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August 14, 2009

SEC preseason unit rankings

MORE: SEC preview: Primed to produce another BCS champ

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD

1. Florida: QB Tim Tebow might be the best player in the nation, and RBs Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey have excellent speed and quickness.

2. Ole Miss: QB Jevan Snead played great down the stretch last season. The Rebels are deep at running back.

3. LSU: Charles Scott is the best running back in the SEC. Jordan Jefferson's play at quarterback is the key.

4. Georgia: Fifth-year senior Joe Cox is the new quarterback. He has a deep group of backs to work with this season.

5. Arkansas: QB Ryan Mallett looks as if he'll be a great fit for Bobby Petrino's offense. Mighty-mite TB Michael Smith is underrated.

6. Alabama: RB Mark Ingram has 1,000-yard potential. How well will new QB Greg McElroy play?

7. Auburn: There's an OK group of running backs for the Tigers. But is there a legit SEC quarterback on the roster?

8. Tennessee: Read the Auburn comment and substitute "Vols" for "Tigers."

9. Mississippi State: RB Anthony Dixon is a bruiser. But can new coach Dan Mullen find a quarterback who can run his offense?

10. South Carolina: QB Stephen Garcia has the physical tools, but he is better-known for his off-field foibles than anything he has done on the field. The Gamecocks also need to find a feature back.

11. Kentucky: For the most part, QB Mike Hartline was ineffective last season. The running backs are adequate.

12. Vanderbilt: The Commodores are searching for a quarterback. And the running backs on the roster don't scare anybody.

RECEIVERS

1. Georgia: WR A.J. Green was the SEC freshman of the year last season. There are some nice complementary targets as well.

2. LSU: Senior WR Brandon LaFell easily could lead the league in receptions. TE Richard Dickson is a weapon in the red zone.

3. Ole Miss: Dexter McCluster is an underrated weapon and Shay Hodge has good speed. Depth is a slight concern.

4. Florida: TE Aaron Hernandez could lead the Gators in receptions. There is talent, albeit unproven, at wide receiver.

5. Alabama: Sophomore WR Julio Jones is a premier talent. But there is no other proven receiving threat on the roster.

6. Arkansas: TE D.J. Williams is coming off a big season. With Mallett at quarterback, expect one or two wide receivers to have 40-plus catches.

7. South Carolina: Senior Moe Brown needs to develop some consistency. TE Weslye Saunders could have a breakout season.

8. Tennessee: There's a lack of proven depth, and WR Austin Rogers' season-ending injury hurts.

9. Kentucky: Randall Cobb, who played some quarterback last season, is expected to be a playmaker. Are there any others?

10. Mississippi State: Brandon McRae quietly put together a 51-catch season in '08. This group will be asked to do more in the new offense.

11. Auburn: No returning receiver had more than 24 catches last season, when the Tigers had just seven TD passes.

12. Vanderbilt: TE Brandon Barden likely will lead the Commodores in receiving this season.

OFFENSIVE LINE

1. Georgia: The Bulldogs were hurt by injuries along the line last season. But all those injuries mean this is an experienced and deep group this season.

2. Florida: The Pouncey twins - center Maurkice and guard Mike - help give the Gators a tough, aggressive interior. If sophomore LT Matt Patchan comes through, this could end up being the best line in the league.

3. LSU: Senior T Ciron Black is the standout. Center could be a problem spot.

4. Ole Miss: T Michael Oher is gone, but T John Jerry will receive some national acclaim this season.

5. Alabama: There are three new starters. The Tide will miss T Andre Smith, who may have been their MVP last season. G Mike Johnson has All-America hopes.

6. Tennessee: C Josh McNeil is a good one. But most of the other guys have been rather non-descript during their careers.

7. Arkansas: The return of G Mitch Petrus should help a unit that struggled last season, especially in pass blocking. The Hogs allowed 45 sacks last season.

8. Auburn: T Lee Ziemba has all-league hopes. The linemen have to adjust to some new schemes again; can they handle it?

9. Vanderbilt: All five starters are back, but this unit didn't always provide a lot of push last season.

10. Kentucky: Three starters return, but the line lacked consistency last season.

11. South Carolina: New line coach Eric Wolford, who comes from Illinois, has to improve his unit's run-blocking.

12. Mississippi State: Four starters are back, but how quickly can these guys get comfortable with the new blocking schemes?

DEFENSIVE LINE

1. Florida: The Gators were stout against the run last season and should be better this season because there is more depth at tackle.

2. Ole Miss: E Greg Hardy has 15-sack potential. The tackles are solid and there is good depth.

3. Georgia: The return of T Jeff Owens from injury makes the tackle rotation one of the best in the nation. But who will provide the pass rush?

4. Alabama: Terrence Cody is a massive 365-pound presence in the middle of the line. But can the ends apply pressure off the edge?

5. Auburn: When healthy, E Antonio Coleman is a big-time pass rusher. The tackles are OK.

6. LSU: E Rahim Alem should be among the league leaders in sacks. But it's time for the tackles to start making more plays.

7. Tennessee: T Dan Williams is a good one. The Vols need some ends to emerge.

8. South Carolina: This is a solid unit that needs an end or two to step up.

9. Vanderbilt: All four starters return for an underrated group.

10. Arkansas: The Hogs return all four starters, but they were gashed often by the run last season, a potential fatal flaw in the SEC West.

