (11 tackles for loss), linebackers Josh Bynes (team-leading 73 tackles) and Craig Stevens (62 tackles) and safety Zac Etheridge (69 tackles, three interceptions).
The Tigers return 15 of their top 20 tacklers from this season, including seven of their top 10 tacklers. Outside linebacker Ryan Baker was second on the team with 87 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss. Baker led the team with seven sacks. Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne (five interceptions) and Tyrann Mathieu (8.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions) are back along with defensive end Sam Montgomery, who had six tackles for loss before he was hurt midway through the season.
Key losses: Cornerback Patrick Peterson (four interceptions), defensive tackle Drake Nevis (team-leading 13 tackles for loss) and middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (team-leading 116 tackles).
The Bulldogs return 14 of their top 20 tacklers from this season, but lose their top two tacklers in linebackers Chris White and K.J. Wright. Returning are safety Charles Mitchell (93 tackles) and tackles Fletcher Cox (6.5 tackles for loss) and Josh Boyd (7.5 tackles for loss). The entire starting secondary is back, including cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Each had three interceptions this season.
Key losses: White (110 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss), Wright (98 tackles, eight for loss) and defensive end Pernell McPhee (10 tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hurries).
The Rebels return 12 of their top 20 tacklers from this season, but four of their top five tacklers are departing. Safety Damien Jackson is back after finishing second on the team with 68 tackles. Linebacker D.T. Shackelford had 9.5 tackles for loss. Cornerback Charles Sawyer had two interceptions. Defensive end Kentrell Lockett has applied to the NCAA for a sixth season after injuring his knee and playing in only three games this season.
Key losses: Linebacker Jonathan Cornell (team-leading 80 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss), linebacker Allen Walker (7.5 tackles for loss), nose guard Jerrell Powe (8.5 tackles for loss) and safety Johnny Brown (third on the team with 66 tackles).