We have spent months analyzing players, schemes and coaches, but we are finally here.
In just a couple of days, the 2011 college football season will begin (thank you Mississippi State and Kentucky).
To kick off game week, we at the SEC blog have constructed our power rankings to lead you into the season. This is an outlook on the season after taking into consideration a number of team items, including talent, experience and injuries.
Each week we'll bring you our thoughts on the state of the SEC's teams and things will no doubt change each week. Play well and your stock goes up. Drift under potential and you'll see yourself fall in our rankings.
Without further ado, here is our first batch of SEC power rankings for the 2011 season:
1.Alabama: The Tide enter the season as one of the most complete teams in the nation. Ten starters are back on defense and it’d be hard to find better secondary and linebacker units. It’s Trent Richardson’s time at running back, and while Alabama’s quarterback options are young and inexperienced, they are both very talented and ready to lead.
2.LSU: This team could have seriously contended with Alabama for the No. 1 spot if not for the suspensions of senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson and wide receiver Russell Shepard for at least the opener. But the Tigers aren’t sunk. Veteran Jarrett Lee takes over at quarterback and he still has plenty of weapons on offense. Defensively, this group might be the most athletic around and has the ability to carry the Tigers this fall.
3.Arkansas: The season-ending injury to Knile Davis might have initially hindered the Razorbacks’ chances at a title run, but there is still a wealth of talent on offense. Tyler Wilson has four more-than-capable options at receiver ,and there is depth at running back. Defensively, this is the best group coach Bobby Petrino has had in Fayetteville.
4.South Carolina: Steve Spurrier claims to have the best team he has ever had in Columbia, and the Gamecocks are the most complete team in the East. With their main playmakers back on offense and the defense loaded with talent, the Gamecocks are primed to make it back-to-back trips to the SEC title game.
5.Georgia: Before attrition and injuries delivered some unwanted hits to the offense this offseason, the Bulldogs were being heralded as a team that could seriously compete for the conference title. There is still firepower on offense, starting with quarterback Aaron Murray, and the defense has a plethora of speed all around, but keeping that offensive line healthy is key.
6.Mississippi State: This set of Bulldogs has been a popular dark horse pick in the West. The offense is loaded and has depth for days at the skill positions. Three starting linebackers have to be replaced, but Mississippi’s State’s secondary is as athletic as any defensive backfield and should regularly frustrate opposing quarterbacks this fall.
7.Florida: The Gators usher in a new coaching staff, but still have a ton of questions on offense. As usual, the defense has loads of speed, especially in the front seven, but the loss of Janoris Jenkins raises concerns about the secondary. But for Florida to succeed, quarterback John Brantley will have to rediscover his confidence.
8.Tennessee: There is no doubt the Volunteers will be able to score a handful of points this fall, but keeping opponents off the scoreboard could be an issue. Coach Derek Dooley considers this Year 1 for him at Tennessee and he and his team are looking for a fresh start in 2011.
9.Auburn: The defending national champion must replace almost all of a team that went undefeated in 2010. Cam Newton is gone, leaving Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb to shoulder most of the offensive load. There is talent on the Plains, but only six starters return, meaning there will be plenty of growing pains.
10.Ole Miss: The Rebels are looking for anything better than their 4-8 2010 campaign. Ole Miss is young across the board and is breaking in a quarterback in Barry Brunetti who has nine career pass attempts. Outside of an experienced backfield and offensive line, the Rebels have questions at pretty much every position.
11.Kentucky: Playmakers that made the Wildcats’ offense go last season are gone, which will make new starting quarterback Morgan Newton’s season that much more challenging. The defense struggled mightily last season, but new defensive coordinator Rick Minter has brought in his popular multiple schemes. This team needs to find offensive playmakers and team toughness.
12.Vanderbilt: There is more excitement and confidence in Nashville, thanks to new coach James Franklin. The Commodores return more than 20 starters, but those starters went 2-10 last season. Franklin has proved he can recruit and fire up an almost lifeless fan base, but now it’s time to coach -- and win.