11. Mississippi State: Only one starter returns. Some newcomers must come through.

12. Kentucky: The loss of E Jeremy Jarmon truly hurts. Now, only one starter is back. And where's the pass rush going to come from?

LINEBACKERS

1. Florida: Senior Brandon Spikes is the standout in a deep, experienced and talented unit. Five linebackers who started at least three games return.

2. Alabama: Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower form a big, physical duo.

3. Georgia: Rennie Curran is small (5 feet 11, 228 pounds) but plays big. He should be a first-team all-league performer.

4. South Carolina: Eric Norwood is the standout on a unit that returns all three starters.

5. Vanderbilt: All three starters return. Senior Patrick Benoist is one of the most underrated players in the league.

6. LSU: Two starters return, but these guys need to make more plays this season.

7. Tennessee: Rico McCoy is a standout, but he is the only returning starter.

8. Auburn: There is no standout, but this is an OK unit.

9. Ole Miss: Patrick Trahan, who began his career at Auburn, is expected to make a big impact this season.

10. Arkansas: All three starters return, but the linebackers didn't always play that well last season. Sophomore Jerry Franklin should develop into a star.

11. Mississippi State: Jamar Chaney's return from injury should provide a big boost.

12. Kentucky: Micah Johnson is a good one. The rest of the group? Ehh.

SECONDARY

1. Florida: This might be the deepest secondary in the nation. The cornerback duo of Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins is tremendous.

2. Alabama: The Tide return three starters, but they will miss FS Rashad Johnson.

3. LSU: Sophomore CB Patrick Peterson is a burgeoning star. FS Chad Jones needs to have a big season.

4. Tennessee: SS Eric Berry might be the nation's best defensive player. This is the Vols' strongest unit.

5. Georgia: The Bulldogs will miss CB Asher Allen. The safety spots bear watching.

6. Auburn: There's no true standout, but this has the makings of a solid unit.

7. Ole Miss: Three starters return from a group that got better as the '08 season progressed.

8. Vanderbilt: The Commodores will miss star CB D.J. Moore. FS Ryan Hamilton could be an all-league player.

9. Kentucky: CB Trevard Lindley is a bona-fide star.

10. South Carolina: There will be a lot of pressure on true freshman CB Stephon Gilmore.

11. Arkansas: Some newcomers could see action soon in a unit that had issues last season.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will be breaking in three new starters, and what had been a solid unit will take a hit.

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Florida: KR/PR Brandon James and P Chas Henry are among the best in the nation at their positions. The Gators blocked nine kicks last season.

2. Alabama: KR/PR Javier Arenas is among the best in the nation. K Leigh Tiffin has a big leg but has been inconsistent.

3. Ole Miss: Joshua Shene might be the best kicker in the SEC. The Rebels' coverage units did a good job last season.

4. Auburn: K Wes Byrum had a sophomore slump but has all-league potential. P Clinton Durst is coming off a nice freshman season.

5. Georgia: K Blair Walsh was OK as a freshman. The Bulldogs are looking for a new punter and punt returner.

6. Kentucky: UK is looking for a new punter, but the Wildcats led the SEC in kickoff returns and did a nice job covering kicks last season.

7. Tennessee: The Vols have good return men, but they need K Daniel Lincoln to become more consistent.

8. LSU: The Tigers, who were last in the SEC in kickoff returns last season, are looking for a new kicker and a new punter.

9. South Carolina: The Gamecocks will miss K Ryan Succop.

10. Arkansas: The Hogs were last in the league in punt returns and kickoff-coverage defense last season and are looking for a new punter.

11. Vanderbilt: The Commodores lost K Bryant Hahnfeldt and CB D.J. Moore, who was a superb punt returner.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will have a new kicker, a new punter, a new kick returner and a new punt returner.

COACHING STAFFS

1. Florida: Urban Meyer has won two national titles in three seasons. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is one of the best in the business, and the defensive staff is outstanding.

2. Alabama: Nick Saban has the Tide back in the national consciousness quicker than expected.

3. Georgia: Mark Richt's program might be the steadiest in the league. Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez must get his unit to play better in big games.

4. Ole Miss: Houston Nutt is a master motivator. But how will he and his team respond when they're the hunted, not the hunter?

5. LSU: A five-loss season isn't looked upon too kindly down on the bayou. Expect defensive improvement with the hire of John Chavis, who did nice work at Tennessee.

6. Arkansas: Big improvements are expected in the second year of the Bobby Petrino regime. The defense needs a lot of help.

7. Kentucky: Rich Brooks has done a nice job making UK competitive. Defensive coordinator Steve Brown is underrated.

8. Vanderbilt: Bobby Johnson does a lot with not much, especially on defense. But the offense remains a vast wasteland.

9. South Carolina: Steve Spurrier overhauled his staff in an effort to develop some consistency from his team.

10. Tennessee: New coach Lane Kiffin kept things lively in the offseason. But is he head-coach material?

11. Auburn: New coach Gene Chizik was a defensive coordinator of some renown, and he has an intriguing staff.

12. Mississippi State: New coach Dan Mullen has a tough road ahead of him to make the Bulldogs relevant on an annual basis.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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