In the first SEC Power Poll of the college football season, Daily Mississippian sports editor Dylan Rubino ranks the 14 Southeastern Conference teams. The Ole Miss Rebels will kick off their season 11 a.m. Saturday against UT-Martin.
1. Auburn – After finishing a disappointing 8-5 last season and a disappointing bowl loss to Wisconsin, the Tigers have reloaded and are poised to make a run to the playoff. Head coach Gus Malzahn added former Florida head coach Will Muschamp as his defensive coordinator and junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson comes in ready to lead yet another potent Auburn offense. With most of their toughest games at home, Auburn should be top dog in the conference.
2. Alabama – The Crimson Tide looked like the best team in the country last season until they ran into a buzzsaw in Ohio State at the playoff. Alabama has only three returning starters on offense and five on defense, but Alabama doesn’t rebuild— they reload. The quarterback situation remains unclear, but no matter who they get, Alabama will be in the mix.
3. LSU – 2014 was an up and down year for the Tigers, and they rode the roller coaster to an 8-5 finish with a bowl loss to Notre Dame. Sophomore Brandon Harris, a better pocket passer than junior Anthony Jennings, was named the starter for the Tigers. Les Miles once again will have a dominant defense and running game, but their success will rely on the quarterback Harris.
4. Georgia – The Bulldogs remain the top dawg in the SEC East led by sophomore star running back Nick Chubb, who might just be in New York for the Heisman trophy ceremony in December. With games against Alabama and Auburn, the Bulldogs will be tested this season against the two best teams in the counterpart West.
5. Ole Miss – The Rebels looked poised to make a run for the SEC West crown last season, but strong running games in LSU, Auburn and Arkansas put their dream season on hold. The defense looks poised to be one of the best in country again, but questions on offense surrounding the quarterback, running back and offensive line positions could bring up concerns down the road.
6. Tennessee – A slow start in 2014 was all pushed aside after Tennessee finished 4-1 in their last five games. All the hype is there for the Volunteers this season under head coach Butch Jones, but they need to put together a consistent season from start to finish. Home games against Oklahoma, Georgia and Arkansas will surely help this young team.
7. Arkansas – Arkansas turned the corner last season with victories over rivals LSU, Texas, and a blowout win over Ole Miss. The hype is there in Fayetteville, but with all of their toughest games away from home, Arkansas has a lot to prove before they make a rise in the conference.
8. Mississippi State – Quarterback Dak Prescott highlights the returning players for the Bulldogs, but only five starters on offense and four on defense will return for Mississippi State. The bulldogs are being overlooked once again this year and were picked to finish last in the SEC West by the media. Don’t sleep on State.
9. Texas A&M – Former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis joins the coaching staff at Texas A&M, which looks to reload on defense in 2015. The Aggies have been trending downward every season under head coach Kevin Sumlin, and that trend may continue, as they play in the tough SEC West.
10. Missouri – Missouri won the SEC East for the second straight year and look to three-peat in 2015. Junior quarterback Maty Mauk returns with four of his five offensive lineman from last year. There are some holes to fill on defense, and other emerging teams in the East, so another division title may be hard to grasp.
11. Florida – There will be some bumps in the road in Gainesville under first-year head coach Will Muschamp. A stellar recruiting class paired with an improving defense could make the Gators better than last year, especially if they get their offense going.
12. South Carolina – It was an off year for Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks as they finished a dismal 6-6 in the regular season, though they finished strong with a 24-21 win over Miami in their bowl game. With a plethora of returning starters on both sides of the ball, South Carolina won’t stumble like last year.
13. Kentucky- It looked like a special year for the Wildcats as they started 5-1 last season, but stumbled to the finish line and lost six consecutive games. Junior quarterback Patrick Towles returns to lead an experienced offense, but the defense could struggle against a tough schedule. Is it basketball season yet?
14. Vanderbilt- “Is it baseball season yet?”: That’s what every Vanderbilt fan is thinking as football season comes around. 2015 can’t get much worse than their 3-9 record last season. Nowhere to go but up in Nashville.