SEC spring football primer: Power Rankings, burning questions for every team

Alabama is the clear leader of the SEC entering spring workouts. Which program is best positioned to compete with the Crimson Tide this fall?
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Going into 2017, it’s hard to imagine Alabama won’t play in its fourth consecutive SEC Championship Game. Other conference trends should persist as well: The East Division will be weaker than the West Division, defense will be king, and we’ll all pump up Tennessee for the entire month of August.

What’s most interesting, though, is the relative uncertainty in the middle tier of the conference. The gap between No. 5 (Auburn) and No. 10 (South Carolina) in these Power Rankings seems relatively narrow. That could lead to some unpredictable movement in the standings come December.

At the top, though, Alabama remains the king of the West, and the East will likely go through Gainesville or Athens.

• More Power 5 spring primers: ACC | Big Ten | Big 12

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1. Alabama Crimson Tide

RECORD: 2016 14-1

After losing to Clemson in the national title game, Alabama remains atop the SEC. Sure, replacing first-round NFL talents Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster won’t be easy, but the Crimson Tide should be just fine on defense, and their offense looks poised to take a step forward with Jalen Hurts back for another year as the starting quarterback.

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2. LSU TIGERS

RECORD: 2016 8-4

Under new (or newish) coach Ed Orgeron, LSU’s offense must improve, and even without Leonard Fournette, it should. On defense, coordinator Dave Aranda should have plenty of fresh talent to fill the voids left by graduations and departures, most notably Jamal Adams and Davon Godchaux.

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3. Georgia bulldogs

RECORD: 2016 8-5

Expect a breakout season from quarterback Jacob Eason, who started as a true freshman last year, and from the Bulldogs’ defense across the board, which was inexperienced in 2016. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel may be the best running back duo in the country, and they’ll take the heat off Eason as he continues to develop.

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4. florida gators

RECORD: 2016 9-4

The Gators’ offense may be as uninspiring as it has been in recent seasons, and new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon has a slew of starters to replace. Still, with an offensive line and running back corps that showed promise a year ago and plenty of young talent in the pipeline, Florida should be just fine.

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5. AUBURN TIGERS

RECORD: 2016 8-5

Transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham (you last saw him at Baylor in 2015) will give the Tigers an immediate boost on a promising offense. That should pick up some of the slack for a defense that looks as if it may take a step back.

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6. tENNESSEE vOLUNTEERS

RECORD: 2016 9-4

The Vols will have to see improvement from their offensive line and defense in 2017, especially after losing Joshua Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and Derek Barnett. But with two talented quarterbacks vying for the starting role (Jarrett Guarantano, Quinten Dormady), the step back this season from 2016’s nine-win campaign shouldn’t be too big.

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7. arkansas razorbacks

RECORD: 2016 7-6

Arkansas needs to be more consistent in 2017. It should boast the same offensive strength it displayed last year under quarterback Austin Allen, but new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads will have to get his unit in order for the Razorbacks to make a splash this year.

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8. Kentucky wildcats

RECORD: 2016 7-6

Kentucky has been on the upswing in recent years, but if it can’t improve a defense that’s been consistently at the bottom of the conference, it’ll be hard-pressed to top last season’s seven wins.

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9. Texas a&m aGGIES

RECORD: 2016 8-5

Losing presumptive No. 1 pick Myles Garrett and quarterback Trevor Knight will set the Aggies back on both sides of the ball. And in a season when Kevin Sumlin needs to take a step forward, it’s hard imagining his team topping the 8–5 mark it’s reached in each of the past three seasons.

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10. south carolina gamecocks

RECORD: 2016 6-7

Will Muschamp’s bowl berth in year one took many by surprise, and as his young roster matures, there’s reason to believe he’ll have a winning season in Columbia. One group to worry about: the offensive line, which was the SEC’s worst last year.

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11. OLE MISS REBELS

RECORD: 2016 5-7

The Rebels brought in a new coordinator, Wesley McGriff, to turn around the conference’s worst defense (they also added OC Phil Longo), but that transition will take time.

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12. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

RECORD: 2016 6-7

Hiring defensive coordinator Todd Grantham away from Louisville was a coup, but the Bulldogs have too many questions on both sides of the ball to inspire much confidence.

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13. VANDERBILT COMMODORES

RECORD: 2016 6-7

Vanderbilt is on the upswing, but it’ll need more consistent play from quarterback Kyle Shurmur to reach its second straight bowl game. A foray into the SEC West against Alabama (in Nashville, at least) won’t help that cause.

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14. MISSOURI TIGERS

RECORD: 2016 4-8

It’s hard to see the Tigers emerging from the basement of the SEC despite winning two of their final three games last season. Missouri’s defense was the worst it’s been in years, and personnel losses make it tough to imagine the Tigers will improve upon the 31.5 points per game they allowed.

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