Ending the SEC's win streak (cont.)
Based on the preseason Coaches' Poll, here's a brief synopsis of the SEC's five highest-ranked teams, including a personnel-based assessment of which of the 2006-11 champs each team most closely resembles.
No. 1 LSU: The Tigers boast at least three likely high-round draft picks on the defensive line (end Sam Montgomery, end Barkevious Mingo and tackle Bennie Logan) and a talent-filled secondary, even after star Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal. With four returning starters on the offensive line, LSU should exceed last year's 202.6 yards per game on the ground. The hope in Baton Rouge is that new quarterback Zach Mettenberger can drastically upgrade his position and produce more big plays. Most similar to: 2007 LSU.
No. 2 Alabama: As always, Nick Saban's team is brimming with talent on defense, but this group lacks experience. Only five starters return. This team's strength is its offensive line, which boasts three preseason All-Americas (center Barrett Jones, tackle D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack). Even without star Trent Richardson, the Tide should be able to pound the ball, but underrated quarterback AJ McCarron has to find some new receiving targets. Most similar to: 2009 Alabama.
No. 6 Georgia: The Dawgs return 10 starters from the nation's No. 5 defense, though three (safety Bacarri Rambo, corner Sanders Commings and linebacker Alec Ogletree) will be suspended early. Defensive tackles John Jenkins and Arby Jones and linebacker Jarvis Jones assure a strong pass rush. Quarterback Aaron Murray has an NFL arm and big-play receivers in Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell. But Georgia rushed for just 164.0 yards per game last year and has dismissed No. 1 tailback Isaiah Crowell. Most similar to: 2006 Florida.
No. 9 South Carolina: Steve Spurrier's team fielded the nation's No. 3 defense last year, behind Alabama and LSU. Interestingly, the Gamecocks did not fall within the 3.4-yards-per-rush threshold (allowing 3.62), instead excelling in pass coverage. Star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney returns, but most of the secondary departed. Offensively, Spurrier will ride star running back Marcus Lattimore, and that should create more play-action opportunities for quarterback Connor Shaw. Most similar to: None.
No. 10 Arkansas: As crafted by the disgraced Bobby Petrino, the Razorbacks win primarily with offense. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is a possible high first-rounder, Cobi Hamilton leads a talented but reloading receiving corps and the return of star running back Knile Davis will allow Arkansas to be more balanced. But the Razorbacks ranked just 74th nationally in run defense last season and lack an elite defensive lineman like champs of old. Most similar to: 2010 Auburn (minus Nick Fairley).
There's no guarantee any of these teams will turn out as predicted. Injuries, departed stars and the rise of unforeseen young players may dramatically change their makeup. But based on what we know now, the rest of the field should much prefer to see South Carolina or Arkansas on Jan. 7 than LSU or Alabama.
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