Rankings. I love them, you love them, we all love them, right? (Actually, that depends on where your team falls). With SEC training camps ongoing but games still almost a month away, there are no on-field results to discuss but still plenty of time to prognosticate. Given that, today we're unveiling our 2015 preseason edition of the SEC power rankings.
There is slight movement from the last time we took a stab at this, in the post-spring SEC power rankings. So dive into the preseason power rankings, as determined by our team of SEC reporters, and get happy (or mad):
1. Auburn: The offense isn't in doubt. The line returns four starters, Duke Williams is back at receiver and even though Jeremy Johnson isn't technically a returning starter, the junior QB has plenty of experience, including a pair of starts. The real question is what effect the hiring of Will Muschamp as coordinator will have on the defense. A healthy Carl Lawson and the arrival of No. 1-ranked recruit Byron Cowart could give Muschamp the pass rush he needs to make a dramatic improvement right away.
2. Georgia: Even without a starting quarterback at the moment, the Bulldogs still are one of the SEC’s most complete teams. And, really, all anyone under center has to do is feed Heisman Trophy candidate Nick Chubb the ball -- over and over and over again -- behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. Defensively, Jeremy Pruitt did wonders for this unit last year and owns the nation’s best linebacker group, headlined by a trio of elite pass-rushers.
3. Alabama: Last year's stars are gone: Blake Sims, Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon, Landon Collins, etc. But what's new? Alabama has dealt with losing players to the NFL draft before, and thanks to four straight No. 1-ranked recruiting classes, expectations haven't diminished. Reggie Ragland is expected to become the face of the defense and Derrick Henry seems poised to do the same on offense. But uncertainty at quarterback is an issue, as is the failure of the secondary to stop the pass toward the end of last season.
4. Ole Miss: Another team with a quarterback query, Ole Miss is still loaded, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Seven starters return to a unit that ranked first nationally in scoring defense (16 PPG) and ranked in the top five in the SEC in rush, pass and total defense last year. Offensively, nine starters are back, and if Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil come back at full speed, whichever quarterback takes over should be just fine.
5. Arkansas: It might be surprising to see the Hogs this high on the list, but it's reflective of the momentum Bret Bielema’s program seems to currently have. Their dominance of Ole Miss, LSU and Texas at the end of last season was evidence of the ongoing progress in Fayetteville, and more is expected in 2015 with nine starters back on offense (including 1,000-yard rushers Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams and a stout offensive line). On defense, the Razorbacks lost a few stars but have six starters returning and have quality depth on the line. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith enters his second season on campus after producing encouraging results last year. If Arkansas picks up where it left off, watch out.
6. Tennessee: The Volunteers haven’t ranked this high on the list in several seasons, but Butch Jones and his staff have created major optimism in Knoxville. A young roster gained significant experience in 2014, and it’s entirely possible that players such as quarterback Josh Dobbs, running back Jalen Hurd, and pass-rush specialists Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt could push Tennessee into the SEC East title conversation for the first time in years. The Vols are on the rise.
7. LSU: If the Tigers solve their quarterback quandary, they could contend in the SEC West and maybe even for a College Football Playoff spot. With the core of a strong defense and star running back Leonard Fournette returning, the rest of the roster looks that good. If Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris can’t turn LSU’s passing game into more of a threat, LSU could wind up in the middle of the pack again this fall.
8. Mississippi State: In another league, we wouldn't be talking about Mississippi State as a potential last-place team in the West. Not with one of the top returning players in the conference at the game's most important position. But QB Dak Prescott can't do it on his own. Faced with the loss of running back Josh Robinson and three starters on the offensive line, he'll be tested. And the defense, without coordinator Geoff Collins or the bulk of its starters from a year ago, is a serious question mark.
9. Missouri: The oft-overlooked Tigers are indeed that again this preseason after back-to-back SEC East titles, but there are legitimate question marks. An inconsistent offensive line in 2014 needs to be better, and talented lineman Connor McGovern (previously on the right side of the O-line) has big shoes to fill at left tackle in succeeding Mitch Morse. The defensive line -- usually a strength -- is thin on experience after departures via the NFL draft, an injury (to Harold Brantley) and an offseason dismissal. Quarterback Maty Mauk must improve his play and has a crop of unproven receivers to sort through to complement the quality running game. How those questions are answered will be key.
10. Texas A&M: Last season’s struggles in SEC West play highlighted the Aggies’ areas of weakness and the need to improve them. So they went out and hired John Chavis to repair the league’s worst defense for two years running and also made two offensive staff changes after the unit sputtered often, especially against the likes of Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The Aggies are loaded at the offensive skill positions but young at quarterback (sophomore Kyle Allen has five starts; his competitor, Kyler Murray, is a true freshman) and the offensive line must improve after an inconsistent 2014. They’re thin at linebacker, there are questions at cornerback and while improvement is expected overall on defense, it’s hard to know how drastic that improvement will be in Chavis’ first season.
11. South Carolina: Will South Carolina’s defensive results improve with Jon Hoke joining Steve Spurrier’s staff? Who’s going to be the guy at quarterback? Nobody can say just yet. The Gamecocks could have fared much better than last season’s 7-6 mark were it not for a couple of late implosions. They could be better than that this year, but there are some questions that must be answered before they can crack the top half of the rankings.
12. Florida: After five years of offensive ineptitude, the Gators just have to be better under the offensive-minded Jim McElwain, right? Well, no one is sure because a quarterback hasn’t separated himself and the offensive line has hardly any SEC experience. Demarcus Robinson is a star at receiver, but will he have any help? Once again, the defense is loaded, but is it elite enough to allow this team to compete for an SEC East title?
13. Kentucky: One win might have changed everything. That would have made Kentucky bowl eligible. Then they're likely in the same conversation as seven-win Arkansas and Tennessee, which are both being hailed as programs on the rise. But six straight losses clouded an otherwise promising landscape in Lexington as Mark Stoops and his staff continue to recruit above UK's weight class, elevating the talent level across the board. Though they're not expected to contend for a division title, that doesn't mean QB Patrick Towles and Co. can't play spoiler.
14. Vanderbilt: The Commodores almost certainly will improve from Derek Mason’s disastrous first season as head coach, but they’ve got to prove it to us first. They still have glaring questions at quarterback -- the position whose unsettled nature created many of Vandy’s problems last season. Until they show off some offensive firepower beyond running back Ralph Webb, it wouldn’t make sense to elevate them from the cellar on our list.